Host Deepa Natarajan is solo in this episode to talk about why change is hard. In this first part of a three-part series, Deepa presents the three biggest reasons why change is hard, provides examples that she has witnessed, and shares how to overcome these obstacles.
Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey from Harvard University have done a large amount of research on this. An immunity is when there is a part of us that moves towards a certain goal, and at the very same time, we are unconsciously driven to go in the opposite direction.
The first example from their study is with heart patients. They found that when heart patients were told that their lives were at risk if they didn’t change their lifestyle, only one in seven made the changes they needed. The other six patients had an immunity towards change. Some felt that if they took medication then it means that they are old; they wanted to deny that fact.
A coaching client, lets call him Pascal, had the goal to ask open questions and be more receptive with his team members. What came in the way was a very deep assumption that because he came from a modest family and didn’t go to a great school, he needed to prove himself. His mental model was that in order to show that he was a strong, capable leader, he needed to have answers, opinions, and speak about those in meetings. These things got in the way of him asking open questions and being more receptive with his team members.
You might say that if he understood and discovered his immunity, that knowledge alone may be sufficient. Sometimes just knowing is sufficient, but a lot of times we’re so committed to our old beliefs that it requires time, compassion, and patience to test out those assumptions. Pascal was so focused on his own opinions and was holding on strongly to them.
Immunity is something we can reason out with our rationale, but at the very same time, we are unconsciously so committed to that goal that it comes in the way.
Looking back at the heart patient example, we can see that of course they were motivated and determined to live longer. Yet, they weren’t able to make the changes needed.
The very same thing happens in organizations. When people aren’t able to make change happen, they start blaming each other for not being motivated and determined. People start pointing fingers, because when one fails to make the change happen in their organization, it is a cumulative effect on other people who are waiting on this person’s success to actually do their job.
This collective finger pointing makes the one who is trying to make the change happen feel so low that they start having mental conversations like: “Am I capable? Am I not capable? What’s right with me?” They then start resisting the people who are doing the finger pointing. This causes a snowball effect of people who are blaming this person.
“Blame does not help the person to grow, and it also makes the person resist the change even more because they have anger towards people who are blaming them.”
A technical challenge, for example, is that your car is broken, you need to fix it, so you call an expert and ask them to fix it. You need to find the expert, you need time to take the car to the garage, and you need money to fix the car. A technical challenge is when the challenge can be solved by technical means:
On the other hand, an adaptive challenge is something that requires mindset shift and can’t be changed with just technical expertise.
Deepa was once observing a team meeting with sixteen people and noticed that in the first thirty minutes of the meeting, only three people spoke. The question was, “Are the other people required in the meeting? If only three are speaking, what’s going on?” When Deepa asked them this question, the first answer they came up with was:
“We don’t talk to each other much because we talk to people locally. Maybe we can have a chat system, so we can communicate more with each other.”
That was a technical solution to an adaptive challenge. When Deepa looked deeply and what was happening, she found that people didn’t feel co-responsible for each other’s goals. They didn’t speak up because they felt it wasn’t their job. They have valuable opinions and input they can give, but they didn’t do that.
Here’s an adaptive solution: they need to work on feeling more co-responsible with each other. Therefore, having a technical solution such as putting in a chat system is not going to help them. They need to work on the mindset shift of being co-responsible for each other.
“Look deeper at what is happening and pay attention to patterns in the system. When you question the patterns at play, that will reveal to you something deeper of what needs to really be addressed.”