This is a world of rapid change. Failure to change – failure to adapt – is the path to obsolescence. This is true when we are talking about individuals, groups, or organizations. We must be willing to change when change is required. The difficulty is that our brains are not built to easily accept when change is required.
Evolution, in the broad overview, has designed our brains to learn about how the world works during childhood and then to use that information to guide the rest of life. Succinctly, we are rather poorly designed for “old dogs” to learn “new tricks”. We tend to carry “baggage” from childhood that permeates our beliefs and behaviors during adulthood. Yet, from an evolutionary perspective this had made sense. Except for the rare situations of natural disasters (cataclysms), the rules of life learned during childhood have been applicable to adulthood during evolutionary historical times. Increasingly this is a problem in today’s world.
It’s important to realize that the framework for these perspectives is the formation of generalizations and overviews. We do learn new specific activities rather easily. For example, when hotels switched from using metal room keys to plastic key cards there were probably very few people who could not make the transition. The concept remained the same: “to open the door you put a device in the door that unlocks it”. We simply changed the device and some technique as to how the device was applied. In evolutionary terms this would be like saying: “if you want to get to the lake you now use this new path because a landslide blocked the old one”. No problem: same concept, different specific behavior.
Changing concepts is much harder. Our brain hardware was not designed to do this very well, for the most part. For example, if childhood teaches us that exploration is dangerous then we are likely to spend most of adult life with a focus on defending known territory. Alternatively, if childhood teaches us that staying in one place is dangerous then we are likely to spend most of adult life with a focus on exploring new options. (And, yes, this is part of the explanation for why some people change easily and others don’t.)
Failure to change is thus an outcome of both complex and simple mechanisms. In these blog posts we’ll explore the issues from a neuroscience perspective.
A Note of Overview: A Fractal View of Individual and Group Change
Human behavior in individuals and groups has, broadly, a fractal perspective. The fractal concept is that where the same rules of interaction are present at different levels of “magnification” then similar patterns out outcome may be observed at those different levels of magnification. (For more on fractals, see: Fractal – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia ).
The fractal concept applies to human behavior as seen in individuals and in groups of individuals. We build our groups in ways that they are extensions of our own individual actions. So, the concept of fractals does provide useful insight to application of similar considerations whether the focus is an individual or a group. To be sure, there are differences. Yet, it is important not to get so caught up in the details as to loose the value of the generalizations. There are always exceptions to any rule. Yet, the value of rules is that they allow us to see beyond the endless variation of individual situations to useful generalizations.
As we consider resistance to change you will see that similar issues may apply whether the focus is an individual or a group. For example, we may look at the “personality” of an individual while we look at the “culture” of a group. In many ways they are similar. That is, in both cases the overall behaviors reflect the experience, beliefs, values, expectations, goals, habits, and even the “genetics” of the participant(s).
Some Upcoming Topics
Here are a few of the topics we’ll consider as this series evolves. Note that all of these have both individual and organizational forms.
Change failure due to:
- Unclear future image
- Early engagement failure
- Insufficient “message”
- Insufficient “urgency”
- Insufficient opportunity (time, resources, etc)
- Insufficient “health”
- Interpersonal conflicts
- Fear of incompetence
- Fear of status Loss
- Fear of turf Loss
- Fear of opportunity loss
- Difficulty changing habits
- Difficulty changing goals
- Difficulty changing values
- Difficulty changing expectations
- Difficulty changing beliefs
- Difficulty changing personality/culture
- Social/Regulatory blockade