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Commitment Innovation and Culture Change

A Blueprint for Success in a Time of Crisis

In this organizational culture change process, Dr. Kelly Gerling provides his clients a detailed and specific blueprint for achieving a culture of success in a time of crisis by pursuing two qualities of organizational culture: commitment and innovation. Through mini-lectures, interactive communication, real case studies, and web-based sources of knowledge, workshop participants  and client organizations will gain key strategies for organizational change.

This program can be presented as a half-day overview, a two-day workshop, or a one-year consulting process with organizational implementation.

Consider these benefits for your organization:

Prerequisites to Creating a More Widespread and Deeper Commitment to the Organization

  • Analyze a case study of an organization that makes their values real every day through a system of values-fulfillment
  • Learn why discovering values and fulfilling them is a prerequisite to widespread and deep employee commitment to the organization and its mission
  • Learn how to discover and practice organizational values through a story-telling process
  • Analyze a case study of an organization that makes their values real every day through a system of values-fulfillment
  • Learn six key conditions for fulfilling values in an organization
  • Overview and gain access to an online curriculum of skills that will support your efforts to discover and fulfill values in your organization
  • Make a plan for discovering and fulfilling key values in your organization
  • Discover the link between fulfilling values in an organization and employee commitment to the organization’s mission

Activating a More Widespread and Deeper Commitment to the Organization

  • Learn several ways of measuring employees’ commitment to the organization and its mission
  • Explore the reciprocal nature of commitment between employees and organizational executives
  • Learn a model for how to train key leaders in inner and outer leadership skills

Activating Innovation for Developing New Products and Services and Revenue

  • Discuss the relationship between employee commitment and the pervasive sense of safety that forms a foundation for real innovation
  • Distinguish between creativity and innovation and how to activate both
  • See films that exemplify innovation
  • Review case studies of organizational innovation
  • Inventory how you currently allocate the resources of time and money for innovation
  • Envision how increased allocations of time and money will generate innovative new products and services
  • Discuss the policies, methods of thinking which foster innovation
  • Discover how innovation leads to new customers and new streams of revenue
  • Envision how your existing base of services or products, people and capabilities can lead to your unique pathways of innovation
  • Make a plan for boosting innovation in your organization

Followup for Success in a Time of Crisis

  • Discuss the nature of current crises, and how they affect your organization
  • Discuss how you define future success and how commitment and innovation could help you achieve it
  • Make a blueprint for success in our time of crisis by making a plan for deepening commitment and bringing about a culture of innovation


More information about a workshop I did . . . 


Commitment and Innovation:
Blueprint for Success in a Time of Crisis


On August 26th, 2011, I led a group of fire chiefs in a workshop called Commitment and Innovation: Blueprint for Success in a Time of Crisis at the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) annual conference in Atlanta. This page is for them and others interested in what transpired.

My background on these topics involves both my role as a leadership developer and organizational culture facilitator. I've worked with four fire departments, and many other types of organizations as well. 

My Articles about Culture Change, Values Discovery and Values Fulfillment

I've written two articles about my work with fire departments. Both were published in Fire Chief magazine. Search for Values was published in 2006, and is co-authored with Richard Carrizzo, IAFC Treasurer as of August 28th, 2011—congratulations Richard—and describes our story of six years of work on developing the culture of commitment to and from the employees at Southern Platte Fire Protection District. It describes discovering and fulfilling their values with an emphasis on mutual trust, mutual respect, open-communication, honesty, and much more. They are continuing to grow and develop their culture. Theirs is an amazing accomplishment in culture change.

A second article is called Fulfilling Values, and was published in Fire Chief in early 2009. It describes six necessary and sufficient conditions for fulfilling values in an organization. 

These two articles describe much of my thinking on what it takes for an organization to discover and fulfill its values, living them on a daily basis, and creating a heart-felt, caring, culture of community. Such a culture not only feels great and fun to be a part of. It also creates a foundation, both emotionally and with communication, to reach ever-higher levels of professionalism, service to the community and innovation. I believe Southern Platte is not only a great department, and getting better over time, but it also is an exemplary model for a culture that fulfills the key cooperative values of mutual trust, mutual respect and open communication. I think the fire service industry member departments can learn much from their accomplishments, as can other industry members as well. They describe their values and my involvement with their discovery and implementation here


No one can approach the process of culture change without understanding the multiple crises afflicting organizations today.

I'd like to give an overview of the different levels of the converging crises organizations face in the paragraphs below.

