“a manner of speaking becomes a manner of thinking”


“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?”

Albert Einstein


Being Erica:

Change. Sometimes it sneaks up on you. Sometimes it hits you over the head. And sometimes you turn a corner, only to find you’re different in some small way, and the world doesn’t look quite like it used to. So, where do I go from here? No idea.”


‘We call it a disaster, so nothing can go wrong.’”


In the past week I told two people “change isn’t that hard” and, twice, received a fairly skeptical look. This is possibly one of the most consistent views I have that varies from the mainstream view. To be fair, maybe 12 years ago I was clearly in the change-is-hard camp. Since then, I have inched my way into the “(most) change really isn’t that hard” camp. Let me explain. Not all change is created equal (yet we far too often lump it all together), and, in fact, I would argue the majority of change is incredibly easy. Shit. I’d argue most of our change just happens and we ignore it (maybe because we don’t want to admit change is kind of naturally occurring). The difficulty is that we MAKE things hard so that it can seem like it is hard. The truth is, left to its own devices, change naturally occurs – individual, community, business, society. Change is almost like gravity. If that is true it would appear if change doesn’t happen, its because something, or someone, is fighting gravity – yeah, like people, us, humans. We are the change constraint.

Which leads me to “will” or having the will to change.

I bring this up because in business we often confuse ‘institutional will’ <the will of the business to adapt to a future state> and ‘individual will’ <the will of people to do the will of the institution>. This is a really important topic when we discuss whether change is hard or not, because in business the institution establishes the frame within which anything happens. They create a mindset and very very often create a very flawed plan of action neither of which tend to dictate how people morph to fit the institution rather than have the institution adapt to meet the shape of its employees. If an employee chafes, or even fights, against the will of the institution, the institution tends to tighten the screws down on behaviors and indoctrinate mindsets. This Institutional Will attitude toward employees matters because institutions inherently create systems of motivated blindness <where people follow orders motivated by what they see as for the good of the institution/business>. It creates some seemingly harmless behaviors which actually obscure key downward leveling aspects of the system. In other words, if you motivate to value the outcome too much than the process or the ‘how’ becomes of less value relevance. This matters, in reference to ‘change is hard’, because many times the institution is dictating the change/behavior it desires and ‘changing’ to meet something designed that isn’t natural to what one would do on their own is a hard thing to accept. But even if the institution isn’t dictating change it is often dictating desired behaviors (buttressed by incentives) which are also not natural to what any sane human being would do on their own – so even without change, current context is slightly painful at minimum.  Most everyone knows formal systems are the weakest links and informal systems the strongest <and most resilient to change>. Most of us also know if you disrupt the rhythm of the informal networks, destroy the informal systems and manage the ‘prediction-recollection’ mindset (intuition mental modeling frameworks), you can reshape the system as a reflection of what the people in the system see as their greatest potential. Read that least sentence and laugh if you want. I did. Its right but it would be naive to think anything over 10% of existing businesses think like that.

  • ** note: i have always liked leveraging existing informal networks, and have even suggested in some cases in order to reshape an organization to maximize its potential you have to deconstruct (all the way over to ‘purposefully destroy’ on the spectrum) informal networks. Institutional informal networks are social, economic, functional, but no sane business desires an ongoing battle within an organization of conflicting informal networks so i posit that in some cases purposefully deconstructing some of the informal networks as the way to open the way for new and better informal networks. To end this thought. I sometimes believe we do not talk enough about ‘natural resistance’, or institutional gravity, when talking about change as an accelerated effort to fly.

Which leads me to changing the mindset.

We have convinced ourselves, and businesses, change is hard. The effect, and consequences, are we actually did make changing hard. To unravel the consequence, we need to unravel the belief.

To be clear. Institutions hate to change. People, as individuals, are more receptive. The former does so for a variety of reasons, but just watch as we move into ‘post-pandemic business mode’ and just watch how ‘the institution’ will come up with a variety of reasons, many of them which sound good, to suggest economic recovery would be better if we ‘went back’ to how things had been done pre-pandemic. They will hold on to the construct and grudgingly change some workings within said construct. But. Do not be fooled. This is institutionally driven more so than individually driven or even business driven. And, yes, I just created a hierarchy – institution within which a business conducts itself and individuals who work within a business, but are parts of the institution. As Drucker pointed out: “society is a conserving institution.”

But people, we, you and me, are different.

To be clear. Humans have some obstacles. I believe it was a French sociologist, Emile Durkheim, who developed a psychographic method to establish different socio-cultural groupings <I believe it is called the Sinus Milieu>.  Anyway. Basically, it is a model that challenges us to think about behavior, preferences and cultural practices. The main premise behind the model is called ‘the lock-in principle.’

The principle simply states that if we get used to something, we do not want to change our habits <or attitudes and beliefs> even if we are presented with something new or different that might be better. Simplistically it consistently shows <to a point that it is almost an unequivocal behavioral truth> that habit is stronger than the desire for improvement.

This thought partially explains that while 50somethings actually share the same desires as young people they are reluctant to let go of what they “know.” That said. We change every day. Mostly not in big ways, but we change. It may not be so easy to see if you sit down on a Sunday night and think “how did I change this week”, but it is easier to see if you look back a year. Business is the same. It changes every day. Why? Because business is made up of people. Yeah. We may try and suffocate the change thru processes, meetings, and protocols, but in-between all of that people are people and the business changes.

Which leads me to I believe we make 30,000 decisions a day (the average person).

