Now, people say they like change. Change, we’re told, is as good as a holiday. But just try putting “a change” in a staff member’s remuneration package in place of annual leave and you’ll soon find out just how popular change is.
The truth is, we resist change wherever possible. It’s hard work, it requires conscious thought and old habits die hard. As someone who’s spent 20 years trying to drive new behaviour in human beings and change their psychology, I can assure you, I earn my keep.
The real problem is, we tend to view all change through the same lens. And that can be a mistake. Instead, I suggest we use four primary filters to assess change:
1. What’s unchanging
2. What needs changing
3. What change serves your purpose
4. What change doesn’t work for you
People are pretty clear on what change doesn’t work for them - like when a competitior opens up across the road or a new technology makes their cash cow obsolete. That change is almost always viewed, rightly or wrongly, as negative. But it’s change that exists beyond our control and we can choose to either adapt or be defeated by it. And yet, even with this clarity, so many of us choose instead to bury our heads and hope change goes away, focusing on being more efficient at producing redundant products and services.
We’re also pretty savvy when it comes to what change works for us. Just ask an umbrella salesperson when the rain sets in, or a car hire company when a volcanic dust cloud grounds airlines - it definitely comes with a silver lining!
Some of the more self-aware souls may even understand what needs changing (a revelation that is often followed by stress, denial, reluctant accepntance and, in exceptionally rare instances, action). But this is actually where opportunity hides and is in fact where organisations can make the greatest contribution and deliver the most value. But how do we decide what needs changing? The answer to that question lies in what’s unchanging.
Unfortunately, that is the filter where most of us fall down. Few of us really know what is unchanging. What’s non-negotiable. What is eternal and foundational. So many organisations fail because they’ve forgotten their underlying identity, focussing on what they do rather than who they are. A carriage maker doesn’t become a car maker unless they understand that their identity is about human transport, not making carts for horses.
At the end of the day, all this change leaves us with a choice.
On the one hand, we can continue to be driven by change, trying to predict which trend will stick and hoping our boffins will come up with the next big thing. Which is a about as reliable a strategy as betting it all number Race 7 at Flemington.
Far better, in my opinion, to drive change than be driven. As Alan Kay said, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”.