The Global Crisis

I got a degree in environmental resources in 1976 from the Arizona State Department of Engineering. Since then, I've followed the environmental crisis closely, even interviewing top environmental scientists to get my questions answered, and reading the main summary documents that come out periodically from the scientific community. In recent years I've interviewed Dennis Meadows, co-author of Limits to Growth and its periodic updates. I've also interviewed Gary Gardner, the head of research at the Worldwatch Institute. I've developed an expanding list of the major factors in this crisis, adding human factors to the list. The current version is here. It is a web page that describes the megacrisis working paper, with a link to a PDF of the document itself. The working pape is only five pages.

Here is a graphic that shows the categories of the many factors that constitute the global crisis, which I call the global megacrisis: (Click on the image to magnify.)

Megacrisis Factors Page


Here is a list of factors from Wikipedia. It is called "List of Environmental Issues."

Whichever survey of the factors I look at, we are going to be in a period of worsening global crises for the foreseeable future. That means we need a process of leadership development to help us both prevent the worsening of the megacrisis, and prepare to deal with its symptoms.

The American Economic Crisis

With an effective unemployment rate (counting those who have given up looking for work) varying from 10 to 15 percent, declining home values, and no end in sight to the situation, few would argue that America is in an economic crisis.  

It is my conviction that fire departments must innovate their way out of the crisis, both for themselves, as well as for the members of the community they serve.



Innovation is a process by which entirely an new idea, practice, object, product, process, or service is developed and adopted by a person, organization, industry or entire population. 

The classic book about innovation is by Everett M. Rogers, and is titled "Diffusion of Innovations." 

In it, Rogers documents cases of innovation, and the processes that help bring it about.

Decision Processes of Innovation

Rogers, on page 138 of his book lists these steps as crucial to the process of innovating:

  1. Needs/Problems
  2. Research (basic and applied)
  3. Development
  4. Commercialization
  5. Diffusion and Adoption
  6. Consequences

He said that these six steps "are somewhat arbitrary in that they do not always occur in exactly the order shown here, and certain stages may be skipped in the case of certain innovations."

On page 170 he presents another model for the innovation decision process with five stages. They are

  1. Knowledge
    a. Recall of information
    b. Comprehension of messages
    c. Knowledge or skill for effective adoption of innovation
  2. Persuasion
    a. Liking the innovation
    b. Discussion of the new behavior with others
    c. Acceptance of the message about the innovation
    d. Formation of a positive image of the message and the innovation
    e. Support for the innovation behavior from the system
  3. Decision
    a. Intention to seek additional information about the innovation
    b. Intention to try the innovation
  4. Implementation
    a. Acquisition of additional information about the innovation
    b. Use of the innovation on a regular basis
    c. Continued use of the innovation
  5. Confirmation
    a. Recognition of the benefits of using the innovation
    b. Integration of the innovation into one's ongoing routine
    c. Promotion of the innovation to others

These two models provide insights into some of the organizational factors in bringing about innovations.

The Rogers S Curve of Innovation Diffusion

Rogers introduces the S Curve on page 11 of his book. It illustrates the diffusion process by which an ever-higher percentage of a population use the innovation over time. The process goes like this:

Early adopters of the innovation use it first, but represent a small percentage of the population

The innovation (if it is to be a successful innovation) begins to take off as 10 percent of the population begin to use it

As later adopters join in and use it, the use of the innovation by the population approaches 100 percent.

Examples of innovation come from all areas of human culture.


In sports, four classic cases of innovation came in basketball, gymnastics, high jumping and golf. 

In basketball, it took over three decades of play before Ken Sailors invented the jump shot in 1934, and Paul Arizin first perfected it in the 1940s.

In track and field, Mitsuo Tsukahara from Japan introduced twisting to vaults and high-bar routines in the late 1960s and early 1970s, changing those events forever.

Dick Fosbury revolutionized the high jump with his Fosbury Flop and won the 1968 Olympics with it. All world records the last 20 years have been achieved with the Fosbury Flop high jump innovation.

In the late 1800s, golf clubs had grips much thicker than those we use today. Most players then held the club more like a baseball player holds a bat with the hands a bit apart and the thumbs not on the shaft but wrapped around it. During the swing, they slid their hands on the grip of the shaft.

Near the end of the century, a small group of players created the first recorded innovation in the golf swing: using both hands together as one unit, forming a single hinge. James Braid, Harry Vardon and John Taylor invented a grip which accomplished this, and became known by the name of one of its creators—and called the Vardon grip—which we know today as the overlapping grip. This grip and its key variant, the interlocking grip, are the most widely used grips today by amateurs and professionals alike.


