If both Brown and Hiefetz had the opportunity to “step off the dance floor,” they might take it a step further, improvise, and wade into the lily pond (Heifetz and Linksky 2002). From this new vantage point I believe that their conversation and perspectives would find much in common. Society today, faces a number of challenges in light of current economic and political upheaval, cultural and environmental change. In this world, both Lester Brown and Ronald Hiefetz would agree that we face unprecedented local and global challenges that are inherently complex and require unique and adaptive solutions. Both men challenge our senses and inspire leading with new vigor, vision, and open hearts.

The urgency, scope and scale of the challenges we face is outlined in Brown’s book, “Plan B”(Brown, 2002). The book provides a political, economic and ecological assessment, of our world and points to a number of reasons that alternatives must be advanced in order to achieve greater quality of life and a more sustainable future on the planet. Brown suggests that, we are selling future generations short if we continue with business as usual (Brown, p. 3). There are numerous examples where Brown outlines a clear sense of urgency in the face of increasingly broad and complex challenges. A particularly poignant example is illustrated in the lily pond riddle that asks, “if a lily pond contains one leaf, and each day the number of leaves doubles; if on the thirtieth day the pond is full, at what point is it half full?” The answer, Brown reveals is day twenty-nine. Brown argues that based on many of the trends we face today we are already living on the thirty-first day (Brown, p 31).

In this regard Heifetz and Brown would concur, “if leading were about giving people good news, it would be easy” (Heifetz and Linksky, p. 29). In this sense both would agree that the challenges we face are complex, and that drastic and possibly painful adjustments are needed. The challenges faced require adaptive change that must find balance in the tension that exists between our present and future attitudes, habitual ways of doing things and our deeply held values (Heifetz and Linksky, p. 28). Clearly, both share the view that the tension between the way we have done things and the way we must do things moving forward is a difficult message to deliver, yet critically important (Heifetz and Linksky, p. 29). Leadership requires hard work, and both would likely agree that it is time to face the music and take steps towards responding to the “dangerous situations… [that] are critically important (Heifetz and Linksky, p. 29).

Where Brown and Heifetz appear to differ in opinion is on the topic of how leaders should call to action the change necessary to implement more positive and equitable social, economic and environmental change. Brown suggests we are already too late in many cases and suggests there is no time to loose. Brown clearly states, “the challenge is not only to build a new economy but to do it at a wartime speed before we miss so many of nature’s deadlines that the economic system begins to unravel” (Brown, p. 27). Here, Brown clearly calls for immediate and drastic implementation of what he calls his “Plan B,” as a solution to current adaptive challenges. His book, outlines a definitive call for action, and outlines the solutions and steps required to achieve timely results. In contrast, Hiefetz’s “Five Challenges in Adaptive Change,” outlines a slightly different strategy. Heifetz suggests that effective solutions to adaptive challenges require leaders to “hold steady.” In this strategy he might suggest that leaders need to keep from “immediate action and understand that conflict and opposing views should be left to simmer” (Heifetz and Linksky, p. 31). Interestingly, Heifetz argues that time is needed in order to generate creative and constructive thinking, while Brown suggests that the time has already passed and we cannot afford to wait any longer. In the place of Hiefetz more organic and collaborative approach, Brown offers a clear and concise plan for immediate, unquestionable deliberate action.

Perhaps in the end, many heads/strategies are better than one and while it may take two to tango, Heifetz indicates leadership is improvisational and unscripted. On the one hand adaptive complex challenges may demand effective leadership to respond in the moment as Brown supports, while on the other hand leaders also need to be able to step back into the ‘lily pond’ and assess what is happening from a wider perspective (Heifetz and Linksky, p. 30). Can we do this in time? Let the dance begin!


Noah MBA 2013



Brown, Lester. (2009). Plan B 4.0: Mobilizing to save civilization. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. p 1-54.

Heifetz, R., & Linsky, M. (2002). Leading with an open heart. Leader to Leader, (26), p 28-33.


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