Change Management And Katamari Damacy

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I love the Katamari Damacy Series. It is so quirky and odd, but very accessible and fun to play. Katamari Damacy, We Love Katamari, My and My Katamari, and Katamari Forever are all pretty much the same game. Sure you could argue the difference with me, but the core of each game is the same. The King of All Cosmos in involved with somehow, accidentally destroying all the planets or stars in the sky, and the Prince (along with his cousins) are tasked with rebuilding everything by rolling up stuff with a stick ball called a Katamari.

That’s about as good of an explanation that I can muster. The game is still stranger than my description.

Much more important that the plot, or even the basic game mechanics, is the possible lessons that this odd little game can teach us about something a complex and important as managing change within an organization.

If you have played any of the Katamari games, you already know a lot about managing change. In fact, you have been exposed to the principles that are found in Change Management Expert John Kotter’s model for change. I present to you:

Katamari Damacy and John Kotter’s 8 Steps for Change


  1. Create a Sense of Urgency

Before the Prince can begin rolling the Katamari, he is given a little background about his mission that typically includes specific parameters include target size and a time limit. The story for each level also includes compelling reasons, the least of which is replacing planets and starts that were accidentally destroyed (it’s a long and strange story).

When you are trying to bring about a change, there has to be a sense of urgency, otherwise there is no reason to start the change. Just as in Katamari, a time limit helps others to focus on what actions they must take as well as their willingness to participate in new behaviors.

This sense of “we HAVE to take action” is what sets the stage for the next actions.

  1. Form The Guiding Coalition

In large organizations, having the right people on the team is very important. John Kotter points out that at least 75% of the management team of an organization must buy-in to thekatamari quote carl jung video games life lessons change management need for the change or else it will have limited success.

This team leading the change should be a group of individuals who are influential – this does not mean they need a “leader title,” but rather they are the type of person who others listen to.

This team should also represent the larger group of people being affected by the change.

This is one area where Katamari Damacy provides a negative example. In the game, the King of All Cosmos is calling all the shots, so the Prince (or any of his cousins) have no say in how things go down.

Perhaps you have been part of an organization that has a “Command and Control” approach, where the senior team makes all the decisions for the entire organization, often times with no regard for how it will impact the daily work of the individuals on the front line.

The danger here is a significant loss in morale and high turnover of good employees.

  1. Create A Vision For Change

A vision leads to inspiration. During the King of All Cosmos’ introduction to each level, he offers a motivational pep-talk about how he would like to see the end result of the mission. He describes with colorful language what type of outcome he would like to see from the Prince’s efforts.

However, you can tell by the wording of these visions that the King has been creating them with a committee of one: himself.

The vision is typically self-serving or made up to suit his desires of the moment, however odd they may be.

When designing a vision for a change effort, the team leading it should work to inspire others by building a picture of a future that is better than the current state or the potential state if no change is made.

At this time a strategy should be adopted for how the change should come about, based on the nature of the vision itself.

The vision is the Why, the strategy is the How and What.

  1. Communicate The Vision

As mentioned in the vision segment of this list, the King of All Cosmos does a good job of communicating his vision at the outset of each level.

Then once the level loads, the King offers a few more thoughts about how the Prince can be successful. Several times during the longer stages, the King will even interrupt the Prince to communicate addition information or reiterate his vision for the level, however silly it may be. katamari comfortable quote life lesson from video games allegamy

In many organizations, communication is a significant challenge. Often employees will say things like “well, no one told me.”

Of course, his is after 6 emails, large posters all over the organization, 3 staff meetings where the manager explained in details all the facts, a printed memo that the employee signed, and various other methods of communication.

That’s not to say that it is always the employee’s fault. There are many leaders and managers in organizations that are truly terrible communicators. When the communication focuses only on what the employees need to do, but do not include any indication as to why the employees should do it change efforts slow dramatically.

If the leader does not know how to communicate the vision in a way that is inspirations, it is time to hire someone who can help.

  1. Remove Obstacles

It is the leader’s responsibility to clear the path for employees to make the change easier. In the largest Katamari levels, there are cones or other barricade that restrict the player to a specific area.

Once a specific size has been reached, the King of All Cosmos removes the barrier which allows the Prince to roll into new areas and grow the size of the Katamari exponentially. If these barriers were not removed, the player’s progress would plateau and most levels could never be finished.

In the same way, those who are higher in the organizational structure have the responsibility to remove the barriers that those who report to them often face. This is not optional, it is an obligation and a primary function of management to allow the organization to succeed.

