IT and change

“The only constant is change.” A popular saying that rings particularly true in IT. Which is why it’s sometimes surprising when IT itself seems resistant to change.

In another way, it’s not surprising. The most difficult challenge to making change is the human element. People resist change.

Change or die

People are so good at resisting change, in fact, that they will sometimes resist it even when that resistance is in direct conflict with their own self interest.

Take for example the surprising results of the work of two Harvard Professors on this very topic. They studied seriously at-risk heart patients who were told by their doctors that they needed to change their lifestyle – or they would die. That’s a pretty serious incentive, a pretty big carrot or stick (depending on how you view it), right? The highest possible stakes.

Well, the average compliance rate was only 1 in 7. Only 1 in 7 were able to actually make the changes necessary when their own lives were at stake.

The path is not always obvious

People are resistant to certain changes, for a variety of reasons. The reasons are often invisible (even to the people themselves) and personal. So the path to overcoming obstacles to change is not necessarily obvious or simple.

There are further studies that provide insights into why this is and how many of the obstacles to change can be discovered and overcome. But, suffice it to say that change is not easy, and should not be underestimated. This might be another reason to take Albert Einstein’s advice to spend plenty of time studying the dynamics of a problem before (and perhaps while) working on solutions.

Photo credit: busy.pochi

  • The Oracle consultants heading up my former companies ERP switch to Oracle, had warned that we were going to loose 10% of people using the new system. Some wouldn’t be able to learn how to use it, and some would refuse (passive aggressively) to learn how to use it (properly). Within a year after deployment they were right on the money, and it was mostly the people the won’t learn how to use it properly that were gone.

  • Tom Catalini


    Thanks for sharing the story – remarkable how accurate their predictions were. Shifts in technology often seem to have a much larger impact on an organization than anticipated. Broadening the focus well beyond technology – to process, organizational and individual changes – is needed to get on (or stay on) the road to success.