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Change hatred considered

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People tend to resist change. Why?

“I’m all for progress. It’s change I object to.” Mark Twain, to whom that quote is usually attributed, may not have ever uttered or written those words.

That’s the start of an article in Business Week on how to introduce change to a company—a sidebar to the fascinating story of the downfall of Julie Roehm, hired to change Wal-Mart’s marketing approach. (Wal-Mart didn’t want to change.)

The author of the sidebar article explains why people resist change:

Virtually every company has people, maybe huge numbers of them, who will resist change until the bitter end. It’s human nature.

Ah! Human nature, of course. That’s the reason. And how do we know? Because almost all people resist change. It’s a tautology, in other words—the essence of uninformative “communication.” The writer should be ashamed. (Anatol Rapport talks at some length about the various types of explanations for “why” in Operational Philosophy, an enjoyable and informative book.)

What struck me in reading Rich’s column was this paragraph:

Mr. Cheney, in other words, understands the danger this trial poses to the White House even as some of Washington remains oblivious. From the start, the capital has belittled the Joseph and Valerie Wilson affair as “a tempest in a teapot,” as David Broder of The Washington Post reiterated just five months ago. When “all of the facts come out in this case, it’s going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great,” Bob Woodward said in 2005. Or, as Robert Novak suggested in 2003 before he revealed Ms. Wilson’s identity as a C.I.A. officer in his column, “weapons of mass destruction or uranium from Niger” are “little elitist issues that don’t bother most of the people.” Those issues may not trouble Mr. Novak, but they do loom large to other people, especially those who sent their kids off to war [and all too often off to their death – LG] over nonexistent weapons of mass destruction and nonexistent uranium.

Why are the Washington pundits and press corps—in the press and on TV—so often wrong and—worse—why do they so often seem to cooperate in cover-ups: “Nothing to see here, folks. Move along”?

Reason: they are fighting change, and for a simple reason: if you’re in a position of power, then change threatens you with the loss of that position. Once change begins, it can affect you, while the status quo, in contrast, has been very good to you. So the Establishment—whatever it is—strongly favors maintaining the status quo because the Establishment wants to retain the power it has. This is true in companies: powerful managers resist change for fear they will lose their power. After all, they owe their power and influence to the existing company culture—if people start thinking of the company in a new way, the old guard are at risk.

But even people without power will resist change. I suspect that the taproot of this resistance goes very deep, that it draws its strength from the (mostly unconscious but always present) fear of death: “Maybe if things just stay the same, I’ll just stay the same and I won’t die!” Change reifies the passage of time and the way we are all changing as we move inexorably to the grave. People don’t like to be reminded of that.

UPDATE: Additional thoughts in this post.

Written by Leisureguy

4 February 2007 at 10:58 am

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