Change Management Lessons from Avatar: The Way of Water

Sometimes, radical change significantly disrupts your usual professional environment – unexpectedly and unwanted.

¿ You are part of a reduction in force that presents a blindside change in your career – there was no signal that a business shift was coming.  You pivot to a new opportunity in an industry unfamiliar to you. 

¿ The company is part of a merger acquisition, and your organization is acquired instead of being the acquirer – your future is uncertain.

¿ Your work is transitioning to another part of the world, and relocating with it is the only viable option to maintain your tenure with the company.

While watching “Avatar: The Way of Water,” I was amazed at the change management lessons that popped up during the movie. 

So, I jotted down a few notes about what I gleaned from how the tree characters adapted to the sea characters’ environment.

Change Management Lessons

When entering a new environment –

𝐃𝐞𝐦𝐨𝐧𝐬𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐞 𝐡𝐮𝐦𝐢𝐥𝐢𝐭𝐲.

Realize that you don’t know what you don’t know, and be open to learning from others – be curious. 

𝐄𝐱𝐩𝐥𝐨𝐫𝐞 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐞𝐧𝐯𝐢𝐫𝐨𝐧𝐦𝐞𝐧𝐭.

Be a sponge, use all your senses, and fully explore your new surroundings – from learning about the people to the unspoken rules of the culture.


Don’t give up or give in – too quickly. It may be challenging, but gain intel from those who have successfully navigated the environment and demonstrate behaviors that align with your value system; work to understand and appropriately adjust to the new surroundings.

𝐀𝐜𝐭𝐢𝐯𝐞𝐥𝐲 𝐢𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐠𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐞 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐩𝐞𝐨𝐩𝐥𝐞.

This is not the time to try to go it alone. Get to know people one by one and in groups. Identify who are allies (and they may be in the most unexpected places) and lean into those relationships.

𝐒𝐡𝐨𝐰 𝐧𝐨 𝐟𝐞𝐚𝐫.

Demonstrate courage yet manage and mitigate potential risks that would neither serve you nor the organization.

𝐁𝐞 𝐩𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐧𝐨𝐰 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐨𝐩𝐞𝐧 𝐭𝐨 𝐧𝐞𝐰 𝐨𝐩𝐩𝐨𝐫𝐭𝐮𝐧𝐢𝐭𝐢𝐞𝐬.

Learn the ways of the new environment. What worked in your previous business world may not apply to the current – be open to developing and embracing capabilities that work in the here and now, incorporating new learnings appropriate for this situation.

𝐁𝐞𝐰𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐨𝐟 𝐝𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞𝐫.

Just as there are allies, there could be foes. Strengthen your self-leadership skills so you can effectively and appropriately manage challenging situations. Even during challenges, preserve others’ dignity when you could choose a different action.

𝐁𝐞 𝐚𝐧 𝐀𝐥𝐥𝐲.

Stand up for those who may not have a voice. Use your platform to provide opportunities and, if needed, second chances.


Make reasonable conclusions about the people you interact with and the environment (culture) – you ultimately own your success.

Call to Action

❓Which of these actions do you most relate?

❓What would you add to the list?

If you are navigating a disruptive change now, schedule a complimentary coaching meeting.

For more change management insight, click here.

Lillian Davenport, SPHR, SHRM – SCP, CTACC, Principal, End View Solutions, LLC

Lillian Davenport

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Lillian Davenport is a coach, consultant, and leadership strategist. Her signature program, M3 LeadershipSM, prepares you to enhance and develop your self-awareness, embrace your inner strength, and lead with confidence, courage, and impact.

Lillian’s career as a human resources leader includes roles at JPMorgan Chase & Co., Woodforest National Bank, and American International Group, Inc. (AIG), where she leveraged employee relations, and diversity, equity, and inclusion expertise in leadership development.