Using Resistance To Innovate

Innovation means doing something different to get a better result. But doing something different requires change – something people generally resist.

Resistance to change is well known and its reasons well documented. Trust. Security. Fear of failure. Stress related to learning new knowledge or skills. Managers spend many hours thinking about and experimenting with push-me/pull-you ways to overcome resistance to change. Any attempt can produce some success, but to reduce randomness and guessing, follow these simple steps:

  1. See resistance as standing for something, not just against change
  2. Understand what resistance accomplishes for people
  3. Explore different means-ends relationships

View resistance as a commitment to something valued, something a person wishes to maintain. That commitment is likely to be long-standing and will have more power than will the present, novel, need to change. Enter through the point of resistance as if it has value and merit, not as if it’s something to be overcome or destroyed.

Talk to individuals and teams about what the resistance means. Perhaps it preserves status or relationships. It might represent stability, or protect competence and self-esteem. Think of Maslow’s Hierarchy or other models you know. Assume a commitment to something valued, and work to understand what that is. In the next step, you’ll use that commitment in support of the innovation.

Commitment and resistance attach to assumptions people make about a situation. As commitments become clearer you should also be able to surface assumptions. Some will still be relevant. Some will need updated. Either way, it’ll be easier for everyone to discuss them as the total picture of commitment and resistance comes into focus.

At this point, resistance to change will appear much more logical, and feel much less exasperating, than it did before. If you’ve built trust though individual and team conversations, you will be able to explore different combinations of means-ends relationships that satisfy the participants, emotionally and psychologically. People will see ways to re-align personal objectives with the innovation effort.

Perhaps existing status can be recognized and utilized in the innovation effort. Maybe an innovation will stabilize something about the organization that has been unstable for a long time. Work with people to understand what story they hope to tell when the innovation effort concludes. You might not bring everyone around. But you’ll have moved far from the original wall of resistance and seeming immunity to change.

Finally, some unexpected innovation ideas are likely to emerge from these conversations. Whether your innovation involves technology, your organizational business model, or both, your team’s values and assumptions are probably relevant to accomplishing the business objectives that spawned the innovation.

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