machiavelli on change and innovation

 I am having my mba students read Niccolo Machiavelli’s short book The Prince; considered by many the most influential book of it’s time, and perhaps the most influential management book of all time. 

The book is a great read: ruthlessly pragmatic the princethe princeyet somehow so appealing.  And, just about any organizational issue gets vetted in the book: human nature, leadership, power and politics, motivation, reputation management, social relations more broadly, etc, etc.  There’s far more in the book to latch onto than my measly one session will allow us to cover.

Students don’t always see past the ruthlessly pragmatic parts (which include killing your detractors, etc), and thus I try to decouple the ethics of it all from the strategy itself.  Hard, but doable. 

Here’s Machiavelli on change and innovation:Machiavelli Principe Cover Page.jpg

And let it be noted that there is no more delicate matter to take in hand, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful in its success, than to set up as a leader in the introduction of changes.  For he who innovates will have for his enemies all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and only the lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new.   This lukewarm temper arises partly from the fear of adversaries who have the laws on their side and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who will never admit the merit of anything new, until they have seen it proved by the event.

[That last part sounds like the reaction we got from some folks on our recent change efforts here at orgtheory.]


Written by teppo

March 24, 2008 at 5:28 am

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  1. […] not just changing from last year, but from a thousand years of autocracy, whatever the name for it. Machiavelli said, “…the initiator [of change] has the enmity of all who would profit by the […]


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