The psychology of change

Several months ago I was lucky enough to stumble across a great blog which I started to

Deutsch: Phrenologie

subscribe to.  PSYBLOG (written by researcher Jeremy Dean studying in the UK) is chock full of interesting studies and findings about how we really work. In their summary of the top stories of 2012, they included these gems:

  • Why the incompetent don’t know they are incompetent — this is something referred to as the Dunning-Kruger Effect: basically, the poorest performers are the least aware of their own incompetence. For some reason they seem to fail to learn from their own experiences.
  • When (and why) you’re better than you think — known as the worse-than-average effect. When you are good at something (requiring special skills), you assume that everyone else is good at it also, and so you underestimate your own ability and competence.
  • Why society doesn’t change — referred to as “system justification bias”, it suggests that humans have a mental bias towards maintaining the status quo. They tend to go with what they know rather than a new, unknown option. People feel safer with the established order in the face of potential change.

Given my interest in getting to the heart (and brain) of managing and mastering change,  I find all this stuff fascinating, and I’m trying to figure how we can best use it in our business lives and personal lives to really master change.

I’m sure we have all come across the “incompetent” among us — the people who don’t learn, who know everything. They are “change resistant” in the extreme; I’m getting better at spotting them quickly as usually their conversations contain clues like “I’m good, everyone else is an idiot”. Avoid these people at all costs, and if you are one of these people, well, you’ll deny it anyway. You may not even realize you are this way. Wow…

Most everyone, I think, falls into the trap of the worse-than-average effect. I see this most clearly when we are working with our CCI clients on their personal branding. Most of us have a hard time identifying our own special skills and it generally takes a lot of internal reflection — and sustained objective feedback from others — for us to really start to acknowledge our unique abilities in dealing with specific situations. Helping our clients focus on this — and getting them comfortable with talking about it and “promoting themselves” is quite a process in itself.

Why society doesn’t change — the system justification bias — is a bigger nut to crack. Clearly our society has changed over the ages and so change must be possible. On a day-to-day level things don’t seem to move too quickly, however when we step far enough back we can certainly see that things have changed, sometimes even for the better — abolition of slavery, adoption of equal rights, improvements in safety and environmental standards, the list goes on. However these changes are not always smooth and continuous, we often seem to slide backwards, and our large “systems” do seem to retain a higher degree of “change-resistance” than perhaps is healthy for our species. I don’t have any concrete, actionable remedies to this (yet), but I am fascinated…


2 thoughts on “The psychology of change

  1. “Solving problems doesn’t change things, but changing things solves problems” – Paul Hawken
    Sometimes it takes more than “re-tooling” businesses to make significant change. Ray Anderson of Interface fame did more than re-tool. He changed his business and made significant change.

  2. Hi Kent,
    Thanks for dropping by. I’m a big fan of Ray Anderson and his work at Interface. Definitely one of the pioneers in rethinking and pursuing true sustainability. It was a sad day when he passed on — he has certainly left us a valuable road map for thinking differently.

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