4 Reasons Change Is So Damn Hard

Posted By on May 18, 2011

While flying somewhere over the Midwest I started chatting with a very senior executive from an organization you would instantly recognize. Without taking a moment to assess who I was, he began to lambast his firm and lament how “back-asswards” they were and that they were “destined for failure“. Given that he was responsible for global corporate strategy, I asked him (with a straight face) whether their organizational rapture wasn’t somehow his fault. He paused, took a swig from his plastic cup of scotch and said, “You may be too young to get this, but change is so damn hard“.

His blindness to my gray hair aside, our conversation led to four reasons why he speaks the truth:

1. We’re Creatures of Habit – Tomorrow morning I want you to try a little experiment. When you step into the shower, try mixing up the order of your washing routine. Chances are you’ll fumble around and end up forgetting to rinse some nook or completely miss a particularly filthy cranny. And when you realize how futile (and unsanitary) this change can be, chances are you’ll go back to your old comfortable habits the next day. For it to stick, change requires persistent awareness and diligence.

2. We’re Stuck In The Past – Change carries the implication that the current state is no longer relevant. If you happen to personally be the catalyst for change, this requires the presence of mind to accept that what came before was flawed and no longer tenable. In the more likely scenario of change being thrust upon you, others are stating that the old way is either materially flawed or could be a hell of a lot better. Although it sounds like mumbo-jumbo bullshit, the reality is that change is a constant process, so whatever you love about the past will likely be dead and gone tomorrow.

3. We’re Part Of The Problem – You know that irritating adage that says, “You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem“? The pressure to come up with great ideas and solve world hunger while stopping smoking and losing twenty pounds can be a bit much at times. And then some jackass consultant/coach/advisor says, “Hey, all you need to do is [insert platitude] and you’ll be all set.” The truth of the matter is that sustainable change either happens from within or doesn’t happen at all.

4. Our Perspective Sucks – Remember borrowing a friends glasses for the first time and feeling like the world suddenly morphed into a funky, twisted mess? Chances are you immediately removed them and said something like, “Man, that gave me a headache. How do you wear those all day?” Your friend probably harrumphed, ripped them from your claw and wasn’t too pleased. When you look at a problem you might see nothing more than a funky, twisted mess, so find someone who can see the destination clearly because true change requires a completely new perspective.

Back to my friend the flying disaster of an executive. After two hours of conversation (and his third drink), I finally suggested that he quit his firm and move on. He patted my hand and said, “Friend, you are a wise sage” and then fell asleep. I’ve been watching the company for an announcement of his departure but unfortunately he is still there, cracking his head against the wall and likely telling strangers about the end of days. He probably hasn’t left yet because – let’s face it – change is so damn hard.


    • Thanks so much Jay. It shows that severely inebriated passengers are chocked full of wisdom. :)

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  1. It is so true and human nature does make it very hard to change. Love your insightful article here Mark! Great points that you make, especially ‘We’re Part of the Problem”… and even though I am one of ‘those’ coaches, I believe I’m pretty careful in bringing awareness that it is within us to either change, succeed, win or whatever you set out to do. There is no magic button to do it for you.

    Appreciate you taking the time during your flight to share your thoughts on this. You never know who you will be sitting next to and what you can learn from them!

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    • Thank you so much Lynn. I agree with your point that “there is no magic button to do it for you”. Have a great day and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  2. Organizational change aims to solve long-standing loopholes in workflows, business practices and corporate culture. The key to success is to get major stakeholders embrace the proposed change.

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    • Actually, I prefer for major stakeholders to LEAD the proposed change if we’re to overcome these long-standing loopholes you cite. Thanks for the comment!

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  3. It is an old saying that change always comes from the top while revolution from the bottom means mass level. Is there any specific technique to bring the change in an organization by changing the mind sets of top bross? Here it is worthmentioning that i m talking about the eastern organizations where it is a prevailing practice that its too hard to change the mind set of the tops.

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    • It’s a good question Muhammad. In my experience senior leaders need to personally feel pain (in either their pocketbooks or egos) to get on board and embrace those thought-leading revolutionaries down below.

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  4. Very good points. I especially relate to being stuck in the past. I can’t tell you how many clients of mine say “well, we always have done it that way” without even realizing they are being resistant to change.

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    • Great point Alan. There’s a certain comfort in familiarity that is so tempting to fall back on. Thanks for stopping by!

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  1. Let’s Face It: Change is Hard | Gayle Tabor - [...] my usual way I began to research the reasons. I stumbled across a blog post ‘4 REASONS CHANGE IS …

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