It is difficult to imagine a time when there were not Post It notes or laptop computers. But they are innovations.

Post It Notes

The legendary case study of product innovation is the story of Post It Notes by the 3M company. They were developing glues, such as the glue used on the back of stamps that are sticky enough not to peel off of paper, but not so sticky that they couldn't be peeled off the plastic sheets on which the stamps are held. They had a glue that "failed" to pass that test, and so were disregarding that formulation of adhesives. That's when someone came up with the idea of Post It Notes. The rest is history, and the case is noteworthy, not only due to the creativity of the originator, but also the innovation management of 3M that allocated 15 percent of time and money budgets to discretionary innovative activities, most of which failed to create anything that paid off for the company. But that is the nature of innovation management: lots of strike outs, and a few spectacular home runs.

Laptop Computers

In 1986, all computers were desktops or mainframes. In that context, a manager at Toshiba developed and pushed for a laptop computer. Despite the objections that streamed in from throughout the company, he persisted. Laptops were born. And the rest, again, is history. And, of course, I'm writing this on my laptop in a café. That is a case in Everett Roger's book Diffusion of Innovations.

The list of product innovations in endless . . . 

Organizational Support for Innovation

Google and 3M exemplify this approach very well. Two of the key distinctions are allocating time and money for discretionary activities. Google encourages one day a week, or 20 percent of a person's time, doing whatever they might want to do that could lead to an innovative new product or service. They call it "the 20 percent rule." 3M allocated 15 percent of its budget for discretionary activities along the same line as Google. I think this is a trend.

The Innovation Mindset

The phrase "thinking outside the box" has become common in reference to the individual thinking involved in innovation. This idea comes from the nine-dots exercise.

I like to do this exercise to illustrate how new, innovative ideas come from questioning seemingly unquestionable assumptions.

The work of Edward de Bono is a good source for techniques that activate the creativity that supports innovation. His work in this area is called "Lateral Thinking", a term he coined.

Creativity is an essential prerequisite for innovation. So are the organizational processes that encourage innovation as well.

In our session I led the group through the nine-dots exercise.  

Picture a group of nine dots arranged like this on a surface:

Nine Dots Image


We discovered the various solutions to drawing a series of straight lines through the dots without lifting the tip of a writing instrument from the surface. 

The standard five-line solution looks like this:

Nine Dots Image Five Line Solution


The four-line solution is normally as far as the exercise goes.

Here is the four-line solution:

Nine Dots Image Four Line Solution


THIS solution is the origin of the phrase "thinking outside of the box." 

What about solutions with fewer lines?

There are many such solutions. Finding them requires a deep and persistent questioning of one's assumptions. 

Summary of the Mindset of Innovation:

Question assumptions. Every. One. Possible.

Summary of Innovation

Innovation requires . . . creativity of individuals, organizational policies to promote innovation, and a culture which fulfills essential cooperative values making each person safe enough to take the necessary risks required for innovating.



When managers as fire chiefs and boards of directors engage in a process of discovering and fulfilling the values of the employees of a department or organization, it constitutes a commitment to the values of the employees. This a necessary first step to gaining a commitment from them.

The back-and-forth reverberation of values, if it consistently leads of the ever greater fulfillment of mutual trust, mutual respect and open communication, creates a sense of community, of belonging and of fun that is precious and rare. And it creates the sort of felt safety that enables people to come up with lots of creative ideas, even "stupid" ones, without penalties of any kind.

The sense of safety that comes from earning the commitment of the members of an organization constitutes a pre-requisite for innovation, and the resulting inventions it creates.

That deeply emotional sense of safety is not only inherently valuable and morally desirable, it also fulfills a necessary pre-requisite for innovation. People won't do a lot of anything if they are punished for it. A culture of commitment will reward people for creative ideas, even the stupid ones, because lots of strike outs can yield some great home runs. My article called Fulfilling Values is a good summary of my thoughts on the necessary and sufficient factors for fulfilling cooperative values and creating a culture of mutual commitment. 

Here are the main factors from that article:

Necessary and Sufficient Factors
in Creating a Culture of Mutual Commitment

  • The Conscience of a Leader
  • A Process of Fearless Open Communication
  • Discovering and Committing to Cooperative Values
  • Outer and Inner Skills of Leadership 
  • An Organizational Structure Free of Constraints Against Cooperative Values
  • A Committed, Responsible Leadership Facilitator  

Where to go from here . . . 

If you'd like a customized presentation for your organization about how to build commitment, innovation and culture change, just call me at 206-618-2888.


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