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On this episode of Dare to Lead

I won’t lie: This conversation was hard as hell. But — I’m so grateful to Lisa Lahey and all the work she and Robert Kegan have done on the “immunity to change” theory. It explains why lasting, meaningful change is damn hard. Rather than simply talking about the process, Lisa and I actually engage in it around something I’m desperate to change (and somewhat refusing to change). She is so skilled at asking questions and framing conversations — this is a MASTER class.

About the guest

Lisa Lahey

Lisa Lahey is the founder of Minds at Work, a coaching and consulting firm serving businesses and institutions around the world, and is on the faculty of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

An expert in adult development and an experienced educator and executive coach, Lisa works with leaders and leadership teams in both for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. She currently leads and teaches the Personal Mastery program in Harvard’s Education Leadership, Organizations and Entrepreneurship program, a degree designed to advance equity, access, agency, and excellence in education. Her passion for adult education, women’s development, diversity and inclusion, and care for the aged has earned her special attention from the health care, nonprofit, and education sectors.

Lisa and longtime collaborator Robert Kegan are credited with a breakthrough discovery of the “immunity to change,” a dynamic that impedes personal and organizational transformation. Her work helps people to close the gap between their good intentions and behaviors. This work is used worldwide by executives, senior teams, and individuals in business, governmental, and educational organizations. For her seminal research, creation of developmental diagnostics and models, and prolific writing on the topic of adult development, Lisa has earned numerous awards, particularly Boston University’s Gislason Prize for contributions to organizational leadership and the Vision of Excellence Award from the Harvard Institute of Coaching.

A passionate pianist and nature lover, Lisa has two married sons and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband.

Show notes

Immunity to Change by Lisa Lahey and Robert Kegan

Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey

Immunity to Change shows how our individual beliefs—along with the collective mindsets in our organizations—combine to create a natural but powerful immunity to change. By revealing how this mechanism holds us back, Kegan and Lahey give us the keys to unlock our potential and finally move forward. And by pinpointing and uprooting our own immunities to change, we can bring our organizations forward with us.

This persuasive and practical book, filled with hands-on diagnostics and compelling case studies, delivers the tools you need to overcome the forces of inertia and transform your life and your work.

“Life is a gift in all of its fullness, the darkness and the light, period. Let’s show up.”


Brené Brown: Hi, everyone. I’m Brené Brown, and this is Dare to Lead, part two with Lisa Lahey. Oh my God, she is really… When the conversation started, I thought we would talk about Immunity to Change. I did not think we would find out exactly why I’m immune to change. It just got very personal very quick, but it has been revelatory for me. Scary, hard, honest. I’m glad you’re here unless you work with me. Then you’ll be like, oh, this is the problem. This is why she’s not coming to the meetings that we should be having. Sorry. I’m really… Obviously I’m working on it. You can listen to part one and two and see it’s a huge issue. All right. Stay tuned. All right. So before we get started, let me tell you a little bit about Dr. Lahey. Lisa, again, Harvard Graduate School of Education faculty member. Lisa and her long, long time collaborator, Robert Kegan, are credited with a breakthrough discovery of the “immunity to change,” a dynamic which impedes personal and organizational transformation. Her work helps people to close the gap between their good… I’m laughing because I got a big gap… To close the gap between their good intentions and behaviors.

BB: We’re going to work it. I’m going to work the program with her guiding me through on something that’s really real and vulnerable and hard. Lisa is also the founder of Minds at Work, a coaching and consulting firm serving businesses and institutions around the world. She’s on the faculty at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. She’s an expert in adult development and an experienced educator and executive coach. If you’re a coach, this will be a masterclass in coaching for you. She works with leaders and leadership teams in both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. She currently leads and teaches the Personal Mastery Program in Harvard’s Education Leadership, Organizations and Entrepreneurship Program. It’s a degree designed to advance equity, access, agency, and excellence in education. Her passion for adult education, women’s development, diversity and inclusion, and care for the aged have earned her special attention from the healthcare, nonprofit, and education sectors. She’s got many books, including Immunity to Change from Harvard Business Press. We will link to all of her books. She’s also a passionate pianist and a nature lover. She’s got two married sons and lives in Cambridge with her husband, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Let’s go. Buckle yourself in and watch me.

BB: God, Barrett just said squirm. That’s probably a good one. Watch me squirm. All right, guys, we’re back. Lisa, I’m walking through the “immunity of change” process with you. Should we recap where we are?

Lisa Lahey: Yes, let’s. Would you like to do the recap or turn it back to me?

BB: Maybe I can play it back to you and then we can make sure we’re on the same page.

LL: Perfect.

BB: The thing we talked about how everybody wants to transform and no one wants to change. There’s one change model and it’s the willpower New Year’s resolution. And I never in my life, until our first episode thought about the New Year’s resolution model, being the only model of change we really have access to. This is why I want to learn more about your research and what you’ve learned about the “immunity of change” because there’s something missing. I tell people as a shame researcher, unless you want to swim in a vat of shame by January 20th, do not set those resolutions unless you have a deeper understanding of what it’s going to take, but I don’t know. I’m like, next, see Lisa Lahey. Robert Kegan, I can’t tell you. Here’s what I want to change. I need to commit to, not just commit to, I need to actually have more scheduled discipline, set meeting times with my teams. If I could do that, it would make my life so much easier because it would stop me feeling like I’m being pecked to death by a thousand disparate needs for me to remove barriers or answer questions or approve things.

