Rosabeth Moss Kanter wrote an article for Harvard Business Review titled Change Is Hardest in the Middle (August 12, 2009).

« Welcome to the miserable middles of change. This is the time when Kanter’s Law kicks in. Everything looks like a failure in the middle. Everyone loves inspiring beginnings and happy endings; it is just the middles that involve hard work. »

« All new initiatives – big new government directions, business turnarounds, new venture start-ups, new products, or internal process changes – can run into trouble before reaching fruition…. Problems tempt people to give up, forget it, and chase the next enticing rainbow. But stop the effort too soon, and by definition it is a failure… Though some ideas are dead-ends, many simply need mid-course corrections

« The middles of change are miserable for predictable reasons. Forecasts fall short… Decision-makers are stingy with resources, making it inevitable that funds run out before victory is in sight… There are always unexpected obstacles and hidden delays. »

« But slipped schedules wouldn’t be fatal flaws without another middles problem: rising negativity and slowing momentum… Harsh reality sets in: This is harder to do than anyone thought… Investors and friends ask why it isn’t faster. »

Should you persist or cut your losses? Ask:

« What has changed since you began the initiative? Do the original assumptions hold? Is the need still there? …  Does the idea still feel inspiring? Is it big enough to make extra efforts worthwhile? … Are supporters still enthusiastic about the mission? Will new partners join the initiative? … Have promises been kept and milestones passed? Are there early indicators, tangible demonstrations, that this could succeed? Can the next wave of results sustain supporters and silence critics? … Can the project work well with other activities? Can it be enhanced by alliances?

Too many No’s, and it might be time to cut losses and move on. But if the answers are mostly Yes, it is not over yet. »

« Those who master change persist and persevere… They are flexible. They expect obstacles on the road to success and celebrate each milestone. They keep arguing for what matters. »


Rosabeth Moss Kanter is author of Think Outside the Building: How Advanced Leaders Can Change the World One Smart Innovation at a Time (2020).

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