No one likes change.  Those who say they do are most often talking about variety (like changing cars or upgrading laptops);  or perhaps about improvements that make life easier — though initially, even the idea of change for the better is often met with disdain.

I ran across this Networking Exchange blog post by Alan See (@AlanSee on Twitter). With projections indicating that by 1925 every adult woman in America would be needed to staff Bell Telephone’s manual switchboard system of routing calls, the company introduced the first automatic switchboard.  The change was met with skepticism and questions about the elimination of a human being from the process.  (Also see initial reactions to such innovations as the Model T or the ATM.)

In most organizations, a measure of success — not to mention the comfort zone provided by precedent — fights against change.  On the other hand, a measure of pain is frequently the real agent forcing change in our midst.  And delaying innovation until pain is registered does not seem to be the best strategy for survival…let alone innovation and growth.

So as team leaders, organizational management, or simply aspiring agents of change, here are two responses that, when heard (or spoken), should signal that we may be missing an opportunity to innovate.

  1. The “we already do that” response.  When a team member proposes a strategy or project innovation, be slow to equate the proposal with something already in place.  I know a Marketing Director whose proposal for a strategic upgrade to the organization’s client interview process was cut short once the term “client interview” was uttered.  Her boss either assumed every interview program is the same, or that there was no need for change.  Opportunity lost.
  2. The “I’ve done that job, so I understand what is involved” response.  Right.  Talk to an audio engineer about the knowledge and skills required for the job today, and compare them to the same job twenty years ago.  No matter the task, the instant we assume the way we did RFPs, tracked customer experience, or approached SEO yesterday is state-of-the-art today, we are resisting the possibility that change might be in order.

This is not to suggest that just because change is possible we should instantly embrace it.  Innovation rarely comes cheap.  Impact on budget realities, human resources and organizational infrastructure are not to be discounted.  And certainly, the mere existence of a “great idea” does not constitute smart change for the better.  But as Alan’s post suggests, the most potent change may come in increments that begin with the question, “how can we improve.”

“We’ve always done it this way”, or “we never did that before” — or “we don’t invest in fixing what isn’t broken” — these are not, in-and-of-themselves, good reasons for sticking with the status quo.  To the degree these are knee-jerk responses to the ideas of change,  they are at the heart of our inability to innovate and grow.

In many respects the marketplace moves into uncharted territory with each new day.  Those who aspire to lead must constantly ask whether there is a better way to accomplish our tasks.