So the story goes, if you throw a frog into a pan of boiling water, the frog immediately realises the danger and jumps out. If, however, you put the frog in a pan of tepid water and apply heat to the pan until the water boils, the frog stays put and slowly cooks and dies. I’m not a chef or a reptologist and I certainly haven’t performed this experiment to check the results, but it’s a good analogy for resistance to change.
In some ways, the human psyche is hard-wired against change. The brain works on success strategies, and once it finds one that succeeds in a given situation, then that becomes the brain’s go to guy when those events arise. It’s a very successful method. We don’t need to touch a flame more than once to realise it’s going to hurt and we soon gain a healthy respect for heights after a few falls.
When it comes to our working lives, it works the same way. We work out how to speak to people to get results (although I think this particular skill peaks at the age of 4). We work out the best way to word an email, apply for a job and ask for a pay rise. It’s not usually particularly scientific. We rely on trial and error, but once we work out a winning formula, the brain locks in that strategy.
One of the worst things about the brain is that it is a creature of habit. Once it has picked up a way of behaving, it is highly reluctant to change. After all, if something’s worked loads of times before, why wouldn’t you trust it to work again?
This would all be great if nothing changed. Unfortunately, everything does.
People change. Not only do people join and leave organisations all the time, but even the people who don’t learn new skills or go through new experiences that change their outlook on life. Technology changes all the time. In a living breathing organisation, processes change. In society, expectations of what’s OK and what’s unacceptable change. Our perspective changes every time we learn more about everything around us. When you think about it, there is very little that doesn’t change, so the circumstances in which we learned our success strategies gradually are unlikely to be repeated.
It makes sense to ask yourself occasionally whether you feel like a boiling frog. Have you changed enough to cope with all that’s changed around you?