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Burying Our Heads In The Sand

by David Brock on June 17th, 2013

Everyone acknowledges the world is changing, perhaps faster than many want, but it is changing.  Change isn’t the issue, it’s a fact.  The issue is, How Do We Respond To/Deal With Change?

There are probably five ways of dealing with change.

Instigators!  There are the first movers, the innovators.   People who imagine new possibilities, creating great new business models.  Those creating previously unimaginable products and services.  Those not bound by, “This is the way things have always been done.,” but imagine new possibilities, pursuing them with vigor.  If you are one of these (be sure you are and not a wannabe), this post is for you.

Fast Followers!  These are those who recognize interesting changes and new ideas.  They may not have created them, but the extend them, they complement them, they iterate and improve the ideas.  They may leverage, “Second mover advantage.”  Their “endorsement” helps to legitimize and accelerate the growth of an idea, a product category, new solutions, new models, new solutions.  These are the people who probably are driving the refinement, tuning and perfection of the idea.   Fast followers are the builders.  This post is for you.

Naysayers!  Those who can’t see the value of the idea.  New ideas, new models, new approaches to solve a problem are seldom perfect, they need refinement and improvement.  But there are those who stand on the sidelines declaring it won’t work, critiquing the imperfections, doing nothing to contribute to the refinement of the idea or business model.  This article really isn’t for you.  Regardless how vocal you might be, you’re on the sidelines and always will be.  You won’t put yourself at risk, trying to improve and refine the idea, you will only criticize it.  Over time your criticisms will diminish, you will fade away, people won’t remember.  This post isn’t for you.

Resistors!  These are the people who are afraid to change, they revel in the way things are currently done, they fight it.  They may look like naysayers, but they are a little different.  They actively promote and support the status quo.  They will change their definition of the world to support their own view of it.  If business models and practices change, they will defend theirs.  They will redefine things to support their own view of the world.

Resistors aren’t dumb, they’re threatened and the only way they can deal with the threat is to redefine things in the way that don’t threaten them.

Everyone resists for a period of time.  It is human nature.  The critical issue for Instigators and Fast Followers, is to recognize that resistors are threatened.  To help them change, understand that threat, find ways of removing it or bridging it.  Sometimes their resistance is important., it helps us rethink and improve what we are doing.  Most resistors will change, perhaps not enthusiastically, but pragmatically, driven by survival.  Many or us fall into this category.  Perhaps everyone has some degree of “resistance.”  In some areas we may be instigators or fast followers, in others we may be resist.

If we are instigators or fast followers, it’s important for us to understand the resistors and help them change.  It’s important for us to learn from them and to refine what we do to engage them and incorporate them into our visions of the new worlds.

Dinosaurs!  Some cling to their resistance forever.   Their markets may be plummeting, their relevance may be declining,  but they have redefined their business and worlds in way that enables them to declare success, even though, slowly, they are becoming extinct.  Like the dinosaurs, this may happen over a long time, but it happens.

Oblivious!  These are kind of the opposite of naysayers.  They are oblivious to what goes on around them.  They may be self absorbed or just plain clueless.  This post isn’t for you, but you’re probably not reading this anyway.

So where does this leave us?

Instigators, Fast Followers, Resistors–you are critical in designing, driving, and sustaining change and progress.  Each role is important, we can’t ignore the others, we have to leverage each other.

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  1. Dave, I have just finished reading “Birth of a Salesman: The Transformation of Selling in America.” by Friedman and some of the collateral research material.

    Including “The Selling Process” by Norval Hawkin, Ford’s sales manager from 1907-1918.

    I don’t think that the uncertainty during that period was easier to deal with than the uncertainty we find today.

    • Michael: Great observation. I think this issue is timeless. By the way, thanks for the reverences of the books. I just picked them up. The Norval Hawkin book is fascinating–I skimmed a couple of chapters out of curiosity.

  2. Good stuff, Dave.

    I would add a small principle I ALWAYS use when assessing the possibility of creating change. It’s something I learned ages ago. I call it the 20% principle. If you can keep the negative energy of the group down to 20% or less, you have the chance to create change. 20% equals 1 in 5, which means that the naysayers, dinosaurs, and the oblivious will likely pull one other person (in your terminology, a resistor) to their side of the argument, still leaving a 3 to 2 ratio in favor of the change. But if that shifts just 5% (to 25% or 1 out of 4), the negative bunch will pull a fence sitter into a 50/50 split of for vs. against. Creating deadlock, death, and decay (okay, maybe I am a touch overdramatic – but you get my point).

