Stopping entrenched habits is hard. Culture change is even harder. Why?
One of the biggest reasons is that we focus on the wrong thing. We focus on what we should stop instead of focusing on what we should start. It turns out the new habit, behaviour, culture then ‘crowds out’ the old one (assuming it provides more benefit to you).
The reason is rooted in behavioural psychology, neuroscience and the study of willpower. The conscious deliberate part of our brain that is bossy and tells us to STOP doing things is actually pretty small and easily gets tired. However, the big puppy dog part of our brain that tells us to GO acts subconsciously and has endless energy. Activating this GO system for new healthy habits ends up forcing you to eventually stop those old, less healthy ones. You don’t stop, you crowd out. The same goes for organisational cultures and processes. Lots of change efforts focus on what to stop before starting a new and better process. However, we generally get more permanent results by starting new alternative processes and letting them gradually ‘crowd out’ the old. It’s why the concept of a ‘pilot’ and many agile techniques work so well.
For a slightly more morbid take on this same idea check out the famous quote from the towering scientist, Max Planck:
“A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing it’s opponents and making them see the light, but rather because it’s opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”
Kind of the ultimate form of ‘crowding out’!! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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