Ask someone what they do, and they’ll probably talk about where they work. “I work in insurance,” or even, “I work for Aetna.”
Of course, most of the 47,000 people who work for Aetna don’t do anything that’s specifically insurance-y. They do security for Building 7, or they answer the phone for someone, or they work in the graphic design department.
Most people have been trained to come to work in search of familiarity and competence. To work with familiar people, doing familiar tasks, getting familiar feedback from a familiar boss. Competence is rewarded, colouring inside the lines is something we were taught in kindergarten.
People will do a bad (a truly noxious) job for a long time because it feels familiar. Legions of people will stick with a dying industry because it feels familiar.
The reason Kodak failed, it turns out, has nothing to do with grand corporate strategy (the people at the top saw it coming), and nothing to do with technology (the scientists and engineers got the early patents in digital cameras). Kodak failed because it was a chemical company and a bureaucracy, filled with people eager to do what they did yesterday.
Change is the unfamiliar.
Change creates incompetence.
In the face of change, the critical questions that leaders must start with are, “Why did people come to work here today? What did they sign up for?”
That’s why it’s so difficult to change the school system. Not because teachers and administrators don’t care (they do!). It’s because changing the school system isn’t what they signed up for.
The solution is as simple as it is difficult: If you want to build an organisation that thrives in change (and on change), hire and train people to do the paradoxical: To discover that the unfamiliar is the comfortable familiar they seek. Skiers like going downhill when it’s cold, scuba divers like getting wet. That’s their comfortable familiar. Perhaps you and your team can view change the same way.
Seth Godin: Writes the most popular marketing blog in the world and is the author of the bestselling marketing books of the last decade.
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