Jason Clarke, founder of Minds At Work, talks on Embracing Change at TEDxPerth conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: jason-clarke-on-embracing-change-at-tedxperth
This is where it starts. Someone gets up at a TED Talk and says, “Behold, we don’t have to do it like this. I’ve got a better idea. There’s another way. There’s another technology. There’s a new way of seeing the world.” And the new guys go, “Wow, that’s fantastic. We’ll go out and create change.”
And you can’t wait to go to your workplace or go back to the people that you live with and say, “Rejoice my people. There is a better way. It doesn’t have to be this way.” And you’re expecting the whole world to go, “Fantastic, it’s going to change.” And this is what you hear. You go, “Come on, we can do this, we can totally do this.” They go, “No. You know what? Because we’ve done it before” or “Now’s not a good time” or “We haven’t got the money” or “It’s been done. It’s never been done. That’s not the way we do things around here. It’s not part of the charter. It’s traditional. It’s complicated. It’s political.”
Do you recognize any of these? Of course, they’re all different ways of saying this. They’re all just different ways of saying “It’s not going to happen.”
So what I’ve been doing, I work in the innovation space, I’m interested in this wall, and how do we get past this wall. How do we take our passion and our ideas and actually make them happen? So I’ve been trying to figure out, what this wall is made of and how do we get past it? If we can’t get past it, go under it, go around it, or just smash through it.
The first thing you need to know; these aren’t real reasons. These aren’t real reasons. That becomes pretty clear because they’re so easy to refute. If they say for example, “It’s always been like this”, what does that mean? It means the problem is older than you think it is. It’s not an argument for not changing it now. It’s a reason why we should have changed it 20 years ago. When they say, “It’s the same everywhere” what they’re really saying is the problem is broader and wider than you think. That’s not an argument for not fixing it here, it’s an argument for fixing it everywhere.
When they say for example, “It’s not in the budget”, it means we’ve spent the money in the wrong places. Right? When they say, “It’s not in the charter”, what they’re saying is the people who were supposed to provide the vision weren’t thinking as big as you. When they say, “It’s political”, what they’re saying is, “I’ve learned to keep my ideas to myself.” When they say, “It’s just traditional”, what they’re saying is, “Actually, I don’t know why we’re doing this, but it’s always been that way.”
OK, and the thing is, they are so easy to refute. So when they say things for example like, “It’s too complicated”, you say, “I can make it simpler for you.” When they say, “You know what, it just sounds like it’s too simple”, you say, “That’s okay, I’ll make it more complicated.” My favorite one, a friend of mine got this one the other day, “This isn’t what we pay you to do.” And his answer was, “That’s okay, this one’s a freebie.”
So if these aren’t the real reasons, then what are? What are the real reasons, “No.” No one will tell you what the real reasons are, but I’ve been collecting them. I’m going to show you the seven most, the classic reasons why people resist change and what to do about them.
“I’m too full of emotion and fear to think about what you’re talking about.” This is a big one. “This has all come as a huge shock.” That just means, “Thanks for the heads up. No one told me about it and now I’m just dealing with horror.”
“I’m scared of the transition, not the idea.” Very often we think they don’t like the idea, what they’re really worried about is the journey to the idea.
“I don’t know how big a deal this change really is.” “I don’t see how I fit into any of this.” “I feel like I have no say in what happens.” This is really what people are saying. The one that cracks me up, the big one is this one, “I’m fed up with phony change. I want the real thing.” Very often when people are saying, “No it won’t work”, they’re not saying they don’t want change. They’re saying, “I want change that’s real. I want something I can believe in.”
Let me take you through these one at a time. I was dealing with a group of people who were supposed to be planning the future of their organization. And 20 minutes before I turned up they all got fired. The organizer said, “Maybe we don’t want to do the workshop now”, because it was going to be about the future. I said, “No actually this is more of a reason why we have to have the workshop now. We just have a different context. What will the future be for these people?”