BB: It would absolutely elevate our work product and it would make the entire organizational system more connected and cohesive.

LL: May I add something?

BB: Please.

LL: Since as we were talking in the first episode, what you added was it’s also very depleting for you.

BB: To not have this?

LL: This being pecked to death. It may be apparent to you that means that you’re being depleted, but I just want to bring that out because I think what you are saying as part of what you are wanting to happen is you want to actually preserve your energy. You want to be using your energy in a different kind of way. And that’s part of the motivation for having this particular goal. That’s what I heard, but let me check that with you.

BB: Yeah. It’s actually 100% accurate and I would elevate it even more if that’s possible by saying I have a couple of really exciting, important high impact opportunities that I’m looking at right now and I’m leaning towards saying no because I don’t know how to control the pecking and I’ve made a commitment to myself and my family and my health from my sabbatical that I’m not negotiating my workout time, my family time. I don’t miss my kids’ games or big events. And so, the exhaustion that it’s creating is becoming a primary driver, decision-making driver, for me and it’s really… The word that comes to mind is sad, but that’s not granular enough of an emotion bucket. Maybe it makes me feel resigned and I don’t usually feel that way because I have a lot of agency, so I can’t figure out why I can’t change this no matter how much I want to, because I’ve been working on it for two years.

LL: Yes. It kind of sounds like a trickling out of a life force.

BB: Yes, for sure. Yes.

LL: Wow. This is highly motivating.

BB: So big. It’s big.

LL: It’s extremely important. Yes.

BB: Highly motivating on a scale from one to five, a five. Ask me the next question we had to do on the “immunity to change” process.

LL: Yes. So second question is, what are you yourself doing and not doing that works against that extremely important goal of being more disciplined meeting with your team?

BB: Yeah. This one was so hard last episode. Whoa. This one was like, I said I had a holy shit moment. It’s continuing. So one is I cancel and reschedule meetings too often. Two, I take myself off of the meeting attendee list thinking it can just happen without me. I do not prioritize meetings and…

LL: Team meetings.

BB: Team meetings. Yes.

LL: Yes. Yeah.

BB: And I say… Oh, this is the one I hated the most. I have it written like in a mean way to myself and a kinder way to myself. Which one’s the most motivating?

LL: I think whichever is most descriptive of your behavior.

BB: I enable the one-off communication culture that’s actually killing me.

LL: Yes. Okay. So this is just a slight tweak I want to offer. But first I just want to honor what you said, which I can hear would be the one way you wrote it that has got more kind of being harder on yourself because there’s a way you’re blaming yourself for this.

BB: For sure.

LL: And so, I want to just acknowledge that’s what you’re saying and that’s what you’re feeling. And to also say…

BB: It is for sure. Because it’s been such a revelation that it’s hard for me to look at it without attaching emotion and labeling bad or good.

LL: Yeah. Because you’re judging yourself for it.

BB: Yeah. Oh, for sure. I’m judgy. I’m being judgy.

LL: And so I’m going to invite you to reword it into the more behavioral form, which is “I say yes to the one-off meeting requests.” That’s the actual behavior.

BB: Yes. I consistently say yes to the one-off meeting requests.

LL: Okay. Let’s add the word ‘consistently’.

BB: It’s not one-off meeting requests. It’s I say yes to the… How do you say this, Lisa? I say yes to the direct channel communications.

LL: That’s fine. Yeah.

BB: Which leaves the entire team out. No one has context. And people get blindsided because I’ve made a decision with one person that did not happen in front of a group of people. Yeah.

LL: Yes. Yes. So, I really appreciate how much access you have to… One of the really unfortunate, unintended consequences of that behavior is it undermines not only your goal, but it sets up the whole scenario that you even need to have this goal.

BB: That’s right. That’s right.

LL: And that was kind of the way you were saying it before, but I’m trying to help you, encourage you and anybody who’s listening to how you’re talking about this, hear the difference between kind of the self-judgment in it and the just being more, this is what is. I say yes to those requests.

BB: I’m going to tell you too, for those of you listening to me go through this process with Lisa, is I have $200,000 in student loans worth of knowledge of knowing that the self-berating is more likely to drive me back to the behavior I want to change rather than to facilitate change. And I’m still doing it. So I think it must be something… I appreciate you acknowledging my feelings about it because I am kind of frustrated with myself about it and I appreciate you inviting me to get more behavioral and less judgy because I don’t think judgment and self-berating moves the change lever very much.

LL: No, I think you’re absolutely right. And I think this is in part, if we step back a little bit, why people are so hard on themselves when they undertake some kind of a change and then they don’t see that they’re able to make it happen and then they judge themselves for, I just didn’t either care enough or I don’t have what it takes. And they start being mean to themselves. I’m a loser. And so for me, that’s how problematic the motivational model is. And for a lot of people, truly the way they motivate themselves is to talk shit to themselves.

BB: Oh God.

LL:  Like if I can just get clear enough with myself about how wrong this is, I’m going to shape up. No, it’s…

BB: There’s zero evidence to support that that works.

LL: Yeah. But I think it comes at a good intentions, that’s what I want to say.

BB: Yeah, for sure.

