Randy Pennington's

Make Change Work
Staying Nimble, Relevant,
and Engaged in a World
of Constant Change

Chapter 4


Only the Nimble Survive

"When we are no longer able to change a situation—we are challenged to change ourselves." — Viktor E. Frankl


The dodo bird has become the iconic symbol for failure to adapt to a changing environment. The term dodo has come to be identified with a lack of common sense and being perpetually confused.
You could say that the dodo became complacent and comfortable. Dodos, however, were not born with the brain power to understand the concept of urgency, complacency, and change. The book Jonathan Livingston Seagull1 taught the lessons of a young bird that strived to do more than fill his belly with scraps of food. But remember, that is a work of fiction.

Despite the modern connotations of being a dodo, the actual bird didn’t have much of a choice. In fact, it never saw the danger coming. The entire species became extinct less than 100 years after its discovery and first interaction with humans.

The dodo bird was approximately 1 meter (3.3 feet) tall and weighed about 20 kg (44 pounds). Its native environment had no natural predators. As a result, it laid its eggs on the ground. And fatefully, rather than fleeing those first sailors who landed on its native island of Mauritius, the dodo approached them out of curiosity.

Imagine you were a sailor on that first ship landing on Mauritius. Would the sight of a bird that walks up to you while you’re holding a club be an enticing thought? Don’t you think you would be ready to try some fresh bird meat after months on a ship?

It is actually a miracle that the dodo lasted as long as it did. Direct human contact didn’t hasten the dodo’s extinction. It wasn’t because humans valued the bird, however. Like many things, it was the secondary level of unintended consequences that did the dodo in.

The sailors found dodo meat to be tough and not particularly tasty. On the other hand, the cats, rats, pigs, and monkeys traveling with the humans loved the fact that dodo eggs were laid on the ground within easy reach. The feral dogs—not being as discriminating as the humans—no doubt found the dodo bird to be a fine meal.2

The dodo had a great life prior to the arrival of humans and predatory animals. It saw no reason to fly, much less to change, grow, and adapt. It had become genetically predisposed to being trustful of its environment. There was a time when it could have expanded the presence of the species by flying to other islands, but those days were long gone.

As a result, the dodo encountered by sailors in the 1600s was the victim of development in virtual isolation—no natural enemies, no need to extend its reach, and no time to adapt to a changing environment.


The dodos weren’t stupid. They never had a chance. That’s not the case with humans, and yet there are people, companies, and organizations of all shapes, sizes, and types who view their world through the eyes of the dodo bird.

Take a look at the factors that led to the dodo’s demise and see if you find any similarities to organizations today:

  • Grew up in a stable, secure environment with no need to worry about predators or outside danger
  • Lost the ability to expand its reach out of comfort and complacency
  • Had no ability to distinguish predators from friends
  • Lost or never developed the ability to adapt quickly to changing opportunities or threats (primary and secondary)
  • Never saw change coming or anticipated a different possible future and therefore left itself with no time to adapt

Dodos didn’t know any better. You do.


The Road Runner cartoons3 featured Wile E. Coyote as the bumbling nemesis trying to capture the endlessly out of reach object of its desire. If you believe cartoons (and there are people who do), the coyote is not too far removed from the dodo bird in its ability adapt and survive.

The truth is far different.

The coyote may well be the model for nimbleness and adaptability in today’s world. Granted, the coyote is not as sexy or mysterious as the legendary wolf. It isn’t as cute as the mice or penguins that inhabit other popular change parables. And it is not as elegant as the dolphin and whale. But consider these facts:

  • Coyotes originally inhabited open prairies and deserts in the southwestern part of North America. Today, they can be found from Alaska to Central America. They have expanded their habitat to forest, mountains, and urban areas.

  • Whereas most species have found their existence threatened by the introduction of humans into their environment, coyotes have thrived in areas where humans live. They often do this without humans even knowing that they are there.

Coyotes are often the bane of farmers, ranchers, and owners of small pets. They will attack livestock, destroy gardens, and kill pets left unprotected. They may look mangy sometimes, but the coyote just gets it done. Here’s why4:

  • Opportunistic problem solvers with the willingness to adapt: Coyotes solved the problem of humans taking over their environment by expanding. They left the deserts and learned to thrive in the mountains, forests, and cities. They learned to scavenge for the food that humans threw away if hunting was no longer feasible. They learned that survival meant doing different things as well as doing things differently. Coyotes will eat basically anything: mammals, insects, fish, snakes, fruit, food, and plants. My guess is that coyotes never had to be sent to a training program to be told to adapt. They just looked for opportunities and did it.

  • Excellent vision and sense of smell: Coyotes can detect food and danger up to a mile away. In other words, it is hard to surprise a coyote. And they know you are coming before you know that they are around.

  • Speedy: Coyotes can run at a respectable 40 mph. That is not puma-like speed, but it is fast enough for them to stay away from their predators and catch their prey.

  • Territorial sense of ownership: Like their cousins the dog, coyotes mark and defend their territory. What is theirs is theirs, and you will have to fight them to take it.

  • Suspicious and secretive when it serves them: Biologists estimate that there are between 1,000 and 2,000 coyotes in the Chicago metropolitan area.5 Have you seen them strolling the neighborhood? Me either. Coyotes have developed the ability to hide in plain sight, and they will even walk on their toes to keep their prey from hearing them.