Every time that something happens, every time there’s a change, there’s three basic ways you can go about it. You can say, “I want to see the positives. I want to see what’s interesting about it.” Or, “I just want to focus on the negatives.” These people who’ve just been fired, what do you think? The negatives. So instead of trying to change their minds to help embrace their change, I just said, “How do you feel about it?” These were the four things, I feel scared. I’m angry. I feel betrayed. I feel stupid. I let them talk for about 15 minutes and everything that came out of them was a variation on that same four. I’d write them down and I say, “Have you got anything new?” After 15 minutes they’re exhausted. There was nothing else to say about the negativity.
Then they started saying things like this, “You know, I kind of knew this was happening. I’ve never liked it here. I’ve only been putting up with this job out of sufferance. In fact, I need a good push. This is the best thing that could’ve happened to me.” They got there by themselves. All I was doing was ratifying their feelings. I was just listening to how they felt. And then before I knew it, they were here. They were saying, “This was great. I’m going to go back to study. I’m going to travel. Why don’t we build our own little support group and keep in touch with each other?” Now all of them have got better jobs and they all keep in touch. Because they went through this whole thing of what’s the negatives, the interestings, and the positives. If you’ve ever seen a small child running and they fall over, for a couple of seconds they don’t know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. They’re not sure. Have you noticed? They just sit there in this kind of neutral space like, “Okay, this is different.” What’ll happen is, if dad says, “That was funny”, then the kid gets up and does it again. If mum runs up and goes, “Oh my darling, are you okay?” the kid goes, “I don’t think so.”
As children we have this positive/interesting/negative space. This interesting space is where the artist is, it’s where the innovator is, it’s where the inventor is. They’ll say, “Gee this is unusual. What can we do with this?” As we get older we compress that space and we see everything in terms of this dichotomy between good and bad. This is good, this is bad. Our default is to rate every change as being bad. So this is a way of people to understand, to audit their emotions about this state.
What about this? “I’m scared of the transition. I’m not scared about the idea.” I used to think it was about saying, “This is what we’re doing at the moment, it’s not good. This is where we should be going, it’s way better.” What I’ve realized is the way we do things now have got a couple of good things going for them. The status quo is all of these things; it is known, it is proven, it’s familiar. Sure it’s insane, but we know how to do it. We don’t have to adjust anything. It’s crazy but it’s what we do. You’ve heard that argument?
Whereas, what’s the problem with B? It’s all of this stuff. It’s unproven, it’s uncertain, it’s freaky. Someone told me once, “Everyone’s afraid of something.” It’s very true. We’ve all got something we’re afraid of. It could be failure or ridicule or clowns. I don’t care what it is. In the unknown, the thing you’re scared of could be there. I’m scared of math. I’m innumerate. Any change where I have to do some numbers I get very concerned about. If the unknown contains math, I’m nervous. How do we solve that problem? It’s pretty easy. Between where we are and where we’re going to get to is all of this stuff. This is foreseeable, predictable stuff. We know about this. I’m someone who, I don’t like flying very much. I like coming to Perth, but I don’t like getting to Perth.
What happens if I have a really turbulent flight? If the captain says, “It’s going to be bumpy, get over it”, I’m fine. If he says nothing, I’m imagining at the front of the plane the cockpit’s on fire and he’s madly trying to control us from going, because I’m not being told. This is the trick, it’s giving people the heads up, “It’ll be bumpy. It’ll be weird. Fasten your seat belts, this’ll be the ride.”
“I don’t know how big a deal this change really is.” I love this one. You think about this idea of four doors. The first door are the things that we used to be able to do and can still do. I’ll get people to write a list. What are things that we could do before the change that we could still do? I know one organization that said to its staff, “You’re going to be working from home and whatever hours you like.” Everybody freaked out. We said, “Okay, what are the things that won’t change? Will we still have email? Will we still make phone calls? Will we still be in this same business?” Yes. A long list of things that weren’t going to change. Everyone calms down.
Door number two are the things that we couldn’t do before and we still can’t do. Make a list, “We can’t put poison in our product and I suppose we can’t cheat or lie or steal or that kind of thing.” That’s also a long list.