LL:  That for many of us that kind of self-berating is like, well, that’s how I work myself up. It’s how I get myself really connected to my motivations, which is a fine thing in some respects. But to go back to the earlier point that we were discussing in episode one, if you only have basic access to this more simple model of change, which is the “just do it,” driven by motivation model, that is not going to ultimately help you. to have more of that kind, of any, motivation.

BB: So helpful.

LL: So, let’s pause here at the end of what I’m going to call the second inquiry. And I’m going to just for shorthand call it column two so that people can conceptualize this four columns to what we’re walking through. I know you know that because you’ve been reading the book and you’ve been engaged in these inquiries.

BB: For sure.

LL: So, the key thing to say at this point is for most of us, when we get to the end of this column, we immediately go into problem solving. How am I going to change that behavior? So how am I going to stop consistently saying yes? And we just go into the creative mode. It could be brainstorming. There’s a lot of fun things we can come up and tell ourselves we will do when this happens and here is…

BB: I’m dying to do it. I’m dying to go. I’m dying to problem solve right now. Action bias.

LL: Exactly. That’s so much better said. It’s an action bias for how to change those actions. One thing we could say is since this action may be new for you to have to acknowledge, maybe taking an action-oriented problem-solving approach will work for you. My encouragement is let’s see what else might come up to see whether there’s something that’s going to make it hard to take just a behavior action-oriented solution set. Because for most of us, column two, those behaviors are serving a really good purpose. And that’s why it’s so hard to change them in a sustained way. Because as soon as we start changing them, the bigger, more hidden need they were attending to is like, “what? what happened here? Get back.” And so that’s how we end up slipping back.

BB: God, this is so smart. This is so smart because it is almost when people say to me, “how do I get over shame?” Or there’s some people, not researchers, but more inspirational people, several of them that have this thing that we’re like, “you look at shame and you yell at it and you say, you go away.” And I was just like, there are no data that support that. If you’re going to turn towards shame, what you need to say to it is “thank you for trying to keep me safe.”

LL: Yes.

BB: “Thank you for trying to keep me from getting blamed or criticized. I understand how you’re trying to help. I think I’m going to do this brave thing anyway. Let’s see how it goes.” And so when I look at those behaviors, I actually want to go into action bias sport mode to just change them. I do not want to go to the third column. I will repeat, I do not want to go to the third column. Because part of action bias, we know, is the fear of excavating some of the really hard stuff that’s driving the behaviors.

LL: Yes. Yes. So, if we could just take action, we will immediately feel better about ourselves because hey, we’re doing something to address this problem. Isn’t that so great, right? And it is much easier if it can work. That’s all we need actually. I don’t want to say action is a bad thing. The bias, when it’s driving us and we’re not intentionally choosing it and saying we’re going to be… We’re running into tests here. Let me see if I could do this with the action bias. That’s a mindful approach to how you’re going to try to be action oriented. And then you’ll find out, right? You can gather the data…

BB: For me right now, in my process, I would not feel like I was intentionally running toward action. I would feel like I’m intentionally running away from column three. [laughter] So yeah, I think sometimes action is really helpful, but with intention and an openness that you’re doing it not to avoid the next hard thing.

LL: Yes, yeah, yep.

BB: So, what is the next hard thing?

LL: Okay. The next hard thing is, I’m going to call it our hidden competing commitment. And I will give you just the heads up that whatever we discover and uncover in column three is going to be understood as the source of those behaviors you’ve just named. And it will also ultimately be in tension with or competing with column one. So that’s what we’re going for here. And to be really explicit, we are not looking to solve any problem here. We’re looking to try to better understand what the problem is, quote unquote, that we would need to solve. Which by the way, isn’t a problem, but it’s a way we feel stuck. And that is the essence of how I mean problem. So as a first step, I would ask you to go back into your column two behaviors and choose the one behavior that you think, you know, if you had that proverbial magic wand and you could change it, which behavior is that?

BB: Well, I think not prioritizing team meetings. If I changed that, the others would kind of fall in line. It’s probably the top level because if I did prioritize them, I wouldn’t be saying yes to the one-off communications. I wouldn’t be taking myself off the list and you don’t reschedule or cancel something you make a priority. So, I think probably my guess would be prioritizing disciplined repeating meetings.

LL: Great. Okay. Let’s go with that. And now the question here to start column three is, as you imagine yourself in the very act of prioritizing those meetings. So, in other words, it’s going to mean you’re saying no to something else and you’re saying yes to the prioritizing in the moment. What is the biggest worry or fear that comes up for you?

BB: Freedom.

LL: And the worry is the freedom will evaporate? Will…

BB: That if I’m in the middle of doing something creative, writing, coding data, putting together a talk or doing any of the things that I have to do in order to do those things well, walking five miles, sketching, Law and watching Law & Order reruns that I have somehow in my head bought into the myth that disciplined routine meetings and being a creative are mutually exclusive.

LL: Okay. So I’m going to see if the… If I phrased it in this way, which is the worry for you, if you were to prioritize these meetings is you would lose your creativity or lose access to being creative.

BB: I would lose access to the time that creating requires.

LL: And what is the worst part for you about losing that time? So there’s something I want to get to is that what’s the core loss for you in losing that time?

BB: That’s my joy. That’s when I’m alive. That’s when I come alive. That’s the reason I’m doing everything. That’s my purpose.

LL: So, if I asked it this way, the worry is it will reduce my sense of aliveness?

