Salute to Dr. Sorensen and a personal history around OD

A personal History of becoming a Change Agent including a salute to Dr. Peter Sorensen who is keeping our academic change agent resource alive.

(When Peter, heard for the 1st time yesterday that George Williams College was mentioned in the 1st OD book ever, he wanted me to scan the pages and send him. I god a bit carried away reflecting on my Change Journey.)

In the fall of 1962, I was introduced to the concept of change agent through a Charlie Seashore National Training Laboratory T-Group. It was a university pilot program for NTL.

During the intensive 2 1/2 day learning experience I discovered feedback and cried for the first time in such setting. In this most incredible learning experience, I heard about two Change Agents and one book. The Change Agents where Dr. Jack Gibb and Dr. Ron Lippitt. Both were Dr. Charlie Seashore’s primary mentors. If I recall correctly, they served as joint advisors on his thesis.

The book introduced me to the concept of change agent. It was the 1st book that was ever written on organization development. The title was “The Dynamics Of Planned Change” by Dr. Lippitt and Dr. Jeanne Watson. 1958. I read in 1962.

The book mentions two colleges where one could get a degree in Applied Behavioral Science. ABS was one of the terms for organization development before it was named such.

One of those colleges was George Williams. ( page 296 below).

While being paid to facilitate T-Groups full-time in 1967, I started to investigate the best educational institution to get a masters.  A Gibb TORI lab of 300 people at my neighborhood High School gym led me to make a lifetime commitment to becoming the best professional change agent I could. I wrote various change agents from NTL such as Lippitt, Schein, Bennis, Agyris, Blake, Edie Seashore and asked them where I should study. They said there were no academic programs as of yet but because the change agent world was primarily focused around group dynamics, they  suggested I go to George Williams College. Dr. Herb Sheppard, who in 1960, started a doctorial program in organizational behavior at Case said it was the best learning around group dynamics I could acquire it in academic setting. George Williams was the person who found the YMCAs and therefore the college named after him had sought the best curriculum essentially that had a focus on group process. Through my letter writing research, I became convinced that GWC was the place for me and I started the comprehensive application process to be accepted into the Masters of social work program.

Yes indeed, after months of anxiety from fear of rejection, I became accepted. It became one of the richest learning experiences of my life.

My 1st teacher was Dr. Peter Sorenson. He had just completed his PhD and was teaching his 1st course ever. He introduced me to the teachings of Douglas McGregor and participative group learning.

Other courses included fantastic learning in group dynamics. We even confronted people’s behaviors and changed the group process in our statistics class.

The cafeteria often was filled with people laughing or crying because of the personal development work that was going on in their classes.

Now to the present.

Peter accepting his guiding light award for his contribution to the world of OD

Yesterday I presented Peter, the 1st International Society of Organization Developments Guiding Light Award.

Peter receives the award because when GWC officially closed it’s doors, he took the curriculum that had historical roots of the best initial organization development educational training from GWC and transferred it to nearby Benedictine University. At GWC, one could receive a BA, or MA or PhD with a focus on applied behavioral science/social psychology. This day, one can receive from Peter, without doubt, the absolute best PhD in organization development (social psychology) from a scholar/practitioner point of view. In fact the program has just spread from Benedictine University housed in Lisle, Illinois to the old Springfield College in Springfield, Illinois. Evidently Benedictine University has recently assimilated Springfield College into its educational system.

From the web:

“The partnership between Springfield College in Illinois and Benedictine University evolved and expanded, culminating in a decision in 2009 to establish Benedictine University at Springfield offering a full range of academic programs.”

There is a mystical connection, I just discovered that the other college mentioned in Lippit’s book on the dynamics of planned change is Springfield College.

From Lippit’s book I quote. “Undergraduate and lower graduate training for change agents,,,, Our evidence seems to point in this direction. Specialized undergraduate professional schools such as George Williams College and Springfield College have already shown that effective undergraduate training in some fields of professional social service is completely feasible.” Page 296-7: 1958.

I repeat. When George Williams closed down its Downers Grove campus, the inimitable, Dr. Peter Sorenson had the entrepreneurial spirit to take the essence of the ABS programs at GWC and move them to Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois.

It is for this genius move on Peter’s part that he received the guiding light award.

Oh the stories that Peter and I have about our experiences George Williams College.

Here is just one of mine that I shared with a fellow GWC student, Patty Burris. “There is no way that I would take (the then popular) LSD, marijuana or mescaline because we were naturally so high and so happy and so joyful because of the positive feelings that we had resulting from our T-groups.” Jack Gibb named that feeling the “afterglow”. And we surmised that because we were so alive and concentrated and on the upper edge, any drugs could blow our minds and cause damage. We did not need chemicals to be happy!!

Pattie and I were spending the week-end in her uncles private suite at the very top of the Sears Tower. We felt we had to get away from the intense GWC human interaction. Her uncle was the chief architect. It was the only suite that had been completed. The rest of the floors below were still in the non-livable condition. Clearly the skyline view of Chicago at night and love for each other added to our delight and joy and inspired the reflection about the value of being naturally high and receive the fortunate education from Pete and others at George Williams.