Door number three are the things that we could do before and we can’t do now. In this case it was get stuck in peak hour traffic and have long meetings that go nowhere. Gosh, could you sacrifice those?
You can for door number four. That’s a door that’s only recently opened. These are the things that we couldn’t do before but we can do now. It means I can make my job suit my lifestyle. I can get away from this work-life balance thing and start thinking work-life harmony. You see some sense in this? What we’re really asked you to do is say, “Guess what? This is what we currently do. This is all the stuff that won’t change. This is the stuff we’re asking you to let go of. This is the stuff you get to do in exchange.” Suddenly, everybody calms down. They can see the change has got edges to it.
“I don’t see how I fit in any of this.” People feel like they’re not being consulted. The key to this is the difference between authorship and ownership. What we do is we say to people, “Here is the change. Own the change. Gosh, why aren’t people having ownership of the change?” You’ve seen this happen. I’m going to say, “Here’s why we’ve got to change. Here’s what has to change. Here’s how it’s got to change. You report to me and by the way, I want you to own it.” It doesn’t work. What works is authorship. If you say, “Here’s why we have to change. Here are some things that have to change. You tell me how. You tell me how you’re going to make it work.” You give them authorship. You empower them to design the change for themselves. Suddenly they’re not responding to change, they’re taking control of change.
Here’s one of my favorite techniques for this, what we call the renovator’s delight. If you think about it, have you ever renovated a house? What did you keep? What did you chuck? What did you change? What did you add? They’re the only four questions. We talk to organizations and say, “Take this tool. What would you do? What would you keep?” They say, “We would keep our values. We’d keep our passion. We’d keep our enthusiasm. We’d keep our best people.”
“What would you chuck?” “We’d chuck our negativity. We’d chuck our systems. We’d get rid of the bureaucracy and the red tape.” “What would you change?” “We’d change our culture. We’d change our attitude. We’d change our thinking.”
“What do you want to add?” “We want to add empowerment and innovation and creativity and fun.” Guess what? They’ve just designed all the things that we thought we’d have to convince them to do. Now it’s their idea. Can you see the power in this? They’ve been given authorship. They’re given the power to make the change.
“Yeah, but people hate change.” Don’t they? If this is true, we’ve got to tell the fashion industry right away. Because they are based entirely on the idea that people want to change their look. We’d better talk to the tourism industry as well, because apparently people don’t want to go to other places. All those people in gyms and those people that are trying to lose weight and people having cosmetic surgery or getting their hair done. We’ve got to tell them how much they hate change. People that have elections and people who have affairs. We’ve got to tell them too, “No, apparently you hate change.” It’s not true. Guess what? Bored people want change. Frustrated people want change. Passionate people want change. Irritable people, cynical people. Actually, the number of people that want change is much greater than we imagine. It’s not true that we hate it. In fact, this is closer to the truth.
When I take a brief on working with a group I’ll be told, “Our people don’t want change.” I listen very carefully to what people say What’s interesting is as the conversation evolves, it’s not that they don’t want change, the truth is down in here somewhere. The truth is they want real change. They’re sick of believing something that isn’t real. They want something genuine. So let’s look at that.
The thing is, we’ve all dealt with this before. We know what it is. We know how the lack of change can get packaged up as something new, and we’re savvy to it. Someone comes in and says, “Behold my people, we’re going to do it differently. We’re going to change everything else.” You go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. This is just new look VAM. It’s just a repackaging.”
So how do we know the difference? Is it likely that we now suspect all change as being fake? We think, “You know what, you tricked me once in 1972, I’m not believing you again. I’ve heard all this before.” That’s the problem. Real change sounds very much like fake change. It’s hard to pick the difference.