BB: It would reduce what I’m called to be doing. It would… I’m like terrible. I’m coming up with these terrible words, suffocate, drown. Like it would… Yeah.

LL: Great. I mean, great as in… Those are big worries, right? Big worries and fears. Okay. So, I’m going to just take those words straight up the way you’re saying the worry is I’d suffocate. I’d drown.

BB: Yes.

LL: Okay.

BB: I don’t want to say that because I’m suffocating and drowning now.

LL: Okay. But that’s… Now you’re going to your head.

BB: I know. I know. I know. I know. Okay.

LL: So right now, just staying with us, the worry or fear, if you were to prioritize these meetings, is you would feel like you were suffocating or that you were drowning.

BB: Mm-hmm.

LL: Great.

BB: In whatever the opposite of creativity is.

LL: Yeah. So, what would you say?

BB: Details.

BB: In details. Drowning in details. Does that speak to you?

BB: Yes.

LL: Does that get it? Okay. And I could imagine, tell me if this word might also apply. It’s like the mundane.

BB: Yes. Oh, yes. For sure.

LL: Yeah. Okay. All right. So, let’s have you just take a moment and catch up with writing that down in your own map, which is “the worry is I’d suffocate. I’d drown in details. Drown in the mundane.” So, if we were to pause there and just choose one other behavior in column two, because I want to see if you go someplace else in addition to this. If we had more time, we would go through each one of the behaviors.

BB: Okay.

LL: But I’m kind of inclined to go to the one that you just had a lot of feelings about, which was you’re consistently saying yes to the kind of the Slack channel thing. Would you be game to go with that?

BB: Yeah. Oh, totally.

LL: Try to imagine yourself in the real moment setting a boundary on that and not saying yes. What’s the biggest worry or fear that comes up for you?

BB: I’ll either stop the work or someone will approve something that they don’t have the context to approve.

LL: And stay with that a little bit. What’s the worst thing for you personally about that?

BB: I’m not an accessible leader.

LL: And is there a next place you’d go with that? What’s the worst thing for you about being an inaccessible leader?

BB: I’m not walking my talk. I’m the thing getting in the way of good work.

LL: Great. So, if we paused there, do those land for you as fears, worries?

BB: Oh, yeah. 100%. Huge. I’m deeply, deeply uncomfortable. My arms are crossed. You can’t see me if you’re listening to the podcast. I’ve got my mad face on and I’m really wanting a Diet Coke. One change at a time, folks. One change at a time. Okay. Okay. So, this is good. This is important.

LL: [chuckle] All right. Well, I really appreciate you doing this and I can hear how it’s all unfolding in real time.

BB: Oh, yeah. Yeah, no. This is… I would not have planned this. You can be sure of that. [laughter] It’s such a hard one, but it’s… Yeah, it’s a hard one.

LL: Okay. So let me just see if I can say a little bit more here and help you to see all this amazing work that you’ve just done. So we’re going to take one more step in column three, and I’m actually going to take it for you because it’s not worth going through how complicated the direction sounds to some people, which is to say that, you have a commitment to not drowning in the details, in the mundane, a commitment to not suffocating, a commitment to not being an inaccessible leader, and a commitment to not being a leader who doesn’t walk your talk.

BB: Truer commitment statements have never been read.

LL: So, I love how you can say yes to you see how that’s a commitment. It’s not a thing you would say, yeah, sign me up for that.

BB: No. These are deeply held but never voiced commitments that I have. I don’t talk about them, but they are… I was getting ready to say they drive a ton of my behavior. [laughter]

LL: We’ve gotten to one of the first things we can see when we’ve done the work of column three, which is we see why our column two behaviors make all the sense in the world, right?

BB: Yeah.

LL: Because we have to protect ourselves the way that we have just named in column three. So, these are commitments to just be really explicit that are on behalf of protecting ourselves, protecting our image very often is what it will come down to. And this is really important to acknowledge because it’s going on, whether we are acknowledging it or not, and we know it’s going on when we see what we do in column two. So, the reason is not to torture you here, right? The reason we want to get to this column three stuff is to try and open up kind of the curtains so you can see, oh, the behaviors I’m engaged in aren’t just coming out of nowhere.

LL: They’re actually brilliant. They are brilliantly helping me to accomplish these things of not drowning in the details, for example, of not being inaccessible and so on. It’s brilliant. As a matter of fact, you ought to say yes more often. If that’s the only goal that you had, you ought to say yes to those requests to do those one-offs on Slack. But you have another goal. And that goal that we started with was to be more disciplined with your team meetings, scheduling them and so on. And now I hope you can see that between column one, which is an honest, very important goal, and column three, which is also a very honest and actually well-earned kind of, we don’t come to this out of nowhere in our column three. They are serving you very well. It just happens to be that when you look at these two goals in relation to one another, one, the one that is more apparent in column one, and the one that just got uncovered in column three, you can see that they are at cross purposes and basically creating a system, which we call the immune system, where you’ve got a lot of energy trapped in that system, basically keeping you in the status quo.

BB: It’s so fricking profound. It’s so revelatory. How long did it take you to come up with this?

