Triangles, Tangles and Blocks – Oh No! (Part Three: Blocks)

Blocks refer to either persistent outdated beliefs of a company, or to a description of people who are stuck in the past through denial. If you have a critical mass of an outdated belief system and stuck people (33% or more), you’ll spin your wheels no matter how hard you push on the gas.

How to Identify Blocks:

Behaviors vary according to style and situation, but these are tell-tale language cues: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”  “We’ve always done it this way.”  “That would never work here.” “We tried that once and it didn’t work.”  “This is just another fad, it’ll pass.” “I’ll hide until this computer trend passes.”

On a trip to the Galapagos Islands a few years ago, I discovered a prototype for our Block: Lonesome George. He was the last of his species of Giant Tortoise, and he refused to mate. His captors were desperate, to the point of building a heart-shaped swimming pool on the Research Station to try to get him in the mood. Nothing worked. One clear identifier that you are working with a George is the frustration and helplessness you feel around getting him/her to change. Blocks don’t budge without dynamite.


1. Don’t buy into their denial. Don’t rescue them. Don’t nag them. Don’t try to figure them out or react to them emotionally. Denial is a protective mechanism that protects them from reality.

Denial  is a protective mechanism that protects them from reality.

Denial is a protective mechanism that protects them from reality.

2. Get clear about what has to happen. Stop tip-toeing around them or backing off from their inappropriate behaviors. Be clear about what new behaviors are needed, and that you expect them to adopt them. Be strong.

3. Give lots of support and encouragement: After all, George is scared.

4. Check the Psychological safety of your culture. Work toward zero errors, but never punish mistakes as long as the company’s values were upheld. Some organizations meet monthly with awards for the ‘Best Mistakes this Month,’ meaning the greatest lessons learned. Fear of making mistakes helps lead to block formation.

4. Keep moving. Don’t wait. Use the old Mexican saying: “Cuando caballo está muerto, déjalo” or “When your horse is dead, get off it.” Use your ‘Let it Go’ Cards liberally and with compassion.