Force Field Analysis: May the force be with you

Force Field Analysis: May the force be with you

Innovation Method
Published On:
May 22, 2023

Innovation means a departure from a well-established status quo toward a more meaningful state. In other words, innovation nurtures positive change. Such innovative change benefits the vast majority of stakeholders. But, at the same time, it may also disenfranchise some parts of an organization or society that have profited from the status quo. As such, every innovation can expect resistance from the establishment — the more disruptive, the more pushback. After all, as we know from Star Wars, the empire strikes back. So, “Don’t underestimate the Force” (Darth Vader). Instead, do your homework and complete a Force Field Analysis ahead of activating a genuinely disruptive idea or starting a major organizational change initiative.

What is a Force Field Analysis?

Created by the German-American social psychologist Kurt Lewin (1890-1947), Force Field Analysis is a framework to visualize how an environment deals with change. Lewin argued that in any situation, the dynamic interaction between supporting, driving forces on the one side and opposing, resisting forces on the other would eventually cause one of the two forces to emerge dominant.

In innovation, Force Field Analysis is a systematic way to think about the positive and negative forces we are likely to encounter in an idea activation project in special, and any change management project in general. In an idea activation project, the force field comprises positive or negative factors (= forces) that either stand in the way of a successful activation or support us in this aim.

Upon identification of the helping or hindering forces, we can estimate their relative strength and tally the scores to determine which side appears to be initially stronger. Then, in part two of the Force Field Analysis, we can positively influence the balance in our favor by coming up with ideas on how to strengthen the helping forces and weaken or eliminate the hindering factors.

How does a Force Field Analysis work?

  1. Get a blank piece of paper and put it in landscape mode. Fold it in half and then again in half to get four equal columns. Write an idea you want to activate (or a proposed change initiative that you want to take hold in your organization) on top of a sheet of paper. Draw a line in the middle of the paper under the idea sentence.
  • Suppose you are the CEO of an established organization in a long-established industry facing disruption and possibly creative destruction by new technologies related to the Sixth Wave of innovation. In order to prevent creative destruction, you consider the idea to acquire an established innovation company with effective methodologies and proven track record to help drive internal innovation initiatives and support the creative transformation of business units and the corporate culture.
  1. List forces which support the idea on the left side next to the middle line, and forces which oppose the idea on the right side. Then, score the relative strength of each positive and negative force from 1 (very weak) to 5 (very strong). Then visualize each score as an arrow of a length proportional to the score.
  • Forces supporting the idea of acquiring an external innovation company to drive intragroup innovation (and the respective scores are):
  • a) Use the innovation company to work on disruptive innovation projects leading to the creation of new products and possibly new business units in Sixth Wave industry niches. (5)
  • b) Use the acquired innovation company to do quick wins with evolutionary innovation projects in established business units to extend their market relevance and gain buy-in for innovation and the competencies of the innovation company (4).
  • c) Have the innovation company profile all managers and key personnel with an innovator profiling tool to identify potential creative leaders, change agents, and likely change resisters requiring support to make the transition. (4)
  • d) Have the acquired innovation company run training events to develop a sufficient number of creative leaders to achieve a creative organizational mindset change. e) Use the innovation company to do a creativity audit and devise and run a creative culture transformation program to anchor creativity and innovation in the organizational DNA. (2)
  1. Sum up the scores of both the supporting and opposite forces and list the result at the bottom next to the middle line.
  1. Here, the scores are +33 (positive forces) and -22 (negative forces).
  1. Create ideas for shifting the balance of power in favor of the supporting forces. Ask: How to strengthen the idea-supporting forces (Push)? How to reduce the impact of opposing forces (Pull)? Then, write each idea in the appropriate space on the far left or far right and score its relative strength.
  1. For example, one idea to weaken the negative factor c) (cannibalization of revenues) is to make the point that if we don’t cannibalize some revenues of our established product lines with new innovative products, then more innovative competitors and new market entrants will do so on our behalf, making us lose all revenues rather than only some of them. (+3) An idea to weaken possible resistance from an in-house consulting unit is to have the acquired innovation company train them to become innovation facilitators, thus turning them from potential opponents to actively helping innovation protagonists. (+2)
  1. Calculate the final scores of the supporting and opposing forces and record them on the bottom of the paper sheet. The end score will be either positive or negative, thus giving you an idea of the relative strength of the opposing camps fighting for dominance.
  1. Here, the end score shifts to +34 (positive forces) and -16 (negative forces), thus shifting the end balance (+18) firmly in favor of moving forward with the idea to acquiring an external innovation company to drive innovation and creative transformation in the group.