LL: Oh, you know what? That would be about… I want to say maybe 40 decades ago. How did it actually come up? This is basically all I’ve done with my whole career. You know, it didn’t start all this way. It really didn’t. But it did come from some basic fundamental understanding of how humans develop and this whole idea that development is about helping us as individuals to be able to begin to, in kind of philosophical terms, take as object that which we’re subject to. The whole idea of being able to make that move puts us in a very powerful position of not being at the mercy of something, but having a separation between us and it, that we can actually be in relation to it. So, it’s not to separate it and ban it. It’s to separate so that we can relate, so we’re not merged with it. That’s kind of the driving notion behind this is a core developmental idea.

BB: Wow. And you know what’s really terrible? I don’t know if it’s terrible, but I won’t put judgment on it. Let me think about it. You know what’s really perplexing to me?

LL: Yes.

BB: Is I am really committed to what’s in column one, these more disciplined regular meetings. And I don’t feel bad about the commitments in column three because they have served my career.

LL: Yes. Yes, they have. And that’s how I meant…

BB: But now what?

LL: Yes. Well, this is how I meant, these things in column three serve a really important purpose and they have served you very well. But as you know, what got you here won’t get you there.

BB: Won’t get you there. Yeah.

LL: Right? If you are wanting to take up that next post in your life, which requires that you do make different choices, then this is going to be the moment where you can take a look at this.

BB: It’s so in line with all the work I’m doing personally and professionally about this next season in my career and in my life. And so it’s very much like, yeah, I don’t look at these things with disdain. I look at them like, you know, I’d look at them kind of like I look like shame, like, thank you. You know, I was raising kids and I have a partner and a big life, and a big family and I had to do these things to write six books and to build this business. And so, these things really served me. They’re not serving me the same anymore. And so that’s really interesting that both things can be true.

LL: And there we have it. That is, I think, like a profound place to shine a light because this is so often the way our minds work, which is to go into a very simplistic either/or, and that is going to take us to the fourth column of the whole exercise, which is called big assumptions. And I think you’ve already named a big assumption that is in line with this kind of either/or thinking, which is to be disciplined and creative is incompatible.

BB: Do you want to hear something really funny? I was interviewing Jim Collins on this podcast and we were geeking out because we’re both grounded theory researchers and we were talking about that and we were talking about paradox and how, you know, straddling the tension of two things. And he has a list of paradoxes in his book. And I think discipline and creativity was one of them, but it was the only one I don’t think I read aloud.


LL: It’s like a Rorschach.

BB: It is. It is totally. It is. Yeah. That is a big assumption that to be disciplined is incompatible with being a creative.

LL: Yeah. Yeah. And so if we just even took that one, I’m sure there are a lot of other ones and we can take time to do that, but I would love to pull the thread on this one for the moment, we can go back into big assumptions, but this is a powerful big assumption because it’s basically, if you use the metaphor of the lens, it’s the way you see the world. And so, it leads you to be seeing it’s an either/or decision I have to make here. And once it is either/or it’s pretty clear you want to be leaning in the direction of the creator, right?

BB: For sure.

LL: So that feels unambivalent about that. And that’s the opportunity when we are finally able to see some of these lenses that we’re holding, which I’m calling big assumptions, and they end up in our “immunity to change” map because they are the assumptions that are basically keeping our immune system in play. So, if I truly am believing, and I don’t mean this in a cognitive way necessarily, but even just emotionally, if I really believe it’s either this or it’s that, then of course I am going to have a column three commitment, which is to never put myself in that place where I have to be disciplined and drown in all those details, right?

BB: A 100%.

LL: But if I don’t, if I can change that assumption to see where its edges are, and I can explore the possibility that the world is not so black and white.  Where’s the gray? Then I’m in a position where I can begin to craft a different possibility of a reality where it’s possible to be both disciplined and be a creator. And that’s what the work ahead would be. How do you test out that big assumption? And for me, the way to go about testing any assumption is try to really stack the deck in the direction that shows you the ways your big assumption may not be correct. Because it’s very easy to show how it’s correct. It’s way harder to show yourself how it isn’t incomplete. It’s just not seeing all of the way the world can be.

BB: I’ve held this assumption and been vaguely aware of this assumption. I knew had zero awareness to be honest with you about… Not zero, but I did not understand how it was driving commitments that were fighting against a real change aspiration for me. But I will tell you one thing, I wrote it down and writing is so powerful to look at something, I think is part of that thing, object, subject thing.

LL: Absolutely.

BB: To give it some distance and not become the thing, but observe the thing.

LL: Yes. Yes.

BB: Right? In just writing it down, I wrote to be disciplined is incompatible with being creative. I think one fault of that assumption that I’ve never thought about until I just saw it in writing was I made the assumption that somehow I conflated something and thought, you want me to become disciplined in how I create. So, if I give in to the fact that discipline and creativity can coexist, then you’re telling me I have to become a disciplined creator, that I have to write every day for three hours, that I have to create a certain way. And I know that is fundamentally untrue about me.

LL: Yes.

BB: Like I have a process that has clearly worked. I built a career on it, and it is maybe routine in its own way. But from the time I wrote my dissertation, I am a binge writer. I think about things for months and months and months, but then when I sit down to write, I have a ping pong playing, five-mile walking, swimming laps, watching Law & Order, crazy way of doing things. And you can’t, I’m not going to let anyone take that away from me. And so, I think I was thinking until this very second, I can’t even articulate it because it’s so new, but I think I was thinking that discipline and creativity are mutually exclusive because it meant someone telling me how to create. It didn’t mean putting discipline in parts of my life that allow for more of my crazy creative process. I never even thought about that until this moment.