To this day, since GWC, I have never taken a drug including any medicine. I only have had alcohol once, I god good and drunk on my honeymoon. I doubt that alcohol will ever touch my lips…the remainder of my life… including the wine at church.

Below is evidence of Ron referring to the applied psychological/social change work at George Williams and Springfield College… now harbored in the Benedictine OD program.

Evidence that GWC was in the first book ever on OD or Planned Change

A personal Note: I just read in “Agent of Change” by my third mentor, Dick Beckhard on Page 82 that there were 100 OD Practioners/change agents in 1967. That was my first full year being paid solely as a change agent. Thus, I have on my business card, “one of the 100 original change agents.” There are only a few of us still living like Peter Vaill, Chris Agyris, Warren Bennis, W.W. Burke, Block, (the best OD teacher in the  world), Weisbord, Bradford, Schein, Charlie and Edie Seashore, Petrella, Billie Alban and Harvey Hornstein) Most will be writing in my fourth Edition of Practicing OD.

Well, maybe not Agyris. He keeps saying he is too busy. Perhaps he is in his 90’s. I think he maybe the living person that first met Lewin.  Yet, he told me that my responsibility is to keep OD boundaried and differentiated from other disciplines. He was the most boring professor I ever had, but my classmates at Pepperdine all agreed that his teaching was the most profound. Just became aware that most of the above original 100 change agents have taught in the Pepperdine program. Maybe one exception is Peter Vaill. I have him as the purest most significant living academic OD person. Look for my video on vimeo of his history of OD.

The other is Harvey. I am working on bringing him and Alban with the two week Columbia OD program to Malaysia. And saving money so my daughter can take the current Columbia executive program.

Here is as far as I know, the first use of the term change agent in any book ever!

First use of Change Agent in a book, as far as I know.

A further explanation of the derivation of the concept change agent.

Shortly before Dr. Bob Blake rose into divine life, he told me personally that he along with Chris Agyris and a few other people from NTL were at the Tavistock Institute in Europe. That is where they first heard the phrase, “change agent.” They liked it, so they brought it back to NTL and started using it on the regular basis. Now presidential candidates use the phrase.

Just before Dr. Peter Drucker went into the divine life society, he said that there were 4 things that organizations primarily most needed to do in the next 10 years. The 1st thing he said was that organizations must become a change agent organization. Just about fell off my chair when I hear that. This was the 1st time I had experienced the phrase used in context of an organization rather than just an individual.

My work today and the rest of my life will just be focused on creating the change agent organization. I will use what I learned from Jack Gibb, Ron lippitt, Dick Beckhared, and their disciple and my mentor, Kathy Dannemiller.

My only living mentor these days is Dr. David Cooperrier. David was 1st introduced to social psychology in the academic setting at George Williams. Guess who one of his professors was? Yes the inimitable, Dr. Peter Sorenson.

It was at George Williams, Lake Geneva campus in the building pictured below where Peter 1st introduced me to David. David shared with us his thesis on Appreciative Inquiry. It built on the research around the positive that Lippitt did under Lewin at the University of Iowa.  David’s thesis had yet to be presented officially to the University. It changed my life. Again thank you, Peter

It is upon Peter’s shoulder that I am continuing my work. The focus has been and will continue to be training internal and external change agents to transform whole systems or to make our organizations, communities and networks change agent systems.

Why?  Because the beginnings of OD was around small groups.  I believe the future is around a large group human interaction focused on increasing organizational results.

My work it is all taken from the principles and conceptual frame works that we learned in small groups.

I am more the practitioner than the scholar. Perhaps my daughter, Arielle, can be the scholar on Whole Systems Transformation or enterprise wide change.

Here is a picture of her yesterday at the George Williams campus. In the background is the building where I first met Dr. Cooperrider and where she joined our O.D. conference when she was 2 months old.


And more documentation for Peter.

I apologize for the typo’s and unedited writing. I have more important things to do with my time. I do not have the dozen support people that Peter has.

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4 Responses to “Salute to Dr. Sorensen and a personal history around OD”

  1. rolandsullivan Says:

    Dr. Blake sent me a published ASTD article that he wrote maybe 30 years ago detailing the story of the phrase “change agent” coming to NTL and the USA. Wish I could find it.

    I have in my house someplace the the distilled research that Lewin did in the 40’s on group process. Just amazing stuff. Wish I could find it.

    The other day I asked Peter how many times he had driven to the GWC Lake Geneva Campus and he said a 1,000 times.

    Once in a T-group led by Dr. Del Kinney, one of the students was sick in the hospital.. Our entire class met in the hospital. i learned about group commitment and the importance of each member.


  2. Doug OLoughlin Says:

    wow, thanks Roland for sharing these important historical accounts of the unfoldings and players in change and OD….what a joy it is to read these stories. with deep and wide appreciation!


  3. chai moua Says:

    Thank you Roland for posting to remind us about the history of OD.



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