What if you strongly believe in the value of the idea or change initiative, but at the end of a Force Field Analysis, the final score is negative (or in other words, the opposing forces dominate the supporting ones)? If the score of the hindering forces is higher than that of the helping factors, the team needs to fight harder and smarter to overcome the resistance; it doesn’t mean that they should give up or not try to pitch or implement your idea. But the final negative result is an overall indication of the difficulties your team will encounter in your aim to bring the concept to life.

Why is Force Field Analysis useful?

The main benefit of a Force Field Analysis is that it prepares the team for political skirmishes that an outstanding, disruptive idea is likely to encounter. While an excellent new idea will improve the quality of life of most people, it takes away income, revenues, and profits from a saturated, often mediocre establishment. So while society has everything to gain from a bold top idea, a few powerful, well-established people may have personal interests in shooting it down to prolong the status quo. Here are some examples of such politics:

  • Product managers of successful cash cow products are prone to oppose an idea for a disruptive new product as it is likely to cannibalize their incumbent products. Think of Polaroid managers fighting the concept of digital photography or Nokia managers opposing the development of a smartphone with no buttons and only a screen.
  • A large corporation that dominates a local industry with outdated technology might contact regulators to prevent a superior competitor with more advanced technology from entering the market.
  • A change initiative from a business division promises to add value to customers. Still, a more powerful division opposes the project to preserve the current balance of power (and related allocations of portions from the corporate bonus pool).

When do you bring a Force Field Analysis into play?

Force Field Analysis is what I consider to be a whole-mind thinking tool, as it combines analytical thinking (investigating the forces at play) with creative thinking (coming up with ideas on how to further the positive and weaken the negative factors at play). In essence, you can apply the tool either in an innovation project or in a change management initiative:

  • In our X-IDEA innovation method, we typically use Force Field Analysis in the final Action-stage to better understand the forces for or against a top idea earmarked for real-life implementation. Likewise, if you go through an innovation project using another creative process method, your innovation facilitator would most likely ask you to complete a Force Field Analysis in the final process stage (called “Implementation” in Design Thinking and the Simplified CPS (Creative Problem-Solving) Method).
  • In managing organizational change, a Force Field Analysis allows the guiding coalition to investigate the level of internal resistance towards the proposed change and prepare for initiatives to counter resistance or efforts to undermine or even sabotage the project. Hence, we use Force Field Analysis also as a tool to help us think through a creative transformation project linked to our creative culture development method CooL-Creativity UnLimited.

Conclusion: Change is constant — and so is resistance to change

“The Only Constant in Life Is Change.” —Heraclitus

“If you want truly to understand something, try to change it,” noted Kurt Lewin. So if you want to truly understand how your organization can live up to the magnitude of changes in technology and the wider business environment in this decade and the next, consider running a smaller change project first and see what happens. But before you start the project, do a Force Field Analysis to understand more about the forces pro and against this change, and prepare to deal with the opposing forces. Finally, as Kurt Lewin would have expressed it: “Unfreeze. Change. Freeze.” And see what happens.

  • Are you a leader in an organization that needs to undergo a major change initiative to make it ready for the next innovation wave that will affect almost all established industries? Are you ready for starting a CooL change?
  • Contact us if you look for support to move your innovation projects and creative transformation agenda forward in the face of resistance to change. May the force be with you.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2022.