I am currently completing a consulting project and as I was writing my recommendations, I returned to the question of why individuals resist change. It’s a classic MBA school question. Everett Rodgers, perhaps the father of the study of innovation labels them laggards because they lagged behind the late adopters of new ideas. The labels for these individuals have morphed over time to include active resistors and organizational constipators. These labels all have a somewhat pejorative tone. Now the answer to why ‘resist’ change is not suppose to be they’re luddites, or they cannot see the good in what you propose or that their pathway is really a rut. And these reasons contain truth and untruth. Maybe there is a resistance to change, to maintaining the status quo, that is not related to change at all, but in our relationship to what we are doing right now.
In a behavioral economics experiment at Stanford, half of a class was given a school coffee mug, and then the class had the opportunity of buying or selling the mugs to one another. The ‘value’ of the mug is captured in the price each group would either sell the mug for, or pay to purchase it. And, not surprisingly, the values placed on the mug by its owners, and remember they had only owned it for about five minutes, was much more than the value placed on it by the presumptive purchasers. Ownership, mine-ness, confers value to our objects. So would it also be true that mine-ness, the way I do something, the way I care for the patient, how I make the sale, or how I get informed consent; does that confer value to us and make letting it go much harder?
And the transfer of mine-ness to an object, what are we actually thinking; are we like the duckling to it’s mother, imprinting our mine-ness onto objects, Robert Krulwich, a Radio Lab host, discussed his feeling about receiving a note from Buzz Armstrong. He was so excited and said, if it was a letter or a written note he would have framed it and given it a special place, but it was e-mail and Armstrong had not ‘touched” it rather it had gone from keyboard to computer to computer to screen. For Krulwich, and I think for many of us, the mine-ness of an object comes from our having touched it, in literal as well as figurative ways. And I think this underlies why mine-ness is so sticky, resisting change; we have touched with it. The way we care for our patients, is how we touch our patients. It is very personal; it has a great deal of mine-ness to it.
So perhaps resistance to change is about the uncertainty of losing a portion of our mine-ness rather than abstinence or ignorance. And that being true, then implementing change requires more than an intellectual understanding of why, it necessitates an emotional connection so that we recognize that the mine-ness will be OK or even better.