Why is Seeing the Writing on the Wall So Very Hard to Do?

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Why is Seeing the Writing on the Wall So Very Hard to Do?

Lary Kirchenbauer wrote If You Wait to Change, It Will Be Too Late in the North Bay Business Journal.  He cites a few noted business thinkers on the need for “constructive paranoia.” (Andy Grove’s term.) Kirchenbauer adds his own term to the mix: destructive enrichment. (Please read his article. it will be worth your time.) Here is the comment I added to this article.

Larry – Destructive Enrichment, huh? I like it. And I liked reading quotes from so many others who advocate “healthy” paranoia.

I focus on resistance to change in organizations. (Beyond the Wall of Resistance 2010) and I found that the comfort of complacency is perhaps the biggest challenge regarding change. The methods for actually making a change are a piece of cake in comparison. But it is extremely difficult for individuals and organizations to see that a change is needed.

Harley Davidson’s business took a big hit back in the 70s when the quality of their bikes plummeted. Eventually they turned things around. An executive who had been there during that dreary period said, that “the writing was on the wall, but we thought it was a forgery.”

I am curious about why we can’t see the writing on our walls. While there may be many answers to that question, I find the notion of Immunity to Change compelling. In their book of the same name, Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey argue that it is as if we have separate immune systems that keep the status quo in place. We say we want to do something. We even know how to do it. And yet, year after year, we keep making the same New Year’s Resolutions. They suggest that the immunity comes from some big assumptions that work diligently to keep things just as they are. I think it may be even worse than that. I think that these big assumptions may even keep us from ever even noticing what we might need or like to do.

I believe that organizations develop their own immune systems over time that transcend the current group of people walking the halls, and these beliefs sometimes keep us from seeing the writing on the wall.

In spite of these immunities, organizations still love to do things. They love action, so I urge my clients to slow down. Quit moving to action so quickly. Take a deep breath and look seriously at the beliefs (both spoken and unspoken) that are likely to subvert any efforts to change. That’s hard to do, and not everyone has the courage to do it. But if people want to embody destructive enrichment, it sometimes is the only game in town.

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