The only thing that all leaders who cannot change have in common

Bunshiro OCHIAI
9 min readJan 20, 2022


In my previous article, I mentioned that improvement and innovation depends on how well we formulate the “ quest(question) “, as the first step, and that the “ quest(question) “ depends on how we see things.

In this article, I would like to talk about the importance of how we see things, using the subject of what leaders who cannot change have in common.

The root cause of the inability to change is the thinking model

The following comments are often heard about leaders and organizations that cannot change.

▼ Leaders are so caught up in their past successes that they are unwilling to accept new ideas and values.

▼ They are so busy with their short-term tasks that they do not have time to tackle new challenges.

▼ They think they can somehow survive as they are, and are unable to keep up with the changing needs of customers and technology.

Some of you may be feeling the same way.

I myself have received many such comments in the past. Each time, I feel depressed and my mind is filled with excuses and evasions, such as, “Even if you say that, there are such and such circumstances,” but on the other hand, I also feel a sense of surrender, “Oh, you’re right.”

What causes these issues and how can they be solved? Can they be solved by learning about strategic planning and organizational development methodologies? Or, can they be solved by asking for help from a consultant or other expert?

There are times when they can help. But I think they are often not enough to solve the fundamental issue.

This is because the underlying thinking model of the person or organization itself is often the cause of the impediment to change. In such cases, even if we learn the methodology, we will not be able to incorporate it successfully because the thinking models, such as values and belief systems, will be a hindrance. In short, it is not a matter of methodology.

For example, a leader who is reluctant to embrace new values may be obsessed with following the ideas of his or her boss, or may be caught up in his or her own past successes. Even at the organizational level, it is common to find that the lack of an atmosphere to tackle new things or a culture that does not tolerate failure is an obstacle to creating new businesses and organizational change.

In such cases, the thinking models of leaders and organizations themselves need to change. Actually, the more difficult the task, the more the thinking models of people and organizations need to be changed. This can be explained in the framework of technical challenges and adaptive challenges, and the transformation of the thinking model falls under the latter category of adaptive challenges. For more details, please refer to the past articles.

Corporate culture changes

In fact, our company is in the process of transforming itself on the level of thinking models.

In the wake of the spread of infectious diseases, our mainstay training service for corporations went online at once. The speed of the move was good, but the increase in workload and the complexity of the business process led to a number of problems, such as exhaustion on the frontline and difficulty in onboarding new employees.

As the new e-learning service was prepared with an emphasis on speed, we were not able to keep up with the development of the operational manuals. Therefore, the sales staff had to make various preparations on their own, and the more orders they received, the busier they became. In addition, even if we tried to assign people to handle the workload, the work was too complex and there was no time to teach them, and in the end, the number of people who could handle the work did not increase.

In such a case, we would normally address to the issue of not being able to keep up with the development of manuals and other work mechanisms, or the issue of not having a system in place for training newly hired personnel. It will be essential to address the situation of exhaustion on the frontline by handling these issues.

While addressing these issues was of course important, my intuition was that if we didn’t solve the more fundamental issues, we would have the same problems again.

As the underlying issue, I felt that we needed to change some of the culture of speed-first, which is unique to venture companies, to provide the fastest possible service for our customers.

A culture that prioritizes speed is an important organizational culture that has supported Alue’s growth from its inception to the present. Our management philosophy consists of three components: mission, vision, and values, and the importance of speed is also stated in our values.

However, as the company has grown to a certain size, I thought that it might be time to update the organizational culture and values that we value as an organization.

As speed is one of our strengths, recognizing that there is a challenge in it was itself difficult for me to accept. By changing it, we risked losing what we had always valued. I hesitated in this way many times.

However, with this awareness of the issues, as I interact with members of my company, especially those who are involved in the day-to-day operations on the frontline, my confidence in the appropriateness of my awareness of these issues will grow.

Then, this quest(question) arose, “How can we update our culture that emphasizes speed in the midst of a shifting phase of the company?”

