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resisting change

Why we don’t like change

Special Feature by Simon Rountree.
Would you prefer your chocolate from a company that has been making it for 75 years or 3 years? 

The business world is in a state of dynamic change. Leaders can expect disruption impacting entire industry sectors at an increasing rate. To stay relevant and competitive your business must evolve and change behaviours that are preventing growth and increasing risk.  

If you’re determined to be an advocate of this change whether you are trying to shake things up a bit at work, restructuring, expanding or looking to create an agile and innovative workforce then it might help you to start understanding the psychological barriers that you are up against. 

Generally, people fear change, not so much about what’s around them (though this is still fearful for many) but more so on what will happen to them. People often on an unconscious level genuinely believe that when they’ve been doing something a particular way for a long time it therefore must be a good way. The longer they’ve been doing it the more entrenched and better it becomes because they become comfortable with what they know. Even if at the time it may not have been that good the passing of time makes it feel better. You know those stories where people say “It was much better back in my day ….” Or when a whole company believes what it’s doing will never need changing i.e. Kodak and film for cameras. 

Change is not just about embracing something new and unknown, it’s about giving up something old and therefore good. There are a number of studies that show how we have a preference for things that have been around longer. In one study, people were shown an identical painting and told one was painted in 1905 and the other in 2005. Overwhelmingly the group preferred the 1905 painting. In another they were given a piece of chocolate and told it was from a company that has been making chocolate for over 75 years or a company that had been in operation for 3 years and yes you guessed it they preferred the chocolate from the 75 year old company. 

Unconsciously we tend to believe that longevity is good and therefore must be better and in some instances this can be the case particularly when a product or a way of doing things have stood the test of time. i.e. pencils have not changed since their first invention in 1565 or the first known fork as an eating utensil is believed to date back to 2,400 BC. 

Our problem is that longevity and tradition aren’t always an accurate predictor of goodness and our fear of change is influenced by numerous factors such as inertia, habits and beliefs.  

It’s not impossible to overcome our unconscious bias, but if we want to be change agents and succeed in this endeavour then we need to accept that it’s there. Change and innovation requires us to not only convince others that new can be good, but that we address their unconscious assumptions that what’s been around longer looks, works and tastes better. By taking this step and understanding some of the psychological barriers that people face we can support the workforce to become more adaptive to change.  

Source Heidi Grant Halvorson , Ph.D. 

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