    Your explanation provides a way to diagnose the core issues that are driving the negativity: fear (naysayers), pride (dinosaurs), and ignorance (oblivious). Thank you!

    • Tim, thanks for the great comment. It really adds to the article, looking at the actual change process itself.

  3. Dave, my goodness, I’m not seeing another personality assessment being birthed here, am I? 😉

    One thing I found interesting is that your post seems to be written from the perspective that change is good (yay to instigators!) and resisting or naysaying is bad (boo! hiss! to resisters). I bet there are some railroad execs still around who wish they had been more open. Or some IBM execs who wish they had been been less resistant to PCs. I get those examples and how the naysayers, resisters and dinos can really derail an entire industry. But history is full of change we should have resisted much harder and sooner, too.

    So, when I think about my reaction to change, it’s a little like Blanchard and Hersey’s Situation Leadership concepts. My reaction is situational, not uniform. I see myself in all of your descriptions (yes, I’m sure there are times when I’ve been Oblivious – and with some things, I actually think Dinosaur is not so bad). For me, it’s all based on my opinion about the value of the idea, at the time. Change is certain, but it sure isn’t all good.

    To me, the most important thing is making a purposeful, reasonable choice, and not letting your little reptilian brain guide your reactions to change. Other times, you may need to choose your reaction based on your level of control (or lack of it).

    For example, in some cases, I’ve been a passionate advocate, in others, I’ve gotten onboard or driven change that I really didn’t want to make, but saw as necessary. Or perhaps it was out of my control, and while inconvenient, I didn’t feel strongly against it, so I went with it, rather than pushing against it. Other times, I have overtly resisted change for what I saw as logical reasons (speaking corporately, I’d love to have a nickel for all the poorly-conceived solutions I’ve seen that didn’t have a hope of solving a root cause issue).

    Anyway, that’s my thought for the week. Oh, and if you really want change, see this:


    • Great comment Mike, perhaps I wasn’t clear in what I was expressing. Basically, I was trying to convey was successful change/progress is really a close interaction between the Instigators, Fast Followers, Resistors. I said that resistors are very important to the instigators and fast followers. It’s through them we test our ideas, refine them, and build their support in changing. (Go back an re-read it, I really did say that. So resistors are vital and they help us do the right changes in the right way.

      Naysayers, Dinos, the Oblivious, have nothing to contribute that creates value. They’re just baggage.

      Leave it to you, to find a great video on change 😉

      • Thanks Dave. You’re right that I used the resistor language incorrectly in my reply (based on your definitions in the post). My bad. However, I believe my general point still stands, about purposefully selecting responses based on the value of the idea, and how that changes whether each archetype is “good” or “bad.”

        Let’s use Naysayers instead. In some cases, if the change is truly valuable and needed, Naysayers are baggage. However, if they’re damning the idea of cooking the books (outside of accepted GAAP principles) to look better for investors, I’m with the Naysayers and am not going to be offering suggestions for refinement. It’s a bad decision. Don’t do it (don’t make the change). That’s an extreme example, but I’ve seen a lot of group-think over the years and the teams at the decision tables at WorldCom or Enron could have used a few good Naysayers. Context reigns.

        My point is, whether “Institgating” or “Naysaying” are deemed “good” or “bad” behaviors, for me, is completely tied to the need for change and the value of the solution. Now, if someone is a Naysayer with *any* new idea (rather than making purposeful, situational decisions), that’s unfortunate and in that context, I completely agree with your points as described in the post.

        On making change, I’d only add… “Hey buddy, can you paradigm?” 😉

        • I’m with you on the comments. I got a little too glib on my terminology on Naysayer’s, even Dino’s and Oblivious. It’s critical to look critically at any change, not do it blindly or just because it’s the new thing, but purposefully.

          Give me a paradigm and a nickel, I’ve got twenty five cents….. OK, it’s only a nickel 😉

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