And yes, sometimes it costs a lot of money and has no immediate measurable return on investment. But it is the right thing to do.

Oh, and sometimes an obstacle might be a co-worker. Leaders need to be brave enough to make that tough call as well.

  1. Create Short Term Wins

Katamari is brilliantly paced.

Each level becomes progressively larger, but later levels are often an expansion of earlier stages. The player is not tasked with rebuilding the sun right from the beginning of the game – that is saved for much later.

Instead, each level includes a summary, rewards, and in game recognition to celebrate that a stage has been completed.

In a previous post, I detailed the importance of short term wins, even discussing how they have help my wife and I pay off significant debits.

In that post, I also mentioned how Role Playing Games’ leveling system provides an insight into the importance of quick wins: Many games scale the experience needed to level up based on your current levels or the amount of progress you’ve completed so far.

In other words, moving from level 1 to level 2 takes very little time when compared to moving from level 50 to level 51.

Too often in the business world we set our goal to achieve level 51, only to forget about the celebration in recognition of achieving levels 1 through 50.

The wise business leader will pay careful attention to this concept, and find a way to celebrate. Nothing motivates a team like success. I have noticed this is why gym memberships often go unused. If I saw immediate results in my abs after working out for two nights, then you know I would be there. But as it is, many gym memberships go unused because a lot of hard work has to happen before true results surface.katamari quote life lesson pass faill

Most change is like this, but the field of Organizational Development offers techniques that can identify wins in a way that taps into the psychology of employees, but more important that their head is their heart.

The things we stick with over the long haul are things we believe in. Things we feel.

  1. Build On The Change

As previously noted, Katamari is about gradual, progressive change. To be able to roll up a sky scraper, you must first be able to roll up trees, and before that, be able to roll up paper clips. Katamari often makes you start out small, but eventually winds up with a Katamari so large that even planets can be rolled up.

In the same way, leaders who successfully initiate change in their organization must keep the ball rolling if they hope to see continued growth. Each success increases what the organization is capable of doing, and creates fantastic momentum.

When you feel like a winner, you play like a winner.

  1. Anchor The Change

For the Prince, rolling the Katamari becomes a way of life. That’s just how he rolls (it took the entire article to get to that joke).

Katamari demonstrates Newton’s First Law of Motion – “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”

Much about this principle holds true for creating significant change. There is a natural resistance to change, but it is not the change that is being resisted so much as the individuals involved resisting being changed.

In other words, the Katamari starts out at rest, and it takes quite a bit of work to get it rolling up to speed. Once the Katamari grows to a very significant size, it can be even more difficult to get it moving with any kind of velocity.

In the same way, employees typically find a level of comfort in their job, and individuals find a level of comfort in whatever bad habit they engage in.

People prefer familiar things to comfortable things. People prefer comfortable things to better things.

If you want to make change happen, you must find a way to make the better thing both comfortable and familiar.

Big change takes time

In the early levels of Katamari, the items you pick up are tiny and the environment you roll around in may be as small as a dining room of a house. Some levels start out this small, but end up with a Katamari so large that you are actually rolling up cars, houses, and even entire continents.

But levels this large often take a long time and a lot of effort to successfully complete. Momentum is a big differentiator, this is where the importance of “quick wins” come into play.

Managing change truly is a difficult, complicated, and messy thing. It is also very rewarding for those who adopt and stick with a winning strategy. I want to leave you with one more lesson about change from Katamari Damacy:

You Can Manage Change Or You Can Manage Change With Excellence

At the end of each level, the King of All Cosmos provides you with an assessment of how you performed in the level.

In fact, the quality of your planet or star that you have created in the process is assessed and given a rating based on how your performed based on metrics such as size, speed, or contents of your Katamari. The King expresses his pleasure, astonishment, or if you fail, his wrath.

In the same way, we can manage change, ram the new way of doing things down other’s throats and call it a day, or we can take the time to it well.

There are many things in life and business that are pass or fail, but managing change is not one of them.

How well you do matters immensely to the people in the organization, the customers you serve, and the likelihood of your long term success.

Take the time to do it right.

As the King of All Cosmos said “Don’t expect another sequel. Live in the moment. This is one of the most important lessons in life.”

What is the biggest change that you have faced? Tell me about it in the comments below. 

Also – check out the official site for my upcoming book: Mastering The Game: What Video Games Can Teach Us About Success In Life