We are creatures of habit. We continually seek—or create—routines. The structures of our days and our weeks give us predictability, and that makes us comfortable.
None of this is inherently bad. In fact, routines and habits let us free our minds to work on other, more complex problems. If we had to think actively about everything in our day, deliberately evaluating every decision from the time we roll out of bed until we return to the pillow, we’d be overwhelmed.
What does this have to do with agility, human resources, leadership and change?
When we ask people to change, we’re asking them to focus their energy and make different choices.
We’re asking them to be deliberate about specific aspects of their day—features that used to be routine—and do them differently.
And when we do that too often or throw too many changes at people at one time, it’s exhausting and overwhelming for them. That’s one big reason why change is hard.
And what does that have to do with radishes?
Dan Heath, coauthor of Switch, discusses that below.
To summarize, Heath discusses in that clip an experiment in which one group is allowed to eat radishes while being tempted by cookies. The other group just gets cookies and is allowed to eat them. People from both groups are then asked to complete a puzzle of sorts—but there is no solution to the puzzle.
The main finding is that the radish eaters were much more likely to quit working on the puzzle faster than the cookie eaters, with a possible conclusion being that the self-control they had to exert depleted their ability to keep persisting at the impossible task.
The study is titled, “Ego depletion: Is the active self a limited resource?” Four researchers at Case Western Reserve University published it in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1998, and more than 2,800 other studies have cited it since then.
Reading this study more closely provides some insight regarding at least four ways to stifle change.
If you really want to stifle change, then:
- Feed people radishes. No one likes radishes. (OK, maybe, if they’re cut in very thin slices.)
- Ensure the old way of doing things is easier than the new way. This will tempt people with the status quo, making change seem overly difficult.
- Change too many things at once. This will also make people tired of exerting effort in new directions, making them less likely to persist in creating new habits.
- Make the change ambiguous and full of choices. This will also deplete people’s resources by forcing them to exert brain power and make decisions.
Regarding agility, it’s important to remember that being agile is about sensing and responding quickly to one’s environment. It’s not about changing for change’s sake; it’s not about bending in every direction whenever the wind blows.
That’d be exhausting, pointless and reckless.
Leaders in human resources often find themselves assisting with change management across the organization. In addition to keeping “radishes” in mind, they should be proactive in educating senior leaders about agility before change becomes necessary. That way, they can help the organization change in systematic ways—not exhausting people with excessive ambiguity and numerous new routines being thrown at employees at once.
In addition to radishes, what else stifles change in your organization? Leave a comment below!
About Ben Baran
Ben Baran, Ph.D., is probably one of the few people in the world who is equally comfortable in a university classroom, a corporate boardroom and in full body armor carrying a U.S. government-issued M4 assault rifle. Visit: www.benbaran.com.