LL: Yes. So, let’s add an assumption to your column four, which is I assume that being disciplined is someone telling me how to be creative.

BB: Mm-hmm.

LL: And then there’s another assumption, I think… There was something else that you were saying. It was like, I can’t be disciplined in another part of my life.

BB: Yeah. I thought… Yeah, I assumed that if you’re a creative and you get disciplined, it’s not about other parts of your life. It’s about how you create.

LL: Yes.

BB: And I never thought for a moment until this real second that actually being disciplined in other parts of your life gave you more mushy room for your wild creative processes.

LL: Yes. Yeah. So, it’s almost like that maybe the assumption is some version of, either I am creative everywhere or somehow I’m going to have to be disciplined everywhere. That’s kind of to the application of it is either/or.

BB: That’s it. That’s exactly it. Scheduled and just, I don’t know. Yeah, it’s huge, huge, huge breakthrough for me.

LL: So, can you imagine a way you could test one of the assumptions that you’ve just named? How could you show yourself that it actually doesn’t have to work that way?

BB: Well, I think I’ve just proven it because I’ve become very disciplined about working out and playing pickleball four or five times a week. And I’ve become very disciplined about it. Like it’s a priority. Things don’t get in the way of it. And it has really helped my creativity. It has nothing to do…

LL: Love it.

BB: With how I create, but it’s actually afforded me more energy and clarity to create So that completely busts that myth.

LL: Yes. So I would add to what you’re saying that you’ve just done what I would call a retrospective test. You have already gathered data in your life that has shown you that this assumption is not correct, but you’ve never put two and two together to see, oh, wait, that actually, that discipline fuels my creativity and how cool is that? Right? And now you can draw on that prior data to help you stretch this meaning that you have been making, this limiting assumption. And I’d also say we should not let just one set of tests change our mind about things. We should stay with it and keep collecting data. And it could be that maybe you would move right into a kind of an action for learning next step, which would be, can you create a meeting with your team the way you want to in such a way that you tune into the experience of how it may be helping you to have the more energy you want to fuel your creativity? And you know, what would such a meeting look like?

BB: Yeah. I’m scared. I’m more scared of that than the pickleball and the trainer because those things are for me. It’s a retrospective study with an in of one. And now I’m going to have to like, you know, bring it into work stuff, which is hard. Although the trainer is as mundane as you get. I don’t particularly enjoy it. No hurt feelings, but I think I can do that. I think I can do an assumption breaking experiment for learning purposes.

LL: See if you can do it. If you set up in your mind, I’m going to try my best to show myself how I can have these meetings in a way that energizes my creativity and then back into what would that look like? Are they maybe shorter meetings? Are they meetings where it’s clear before you walk in around what are the core things you need to be weighing in on? I don’t know what it is. You’d have to think about it and I’d be happy to think those through with you, but that’s what a next step could be.

BB: So not just when are the meetings scheduled and with whom or why, but how do they need to run and what do they need to be used for?

LL: Yes. All of those things. There’s a lot of stuff that’s written about basic hygiene of meetings. Some of those things may apply, but some of those things really may not apply. And it’s worth taking some time because you don’t want to throw it all like, doesn’t have to keep going the way it has been. And you can be co-creating, especially now that the people who you work with know what’s going on for you. How can we do this in some way where we’re able to accomplish what we need to accomplish? And I keep saying yes to these and I keep tuning into the ways in which I can see how I’m freed up from the pull on my system of all the one-offs and all the confusion and the noise that happens in the organization and that kind of thing.

BB: God, Lisa, this is hard. It’s a lot of excavating. But it’s also really powerful to understand that there are legitimate important commitments that are working against the change that I know is also an important thing and having to understand what the assumptions are behind those existing commitments and challenge those. I mean, would you tell the folks listening that this is the heart of the process?

LL: I would say the heart of the process is to start with that map, those four columns, and to be in it in the way that I’ve experienced you today, which is to let yourself go to places that don’t feel very comfortable. They feel uncomfortable, but they feel real. They feel true. And if you can let yourself just see what is and work at the not judging yourself to just allow yourself the humanity of… This is what we all do. Every single person’s got an “immunity to change” map. If they want to take on some really good reach goal for themselves, we all have this stuff going on. So, if you could let yourself just be with that, and that’s one big step that has to happen because it gives you a map in some way around what you do need to actually address in this deeper landscape that’s going on inside in order to change your external behaviors. And then the next big heart of it all is to actually engage in some pretty active testing of your big assumptions so that you can learn the ways in which it isn’t accurate or there may be times it is accurate, but you’re having a much more rich data informed understanding of how the world works and how you also work in the world. And you let your bigger self actually be more in charge of seeing that world and not the self-protective, more scared part of us, which tends to more often be in control.

BB: There’s such a part of this process, like there are all important processes where we’re looking for transformation. It’s like the Maya Angelou, everyone talks about the beauty of the butterfly, but no one looks at that caterpillar process. But I do think there’s something about sticking with the discomfort through this and self-compassion that is really important.

