Book | Immunity to Change by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey

9781422129470_p0_v2_s260x420Kegan, Robert, and Lisa Laskow Lahey. Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock Potential in Yourself and Your Organization Leadership for the Common Good. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press, 2009.

The Authors

Robert Kegan

keganProfessor in Adult Learning and Professional Development at Harvard. Founding Principal of Minds at Work.

Lisa Laskow Lahey

LaheyA faculty member at the Harvard Graduate School of education and Founding Principal at Minds at Work.


“If you are leading anything at any level, you are driving some kind of plan or agenda, but some kind of plan or agenda is also driving you. It is out of your awareness. You cannot yet take responsibility for it. And most of the time, that agenda will limit or even doom your ability to deliver extraordinary results. If you do not attend as much to “development” as to “leadership,” then your leadership development will always be directed to the plan or agenda you have. It will not be about the plan or agenda that “has you,” and heretofore your capacity for change will inherently be limited.”⁠1


The root of any way of knowing (what philosphers call an epistemology) is an abstract-sounding thing called the ‘subject-object relationship.” Any way of knowing can be described with respect to that which it can look at (object) and that which it looks through (the “filter” or “lens” to which it is subject). Young children, for example, are still subject to their perceptions, so when something looks small to them (like cars and people viewed form the top of a tall building), they think it actually is small. Three-, four-, and five-year-olds will look down and say, “Look at the tiny people!” Chirldren of eight, nine, and ten can look at their perception. They will sy, “Look how tiny the people look!”

A way of knowing becomes more complex when it is able to look at what before it could only look through. In other words, our way of knowing becomes more complex when we create a bigger system that incorporates and expands on our previous system. This means that if we want to increase mental complexity, we need to move aspects of our meaning-making form subject to object, to alter our mindset so that a way of knowing or making meaning becomes a kind of “tool” that we have (and can control or use) rather than something that has us (and therefore controls and uses us).⁠2

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Kegan’s Five Orders of Consciousness

Immunity to Change is the next-level, practical application of Kegan’s work in human cognitive development. He articulates, in his book In Over Our Heads, five order of consciousness through which human beings may progress. The ground-breaking aspect of his work is that the fourth and fifth orders occur post-adolesence. This is something previously thought impossible.

This video is my visualization of the five orders:

Immunity X-Ray

This chart is a key tool in leading individuals and organizations to overcome the immunity to change. It exposes the hidden anxieties that are counterproductive to achieving our goals and the big assumptions that lie hidden behind the anxiety.

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How Leaders Can Lead the Way to Overcoming the Immunity Change in their Organizations

What are the features of a genuinely developmental stance? Seven Crucial Attributes:

  1. It recognizes that there is “life after adolescence”; that adulthood, too, must be at time for ongoing growth and development.
  2. It honors the distinction between technical and adaptive learning agendas.
  3. It recognizes and cultivates the individual’s intrinsic motivation to grow.
  4. It assumes that a change in mindset takes time and is not evenly paced.
  5. It recognizes that mindsets shape thinking and feeling, so changing mindsets needs to involve the head and the heart.
  6. It recognizes that neither change in mindset nor change in behavior alone leads to transformation, but that each must be employed to bring about the other.
  7. It provides safety for people to take the kinds of risks inherent in changing their minds.⁠3

1 {Kegan, 2009 #376@6}

2 {Kegan, 2009 #376@51}

3 {Kegan, 2009 #376@308-309}

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