You Can't Change The World If You Can't Change Your Mind

“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

Today’s tip is a quote from George Bernard Shaw, one of the great playwrights of the 20th century. He understood human nature, and he understood change. As a result, he was able to write some very compelling dramas.

As you know, I talked about the importance of change last week. It’s absolutely necessary. As one person said, politicians and diapers have one thing in common. They should both be changed regularly, and for the same reason.

And yet people almost always resist change. Why? Why do they fight the very thing they need? I think there are three reasons. And researcher Peter Block outlined them quite well. He said people fight change because they are UNKNOWING, UNABLE, or UNWILLING.

As a consultant to dozens of organizations each year, I see those three things all the time. And it’s my job to show teach organizations how to past those three things.

Galileo was the most brilliant man of his age. With his telescope he proved the theory of Copernicus — that the earth was not the center of the universe. The earth and the planets revolved around the sun.

Yet, when he tried to change people’s beliefs, he was thrown into prison. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest because people were UNKNOWING. It’s the FIRST REASON people fight change.

They just don’t get it. They’re unknowing. Such was the case with President Rutherford B. Hayes. After he participated in an experimental telephone conversation between Washington D.C. and Philadelphia, he said, “That’s an amazing invention, but who will ever want to use one of them?”

The same is true in business today. Some managers don’t understand the necessity of change or the process of effective change. They’re UNKNOWING.

John Naisbitt, author of Megatrends, says, “Much of the failure rate in the coming decade will have nothing to do with the economy. It will originate with individuals, many of whom are managers running on memory instead of vision or insight.”

In a world that is changing so rapidly, you can’t wait until you have it all figured out before you do anything. Sometimes you have to move forward even when you’re UNKNOWING.

Ray Bradbury said it best. He said, “If we listened to our intellect, we’d never have a love affair. We’d never have a friendship. We’d never go into business, because we’d be cynical. Well, that’s nonsense, you’ve got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down.”

The SECOND REASON people fight change is they are UNABLE. They may not have the skills to move forward or be successful in a new environment; so it’s only rational that they resist the new environment.

Some people will say they don’t have enough people to make the changes. They’re already understaffed or shorthanded.

But Margaret Mead, the world renowned anthropologist, dispelled that myth back in 1975. Her research led her to say that you should “never doubt the power of a small group of thoughtful, committed people to change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Other folks will say they’re UNABLE because they don’t have the skills to make it through the change. And they may be right. That’s why I’m constantly telling leaders and managers that they’ve got to train, train, train their people for success. They’ve got to tell their employees, “We’ll give you every tool and every skill you need. We’ll train you for success rather than set you up for failure.”

To me that only makes sense, but I can’t tell you how many companies mess it up. They think they can outline the change, describe the change, order the change, but never train their people for the change. Oh, they may give their employees a few extra technical skills, but more often than not, they don’t give them the critical soft skills that have to accompany the change. No wonder people are UNABLE. You’ve got to equip your people for success.

Still others will say they’re UNABLE to cope with change because they don’t even have time to communicate the change. Well that’s nonsense. The most important messages of all time have been communicated in a few words that only took a few moments.

The Genesis story of creation took only 400 words. The Declaration of Independence took 300 words. The Gettysburg Address took 266 words, while the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer take a mere 132 and 67 words respectively.

The THIRD REASON some people fight change is the fact they are UNWILLING. It may be fear, doubt, or any number of factors that keep them stuck inside their comfort zones. But if you want something you’ve never had, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done.

Some people are afraid to try something new. That’s why I tell my audiences, it takes guts to leave ruts.

Perhaps you know the old joke about why the chicken crossed the road–to prove to raccoons it could be done.

Others may be UNWILLING to change because it hurts. It hurts to be on the cutting edge. But it also hurts to be behind the times. So you might as well get on with the changes that need to be made.

Betty Morgan talked about the pain of being behind the times. She said her oldest daughter asked to borrow one of her shirts. And a few minutes later, she said she was doubly flattered when her other daughter wanted to wear her jeans and sweater.

As Betty stood on the porch waving goodbye to her high school daughters, she overheard her daughters’ friends “ooh” and “aah” over the clothes. Later, however, she learned it was school spirit week, and that day’s assignment was to dress like a nerd. She knew the pain of being behind the times.

You’re probably going through a lot of changes in your organization. You can expect people to fight those changes. It does help, however, to understand why people fight those changes. I gave you the three biggest reasons today.

In future issues, or perhaps when you hear me speak in your organization, I’ll tell you how to get people past those three reasons.

Action:  Write down the three reasons people fight change: UNKNOWING, UNABLE, and UNWILLING. Then as a team or department in your organization, rank order them from 1 to 3, in order of strength. In other words, number one is the strongest, biggest block to change amongst your coworkers.

Then decide on two things you can do the help remove that number one reason.