LL: Yes, yes, yes. I mean, as a developmental psychologist, I think the big task for us as adults is to recognize that we have all of these stories. And by the way, they could be heroic stories. But very often they’re also stories that are not so heroic and we are pathetic, we’re, fill in the blank there. But our task, if we are really going to keep growing, is to allow ourselves to regard those as narratives about ourselves that we are mistaking for our true self. And we need to have more room to be able to take a look at them. And as… I think you yourself said this earlier today, it’s like, we just want to say thank you. And you know what, there’s more going on here. And I can take over from here. And by the way, there’s a sib over there and there’s a cousin over there. And it’s all happening inside of me. And to just not be taking ourselves as if whatever’s coming up in the moment is what is truly who we are, because it ain’t so.

BB: It ain’t so, is it? Okay, let me ask you this before we go, because people are going to be listening and they’re going to be thinking, I want to do this. I want to understand it. Where… Your TED Talk?

LL: I would love to do a TED Talk. Hasn’t happened yet.

BB: Wait, where did I see your talk where you walk through the “immunity of change”? It’s amazing.

LL: Well, that could have been, I don’t know any number of places, but I’ve never done a TED Talk.

BB: You’ve never done a TED Talk?

LL: No.

BB: Hello… Paging Chris Anderson. Paging Chris Anderson. I saw you do a talk where you walk through the columns. I even shared it with my graduate school daughter. I’ll find a link to it and put it in there. I’ve got Immunity to Change. I love it. The book.

LL: The book. The book. Yeah.

BB: It’s a big book. Where else would you send people to find more about you and this work?

LL: Yes. The work, if people want to engage the process themselves, I think that taking a chapter out of that book, Immunity to Change, chapter nine is really written for people to go through the process themselves in the company of good examples that are real. I think you could go online and Google me or Google Bob Kegan and you’ll see there are videos, various videos of us doing the four columns in some setting where people are actually engaged in the exercise. Or there’s, oh my goodness, we had an Oprah piece, I don’t know how many years ago, but we walked people through that. I did a Vox article just about my own “immunity to change” and walk people through that.

BB: Oh, the Vox article. So amazing.

LL: Yeah. So we try to make it accessible.

BB: Yes. I will put every link. I actually think chapter nine here, that’s where I started. Is that after “unlocking potential”? Yeah. “Diagnosing your own immunity to change. You’ve got the columns in there. You’ve got examples. Is this the one with the worry box?

LL: Yes. Exactly. Exactly.

BB: So chapter nine in the book, we’ll link everything for you on under Dare to Lead.

LL: Can I just say one thing, Brené? Which is…

BB: Yeah.

LL: Do your action bias, but make sure you learn from it. Like go back to your, what does it tell you about your big assumption? Because it really isn’t about not taking action. It’s about taking really intentional action and seeing what happens when you take those actions.

BB: So that really lands. And so in my action bias, I’m not going to take action. So, what you’re saying is it’s okay to take some action, but do it with intention and separate from it a little bit to observe it and learn from it as well.

LL: Exactly. What actually happens in the world when you take this different action? And do you in the end feel like you are being depleted when you are in these meetings? Do you feel like you’re more energized to take to your creativity? Because ultimately that’s the thing you’re wanting to find out. Can I live in this and both world? Does that make sense?

BB: That’s so helpful. Yes. This is super important for people because I just had a big learning in it, which is test those assumptions in service of straddling the tension of both column one and column three. Yeah, I get it. Okay. This, yeah.

LL: So, it’s a bias for action to learn about your big assumption, not just to act.

BB: Say that again. Say that one more time.

LL: It could be a bias towards action in order to learn about the accuracy of your big assumption.

BB: So, you’re not just acting for quick…

LL: Fixes.

BB: Resolution.

LL: Correct.

BB: You’re acting to learn.

LL: Yes. And as soon as you’re able to actually learn your limiting big assumption is not so accurate, that’s when you literally, literally start changing your mind. I mean, neurologically. It’s not just a belief that got large. You know all the neuropsychology stuff. So, you’re really trying to…

BB: But say it anyway.

LL: Okay. So, what you are looking to do is create new circuitry in your brain when you are processing the data that emerges when you act in this different way. So that’s what the learning is. You are learning, oh, my big assumption has said I can’t put these two things together. But what I just did shows me, oh, I was able to actually be disciplined having that meeting. Now leaving that meeting, I feel such resolve that we got X and Y done and I’m ready to take a big breath to turn towards my creativity. New meaning started to get created just in that. But of course, that faint new circuitry is going to go away if it doesn’t get some more opportunity to get reinforced. Your old one got reinforced forever, right? Now you want to build a whole new highway inside your mind that has you making a new, now more data informed way of understanding the world.

BB: Wow. So, we really are brick by brick laying a new neural pathway.

LL: Yes. Yes.

BB: Out of a bad assumption.

LL: Yes.

BB: Wow.

LL: And you’re much more using yourself as the instrument of, is this true? What’s happening in you and your body? What’s happening energetically for you? Are you feeling like, oh, I have more energy. Nothing is going to be a substitute for that.

BB: Wow. This is so big. So big. Shit, no wonder change is so hard.

LL: I know. That is so true. It is very hard. And I would definitely underscore everything that we’ve talked about is not easy at all. It’s hard. But once you know the method, you can always say, I don’t want to do this. It is too much work. And I’m willing to take the reality that I won’t be able to do this other thing I wanted to. But you’re making at least a choice.

BB: Yeah. A conscious choice as opposed to either defaulting or saying, because I’m not good enough, strong enough, determined enough. It’s like, this is a cost benefit analysis I’m making right now with full understanding.

LL: Exactly

BB: Lisa, you are just the best.

