KAPOW! A lesson on change management from Batman?

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 09-02-13


There is a line in the movie Batman Begins that reminds me a lesson we teach in lean quite often. When Bruce Wayne returns and is planning his new role as Batman, he tells his butler and confident Alfred “people need dramatic example to shake them out of apathy.”

While lean is usually not being used to fight crime, I agree.

The scene from Batman Begins:

There is a formula we use to teach lean that goes as follows:

H x V x F > R

H is for a hatred of the current reality. V is a vision of the ideal state. F is the First steps of action, and the courage required to take them. And R stands for the natural resistance that exists in any organization, including Gotham.

The key is, the greater the resistance to change, then you need to develop stronger hatred of the current state, a more powerful vision, or bolder action. You need the dramatic example that Bruce Wayne referred to.

Some of you will remember that one of my co-founders of the Lean Learning Center was Denny Pawley, who was Executive VP of Manufacturing and Labor Relations at Chrysler during the transformation of the organization into the most profitable in the industry.

In shake people out of apathy, in the middle of one of the toughest times in the industry, Denny created a dramatic example. He had a sheet of paper that was sitting on his desk every morning that showed the performance of all of his 36 factories from around the world. And if your plant was red, he went into problem solving mode. He was a master technical problem solving, and could literally solve many problems from a state or continent away. However, he knew he needed change beyond that.

He said that he didn’t want to see that sheet of paper again. Why? It drove him into reactive problem solving mode. He made clear not to misread the change: two bad days in a row was not an acceptable situation. But, he wasn’t going to just run around trying to fight fires on the way to spectacular performance. He needed to spend his time differently – and he spent it teaching and coaching to transform how the organization worked.

Leadership is a stage. What dramatic examples can you create on your state to shake people out of apathy, and move the organization closer towards that elusive ideal state.

And there you have it – KAPOW! Change management, Batman-style!



  • Nice examples; worth mentioning as well that the formula mentioned here (H x V x F > R) is called Beckhard’s change formula (originally D as dissatisfaction instead of H); the principles being also that is just one of the factors (dissatisfaction with current status, vision, or first step) equals zero, then there is no chance of beating resistance to change.

    Christophe Lastennet September 3, 2013 at 4:18 am
  • Christophe,

    Thank you for the comment. A few points.

    1. Yes, the original formula was D for Dissatisfaction. However, we believe this is wrong, or ineffective. When we’re dissatisfied with something, we complain about it. But we want action.

    2. The multiplication signs of this are important – as you point out, if any component is zero, the whole thing goes to zero. All 3 components are important for change.

    3. A bit off topic but to your point, do you have the original reference to Beckhard? We’ve researched this before and found earlier references to the formula and aren’t confident of the originator. But, I’d like to refer back to it properly so an original reference would be much appreciated.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh September 3, 2013 at 7:27 am
  • Jamie, thanks for the reply. I believe I saw this formula first in a change management book and I can see here ( that it is also referred to Gleicher.
    It is a good formula I think; it inspired me to come up with another formula that I call the change capacity index: Change Capacity = SF x SA /(HI + OI)
    measuring your chances of change success where SF is the strategic fit of change, SA the stakeholders attractiveness and HI and OI the human and organizational impact (more details here:
    Anyway, nice to see the crossroads between lean and change management!

    Christophe Lastennet September 3, 2013 at 7:49 am
  • Thanks. I had found references to it back to the 80s but not the original.

    Jamie Flinchbaugh September 3, 2013 at 6:19 pm
  • Nothing is more dramatic than a piece of paper! Batman would be proud, seeing as he began life on the pages of a comic 😉

    How about some more drama! Coaching is great, leading by example, but where’s the KAPOW fireworks? You need a head turner, so people ask, why is he doing that? Then you can generate discussion and create a teaching moment.

    So, when you see the Batsignal, screech in there in your Batmobile, change up the place and reap the rewards from Commissioner Gordon!

    Nice post, by the way. . .

    Martin Boersema September 3, 2013 at 11:07 pm
  • I like that formula! Thanks for the reference. I love using movies and tv shows to make connections. Great job!

    Julia September 8, 2013 at 4:28 pm
  • I like you’re thinking, but I have a problem with the H in the formula. I believe that if the basis for change is energized with negative identification with the current situation you will destroy more than you develop. Is Batman driven by hatred of the current reality or by love for what he considers most important and what is threatened? it? It’s a subtle difference, but in my experience makes the difference between sustainable development and decay.

    As an opposite thought: ‘Never try to change something if you don’t love how it is now’.

    Marc Rouppe van der Voort
    Manager Lean and health operations
    St Antonius Hospital
    Utrecht, the Netherlands

    Marc Rouppe van der Voort September 15, 2013 at 4:06 am