The Trap Door on the Road to Change

In March of this year, the McKinsey Quarterly interviewed Chip Heath about his book  Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. This being a fascinating topic to any marketer, I hastened to read the interview, and I’ve put the book on my TODO list.  Business is about change.  Marketing is about change.  Heck, life is all about change.  And change is hard.  People are wired to pretty much keep doing what they’ve done in the past.

What interested me most in the interview was a description of a graph:

“In Switch, we discuss the design firm IDEO, which deals with this problem a lot because it often tries to train entrenched bureaucratic organizations to design more innovative products. An IDEO designer sketched a mood chart predicting how employees feel at different phases of a project. It’s a U-shaped curve with a peak labeled “hope” at the start and a peak labeled “confidence” at the end. In between is a negative valley labeled “insight.” In IDEO’s experience, there is always a moment when an innovation team feels demoralized. Yet eventually an answer will appear, so if the team keeps working through that frustration, things will get better. Every manager in a change process should steal IDEO’s chart because every change process goes through that same sequence of mood changes.”

To which I responded:

“I remember a consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation drew a graph similar to what you are calling a “mood chart” above. It was more of a stretched out U shape with a “neutral” dotted line maybe half or two thirds of the way down. What always stayed with me is that successful projects (and the successful integration of new employees) climbed the graph upward, while there was a trap door at the bottom for projects that failed. ”

While I have no idea who the consultant was or whether I still have a copy of the original graphic, it looked something like this (annotations are mine):

I share this with you because I have found it a useful meme to keep me going through difficult times and projects.  It also helps me support others struggling with a new venture.  This diagram is probably why I firmly believe that Nobody can stop you but yourself. And once you get past a the hard part, whatever that might be for you, things really do get easier and better.

Admiral Grace Hopper, who often spoke at Digital Equipment Corporation, is famous for having said “It is easier to ask forgiveness than to ask permission.”  She was, and remains, a gleaming beacon who achieved success by continuing to do what she knew in her bones was right, regardless of the entrenched system around her.  Success has a way of confirming and supporting change.  Another Grace Hopper quote:  “A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are for. Sail out to sea and do new things.”

Humans have a conflicted relationship with change.  We want it.  We need it.  But we really don’t want it to alter the way we do things.  As Albert Einstein pointed out: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  We humans are such interesting creatures.  It seems to be the case that for an individual to change they first must want to change, spend some time waiting for the change to magically happen by itself, then begin the tedious job of effecting change.  Leadership can help.  Some systems that support the change process can help.  In the long run, we just have to keep at it.  Nobody can stop you but yourself.

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