Very few people really like change. Those who say they do may really be talking about variety — like trading cars or upgrading to the newest phone.

Consequential change is ofine a painful process.

Sometime ago I ran across this Networking Exchange blog post by Alan See. The post points out that in the early 20th century, with projections that by 1925 every adult woman in America would be needed to staff Bell Telephone’s manual switchboard system, 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 of managing phone traffic.

For similar stories, see initial reactions to such innovations as the Model T. Or the ATM. Or browse today’s skepticism regarding the role “AI” might play in professional services.

In the average organization a measure of success, not to mention the comfort zone provided by precedent, fight against change.

On the other hand, pain is frequently the real agent of change in our midst.

But delaying innovation until pain is registered doesn’t seem to be the best strategy for survival in a volatile market…let alone growth.

With this in mind it is useful to be alert to two responses that often signal a fear of change. And an opportunity to innovate, missed.

  1. The “we already do that” response. Leaders who inspire innovation are slow to equate proposed changes with something already in place. I know a Director whose proposal for a strategic initiative was cut short because her boss either assumed all such initiatives are 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 compare to a decade ago. No matter the task, the instant we assume the way we used to do it is the way it should always be done, we are rejecting 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. Clearly, changing for the sake of change is not wise. There is almost always an impact on budget, culture, and long-standing process. Leadership and management are about doing the homework, counting the cost, and insuring that you’re pursuing a change for the better. 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 “don’t mess with anything that isn’t broken” — these are not good reasons for sticking with the status quo. In fact, these responses may signal a coming demise. To the degree these are knee-jerk responses to new ideas, they are at the heart of our inability to innovate and grow.

The marketplace moves into uncharted territory with each new day. Those who lead constantly ask whether there is a better way to accomplish our tasks, benefit our stakeholders, and serve our clients.