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Sustainable change is elusive. Whether it’s as significant as Brexit or as personal as finding a job you love, the obstacles are surprisingly similar. Perhaps more surprisingly, the solutions are also similar. 

Today's organisations are more like ecosystems than machines. So, if you want to make a change work, you are more likely to succeed if you approach your change as a gardener not a mechanic.

In my new book Gardeners Not Mechanics: How to Cultivate Change at Work I describe:

  • Why popular "change management" recipes have failed to deliver the sustainable value.

  • The three key characteristics of ecosystems: unpredictability, interdependence, limits of control.

  • A framework for thinking like a gardeners, entitled The Elements of Gardening.


If you'd like to know more about the book, just click this link to go to the relevant page on this website.

Alternatively, you can preview and buy the book at the top or bottom of this page, where you see a picture of the cover.

Book Contents


A short introduction that introduces the key ideas, including the need to embrace uncertainty not fight it.



Machine or Ecosystem

I begin the chapter with the story of Ron Johnson's tenure as CEO of J.C. Penny, to illustrate the risk of approaching change as mechanic. I go on to present my own research into the failure of change initiatives, and close with a description of how big-bet change came to be the orthodoxy that continues to fail.

Ecosystem Characteristics

I use examples to describe the key characteristics of ecosystems and how they relate to change at work:

  1. Unpredictability

  2. Interdependence

  3. Limits of Control

I conclude by setting out the the framework used for part two of the book: The Elements of Gardening.​


ELEMENTS of GARDENING - Examples and Exercises


I use the example of the iPhone to show how a Shared Purpose and Shared Vision are the roots of planning. I go on to show you how to clarify whether you have the right purpose and how to create a Shared Vision. I also talk briefly about other aspects of planning in an unpredictable world.

Prepare the Soil

I tell how my failure to Prepare the Soil, for a promotion at work, enabled me to help a coaching client get promoted to the Board of his organisation. I also show how Stakeholder Maps can bring to life the ecosystem into which you want to introduce change.


I describe a big project for which the soil was prepared brilliantly, but later floundered because it wasn't given  a good start. I also write about whether to plant a change in light or shade.


I use two examples to illustrate the need to prune, to let in light and air, and ensure healthy growth. The first example is a major change programme and the second is the revitalisation of an overgrown resumé,


I explain that a weed is a a plant in the wrong place, not a bad plant, and describe a time that I found myself to be a weed in someone else's garden. I also use an example to describe commitment weeds.


I describe a project for a Japanese client that I initially tried to direct remotely, from London, until I realised that the relationship needed regular face-to-face watering. In second example, I describe how I nearly lost my job, until I was able to demonstrate that I was on top of the detail. I close with some Buddhist wisdom on watering the seeds of conciousness.


I explain that staking is about two things: supporting and constraining. For support, I describe the psychological stages of change and how to accept or ask for support. For constraints, I talk about the genuine, artificial and design constraints.

Ensure Good Health

There are two main ways of maintaining good health: nourishment and fighting off pests and diseases. For nourishment, I return to the Japanese project and describe how watering wasn't enough to maintain the relationship. Something else was needed. For pests and diseases, I talk about group culture, a fixed mindset and fear, as three common obstacles to change, and how to overcome them.

Enjoy Your harvest

I finish with a short anecdote that illustrates the need to celebrate success in a way that is personal to both the giver and the recipient.

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