Sunday, February 23, 2014

Transformative Change

Many of us resist change.  We like our comfort zone.  However we are changing constantly as that is just part of living.  One of my co-speakers at the symposium Moving Educational Technology from Enhancement to Transformation held yesterday said that as soon as we speak, we change.  How true.  Change is inevitable so why do so many of us try to resist it?imageAt the symposium I spoke about Transformative Change.  We crowd sourced ideas from the participants on what they can stop, continue, and start doing to increase success in shifting to majority adoption of innovations in their classroom, school, or district.  You can view the audience contribution here along with my co-speakers audience feedback on What Transformation and Ecologies of Learning.

Organizations and individuals have a choice to embrace change, grow, and become more than they are today.  Alternatively, they can fear and resist change and ultimately become less useful and potentially irrelevant.  Embracing change can be invigorating.  I get that it can also overwhelm us.  Part of the problem is we often think we are changing something but rather we add on something new to what we are already doing.  We need to decide what to stop doing when we embrace something new or we may just overwhelm and frustrate ourselves and others.

Some significant requirements for successful change are preparedness, capacity, and competence.  If those who we expect to change are not given time and resources to become competent and confident with the new, they will be more inclined to fear the change and resist.  However I believe individuals need to ‘own’ responsibility for their own development and adoption of change.  As well, if change is pronounced from on high and done ‘to’ people, resistance is more likely.  We change agents need to involve people in the changes we want to foster in our organizations.  I believe in leveraging a broad range of ideas and input – we change agents don’t have all the answers and ideas but with others we can assemble the best of the best that are available.  We are in fact all in this together!

Another thing I have learned in leading change initiatives is that you have to pressure for and support the change long enough to break free of the elasticity of change.  If not, people tend to revert back to their comfort zone, to the familiar, rather than persist through the difficulty of change.  Be careful though, change can exhaust people.  Be sure not to aim to change too much or too fast.  People can only handle so much.  Build people’s confidence, help them feel ‘big’ relative to the change.

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Generally, any population of people will distribute relative to their ‘innovativeness’ as indicated in the diagram above.  Everett Rogers has written five editions of The Diffusion of Innovation which started with farmers and has now been applied to information and communications technology.  From his work we learn that we need to foster change initiatives differently with different types of people.  Ultimately, it’s the connections and trust relationships that exist or can be formed within the population (a school, district, etc.) that will help a change diffuse through the rest of the population. 

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For change to begin and take hold, you need someone to start acting differently, using the new technology, etc.  These people, the Early Adopters, are the missionaries, the opinion leaders, and they are very important to getting other segments of the population to adopt the change.  They begin the momentum of change and help it diffuse through.

A key element of any successful innovation or change is a compelling imagevision.  I like Simon Sinek’s model where he says you have to Start with Why.  The more you can inspire people to want the change you are advocating for, the easier it is to get them on board and supporting it.  Simon uses the example of Apple marketing.  Apple has convinced people to join a cause, one where they are changing the status quo.  They don’t just sell products, they sell a whole new experience, often one no one even thought of before.  People buy why they do things, not what they do.  The same goes for your change effort.

Change is hard for most of us but not impossible.  Reach the hearts AND minds of people, build trust relationships, help people become ‘big’ relative to a change, and articulate and clarify the steps to adopt a change and you are more likely to successfully diffuse it through the population.