Asking everyone to change so that all 30000 decisions change is silly if not absurd. And within that 30000 each of us, individually, will hold on to some of them with ragged claws. They are ‘our rituals.’ Our certainty. Our stability. And your will be different than mine and Gem’s will be different than Giles. But still there are thousands of decisions we can we can change. The trick is to match up the change with individual, herd (as Mark Earls the herdmeister would call it), the business itself, the customer and ultimately, the world/society. The change, big or small, syncs up to shift things slightly into the ‘better’ category. That’s kind of the holy grail of change impact.

I spent the bulk of my career in ad agency account management (although I worked in media, planning, business development, my best friends were in the creative department and was a COO – before I became a business consultant. I mention that because I would rummage around inside the business, operations and people, to seek out what made them tick, how they made money and who they wanted to be (versus who they were). The ideas and creative on the businesses I worked with could make the business feel uncomfortable on occasion not because they were wacky, but because parts of many of them showed a part of them, a better part, of who they wished they could be. Then it simply became a challenge of convincing them that this was the time, and the opportunity, to be it and, frankly, this better version of you (and the product/service you are selling) is what a customer prefers. I saw my job as finding the desired change and figuring out ways to amplify it either thru some initiative, creative, project or idea. I imagine this was my way of encouraging progress rather than achieving some milestone or objective (although I never articulated it that way then).

All that said. Change wasn’t hard.

Sure. I’ve presented hundreds of ideas and thoughts I was unequivocally sure were exactly what was needed and were right for them. Only to find in hindsight, they weren’t. That’s not to say they were 100% wrong or they were boneheaded ideas oblivious to reality, its just that somewhere within the idea was something that didn’t reflect the change they desired or didn’t reflect a fragment of who they wanted to be. And maybe they were wrong to focus on a fragment from stopping doing it, but maybe they were right that the part would affect the whole in ways they didn’t like. But my point is it wasn’t that people didn’t want to change or weren’t willing to change, that it just wasn’t the change that they wanted.

People will find exceptions to what I am saying, and some really good exceptions, but they are missing the forest for the trees.

Businesses change all the time. Maybe not as much, or as fast, as we want. People change all the time, maybe not as much, or as fast, as we want. But we change. And it isn’t really that hard.

People will push back that businesses are mired in status quo. And they may be right, and wrong. I will point out that status quo is not stagnant. Status quo is actually made up of movement. It could be circular doom loop movement or even some less-than-useful movement or the shitty power dynamics that all organizations have, but there is movement and, yes, there is change even within status quo.

People will push back by pointing out ‘being stuck in a rut’ or how businesses do the same things over and over again. and, yes, if you view business (and people also) as running through each day in layers of pacing, some layers do repeat over and over. And sometimes those pieces are really important – good and bad. But. At other levels, other pace layers as it were, brick by brick, day by day, a business is being rebuilt. Small incremental changes, over the course of months and years, amount to huge changes. Some changes are direct impacts, others are indirect, all affect the company – either culturally or even from a productivity stand point – increase inefficiency as well increase effective … depending on how the business manages this change. I imagine I could point out that not all ruts are created equal and not all status quo is bad.

People will push back by pointing out a version of Drucker’s thinking. He stated that society, community and family are all conserving institutions and that business should be organized for constant change (I would note to the consultants suggesting business culture should be ‘familial’ you are simply making change harder, but I digress) and point out that most businesses in today’s world actually act like conserving institutions.

I push back by pointing out that while people make 30000 decisions a day a business makes exponentially more and that conserving is relative and principles, well defined, can shift decisionmaking, in a tectonic way.

Which leads me to the pandemic (and some wishful thinking by some people about change).

It’s possible the pandemic will teach everyone a bunch of these things and there a bunch of people espousing ‘big changes’ because of the pandemic. I am not confident that will happen because, once again, the people are coming out of the woodwork to encourage belief in the wrong things. People will be sorely disappointed if we tell them about some ‘new normal’ (that will never appear as it is described). People will be sorely disappointed if we tell them to go back the way we had been doing things (because it will never appear exactly the same again).

Yeah. The truth is that all of us, within our own 30000 daily decisions, have changed a bit. We view some of those decisions just a bit differently. Many of us have even changed some decisions. Businesses have also. So when we making sweeping generalizations like ‘new normal’ we are missing the opportunity. Change has occurred, change will continue to occur, and the trick is to amplify the good change for the better.

“An organization is an organ of society and fulfills itself by the contribution it makes to the outside environment.”

Peter Drucker


In the end.

Change isn’t hard. We do it all the time. Business does it all the time. And you know what? Everyone actually wants to change. I do not know one person who does not want to be a bit better tomorrow than they were today. And maybe that is what I miss most about being in advertising. On a really good day I was part of something that helped people be better. It was always some grand things, more often it was a little thing – offered reliability, offered some comfort, offered added value in a miserable day. But. It was something. And it was something that encouraged change in a positive direction.

I would have argued with Drucker. I would have suggested everything is a conserving institution and also built for change. Its wheels within wheels. And the trick is to find what is worth conserving and what is most valuable changing. Because all of us conserve something, and most of those somethings are valuable, maybe even just for sanity sake. But all of us also change things. Shit. All I know is that change isn’t hard and I wish we would stop saying that.

When circumstances are right, unlikely people do extraordinary things. When the weight of the situation is behind them, the push of events and time tend to align and the extraordinary happens. Then it is just a matter of getting swept up in the events which, as a consequence, change the course of the world – immediate world rippling out to community, world and the future. Change, history, context, future all balance on what a human actually cares about. Yeah. Change is simply a byproduct of what we care about and, I imagine, how much we care about it. Ponder.

Written by Bruce