MYTH # 2 – Unfreeze-Change-Refreeze – Science or Fiction

THE CLAIM


It is claimed that Kurt Lewin, the ‘father of organisational change’ invented the Unfreeze-Change-ReFreeze theory. From Kotter to ADKAR this theory has become the foundation for popular OCM theories.

THE EVIDENCE


The source of this claim come from an article published in 1947 (4 months after Lewin’s death) called ‘Frontiers In Group Dynamics’. On page 36 of this article Lewin states ‘We have seen that a planned social change maybe thought of as composed of unfreezing, change of level, and freezing on the new level’. He mentions the freezing effect of decisions (p34 & 37) on forming new habits and unfreezing them (p39). But that is it! A flimsy foundation for such an overriding theory in OCM. There is no book, no peer reviewed article, no empirical evidence (Lewin was a big proponent of testing theoretical propositions). It seems tragic that such a brilliant psychologist is remembered mainly for a rudimentary three-step model when in fact his Field Theory argues that change is a continual process of adaptation, rather than a frozen state.

THE VERDICT


The Unfreeze-Change-Refreeze is not a cornerstone or an integrator of Lewin’s work & he did not create a 3-step model of OCM. Does this mean that subsequent theories of OCM are built on sand rather than science?

THE REFERENCES

References for this post are: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0018726715577707 https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/EUM0000000006617 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/j.1467-6486.2004.00463.x http://lchc.ucsd.edu/MCA/Mail/xmcamail.2013_07.dir/pdfeF83xvxgaM.pdf

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