Social Software Implementations: A Judokan Approach to Change


Social Software Implementations: A Judokan Approach to Change

The principles of judo should be applied to the change management efforts necessary for successful social software implementations, including enterprise 2.0 systems, social intranets, and digital communities. The core idea is to recognize and accept individuals and organizations as they are, rather than as they should be, and to work with current realities rather than against them. This post offers food for thought about better approaches to achieving social software goals and objectives and invites others to share ideas and examples to further the dialogue. (December 5, 2013)

Author: Courtney Hunt


Many social software and enterprise 2.0 discussions focus on certain underlying cultural values that are critical to successful implementation of new technologies and tools. These include openness, empowerment, innovation, and engagement. Related discussions on the change process often emphasize the need for leaders to embrace these cultural values before the change process can begin. I agree those values are important, but I wonder if it’€™s in our collective best interest to emphasize them so much. Even if they’€™re not willing to admit it, many organizational leaders find ideas like openness and empowerment threatening, and their views on notions like engagement can range from “€œtouchy-feely” to “€œa nice luxury we can’t afford.”€ And even if leaders themselves espouse and embrace these ideals, existing organizational cultures, structures, systems, and staff may not allow their enactment.

So what’€™s a change agent to do? Try to force change? Wait until the organization is really ready before moving forward? Perhaps, rather than thinking of approaching social software initiatives and the cultural changes associated with them directly, we would be better served by an indirect approach.

Judo is a “€œsoft”€ martial art; literally translated from the Japanese, it means “€œgentle way.”€ Founded by Kanō Jigorō in the late nineteenth century, it embodies many principles that can be applied to the change management process – not for the purpose of winning in a competitive sense, but to achieve mutual welfare and benefit. The core idea is to achieve maximum results with minimum effort by applying principles such as:

  • Yielding, leverage, balance, momentum
  • Open-mindedness, self-reflection,  empathy, respect
  • Intense concentration, discipline, mindful flexibility

Recognizing and respecting the true starting point for both individuals and organizations, and yielding to it and working with it rather than fighting it, could significantly increase the likelihood of success. As social software-enabled initiatives gain momentum, smaller successes breed larger ones. In addition, cultural values associated with social technologies can become integrated into the fabric of the organization and internalized by individuals. In other words, even if they’re not an input, they can become an outcome.

Too often, because of anticipated resistance (perceived or real), we take an adversarial approach to change. In truth, however, the best way to influence and move others may be to change ourselves first.

What do you think? Does a gentle or yielding approach to change resonate with you? Do you know of any organizations where these principles were applied successfully? Please share your thoughts, examples, and questions to create and further the dialogue.

7 thoughts on “Social Software Implementations: A Judokan Approach to Change

  1. Hi Courtney, a very interesting perspective and one I think that might have some difficulty in being implemented, not because it doesn’t make complete sense but because of the cultural shift required. Today’s organisations are taught to be competitive to be successful and look for an edge to be more successful than their competitors. I think organisations are looking to social to give them that edge and as a result will embraces its “new way to work” ethos as a way of attaining it.

    • It is an interesting challenge, isn’t it Peter? I think we’re saying the same thing in slightly different ways. Rather than requiring an organization to be culturally transformed *before* implementing social and digital technologies, it may be better to think about how they can be leveraged within the *existing* cultural context. If leaders and others can see clear WIIFM value, they’re more likely to adapt to new ways of working.

      I’ll have more to say on that in a future post…

      Thanks for weighing in!

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