The Principle of the Skunk: Where Change Really Begins

Dissatisfaction, not dreams, is the first step toward change. 

Success that’s waiting over the mountain isn’t worth the climb when the valley feels fine. But, don’t beat people with the stick of dissatisfaction.

The principle of the skunk:

Stink stimulates action.

We have a skunk family in our backyard. Mamma skunk comes out most nights with three babies to eat seeds under the bird feeder. I walked toward her the other evening. She glared. Then she started walking toward me.

I ran.

The threat of stink stimulates a powerful response.

Change begins with something that stinks.

Don’t camouflage stink. Let everyone breathe in the foul aroma. Wait for noses to curl.

Change is inevitable when the current state is intolerable.

The first job of a change agent is to fuel dissatisfaction.

How to create dissatisfaction like a leader:

#1. Complaining drains energy:

Complainers aren’t change agents. Don’t bellyache about the current state. Griping about the present insults everyone who’s working hard to make things work.

Grumbling makes you seem small and weak.

#2. Honor and dissatisfaction:

Create dissatisfaction by pointing out poor results for hard work. “We’re giving it our best but not making much progress.”

Honor the people who are working hard. Give them hope that there’s a better way.

If you must assign blame, blame yourself. You led the team into the present situation. Own it.

#3. Opportunity and dissatisfaction:

  1. We could be more.
  2. What if there’s a better way?
  3. There’s an unmet need that someone’s going to meet. Lets figure out how to meet it.

Leading change tips:

  1. Tell people you’re counting on them to face new challenges. Don’t complain about them. 
  2. Go with early adopters. Allow late adopters to gain confidence.
  3. Design small wins and have a party every time you make progress.

How might leaders create dissatisfaction that energizes rather than drains?