Social Software Implementations and Change Management: A Judokan Approach

The principles of judo should be applied to the change management efforts necessary for successful social software implementations, including enterprise 2.0 (E2.0) 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.


Many social software and enterprise 2.0 ( E2.0) 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 “touchy-feely” to “a 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 E2.0 initiatives and the cultural changes associated with them directly, we would be better served by an indirect approach. 
Judo is a 
“soft” martial art; literally translated from the Japanese, it means “gentle 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 E2.0 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.

Courtney Shelton Hunt, PhD

Image: Microsoft clipart

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Chris Cairns

Absolutely agree with the “Judokan” approach to change management. Grandiose battle cries and campaign slogans don’t work very well.

Courtney Shelton Hunt

Thanks, Chris. Some commenters in another forum suggested Aikido rather than Judo, but the underlying principles are similar.