Monday, July 09, 2007

Why is change so hard?

One great technique to avoid change!

In 'New Zealand Unleashed' author Steven Carden thesis is that there are three traits that need to be in place for New Zealand to be successful: lots of ideas need to generated ( creativity); the ideas of others need to be absorbed; and thirdly everyone needs to be willing to change.

The same 'recipe' applies also to organisations, such as schools, and individuals.

The willingness to change is the key to it all. Carden introduces his chapter on change with a pertinent quote from George Bernard Shaw, 'Progress is impossible without change; and those who can't change their minds, cannot change anything.'

It is all very well having good ideas but our willingness to change is vital. Change, writes Carden, is not easy. It seems we are hard wired against change and often do every thing we can to avoid it.

It seems we suffer from 'loss aversion' - fear of letting go of the old even if the new promises something better. Even considering changes the new freezes us with indecision like a possum caught in the headlights.

And then there is the endowment effect - meaning we place greater value on things we have.People just don't want to give up what they like. The more we prize what we have the more we are reluctant to try something new.

And as well we are often not sure if the new idea will make us any happier.It is hard to know whether we should stick with the 'status quo' or confront change.

To make things more difficult we are not good at recognising how good we are at coping with changing circumstances. When bad things happen we end up coping with them - we are more adaptable than we often appreciate. The pain of change is often overplayed just as is the imagined pleasure from acquiring something new. Both future pain and pleasure seem to get distorted. Our fertile imagination overplays it's hand!

We also get stuck in our ways due to 'mental models'. Mental model are simplified explanations we hold in our mind to help us interpret events. They act as the 'default' ways we act reducing the complexity in our lives. Unfortunately they can limit us as well - think of those who used to hold the model of the world as flat. We are conditioned to see things in certain ways.

Young peoples mental models are easily changed as they reorganise their thinking due to new experience with little problem. In contrast, to the adaptable young, older people , who have had longer to establish their models, find it harder to 'change their minds'. Older people have more fixed ideas in the brains that need to be revised. This rigidity of thinking can be seen when new scientific theories challenge the earlier beliefs held by some scientists.

Changing mindsets is difficult. The implications for societies ( and of course schools) is important. Stable mental model work well in stable environments but it is increasingly becoming obvious to all that we are now entering an era of complexity, unpredictability and continual change. Adaptability, and the need to thrive on change, will be necessary as we move from a stable industrial to a dynamic creative era.

Another barrier to change is our desire for instant gratification. It seems we are conditioned to enjoy the present than to focus on long term success, perhaps relying on our 'she'll be right' attitude. Tied in with this is the attitude that things will work out in the future - an over optimistic, or complacent, view of life. Or that the concerns expressed don't really apply to us.

'She'll be right', complacency, or over optimism is a dangerous mix, according to Carden. It can easily becomes an excuse for doing nothing and to avoid preparing for the future. Add to this the feeling that there is little we can do about all the depressing issues we hear in the news , resulting in a collective insecurity, anxiety, or helplessness. We, it seems, are suffering from what Alvin Toffler wrote about years ago - 'future shock'.

All this can lead to apathy and loss of hope.

There is hope,according to Carden, and it is to do with how we think about our country and its future. How we see the future will determine how we act in the present.

The message of Carden's book is to challenge us all to rediscover hope for a better future. Hope that will energise us to engage in projects we believe will improve our future even if there might be no immediate payoff. Without hope , he says, we are all too easily captured by by whatever is happening in the present.

A vision that things could be better has been the driving force behind all of humanities great achievements throughout the ages.

As individuals and organisations we are able to rise above the present, face the hard choices, and create a world of our own making. Without making tough choices now there will be tougher choices ahead. There are no quick fixes. And can't wait for our politicians to save us, all they can do is to create the condition for creativity to emerge. We need the wit and imagination to it ourselves.

What we need is a national conversation about what kind of country we want to be and for this conversation to provide the inspiration for us all to make the changes in ourselves, our organisations and, in the process, develop our country as a creative innovate, inclusive and caring one.


Anonymous said...

No wonder people are hard to change - a 'fear of the future' or can't face the 'shock of the new'. most people would rather do ordinary things well than risk doing good things badly! As C K Chesterton said. 'If a thing is worth doing it is worth doing badly'.

Anonymous said...

I do like the idea of a national conversation happening to listen to the views of ordinary people so as to tap into what they 'hope' for for their country. It is obvious the advice of the 'experts' isn't working to well. There is 'wisdom in the crowd' to be tapped with the right process.