The trap of entitive thinking


A common phenomenon in organizational transformation is “entitive thinking” – the tendency that the longer we’re in a condition, the more we are insensitive to our role in the situation and tend to see that others are responsible.

Change leaders are wise to dial up awareness of their potential entitive thinking in order to enhance their objectivity and perspective. As the saying goes, “fish perceive water last”, and nowhere is this more acutely felt than among senior leaders, particularly those operating in the choppy waters of change.

Examples of entitive thinking patterns include:

  • “Our middle managers lack leadership and performance management skills.”
  • “Our employees are out of touch with what our customers want, and our service levels suffer as a result.”
  • “We’ve got to get our staff to get serious about metrics and measurement.”

Change leaders need to ask: What is my role in these situations? To what extent might I be contributing to these problems, or be acting as a barrier to solving them?

The entitive thinking trap recalls Mark Twain’s famous saying that:

 “Nothing is so in need of change as other people’s habits.”

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