Irresistible Change

by Dave Pratt

running horses

I reviewed articles in Harvard Business Review, Forbes and Fast Company on resistance to change. The articles laid out the 12 reasons, the 10 factors and the 5 keys to resistance. The more I read, the more convinced I am that they have it ALL wrong!

I encounter my fair share of people who are resistant to change. Resistance to change is natural, and some resistance is good. It can keep us from leaping blindly into the unknown and doing stupid things.  If things are going good, the business is making a healthy profit, everyone is getting along and there are no foreseeable bumps in the road, I’d resist change too. But some of the people who most vehemently resist change have it pretty tough. Their ranches aren’t profitable. Family members work off-ranch to subsidize the outfit. They worry about the debt they carry. They stress over how they’ll bring the next generation into the ranch, assuming the next generation wants to be part of things …  and these days, that’s a big IF. Why does someone like that resist change?

This may be over-simplistic, but the way I see it, there are two forces that motivate people to change. The negative forces are driven by fear. Whether it’s fear of drought, debt or disagreement, fear motivates us to steer a course to keep bad things at bay.  

While the negative forces driving change have their roots in fear, the positive forces stem from vision. Fear motivates us to push away from things we don’t want; vision compels us to reach for things we do want.  If you want sustainable change, it must be driven by positive forces.

Research backs me up on this. In one study on this topic, doctors urged heart disease patients to change habits that increased their risk of recurring and worsening problems. When doctors tried to appeal to their patients’ fear of death, very few patients changed their behavior for more than a few weeks. When doctors appealed to their patients’ joy of life, most patients changed their behavior for good.  

In a crisis, fear can be a powerful motivator, at least for short-term change. When a tiger is chasing you it’s likely that your fear will help you run as fast as you can.  But fear isn’t a sustainable motivator. Living life in crisis management mode may give you a daily adrenaline rush, but our bodies weren’t designed to deal with fight or flight every day.

Vision can also be a powerful motivator, but unlike fear, this motivation is sustainable. Waking up each day with purpose, eager to take another step down the path toward your vision, is a great way to live.  But just having vision isn’t enough. You must also have confidence in your plan to achieve it. If we have a vision and still resist change, it is either because our vision isn’t very exciting, in which case we need a new vision, or because we don’t have confidence in our plan to achieve it.  This brings us right back to fear. It isn’t change we fear, it is the unknown.

In the Ranching For Profit School we show participants how to create a vision, build a plan to achieve their vision and test the viability of the plan. Testing the viability involves exploring several scenarios for each alternative you consider.  One scenario might make projections using the costs you think you’ll have and the prices you think you’ll get. Another scenario could use the costs and prices you are afraid you might face. Of course, the work doesn’t end with crunching the numbers. We also need to identify early warning signs for looming trouble and develop strategies for preventing and/or managing the worst-case. With an exciting vision, and confidence in your plan to achieve it, people won’t resist change. In fact, they will find change irresistible!

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