Getting to Maybe: How the World is Changed

Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and

Michael Quinn Patton

Vintage Canada, 2007


By Alykhan Abdulla, MD

Getting to Maybe: How the World is Changed

Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and

Michael Quinn Patton

Vintage Canada, 2007

reviewed by Alykhan Abdulla, MD


As I have attended many Physician Management Institute workshops over the years and am a current participant in the Canadian Medical Association/Ontario Medical Association Physician Leadership Development Program, I have had cause to read many books that deal with becoming a change agent in a complex health care system. Among these books, which range from The Tipping Point (Gladwell 2000) to Getting to Yes (Fisher et al. 2011) to Hidden Order (Holland 1995), none is as compeling and self-affirming as Getting to Maybe: How the World is Changed.


The eight chapters of this braided book weave an artistry of poetry and prose containing evocative stories of leadership and social change with iterative directives and questions from complexity science. The first chapter, “The first light of evening,” guides our journey. As we understand the difference between simple, complicated, and complex problems, we are given ground rules. Be open to questions. Accept tensions and ambiguities. Let your mindset tolerate new lenses. Top


In “Getting to maybe,” we open our mind to possibilities by supporting vision and improving our networks, interactions and information exchange. If we speak passionately about things that matter to us and find the attractors for others, we may become a generative model for others.


In “Stand still,” we need to see what happens around us and its context. This is the paradox of reflective action.


In “The powerful strangers,” we are serendipitously connected to those who share their awareness, connections, and resources because of aligning interests.


In “Let it find you,” we find ourselves in the stream learning from others and teaching others.


“Cold heaven” teaches us how to deal with failures or obstacles. Top


In “When hope and history rhyme,” our intentions and successes align, but we happen to be at the right place at the right time.


And finally, in “The door opens,” we realize that we don’t have any more doors than others. As social innovators, we see doors as opportunities. Future opportunities and change are there, if only we see them.


I have deliberately left the quizzical title to the end. Why would “getting to maybe” be a goal for anyone? The authors explain that our goal should not be to convert people to our mission or purpose, as dealing with social innovation is not a “cookie-cutter,” “one-size-fits-all” or “leaders-spouting-directives” management style. Rather, intention and unpredictability hold possibilities (may) in cooperation and competition with the way things are (be).


This book will teach you how to parse the known and unknown, how to be risky and safe, and how to reflect and react as you lead. Getting to Maybe truly epitomizes the complexity of changing people’s hearts, minds and souls. This book highlights how ordinary people can create extraordinary outcomes because they hope for what could be rather than accepting what is.



Alykhan Abdulla, BSc, MD, LMCC, CCFP, DipSportMed CASEM, FCFP, CTH (ISTM), CCPE (2014) is currently a candidate for a master’s certificate in physician leadership.



Fisher R, Ury W, Patton B. Getting to yes: negotiating agreement without giving in. Markham: Penguin Books, 2011.

Gladwell M. The tipping point: how little things can make a big difference. New York: Little Brown, 2000.

Holland JH. Hidden order: how adaptation builds complexity. New York: Perseus Books, 1995.