Change We Can Believe In

Credit to

Credit to


Organizational change is hard, but that’s no excuse to shrink from trying. I love the clarity this hbr article brings on the subject. There is a built-in bias in most that hard problems, like running a marathon or bringing organizational change are likely going to fail; however, there is a way to eliminate this negative bias and I’m excited to share it with you.

The status quo anchors our expectations as humans. Making any large improvement seem risky or even doomed to failure. The premise seems reasonable: nothing like this has every succeeded (that we know of), and I don’t see small improvements being made around me. Big gains are greeted as fleeting or outliers. Changes may even have built change debt by ignoring the breadth, commitment, and urgency of the change effort. This all builds a belief on the front end — we shouldn’t even try. You’ve probably heard phrases like these before:

That just won’t work here

We tried that and it didn’t work

We’re not ready for that

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

You’re wasting your time

Read the linked hbr article to seen the research that confirms these notions, and when you’re done let’s talk about how to capitalize on the killer conclusion — we can change all that. Let’s focus on the article’s assertion:

Adaptation is the rule of human existence, not the exception.

If this is true, then the broken status quo need not be the futura quo. That’s probably broken Latin, but you get the idea. The present doesn’t necessarily predict the future.

Quick Tangent

This may seem to conflict with the practice of empiricism I’ve touted so often in this blog. It does not, and here’s why. Change would indicate a reaction to an observance (shit’s broken), a hypothesis (if we do this, things improve) and an experiment (try this), and the result (more observations). Empiricism is not a practice devoid of belief or hope, but a mode of inquiry. Have the desire and even the chutzpah to perform the experiment or even to admit that shit’s broken. This is often dampened by the assumption that status quo means futura quo.

Back to the Mainline

We have only ourselves to blame if things don’t change. I’ve written many times on this subject, whether it’s being Done Terrified, a Little Quitter, or simply Not Ready for the Master, the simplest solution is also the most difficult to stomach: change must start with me. You must start by believing change is possible and that you can do something about it. If you are a coach, please listen up. Forget your agenda and coach the individual’s desires. Don’t quash them by imposing your view of what should be. It may be the status quo talking.

The Empiricist Strikes Back

Again I hear the empiricist say to me, “But there’s no data to support that belief. I only go by the data. Q.E.D. I won’t believe that.” First, I would argue that you’re likely already biased by the status quo, your chosen worldview, or simply an unwillingness to dig for the data that challenges you. Sorry. Secondly belief doesn’t always (and rarely does) follow data. Read More Fearless Change to see how humans are wired to believe first and rationalize later.

It Starts with You

Many moons ago, I wrote that if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly. I urge you with this, if you love your job or if you want to make your job one you love, just try. Your dream job doesn’t exist…YOU HAVE TO MAKE IT EXIST.

What do you love enough to try even though it’s hard?


Jason is a developer, Scrum Master, writer, teacher, coach, husband, father, and community leader out of Tulsa Oklahoma. He's been delivering software since 2007 and absolutely loves the values and principles of agility especially as given form by the Scrum framework.