Zen and the Art of Change Management

August 11, 2009
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Zen, a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism, emphasizes experiential Prajñā (wisdom and understanding of the Buddha nature within) which is realized through meditation and mindfulness of daily experiences. Zen practitioners believe  this provides insights which ultimately lead to enlightenment. Theoretical knowledge and the study of religious texts are de-emphasized in favor of direct, experiential realization through meditation and dharma practice (one’s righteous duty or virtuous path). The ensō, a symbol of Japanese Zen Buddhism. The ensō, a symbol of Japanese Zen Buddhism.

Change management, a discipline that emphasizes managing the ‘people side of change’ has similarities akin to Zen Buddhism. Wisdom and understanding of change takes practice, reflection, observation, and mindfulness. Change management is a skill to be developed. (Note: The ensō is a symbol of Japanese Zen Buddhism.)

There are plenty of change management texts, models, and best practices; however, assessing change, preparing for change, being aware of how you are experiencing change, being conscious of how others are perceiving a change, learning how to influence others to support a change are


Zen, a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism, emphasizes experiential Prajñā (wisdom and understanding of the Buddha nature within) which is realized through meditation and mindfulness of daily experiences. Zen practitioners believe  this provides insights which ultimately lead to enlightenment. Theoretical knowledge and the study of religious texts are de-emphasized in favor of direct, experiential realization through meditation and dharma practice (one’s righteous duty or virtuous path).
The ensō, a symbol of Japanese Zen Buddhism.
The ensō, a symbol of Japanese Zen Buddhism.

Change management, a discipline that emphasizes managing the ‘people side of change’ has similarities akin to Zen Buddhism. Wisdom and understanding of change takes practice, reflection, observation, and mindfulness. Change management is a skill to be developed. (Note: The ensō is a symbol of Japanese Zen Buddhism.)

There are plenty of change management texts, models, and best practices; however, assessing change, preparing for change, being aware of how you are experiencing change, being conscious of how others are perceiving a change, learning how to influence others to support a change are ALL aspects of being a change leader that practice and experience to be effective. These insights don’t come from reading a book on change management – although change management knowledge and research are useful in gaining knowledge from those that have gone before you; nothing replaces experience, nothing replaces making mistakes and learning from them and moving on, nothing replaces emotional awareness.

So, back away from your journey and revisit your experiences.

  1. THINK about what worked and didn’t work with a recent change.
  2. REFLECT on the objections and resistance you experienced as a result of a change or the objections and resistance you faced from others during a change you were trying to implement.
  3. STOP and BE MINDFUL of where people struggled, where you struggled.
  4. REVISIT what you would do differently, what you would do again.

We all get moving so fast in today’s world. What would our world be like if we practiced slowing down, if we practiced stopping the empty chatter, if we practiced calming our minds? My bet is that that we would live better lives, more peaceful lives. We would notice when compassion is needed and when a firm decision to move forward is needed. We would recognize why people are resisting a change and what response is meaningful. We would learn how to affect change and be effective change leaders – a skill that that our organizations, governments, communities, and families need more than ever.