Working in corporation change is fraught with many challenges. One of these challenges is ostracisation and rejection of the change agent by the corporate immune system. It is useful to understand why this resistance can be expected. Many change makers struggle with this apparent rejection by their colleagues and with the inevitable frustration due to the glacial speed of progress. The reasons for such phenomena are as manifold as the obstacles one must overcome. However, for this Thursday Thought, let’s consider a core reason why change is so difficult: the fear of the unknown.
The Harryhausen Effect
I was born in the late 70s. I vividly recall how I was enthralled by movies like “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad” (1973)…
“Clash of the Titans” (1981)…
…and amongst many others “20 Million Miles to Earth” (1957)…
The common denominator to all these moves is the innovator who imagined and created the stop motion monsters from the dancing skeletons to the Ymir, the alien being from the 1957 classic, “20 Million Miles to Earth “. The creator of these monsters was Ray Harryhausen. Many of Harryhausen’s early creatures were depicted as tragic characters and this was certainly the case for the Ymir.
In the movie, a team of astronauts crash-land off the coast of Sicily, on their return from a successful trip to Venus. Their cargo is the Ymir, a small, humanoid-reptile. The creature escapes and we witness how he struggles to adapt to his strange surroundings. In this brilliant documentary, Harryhausen describes how the Ymir reacted to how others treated him. Harryhausen explained that the creature was neither inherently violent nor aggressive and only became so when he was attacked by humankind. It is this particular line that spoke to me, saddened me and inspired this post. Harryhausen said of the final scene in which the Italian authorities kill the Ymir, “I thought it would be a dramatic way to end the film, man, of course, destroys what he doesn’t understand.”
“Man destroys what he doesn’t understand”. That is certainly the case for intrapreneurs, corporate innovators, it’s the case for startup founders, heck, it’s even the case for people with emerging job titles like machine learning or even data officers. These people are often treated with suspicion, contempt and predominantly underlying fear. Often they leave the organisations they so desperately want to help. I call this “The Harryhausen effect”, this phenomenon where the existing employees reject the emergent ones. Where the corporate immune system kill off the cells of change.
Fear of the Unknown
To navigate the corporate immune system, we must recognise that many of the people who resist you are fearful. You represent a threat, because you represent change. When your colleagues do not understand the benefits of the change, they lose touch with predictability of a world they already understand, their natural reaction is fear and they default to resistance.
One way to ease this lack of predictability is to offer more information. This is why change initiatives in large organisations are as much about education as they are about action. As author Caroline Webb writes, “The more we place boundaries on the uncertainty … the more manageable the remaining ambiguity feels to our brains.”This is my interpretation of the quote from the late 1800s by clergyman William Pollard when he said, “Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”
You can only change business models when you change mental models.
THANKS FOR READING
If you like the themes discussed in these Thursday Thoughts, you may like my first book, “Undisruptable: A Mindset of Permanent Reinvention for Individuals, Organisations and Life”, available for pre-order here. You may also be interested in a Permanent Reinvention virtual workshop for your organisation. Drop me a line for further information.