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There’s a man who leads a life of danger
To everyone he meets he stays a stranger
With every move he makes
another chance he takes
Odds are he won’t live to see tomorrow

Secret agent man, secret agent man
They’ve given you a number and taken away your name

Johnny Rivers, Secret Agent Man (Songwriters: Steve Barri, P. F. Sloan, Gordo Mastui)

What, exactly, is a change agent?

How would I know?

I’ll tell you what I imagine a change agent to be.  I’ll tell you what I think he is and what I don’t think he is.

First off, I don’t think being a change agent is an aspiration.  Those that are change agents just are.  I don’t really think they have any choice in the matter.

That said, I think that change agents sometimes don’t want to be change agents.

I think it has a lot to do with the danger.

Secret agents aren’t secret forever.  Not everybody wins with change; even those who do would rather not experience it… and when the change agent is no longer the secret agent man, they are all threats to him!

And I think that there’s more than a few people that resist.  And, often, a fair percentage of those people resisting are powerful people, people in positions of authority, people — leaders — that are to a great extent responsible for the current state that the change agent believes so passionately has so much opportunity and must really, really change.

That passion emphasizing change is threatening to those powerful people.  It is threatening because it is indicting.  And I think that, because the change agent knows that it is threatening to those powerful people, it is threatening to him.

He could be on a list.  His days might be numbered; like his name.

I think change agent man leads a work life of danger.

Furthermore, for the change agent, fight really isn’t an option,  as it would expose him to even more danger … so flight often looks very desirable.  But, alas, flight isn’t really an option either, I don’t think.

The irony is that the longer change agents deny their change agent impulses, the more vulnerable they become.  Wei wu wei must only be short term tactical …

I think, for the change agent, it’s about tomorrow, not today.  It’s about what can be, not what is.  It’s about a vision.

There is irony here as well; while change agents have the vision of a better, more efficient, more productive, more satisfying future, they may never see the actualization of that vision. 

They are often only the bridge.  They never arrive at the destination they envision.

I think for change agents, it’s really about better; not best.  There is no finish line.  There is always better.

And I think it’s not so much about change as it is transformation.  It’s about fundamental, structural, change.

Enabling better.

I also think (and this is rather curious and counter intuitive) that the change agent sees it really as not about people, essentially; although, clearly, people are involved.  It is not about changing people as much as it is about changing the tools that people use, and changing the environment they operate within.

It is about the box.

That’s what I think.

I mean, really; how would I know?