How to bring about change
The presentation I gave at CEDEC back in August offered a few ideas to tackle systemic issues in the Japanese gaming industry. Issues I believe to be hindering Japanese game developers' overall success globally.
Despite the overwhelmingly positive reception, many people have shown pessimism, if not defeat, about the applicability of such ideas.
"I wish things could change that way." As if most people were convinced that they, themselves, couldn't be a catalyst for change.
Today I want to talk about change, why it is hard to bring about, and what you can do about it.
Nobody likes change
We may hope for things to change, but the truth is, we don't like to change. And even when we strongly desire to change, we have a hard time acting upon it.
There are a few psychological reasons for that.
We are creatures of habit. We are naturally programmed to resist change. We have hundreds of decisions to make every day, and our routine takes care of a lot of them for us.
Change means uncertainty. We are risk-averse; that's why we have survived for so long. On top of that, we abhor failure.
Change is painful. Any meaningful change will create friction. No friction = no change.
There isn't much to do about the above, but it's important to know what we are up against. Bringing about change will induce friction and will meet resistance.
Change is emotional
We are primarily emotional beings with oversized amygdalas. I like Jonathan Haidt's analogy that our emotional self is an elephant, and our rational self is its rider. Most of the time, the rider doesn't control the elephant but simply rationalizes its behaviors. When the elephant wants to go left, the rider finds a reason for it, after the fact.
So how to get the elephant to move right instead? You need strong emotion. For an organizational change, that emotion can be triggered by a visceral dissatisfaction with the status quo and a belief that the current structure is its primary cause.
👉Identify the emotion underlying your desire for change and put it into words. This “why” will be the driving force to initiate the change and create a movement within your organization.
Change is cultural
As I mentioned in my previous post about cross-cultural innovation, cultures are collections of norms and heuristics.
Organizations are living cultures. Bringing about change within an organization means changing its culture. And that is no easy task.
For a cultural change to be successful, people across the organization need optimism and conviction, which cannot be dictated or mandated.
For people to embrace change, they need to be convinced that it will improve their situation, that it is the right thing to do, and that its implementation can be successful. We don't like to bet on risky ideas when our jobs depend on their outcome. And when we do bet on a horse, it better wins the race!
👉Identify the potential cultural blockers. Are there norms or processes in your organization that will act as obstacles and stop you from moving forward? Can they be removed or avoided?
Now that you have identified the emotional driver and the potential blockers of the change you want to bring about, let's look at few things to consider when you decide to implement it.
In essence, you do not change processes or policies. You change culture, which in turns changes mindsets and behaviors.
Cultures over time forge their social environment. New behaviors require new environmental conditions. Safe havens, where the rules are different from the dominant culture, are necessary to catalyst a movement in its early stage.
👉Find your haven. It could be a small group limited to your closest colleagues or a small project on which you have more leeway. Choose one that is conducive to change and offers the least resistance.
Perfectionism leads to procrastination
We are all afraid of failure and rejection. We don't like imperfect plans, especially when we are the ones to push for their adoption. But the longer we spend on planning, the more we learn about the subject and the less confident we feel about our understanding (Dunning–Kruger effect), which leads to procrastination.
👉Perfect plans don't exist, and things never go according to plan. The first step is to accept that you might fail and ask yourself, "is it still worth trying?"
Focus on baby steps
Organizations are complex social structures that rely on values (norms) and processes (heuristics). The larger the organization, the more intricate its structure, and the more spaghetti-like its network of decision-making processes is.
When we are dissatisfied with the status quo, it is tempting to hope for radical change and paradigm shifts. But that is, for the most part, wishful thinking. Organizations are often built to resist change. That's what makes them reliable.
👉The best way to induce change is to identify opportunities for baby steps that move the organization in the right direction. Even if they are small, actual baby steps are more progress than wishful giant leaps or unrealistic paradigm shifts.
A good baby step will have some of the following characteristics:
it is applicable today
it makes sense; it improves the status quo
it has wide support
it will create low friction
it has a high likelihood to succeed
it can serve as a stepping stone for more change
Successful baby steps create momentum, and that's what change needs.
Leading by example
It always looks great on paper, but in reality, change creates friction and will meet resistance. That's why it has to start with the person who believes in it the most. You.
People may get excited at the prospect, i.e., how life will be AFTER the change, but they won't do the grinding work for you. At least not until you show them how it is done and that it is possible. Success stories are essential.
👉Prove them that change is possible and be vocal about your success stories. Document your steps, the potential obstacles they may encounter, and how to tackle them.
Starting a movement
Once you have proven that change is possible, it is time to start a movement. Movements need powerful words that invoke strong emotions. 👉Remember what created your emotional response, and crystallize it into a compelling message.
When it comes to communication, repetition legitimizes. 👉Be ready to recite your message at any opportunity, almost like an incantation. The larger the organization, the longer it will take for the message to sink. Don't give up.
I hope this post gave you a few ideas about why change is so challenging to bring about and what you can do about it.
We may not like to change, but that is what we have constantly been doing as a species. And we usually feel great once we are on the other side.
If you feel strongly about something you want to see changed in your organization, nobody is in a better position than you to make it happen.
We are naturally programmed to resist change.
Dissatisfaction with the status quo can be a powerful catalyst.
Optimism is a driving force of change, but it cannot be mandated.
Environments play a central role in fostering change or resisting it.
Actual baby steps are more progress than wishful giant leaps
Lead change by example and spread the word. Change begins with you.