As the president of the company, I myself have been holding such a quest(question), and through gradual sharing and dialogue, we have begun the process of updating our corporate culture. The answer to this question has not yet been finalized, but we are experimenting with a protocol that when we introduce a new service or product, we release it only after the entire business process is prepared and the people involved are satisfied that it will work.

It remains to be seen what kind of corporate culture will eventually take root through this kind of trial and error, but I feel that it is very important that the entire team shares the same awareness of issues and is able to face our own adaptive challenges through experimentation and dialogue.

The Consistency Trap

Updating the values and culture that have sustained us is not an easy task.

Therein lies the “consistency trap”.

I think everyone would feel confused if they were asked to throw away something that they have cherished for a long time. This is partly because the things we have cherished are precious and partly because we feel that they are a part of us, and discarding them would be like discarding a part of ourselves.

To put it bluntly, we can say that there is a desire to be consistent with who we are.

In the midst of these feelings, the key to making it possible to update the values and culture that have supported us is to reaffirm what we really want to achieve.

We can say that we value consistency in a big picture and let go of consistency in a small one.

In the case of Alue, our management philosophy of “opening up all the possibilities for people” is what we really want to achieve. When we come back to this purpose, we have to ask ourselves if the “speed-first” thinking model and organizational culture are really the best for the current phase of the company.

By taking a step back in this way, we can realize that the thinking models we have identified ourselves with are actually changeable.

“Speed first” is just one thinking model that has supported success up to that point, but it is not immutable in the future. If we go back to “what we really want to achieve,” it will be easier to accept the idea that we can change it.

It starts with being aware of what we cannot see

The common denominator among leaders who cannot change is that they are not aware of what they are not “seeing” and are not able to face their own adaptive challenges.

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned examples of leaders that are unable to change, but they can be seen as examples of people who are trapped in a narrow view of things based on their past experiences and are not aware of what they are not seeing.

People in leadership positions have acquired a wide range of experience and knowledge, but the more they do so, paradoxically, the more they need to be aware of things they cannot see. Only with this flexibility will it be possible to promote essential improvements, change, and innovation.

However, confronting the adaptive challenge, that is, changing the values level, is a very difficult process. It is difficult to become aware of one’s own thinking models and values in the first place. This is because these are very natural and unconscious to the individual.

Even if we are aware of our values, recognizing that there is a problem with them is also a difficult task. Values are largely formed from one’s past experiences. Therefore, as I mentioned earlier about the consistency trap, there is a risk of self-denial when one doubts one’s values. (Of course, there is absolutely no need for self-denial!)

The first step in overcoming these tough realities and transforming our values is to notice that there are things that we do not see.

▼Maybe the reason I feel this way is because I’m only looking at certain parts.
→If there is something that I am not seeing, what would it be?

▼Other people may disagree with me because they are looking at different aspects.
→What kind of thoughts and experiences do other people have, and how do they perceive them?

▼Our own way of thinking and values may be causing these problems.
→What aspects of our own (our) thinking models and values, if any, are causing these problems?

The first step to improvement and innovation is to be able to think in this way and face the people and things around us with an open attitude.

In this article, on the subject of what leaders who cannot change have in common, I conveyed the importance of being able to flexibly update the way we look at things, and talked about the importance of being aware of what we cannot see as a start.

In the next article, I would like to talk about how to look at things in a way that allows us to be aware of what we cannot see, rather than being limited to what we can see.

Here are the quests of the day. (If you’d like, please share your thoughts in the comments.)

・If there is an issue that you, or someone around you, or an organization, feel is caused by a thinking model that is not changing, what kind of issue is it?

・What experiences, if any, have you had that fell into the “consistency trap”?

Bunshiro Ochiai



Bunshiro OCHIAI

Founder and CEO of a training company, Alue | MS in Particle Physics. | BCG | Questing “What is the paradigm for integrating contradictions in management?”