  • Strong family groups that take care of their young: Coyotes mate for life. More important, their strong sense of family means that they increase their opportunities for protecting and growing the species. Male coyotes are active participants in caring for newborn pups, which means more of them survive.6

  • Versatile and willing to work alone, in teams, and even with other animals to succeed: Coyotes usually work alone or in small packs of two or three. But they will expand to work in larger teams when it serves their purpose. Often, a larger pack of coyotes will include relatives of all ages. The old help the young and vice versa. Their versatility even extends outside of their species. Coyotes will often team up with badgers to track and kill a common prey. This isn’t a matter of friendship. The coyotes and badgers want the same thing. They enter into this partnership of convenience because it conserves energy and increases their mutual effectiveness. Coyotes working with badgers in the desert catch an estimated one-third more ground squirrels than if the coyotes operate alone.7

Change Leader Action List

The future belongs to the coyotes. The dodos will become extinct.

So which one is your team or organization?

We have condensed the characteristics of these two animals into a 10-question assessment. This isn’t scientific, but your responses will give you a glimpse of where you are and where you need to improve.

Here is the rating scale:

  1. This is never how we operate.
  2. This is how we operate and what we do occasionally or some of the time.
  3. This is how we operate and what we do about half of the time.
  4. This is how we operate and what we do most of the time.
  5. This is how we operate and what we do all of the time.
1 2 3 4 5
1. We view our environment as constantly evolving and sometimes unpredictable—there is a keen sense of danger and/or opportunity.
2. We never allow a sense of comfort or complacency to prevent us from change.
3. We move quickly and with a sense of urgency in pursuit of our goal once we decide to go.
4. We have a strong sense of ownership. What is ours is ours, and others aren’t going to take it.
5. We readily collaborate—even with competitors—if it will help us succeed.
6. We meet problems head-on with ideas to resolve them. We don’t give up; we are resilient.
7. We are suspicious and secretive when it serves us; We don’t hide from each other, but we know how to avoid or minimize predators that can harm us.
8. We know and can readily recognize our predators and our friends.
9. We take care of our teams to ensure that they have everything they need to thrive and increase our mutual success.
10. We are versatile and willing to try new things or develop new skills.


How close are you to becoming the nimble, adaptive, opportunistic problem solver that you need to be to make change work? This scale will give you an idea.

10–15: You are a first-class dodo. I wish there was another way of saying it, but your organization or team needs help now.

16–25: You are a dodo in the making. There is still time to turn it around, but it is going to take some work.

26–35: You aren’t beyond hope, but you can’t wait around forever to start changing.

36–44: You are well on your way to adopting the traits of the coyote. Your challenge is to keep learning and growing.

45–50: You are well positioned to make change work in today’s complex and unpredictable environment. Congratulations!

Refer back to this scale often as you cover the next section about leading change. And remember, the characteristics that work for your organization will also work for your career. You need to be a coyote not a dodo.

1. Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull (New York: Scribner, 1998).
2. You can find a great deal of information about the dodo bird at http://www.thejunglestore.com/Dodos and http://www.wild-facts.com/tag/dodo-bird-facts/.
3. The Road Runner cartoons were created by animation director Chuck Jones for Warner Brothers in 1948. The template for the stories was created by writer Michael Maltese. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wile_E._Coyote_and_The_Road_Runner and http://kevinmccorrytv.webs.com/rrshow.htm.
4. You can find a great deal of information about coyotes at http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/coyote/.
5. Amy Briggs, “Coyotes Not Only Wily, They’re Also Faithful,” National Geographic Tales of the Weird (October 2, 2012), http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2012/10/02/coyotes-not-only-wily-theyre-also-faithful/.
6. Ibid.
7. Cristen Conger, “Do Coyotes and Badgers Work Together to Find Food?” http://animals.howstuffworks.com/animal-facts/coyotes-badgers-find-food1.htm

Featured Praises for Make Change Work

"I could rename this book, “How tulips, dodo birds and coyotes changed the way I think about change.”  Interested now?  You should be.  This book is the most fascinating, practical book about dealing with change I’ve ever read."

Larry Winget, television personality and bestselling author of Grow A Pair: How to Stop Being a Victim and Take Back Your Life, Your Business and Your Sanity

Make Change Work is the best book I have read on the real inner- workings of change. It could have easily called The Future Belongs to the Coyote. Pennington does a great job of equating the emotional side of change with the pragmatic, “let’s get it done”, side. Lessons for the future rest on these pages, no matter how many change scenarios we might have dealt with as managers.”

Gary Nelon
Chairman, First Texas Bancorp

“The highest praise I can give a book: "you will use it."  Randy Pennington has written an extraordinary book about change (and leadership, and culture, and execution, and more) that you won't just enjoy reading, you will use the ideas in it the second you put it down.  From his thoughts on "what's on top of your refrigerator" to "unpacking the baggage," you'll be thinking "I can do that" and "We have to do that" and "Why haven't we done that?" and then you'll do it.  Let me say it flat out, Randy Pennington is the best business writer I know, and this book will significantly impact and improve the way you do business”.  

Joe Calloway, author, Be The Best At What Matters Most

“Randy worked with our global Human Resources team and his practical, high energy approach provided a catalyst for us to stop waiting for results and culture to happen and take personal ownership.   His latest book, Make Change Work, lays a simple path from the strategy to tactics for change. Randy teaches leaders to attack change not as a process to manage but a way of operating that is reinforced by good habits and constant reminders that we celebrate and reward people for taking on change that delivers results.”

Susan Kelliher
SVP Human Resources, Albemarle Corporation

"In order to make change work, we have to change the way we work. Period. Randy Pennington takes you on a journey to not only change but also how to lead transformation." 

Brian Solis, author of What's the Future of Business (WTF) and Principal Analyst at Altimeter Group

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