Why Change is Hard – Embrace the Unfamiliar

Sometimes you make a leap. Perhaps you buy that new car you’ve been researching, or that slick new piece of software or technology you’ve been eyeing. And suddenly you see it everywhere and wonder if you weren’t on the cutting edge after all. Once you’ve gone through the diligence and effort, it’s become familiar and suddenly you see it everywhere. The same is true about out networks and connections – we know what we know and whille we think we adapt the new, and are open to new experiences, we readily default to the familiar, the known.

The same is true in organizations, and the change initiatives, new processes and designs that we start to adopt can get unhinged by our urge to retreat to the familiar. This psychological effect was documented years ago as the Mere Exposure effect. One of the more classic examples involved showing subjects, and their friends, pictures of the subject – both straight photographs, and a mirrored version, as the subject would see themselves in the mirror every day. Consistently, the subjects found the reversed image more appealing, and the acquaintances found the straight photograph more appealing. Of course because each image is exactly as it appears to themselves, and as it appears to their friends in the world. How we see the world is the most familiar and our most attractive and comfortable version of the world.

An important recognition here, confirmed in the studies, is that the more we expose ourselves to new ideas, the more familiar they become. To create change, in ourselves and within the ways we work, embrace the unfamiliar.