The Hundred Acre Wood Theory of Change

When I met with Ethan Angelica to discuss his work at Museum Hack, our conversation focussed on creativity and innovation, and also included change management and the importance of ‘bringing people with you’ when introducing new ideas. It turns out that both of our dads are management gurus – his is a management consultant specialising in non-profit organisations, and mine is a recently retired business management academic. Ethan told me about the fantastic ‘theory of change’ model developed by his Dad, Emil Angelica. It’s based on four of A.A. Milne’s characters who live in Hundred Acre Wood – Tigger, Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, and Eeyore. Ethan tells it brilliantly, so the following is a verbatim quote from our interview:

My Dad is one of my greatest role models. He has what he calls his ‘Hundred Acre Wood Theory of Change’… When something changes, you have the Tiggers, who are bouncing – they’re way out in front of everybody, they’re just like, can’t wait to change it. You’ve only got a couple of those, and you need to let them Tigger away. Keep an eye on them, make sure they don’t jump off a cliff or something, but let them Tigger. Then you have the Poohs, who will follow the honey pot. You give them their honey pot, and they’re like, ‘okay, cool, this is where we’re going, I got it, I got it, this is cool, I like what we’re doing here, it looks delicious, let’s just keep going’. So the Tiggers are bouncing and as long as Pooh has its honey pot, it’s going to be okay, Tigger doesn’t really bother him.

Piglet gets really scared of Tigger. The Piglets are like, ‘ohh, I don’t know, man, he’s crazy and that honey pot is not very interesting to me, what are we going to do?’ and so you have to gently guide Piglet there. And then you have Eeyores. And Eeyores are just like, ‘well, I don’t know, like I guess…’ and you’re just never going to win over the Eeyores. Eeyores are always going to be there, and you just have to be like, ‘you’re going to be fine, yes I know this is rough’. I find that distinctly in all of these organisations. Every time I go in and do a workshop, I always see a Tigger, I always see the person who I hand the Five Elements [of a Hack] to and they’re like, ‘ooh, this is pretty’, the Piglets who are like, ‘but, but I can’t say fuck’, and then Eeyores who are like, ‘everything you’re doing is horrible’.

When I asked Ethan if I could share this model, he kindly put me in contact with Emil via Skype so I could find out more. The Hundred Acre Wood theory came about when Emil was working with refugee and migrant communities in Minneapolis in the 1980s. Many in these communities were watching TV to help develop their English language skills, and the Disney cartoon of Winnie-the-Pooh was well known. Emil had been looking for a narrative framework to convey change management ideas, and Hundred Acre Wood was the perfect fit. He has used it regularly with many different groups since then, and it elicits an interesting range of responses. The majority get it very quickly, and then enjoy identifying which character they most relate to, or start attributing characters to their colleagues. And of course there are some who find it juvenile, because there will always be some who take their own adulthood very, very seriously.

In any group, the Tiggers and the Eeyores are the outliers at either end of the positive-negative spectrum. Emil makes the point that leaders often spend too much time focussing on these extremes – they like the Tiggers because they agree with them, and they fixate on the Eeyores as a challenge to be conquered. Time could be better spent, however, supporting the majority that fall in the middle – the Poohs and the Piglets.

Winnie-the-Pooh is motivated by his honey pot – something that is tangible and within his reach. When going through periods of change, the Poohs need short-term goals and quick successes to stay motivated – a long-term vision with positive results in five years’ time just isn’t going to cut it. Piglets, bless them, wants to know ‘will this hurt me?’ so they have to feel safe and protected through the change process. Tiggers need to be kept occupied so they don’t scare the daylights out of Piglets – delegating parts of a project to Tiggers is a great way to channel their enthusiasm. Eeyores can negatively influence both Poohs and Piglets so they need to be managed closely.

Emil also told me about two related change management models that support his own:

Michael Beer’s formula for change = (D*V*1st) < C

  • D = dissatisfaction with the present situation
  • V = vision of how things could be different
  • 1st = First step to bring about change
  • C = perceived cost of going through change must be seen as less than the cost of staying with the current situation, in order for change to happen.

William Bridges’s Transition Model

  • This model maps the transition that people go through over time as they come to accept change.
  • At first, there is a sense of loss, letting go and relinquishing the old way when something comes to an end.
  • A ‘neutral zone’ in the middle is characterised by confusion, direction finding and re-patterning.
  • New beginnings generate commitment and a new sense of purpose and energy.

Beer’s formula is particularly pertinent for the Piglets, who worry about the personal cost of any change and need to be very dissatisfied with their present situation to be open to doing things differently. Bridges’s transition model demonstrates that people’s points of view can change and the Hundred Acre Wood characters are not fixed positions – someone can be a Piglet on one project and a Tigger on another, or can even change characters over the course of a single project.

Emil boiled all of this down to two key headlines: when leaders want change, they need to ensure there is enough dissatisfaction to motivate the team (too much dissatisfaction = Eeyores; too little dissatisfaction = Piglets) and personal barriers to change need to be acknowledged and overcome – the pain of change needs to not be so great that change is too hard. This is such useful guidance for anyone wanting to do innovative work – museums are notoriously glacial in their pace of change and the more strategies that we have to chivvy the process along, the better.

Ethan’s work at Museum Hack is driven by a love of stories and storytelling. It was lovely to see that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree, as Emil has exactly the same love of storytelling in his work. Stories are so essential to what it is to be human, and I love that this simple truth can be applied to areas as disparate as museum tours for millennials and change management for non-profit organisations. … So have you decided which character you are yet?

Image source: http://bibliodyssey.blogspot.co.uk/2008/11/original-winnie-pooh-drawings.html

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2 thoughts on “The Hundred Acre Wood Theory of Change

  1. Another great post. Can someone be both a Tigger and an Eeyore or does that suggest a major personality disorder?

    Beth

    Beth B. Schneider
    Head of Learning
    Royal Academy of Arts
    Burlington House
    Piccadilly
    London W1J 0BD

    E beth.schneider@royalacademy.org.uk
    T +44 (0)20 7300 5731
    M +44 (0)7703 602 964

    Like

  2. Thanks so much for this. Love it. Especially as I live near the Five Hundred Acre Wood and visit it regularly. mmm – sometimes Tigger and sometimes Eeyore. Definitely need to be well managed!

    Like

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