Saturday, October 10, 2020

Change Management on a Cultural Scale

Some thoughts on Change –  From an interview by Peter de Jager of Technobility:

Cultural Studies & Analysis principals Margaret King and Jamie O’Boyle field his expert questions on change—as a cultural concept.  Hear the entire September 2020 power-point interview at!AndfYpyVsX3z2QpXKH9h9v9MHoWJ.  Here is a summary of the high points.

1.   What is CS&A, and what does it do? – Our research group tracks and studies group choices over time to identify consistent patterns of behavior that reveal how people think, make decisions, and act--to find value in products, services, concepts, and ideas.

 2.    Why study behavior rather than just ask people what they want?  - Because people cannot tell you what they want with any degree of accuracy, but those same people recognize what they want when they see it with 100% accuracy.  So what people tell you they want is unverified testimony. It’s basically a guess. If something better comes along, then everything changes. But since they don’t know that something better exists until they see it, they can’t tell you about it in advance. The buy decisions are made below our conscious horizon. Then our brain invents a story to validate that decision. So what people habitually do becomes reliable evidence of underlying beliefs that drive our decisions. Without examining the evidence of consistent patterns of behavior to compare to the verbal testimony, you are working without the critical information to make informed strategy, planning, and tactical decisions.

3.      You say “what people habitually do,” but what happens when the context or the environment changes?  What happens when circumstances change? Don’t people intuitively resist change?  - People change all the time – we grow and age, for instance, and our wants and needs change with that process. What we have problems with are sudden changes, and even more so, changes that are forced upon us. That’s why change management is so important. Change managers are like guides who lead expeditions through unknown territory. They may never have been in that particular wilderness before, but they know how to survive in the wilderness in principle – they know what a pitfall looks like.  They know what a safe haven looks like. They know what resources like water look like. It may be a rough slog, but they’ll get you through it.

4.     What is change in terms of culture?  - It’s the main mechanism by which culture occurs, by adjusting to changed circumstances, evolving alongside new needs, altering our reality by means of new visions of the present and future.   Cultural change is a constant, either fast or slow, and in fact is what creates culture.  That makes it hard to study; it doesn’t stand still for anyone.

 5.  What does that say about human activity at any one time?  - We spend a lot of our time and attention on “adaptation energy,“ adapting everything we do to changing conditions, even micro-changes like who’s at home and who’s not, travel, study, socialization.  Where we put our attention is dictated quite a lot by what is going to happen tonight, tomorrow, next week, next year, and so on. We don’t do nearly as much long-term thinking because things might change, and (our attitude says) then all that long-term planning will be for nothing. 

 6.    What do you do with this kind of knowledge?  - Understand what the human cultural motivators are that are driving our collective thinking, values, and behaviors.  We’re in a forced state of change now, which makes it harder to predict or plan what we’re doing – no one even knows six months out how the pandemic will shake out in all fields of endeavor beyond health – the economy, foreign relations, education, entertainment, work, and recreation.  Nothing is going to return to pre-COVID normal.

 7.    Can you give an example of this ongoing crisis mode, our brains on sudden and anxious change? – The question is; how do we get through this event – working with depression, anxiety, apprehension, uncertainty.  Especially uncertainty.  Our brains don’t like it.  We can’t plan.  It’s mental and emotional limbo.  Without a time frame we can count on, our accustomed sense of what’s real suffers week after week as the timeline stretches out indefinitely.  We can deal with continuous, steady change.  We can’t deal well with change that is sudden, discontinuous, unconnected and unexpected.  Uncertainty sounds like the main problem we have with change.  – It is, because if we can’t chart forward movement, therefore how do we identify opportunity in what’s going on now to survive and thrive?  How will my social resources change?  These are “CIS” questions – “Can I Still--”  (do X)?  What we need are intelligible ways of connecting our past and present to our sense of what kind of future we need to start living--now. 

8.    What are we able to be certain of, then?  - Lots of things, how we develop from child to adult – we see this as progress which is welcome, expected, and planned-for.  It’s evolution.  Even aging has a gradual, expected character – which we know how to deal with because it is so familiar and incremental.  We are all adapting to our life stages --- except for middle-age crisis, which does throw people, because it isn’t consciously planned-for behavior. It’s about our subconscious comparing where we are to where we expected to be. Our brain does this in about twenty-year cycles. If we are pretty much where we expected to be, no problem. If there is a disconnect between where we expected to be and where we are, this is the set-up for a mid-life crisis.

 9.      What is our problem with change, then? – As humans, we view changes – even positive changes – in terms of their potential for loss, not gain. We always look at new ventures first in terms of what we have to lose – it’s called loss aversion and we all have it to varying degrees.  Starting a business is risk-loaded, and many people aren’t prepared for what’s required to be an entrepreneur, and incorrectly think that if they are innovators, they can also run the show.  Role confusion is part of anticipating things as they are going to develop because we also exaggerate our own sense of competence around new circumstances.

10.   What’s an example for business?  - When a business moves, or merges, or mounts a major initiative, they may think it’s enough to mandate change.  It rarely is. This is because change is not just a move or merger or new software – it’s a human dynamic, running on human factors, like loss aversion.  Loss of status, loss of a role or even a job, and the one humans really hate-- loss of competence. That’s a function of being out of touch with things (as in the current crisis) because it isn’t clear what the new rules are, or how people relate to each other under those rules.  That’s why change management is such an important discipline, and it goes far beyond the processes or technology of a new operating system.  People need to reexamine an entire range of things to pay closer attention to, re-assess, and re-evaluate.  But they must be able to understand any detail in terms of the big picture, which means new themes and demands.

 11.   This is the reason we are adaptable as a species?  - Yes, and that adaptability has to be more than individual – it must include strategies we can deploy in groups with a changed reward system under new ways of getting things done.   It’s called AQ (Adaptability Quotient), but it goes beyond your abilities or mine to be flexible and take risks for the future.  It requires a skill set that must be internalized, shared, and managed as an effective new thinking style.

 12.    What’s the current big question about change?  We think it is this:  “Can we think about the future while at the same time undergoing unexpected broadband change in the present?”  That’s the current challenge – it’s difficult to think about getting through school, promoting your career, even just doing the work you are used to doing, while at the same time having a vague, but unsettled, speculative idea to imagine what the world is going to be like even a few months away.