Innovation is about change
In the previous column I looked at the circumstances under which it is better to stop or prevent an innovation project, rather than taking the risk of failing and causing damage to innovation credibility.
Innovation is essentially about change. If the human race did not adapt to a changing environment or continuously improved their skills and technology, we might have still been living in caves or even went the route of the dinosaurs. I am not advocating evolution theory here, so let me use some more recent examples. If we did not continuously adapt and advance, to name a few, we would not have been able to communicate instantly across the globe, we would not have found cures for killer diseases and we would not have been able to visit another continent in a matter of hours. So, as history teaches, the ability to adapt to environmental changes, such as the ones we experience in the corporate world, determines who has a better chance of thriving.
Organisational culture and structure change is inevitable due to the constant change in technology, customer and markets, social and political pressures, as well as demographic characteristics. It is also no secret that people don’t like change. But why don’t people like change? There are many opinions and theories explaining why people are resistant to change, but in my view, the main reason is because people are creatures of habit and find it hard to abandon behavioural routines that the organisation considers no longer appropriate. They like comfort zones by continuing routine patterns. People hence resist structural and cultural changes that force them out of comfort zones and require investing more time and energy learning new patterns.
So how do you get people to break established habits, or even better, what if you could proactively inspire change? Austrian economist Ludwig von Miseson once noted that three requirements must be present for an individual to change: The individual must be dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. The individual must see a better state.
The individual must believe that he or she can reach that better state.
Most people don’t want to change, because they are not dissatisfied enough with the current state of affairs, and therefore do not see the need for a better state. So, in order get people to change, we need to translate this into different perspectives to make change a reality. This can be accomplished by changing two perspectives: 1. Reframing the outcome so that it is highly desired; and 2. Reframing the process of getting to the outcome. In terms of reframing the outcome, Steven Shapiro uses the example of buying a mattress. Mattress ads usually advertises that when buying a new mattress you will get the best sleep ever. Well, many people’s “old” mattresses happen to be very comfortable and already ensure a good night’s sleep.
These ads don’t inspire anyone to buy a new mattress. However, if you heard an advertisement advocating that your old mattress weighs twice its original weight due to the dust mites that it has accumulated, it might get you thinking quite seriously about making a purchase.
In terms of reframing the process, if the effort to get from point A to point B is perceived as too great (relative to the benefit), people will be overwhelmed and not take action.
Therefore, if you want people to change, you need to make the process simpler or make it appear simpler. This could mean breaking tasks down into small, bite-sized chunks. Or, you could map out what needs to be done and find ways of making it easier or simpler.
Humans aren’t wired for change, yet we continually strive for it (and fail) both professionally and personally. However, if you couple the right motivation (pain or threat) with the belief that there is an attainable better state, you can produce change on a whim. Next time I want to look at who is ultimately responsible for driving innovation in the organisation, is it everybody, or only a select few, or both? I conclude with a quote from Alan Watts: “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance”.