Food for thought

Cascading Change versus Viral Change
Författare: Bengt Järrehult

A couple of years ago, I (Bengt Järrehult) was interviewed by a consultant as part of a preparation for an internal conference. When I mentioned the word “cascading” he laughed. I asked why and he said “you’re the 4th person I am interviewing, and you have all mentioned the word cascading. This must be a very managerial word”.

What do we then mean with Cascading Change? Well, this is a top down process when directives and other initiatives are taken down through the organization. Layer 1 tells Layer 2 (fig C2), Layer 2 tells Layer 3 (fig C3) etc. (See image on pg. 2)

Ideally this would lead to a situation as in fig C5 where the initiative has penetrated the whole organization, but quite often this is not the case. In each cascading step some of the energy – and therefore some of the message – gets lost. Depending on the structure of the organization (cascading is facilitated by centralization) we often end up with a situation as of fig C6, where the initiative has penetrated some parts of the organization but by far not all. Hence the mass effect gets lost and people run after different guidelines. In some cases, Cascading Change is the only suitable way for change as when legal issues or directives shall penetrate the whole organization. A better way is then when the initiators of the message directly convey the message to as many layers as possible.

There is though another way change can happen and that is called Viral Change, a way pioneered by Dr. Leandro Herrero in his book with the same name, but also advocated by famous authors like Malcolm Gladwell. This way of change, the authors mean, is the only way that true change can happen, meaning change is better and faster internalized when it goes via the epidemic or viral route rather than top down. It may start with an initiative in the middle of an organization (fig V1). If the success of this initiative does not happen, the initiative slowly fades away, unnoticed (fig V2). However, when sufficient effort leads to a successful result of an emerging initiative fig V3) it starts to spread (fig V4). If the change initiative is really successful, we reach the situation where almost the whole organization has adopted it (figs V5 & V6). Success speaks for itself and is hence very contagious.


There is a tendency that when we realize change is necessary, we usually start to plan the process for its implementation …sometimes before we really know whether this change is beneficial for us or not, simply because we have not tried it out yet. By being a bit more dynamic and risk taking (at small scale and hence at low costs) we could allow for more experimentation with change initiatives to be done in chosen areas. When and if these experiments succeed, they will spread automatically if we just allow for it

Bengt Järrehult