What innovators do when others fear change

The fear of change is the enemy of entrepreneurs, dynamic leaders, and innovative teams. It is the nemesis of every great idea you try to implement.

I'm not simply talking about resistance to change. Every established system resists change, from any large company to the PTA at your kids' school.

I'm talking about fear.

To simplify a bit, fear of change takes two forms: rational or irrational.

Rational fears arise when people recognize a pattern that has the potential to harm them. When your boss gets fired and is replaced by a person who hates you, the fear you feel is justifiable. Your job most likely is in jeopardy.

Irrational fears arise for reasons that many of us find difficult to fathom or anticipate. As a member of my town's planning commission, I once spent six months of Thursday nights listening to people testify why moving the local YMCA a few miles would destroy - no annihilate - the character of our town. Certainly there were many valid concerns, but some people were literally terrified of the potential change... and it was just our local Y.

I had many hours to contemplate why some people were so afraid, and I came to the conclusion that some people are always afraid, and that impending change intensifies their fears.

If you are an innovator, here is what you might do in response...

Bring rational fears into the open, and address them. Such fears can be stated in short, understandable sentences; they are reasonable and logical. They may include unintended consequences that innovators never considered. Rational fears are the friend of change, not the enemy, because they highlight issues that need attention.

Anticipate irrational fears. Wildly-inflated fears can persist even after they have been proven to have no basis in fact. Innovators tend to be shocked when such fears arise, because it seldom occurs to them that anyone could possibly object to what they consider to be highly positive changes.

Innovators must understand that these fears are far more widespread than they imagine. Irrational fears of change are the fuel that powers the insidiously persistent delays that undermine many sensible initiatives.

Talented people can harbor irrational fears, but many still possess valuable skills and have a role to play in your organization. Still, innovators should try to isolate from the early stages of new initiatives those people who are irrationally afraid. The impending change will deeply unsettle them, and their overblown fears will drive you crazy.

Keep pushing, pushing, pushing. The biggest mistake innovators make is to think all they have to do is to introduce a new idea or system, and then everyone will embrace it. No way. To change a system, you have to keep intervening.

My sense is it takes five to ten times longer than innovators imagine to bring about the change they want to see. You need far more hand-holding, training and support than seems logical. You need to sell the same idea again and again. You have to realize that fear is pushing back, hard, on everything you do, and that fear is one of the most powerful forces on Earth.

Source: Bruce Kasanoff