The Inertia of Change

A recent InfoWorld article attributes the following quote to Charles Babbage: "Propose to a man any principle, or an instrument, however admirable, and you will observe the whole effort is directed to find a difficulty, a defect, or an impossibility in it. If you speak to him of a machine for peeling a potato, he will pronounce it impossible: If you peel a potato with it before his eyes, he will declare it useless, because it will not slice a pineapple."

That very nicely distills down to its essence my frustration with trying to get anything done that involves by necessity the participation of other people.  I didn’t realize until I read that quote just how maddening this behavior is.  I’ll call it "subconscious obstructionism," because I don’t believe that most people behave this way on purpose.  As soon as I read that all sorts of situations started playing back in my brain and I recognized just how annoying this is.  As soon as you say, "Let’s do <something>," people fall all over themselves to be the first to tell you why that’s a BAD idea.  As I write this, I can’t think of a more soul- and enthusiasm-sucking behavior. 

Proper and responsible analysis of any proposed change has to include consideration of possible negative consequences.  And, obviously, not all ideas are good ideas.  But why leap to that conclusion as a knee-jerk reaction?  Everyone fears change.  But change is inevitable.  If we think of a change as a boat, I’ve decided that I’d rather stick my paddle in the water and attempt to contribute to the boat’s direction rather than just sit there and let it take me wherever it ends up, complaining the whole way that where we were was just fine and why do we have to go to this new place wah-wah-wah. 

In a blog post, Jenica Rogers references Seth Godin:

"There are a million reasons to say no, but few reasons to stand up and say yes.

No requires just one objection, one defensible reason to avoid change. No has many allies–anyone who fears the future or stands to benefit from the status quo. And no is easy to say, because you actually don’t even need a reason.

No is an easy way to grab power, because with yes comes responsibility, but no is the easy way to block action, to exert the privilege of your position to slow things down.

No comes from fear and greed and, most of all, a shortage of openness and attention. You don’t have to pay attention or do the math or role play the outcomes in order to join the coalition that would rather things stay as they are (because they’ve chosen not to do the hard work of imagining how they might be)."

I’m going to start saying "yes" more often, and dig my paddle into that water with as much gusto as I can muster.  And you nay-sayers in the middle of the boat?  Grab your own paddle, shut up, or get out of the boat!

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