Stephen Cummings/Todd Bridgman/Kenneth G Brown: Unfreezing change as three steps: Rethinking Kurt Lewin’s legacy for change management

Kurt Lewin’s ‘changing as three steps’ (unfreezing-changing-refreezing) is regarded by many as the classic or fundamental approach to managing change. Lewin has been criticized by scholars for over-simplifying the change process and has been defended by others against such charges. However, what has remained unquestioned is the model’s foundational significance. It is sometimes traced (if it is traced at all) to the first article ever published in Human Relations. Based on a comparison of what Lewin wrote about changing as three steps with how this is presented in later works, we argue that he never developed such a model and it took form after his death. We investigate how and why ‘changing as three steps’ came to be understood as the foundation of the fledgling subfield of change management and to influence change theory and practice to this day, and how questioning this supposed foundation can encourage innovation.


By Stephen Cummings, Todd Bridgman (pictured) and Kenneth G Brown