Why do people continue to do things that are unhealthy and ineffective, even in the face of indisputable science? Change is notoriously hard and it's not always a lack of knowledge or workable strategies. Most of us know by now what we need to do. We just don't do it. What change are you struggling with?
I have a history of Alzheimer's in my family. My father has been stuck in conversational loops for some time and his mother died with full-on dementia. It's difficult to watch loved ones degrade slowly and painfully and super scary to contemplate it personally as a degenerative disease. As a result I am naturally tuned to to any new insights or perspectives on the topic of preventing or managing its cruel onslaught.
I was fortunate to attend a presentation by Dr. David Perlmutter, one of the leading experts in the field. His talk was early in the morning after a late night cocktail party. Tough gig with a groggy audience. He kept repeating his mantra over and over: "50% of the people in this room will suffer from Alzheimers; it's fatal and there is no cure". His point: the best way to deal with the disease is to prevent it from taking hold in the first place.
I took away three things from his presentation. First it's an inflammatory disease very sensitive to sugar intake. Second, sleep is an important part of daily brain maintenance. Third, life-long learning creates new synaptic connections to offset the ones destroyed by the disease mechanism. So that's become my three-part prevention plan: reduce sugar intake, get enough sleep and stay intellectually active. There are no guarantees, but these are choices available to me. Then, after he finished his talk, we all filed out of the meeting for the morning break and decimated all the muffins and coffee available.
Lasting change is unnecessarily rare.
What the fuck? Didn't we all just hear the man say "50% of the people in this room will suffer from Alzheimers; it's fatal and there is no cure; but reducing your sugar intake is one of the biggest things you can do to prevent it". It's like the time I was in line at a convenience store watching someone by a pack of cigarettes: "Can you give me the yellow teeth instead of the tumor?" (Half of every pack had some nasty picture on the front intended to dissuade the purchase.)
I've been reading a lot of blogs and articles and listening to TED talks blindly selling the virtues of greater resilience. I remember the definition from engineering school: the tendency of a system (like and elastic or spring) to bounce back to its original shape after the application of an external force. Sounds pretty good for a person suffering a setback, a company in a downturn or an economy or market hit with a large shock. Bouncing back from a setback, downturn or shock has got to be a good thing. How could there be anything wrong with that?
Inertia is the friend of consistency and the enemy of change.
Like many things in life, resilience is a good thing right up until the moment it's not. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb convincingly argued in Antifragile, a resilient system is much better than a fragile one that crumbles under the pressure of the same force. Resilience is the force that keeps things running the way they are. It's the force that keeps a system operating within a set of parameters. Like a thermostat it keeps the temperature not to hot and not too cold. Resilience drives predictable cashflow and many other performance metrics. That's a good thing until the factors undergirding the system begin to erode.
The problem any leader faces when attempting any change process is the very resilience of the system they are attempting to shift. Bouncing back is actually then a problem, and it's called inertia: the internal momentum of any system that tends to resist the forces of external impacts and protect the status quo at any cost. This why I think we stay within our zones of comfort when faced with disruptive information that contradicts our current routines.
Any disruptive idea has to overcome resilience to make an impact.
An agile person, team and organization rallies after a set-back, downturn or shock. Rather than bouncing back, the system uses the external event as a catalyst for change, and might proactively get ahead of it. Really agile people will learn to skip the really late nights and muffins and work out their brains more. Agility is the fuel for change.