I heard the statement, ‘Change is Hard’ many times over my career. I may have even said it a few times. Perhaps you have too. The problem however, may not be as simple as change itself being hard. Perhaps change is easy, but the people having to deal with that change resist the change and do everything in their power to see that change does not happen. After all, there is a general feeling that when things are the same today as they were yesterday and will be tomorrow that everything is fine with the universe. However, sometimes it is just our perspective of time or space that makes it look like things remain the same.
Take for instance the so-called solar constant, the amount of energy that the sun puts out in a given time period. Most people like to think of the sun as something that does change. Only relatively recently in the grand scheme of human history has science recognized that the sun undergoes at least something that appears to be an 11-year cycle of solar activity. While it may be true that the variation in solar output may not be apparent to humans without instruments to measure it, we now know that it exists. In fact, the temperature on this planet has never been constant but for a few years geologically speaking.
Another good example of static thinking was the belief when I was going to elementary school that the continents have always been the same and will always be the same. The mere suggestion of continental drift was considered fringe science at best if not outright fiction. Today we accept continental drift as scientific fact.
Moving to more recent times, the question of global warming has occupied many scientists over the last decade as well as the general public and politicians. While many theories exist on the cause, which I will not get into here, it is interesting to see how global temperatures have changed over the last hundred years. The following link will shown you an animated map of the world with changes in global temperature using 10 year increments: http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/WorldOfChange/decadaltemp.php
So back to change. People don’t like change especially when they don’t feel like they have any control over it, and sometimes they don’t. On the other hand, people who are instruments of change seem to have no problem accepting change, but also trying to accelerate it. A good example of that effect occurs in Information Technology (IT). The IT field is characterized as a field that is in constant change. Since I first started working with computers in the late 70’s, the size of the computers, the languages used to program the computers, and the user interface to those computers, just to name a few areas, have changed dramatically. However, being in the IT field by choice I tended to embrace those changes always looking for how they might improve my ability to create new solutions to problems. At the same time, other people were resistant to many of those changes. Some even feared that computers were getting too powerful.
Then Apple came along and broke through that fear for most people and not only got them to accept change, but to embrace the change. With products like the iPod which allowed us to carry our music with us and the iPhone which allowed us to not only communicate with each other, but to surf the internet, to download and to play games. The iTouch was sort of a marriage between the iPod and the iPhone. Then there was the introduction of the iPad, which has taken much of the world by storm. Each of these devices was a major change, yet people not only accepted these changes, but they would camp out over night in front of stores to get the next version of these devices. Why did they accept these changes so easily while still resisting other changes in technology?
I suspect a couple of factors overlap here. First, people tend to accept change more when it helps them relax, play or be entertained. On the other hand, they tend to resist changes that ‘others’ push onto them at work to do their job differently. In the first case, the change is something they choose to do. In the second case, the change is something someone told them that they have to do. Maybe that also explains why the IT staff is more enthusiastic about new products and product releases while the rest of the staff looks at the same product upgrades as just something else they now have to learn.
So perhaps the key to getting more people to accept change at work (or anywhere) is to help them to be part of the change. Group or individual discussions on how the change will make their job easier, not just different. I remember the first time we tried to get our secretary at an engineering company in Pennsylvania to give up her typewriter and create memos and documents in a word processor on a PC. She resisted it. She kept her trusty typewriter next to her desk and set the computer over on a table a few feet away. However, when she saw how easy it was to make changes to letters and documents that our department head always seemed to change after she finished typing them, she soon moved the typewriter out of the way and placed the computer on her desk without any further suggestions from us.
I suppose the real issue is finding a way to get people to embrace the change. Maybe that is what is really hard, not the change itself. Finding a way to get people to stand outside a store all through the night to get a new $400 phone would seem impossible had we not already seen it happen several times. Sell the sizzle. Appeal to the customer’s emotional wants. Telling people to stop driving will not solve global warming because that change is too hard and there is nothing enticing about it. The challenge will be to find new products, new ways to do things to get people to want to do the behavior that will lead to the changes wanted. Perhaps one possible solution is the enticement of letting more office workers get their jobs done from home several days a week utilizing ‘live’ meetings over the internet and perhaps even shorter hours if they can get the same work done more efficiently (with less time spent talking around the water cooler). I’m sure they are many other solutions. Maybe you have one or two suggestions that could change the world. The world is waiting.
Until then, c’ya next time.