LL: Oh. I’m hoping you’re able to do this and stay with this. And I’m mostly inclined to just send you a message in a week and say, Brené, how is it going? What tests are you thinking about running?

BB: I think a lot of my courage was fueled by the fact that if I say this out loud, my team’s going to be holding me accountable along with myself. My team will be definitely saying, “have you started?” Because they’re not against me. They’re with me. They want to have meetings that are disciplined that also lead me zhuzhed up for creativity and doing new content. So I’ll take your message and love every second of it and get right back with you. And I do know that one of the reasons I found the courage to say it out loud is that I will hold myself accountable, but so will my team.

LL: Great. You got a whole, yes, like community there.

BB: Community. Yeah.

LL: Takes the community. [laughter]

BB: Community. Before we go, do you have time for the rapid fire questions?

LL: Sure. Yes.

BB: Okay. You ready?

LL: Okay. Ready, set.

BB: I’m going to do the combo Dare to Lead/Unlocking Us because there’s so many things I want to know about you. Fill in the blank for me. Vulnerability is?

LL: To connect to a tender part of myself and then to share that with someone. To be undefended, at most, to get naked and show all of me in my fragilities and all of it.

BB: Mmm. Okay. The last TV show you binged and loved.

LL: Okay. That was White Lotus season one.


BB: Did you love it?

LL: Oh my God. Could you put the sacred and the profane together in a more powerful way?

BB: Yes. No…

LL: I just loved it. I was riveted and I have to say, you know…

BB: And mortified?

LL: No. There was just so much like, oh my God. From a developmental psychologist perspective, there’s so much richness in that the whole thing that happens with Rachel and “I must leave you.” Then she ends up back with him. It’s like, wow. That’s an amazing moment of what happens in development. Yes, yes. Moving forward. And then boom, her self-protective needs came back into play and she said yes to being in a marriage that really wasn’t working for her.

BB: Man, I just want to sit next to you and watch some TV because I want to pause it and be like, what’s going on? All right. Favorite movie. This will be interesting.

LL: Favorite movie is Lady Sings the Blues.

BB: Oh God. Hard.

LL: And beautiful.

BB: Okay. A concert you’ll never forget.

LL: Etta James.

BB: Really?

LL: Yes.

BB: Where?

LL: House of Blues, Boston. It was probably one of the last concerts she gave. She was in a wheelchair, but she was incredible. And I just love her so much and the idea that she could just emanate all this energy and all of that love and pain all at once was made even more palpable with her being in the wheelchair. It was unforgettable.

BB: Favorite meal.

LL: Can we just call pizza a meal?

BB: Yes. What do you take on your pizza?

LL: Mostly let’s see, prosciutto with arugula.

BB: Oh God. That’s my favorite. Okay. Me too. A drizzle of some really good olive oil.

LL: That sounds excellent.

BB: Okay. What’s one thing that you’re really excited about right now?

LL: Well, I am excited about… Oh, that’s actually a very hard thing to answer, but truthfully, I think the excitement is about being in this phase of my life where I am able to see that there is much more than I ever imagined was possible.

BB: In the specific phase of life you’re in?

LL: Yes. Yes. I mean, I feel like I’ve just begun to, and I think COVID was a big entree to this, become much more attuned to my own spiritual longings.

BB: Yeah. God, me too. Oh yeah. I’m with you. Okay. You gave us five songs you can’t live without. Let me share them with the audience. “Love is a Losing Game” by Amy Winehouse, “Cactus Tree” by Joni Mitchell, “Girl from the North Country” by Cash and Dylan, “Blessed to be a Witness” by Ben Harper, and “A Case of You” by Prince. In one sentence, what does this mixtape say about you?

LL: It says that life is a gift in all of its fullness, the darkness and the light, period. And let’s show up.

BB: Period. Wow. Lisa, what an amazing two-parter you have given us. And I think… I’m not going to jump ahead because I do have a lot of action bias, but I do think your willingness to take me through this and be so gentle and loving in it could perhaps have a profound effect on me and this organization. And we’re trying to do good work and have a big impact on the way people see themselves and each other. So I’m deeply grateful for you doing that. It was extraordinary.

LL: And I’m deeply grateful for being a witness to you and doing all of this work and for you just allowing me to ask you these questions and you being you and being so honest in your responses. Thank you.

BB: Well, I’ve waited a long time to meet you. I’ve been a big fan forever. So, thank you.

LL: Thank you.


BB: Boy, I hope y’all got something out of this. It was a game changer for me. I’m grateful for you being here. I’m so grateful, Lisa, Lisa, Lisa. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for just your gentleness and your tenacity and your thoughtfulness and building this with Bob Kegan. And this is such important work. We will link the book. If you get Immunity to Change, the book by Harvard Press, and you go to chapter nine, basically they walk you through the process that I went through on this. It’s very helpful. Stay awkward, brave and kind and dig into this process for yourself. It is as illuminating as it is difficult. Awkward, brave and kind. The Dare to Lead podcast is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown, produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden and Tristan McNeil and by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound designed by Tristan McNeil and the music is by The Suffers.

© 2022 Brené Brown Education and Research Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Brown, B. (Host). (2022, November 28). Brené with Lisa Lahey on Immunity to Change, Part 2 of 2. [Audio podcast episode]. In Dare to Lead with Brené Brown. Parcast Network.

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