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Do People Really Resist Change?

By: Steve Plante

It’s likely you’ve heard the phrase:  “people resist change".

Have you ever delved into why that is? 

The simple answer is. . .

Yes. We are biologically wired to resist change.

Human beings crave certainty. Uncertainty is an existential threat. Resisting uncertainty is wired into our evolutionary DNA to survive.  Here’s an interesting video on the topic The Neuroscience of Creativity, Perception, and Confirmation Bias by Beau Lotto, author of Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently.

Beau points out: “to ensure your survival, your brain evolved to avoid one thing: uncertainty… if your ancestors wondered for too long whether that noise was a predator or not, you wouldn't be here right now.”

“Every behavior that we do, we do to reduce uncertainty. We do it to increase certainty. Our brains are geared to make fast decisions based on assumptions (confirmation bias), questioning them in many cases quite literally equates to death. No wonder we're so hardwired for confirmation bias. No wonder we'd rather stick to the status quo”.

Paradoxically, we are in a period of accelerating, exponential change. How do we respond? Is it possible to create an environment where people embrace change, and thrive on it? Yes, and the secret lies in addressing the twin pillars of safety and meaning.

If we crave certainty, as its opposite, uncertainty, is an existential threat, the countermeasure is to remove or mitigate the threat, ergo, create an environment where a state of uncertainty is safe to dwell in, that there is a state of Trust that people will not experience harm.

So, why change after all? Change contemplates new and different ways of doing something. It challenges our assumptions and opens us up to new possibilities – it’s triggered by an extrinsic threat or by intrinsic creativity guided by the pull ofpurpose and meaning. Beau points out “to be creative, we have to unlearn millions of years of evolution. Creativity asks us to do that which is hardest: to question our assumptions, to doubt what we believe to be true.”

And often, it takes an extrinsic existential threat to spur us to challenge our assumptions, in effect, reacting to a threatening change in the environment. And today, this can mean death to the corporation.

The accent has to shift to creating a safe environment where the status quo is constantly challenged guided with a sense of direction and purpose – the twin pillars of safety and meaning.

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