Here’s the thing, I do work in probably every sector; commercial, non-commercial, government, any group you can think of, not for profit. I ask people, “How do they spend their time? Where does their career go? How do they estimate their use of time?” This is the first map that I get, which is, there’s a very large amount of their time is spent just staying out of trouble. The three rules in any organization is attract praise, avoid blame, don’t stand near the fan. And we learned this. When you think about, “How is the rest of the time broken up?” Well, there’s an awful lot of turf squabbling going on. Who’s in charge? Who’s the boss? Who’s got the biggest desk? Then let’s allow some time for just office intrigues. What ends up happening is this tiny little sliver for actual achievement. You know what, I’ve been running this as an unofficial straw poll now for 15 years, and everyone says it’s basically what it looks like.
So when I say, “Here is a change”, you can go, “Yeah, you know what? This is more of the same.” Guess what? I think people are hungry for that little green wedge there. I think people are hungry for actual achievement. I don’t believe that we want to dedicate our lives to nothing. I don’t believe that we are here so that we could achieve zero. I think we’re here so it amounts to something somehow. So let’s look at that.
Your clock’s going crazy, but that’s okay. “Is the change real or fake?” That’s an important question. Is this a genuine opportunity, or is it phony? I think that’s an important question. By the way, fake change; no good. Real change; good. Just in case you weren’t sure.
“Is the change cultural or structural?” This is a huge question. Structural change is, “We’ve changed the reporting, we’ve changed the org chart, we’ve changed the name of the organization, and everything keeps going the same way.” Until you’ve changed the way we think, unless you’ve changed the actual culture, you have zero change. Does that make sense?
And then finally, “Is the change offered or foisted?” Am I invited to the changed? Am I invited to the change or am I forced to make change? Guess what? Real change, which is cultural and offered, works. Fake change, which is structural and foisted, doesn’t work and shouldn’t work. So let me show you how to break that up.
If I’m talking to you now you’ve got two choices, really. You mind’s going to be open or closed. That’s your choice. I can’t affect that. You could say, “You know what? I’m not buying a thing this guy says.” That’s your right. If you go, “Yep, I’m totally into it.” That’s also your choice. This is the choice that any group that you talk to will make. I have choices as well. I could be talking about something genuine or something phony. That’s my choice.
So what are the outcomes of the choices that you can make and the choices that I can make? Let’s look at them. Let’s imagine that you’ve got your mind open and what I have for you is nothing. This is just phony, phony change. You know what that means for you? Big disappointment. You’ve got your hopes up one more time, you’ve been let down one more time. That’s what that means.
So what would happen, though, if this was an empty shallow badging, and you went, “No, I’m not buying it.” Then you win. You reserve the right to say, “I told you so I didn’t buy that for a second. You didn’t fool me.”
What about this? What if your mind is shut and we have a real opportunity here, if we’re talking about something genuine? Guess what? You lose the opportunity. You lose the possibility. What if your mind is open and what I’m telling you is real? Then here’s where we are. We have an opportunity to make a real difference. So when I work with very cynical closed groups I present them with this choice. I’ll say, “Here’s your choice. You have the choice to close your mind, to lose a rare opportunity to make change for the right to say I told you so. Or, you could give this a fair chance and open your mind and risk disappointment for the chance of making a difference.” When you lay it out like that, the choice is practically pretty straight forward. This is my belief about people.
What are we here for? What do we want? If you’re a young person the conversation is about destiny. If you’re an old person the conversation is about legacy. But it’s still the same. What was I here for? What did I do? What did it amount to? I ask people how do they want to be remembered. What is it for them? “Here lies me, I protected the status quo.” Do you think that that turns anybody on? Do you think that anybody wants that to be their life’s achievement? What about this one? “I met all my KPIs. I satisfied all departmental and OH&S standards.” Do you think that this excites anyone? Do you think anyone would give their life to this? Or this one. Is this a life? I don’t think anybody wants this. I don’t think anybody wants this.
My belief that a fundamental human need is to contribute, is to make a difference. You are here for a certain time and you’ve made something of it. Tolkien said, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time we have.” I’ve put it in much simpler terms. For me, you can keep things the same or you can make a difference. You cannot do both. That is the choice you’ve got to make. I’ve made mine. You choose yours.
Thank you very much.