How many times have you heard that? Other familiar change barriers are "That's not the way we do it here," or "that will never work!" With that type of attitude, most likely they are right! I deal with change on a daily basis. As project managers, we enact change. We are the change agents and the front lines for change. I have brought in over 200 projects in my career and they all deal with change. I have heard many statements that try to stop the change from occurring in the first place. I have developed a technique on helping start the change discussion or even defend the change barriers that are typically thrown my way. That is the topic of this post.
I will find the ways that things "used to be done" in various industries and professions and use that to start the discussion for change. I usually like to make a game of it. For example, I was working on a project for a hospital and we were streamlining a process for the patients. The process would require the nursing staff to change a system that they were all comfortable with, but quite antiquated. The rumor mill had been quite active and many opinions had been formed about the project and it hadn't even been kicked off yet. At the initial kickoff meeting, you could feel the tension. I had done some research on the web and found a Top 10 list of insane medical practices published on a comedy site called Cracked. Click here for the article. Some of my favorites were:
- Children's Soothing Syrups were made to help calm children down. They were often pumped full of narcotics.
- Mercury was used to treat wounds and a litany of other ailments.
- Heroin was used to suppress coughs.
- Bloodletting was used to cure just about everything.
Riding the success of this meeting, I began utilizing the technique for many other industries. For each project, I research practices that have changed or ideas that revolutionized the industry. I then have those on the ready when I am talking to someone and I hear a change barrier. I was working with a financial services firm when the CFO challenged one of the changes that the requested project was bringing. I answered back that all of his data entry people used to have to be trained on a 10-key by feel and processed manually as well. He said, "Good point."
Change is really just an idea coming to fruition. Someone has an idea, thought, product, or goal and change is what brings that to light. Some of these ideas are astounding such as CNN's article or Tim Crane's article of ideas that have changed the world. Some of the ideas are not so good, like the ones found in the Time article about the 100 worst ideas of the century. This technique has been very successful in preparing an organization for change. While it can be funny, it also sets the tone that things do change for a reason (most of the time). It is a good way to open the minds of the team and get them prepared. I will leave you with some of my favorite change resistance quotes of all time.
- "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." -- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943.
- "I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year." -- The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957.
- "But what...is it good for?" -- Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.
- "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home." -- Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977.
- "This 'telephone' has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us." -- Western Union internal memo, 1876.
- "The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?" -- David Sarnoff's associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.
- "While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially and financially it is an impossibility." -- Lee DeForest, inventor.
- "The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a 'C', the idea must be feasible." -- A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith's paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)
- "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" -- H. M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.
- "I'm just glad it'll be Clark Gable who's falling on his face and not Gary Cooper." -- Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in "Gone With the Wind."
- "A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make." -- Response to Debbi Fields' idea of starting Mrs. Fields' Cookies.
- "We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." -- Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.
- "Radio has no future. Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. X-rays will prove to be a hoax." -- William Thomson, Lord Kelvin, British scientist, 1899.
- "It will be years -- not in my time -- before a woman will become Prime Minister." -- Margaret Thatcher, 1974.
- "With over 50 foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn't likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market." -- Business Week, August 2, 1968.
- "Everything that can be invented has been invented." -- Attributed to Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899, but known to be an urban legend.