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Practices, Processes, and the Pain of Change

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

This week's lectures largely derive from Mike Grieves' book Virtually Perfect, and discusses how people and cultures react to change. (In short... not well.)

Change is Pain

In the brain, change is processed by the same neurons which process stubbing your toe or stepping on a Lego in the dark. Because change is painful, organizational cultures will cling to the status quo, and view innovations as a threat.


Breakthroughs in brain research explain how to make organizational transformation succeed.

by David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz

Managers who understand the recent breakthroughs in cognitive science can lead and influence mindful change: organizational transformation that takes into account the physiological nature of the brain, and the ways in which it predisposes people to resist some forms of leadership and accept others.

Our brain dictates how we might respond to certain situations and stimuli. by Dr Helena Boschi

We naturally resist change because change represents uncertainty – and uncertainty is threatening and painful for a brain that wants to keep us safe and alive. Although many of today’s threats are no longer life-or-death situations, our brain still protects us as if they were just that. When we feel uncertain or anxious, our fight or flight mechanisms are mobilised. Resources are diverted from the frontal lobe area, which we use for higher-level intellectual functioning, and become focused instead on survival. Our capacity for rational thought is thus diminished, and even when the change is a good idea, we still resist it.

New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason.

by Elizabeth Kolbert

"[R]eason is an evolved trait, like bipedalism or three-color vision. It emerged on the savannas of Africa and has to be understood in that context...Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to coöperate. Coöperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems or even to help us draw conclusions from unfamiliar data; rather, it developed to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.

Practices and Processes

Processes are what we do, Practices are what we're trying to accomplish. Unfortunately, what we do (as an organization) is not always aligned to what we're trying to accomplish. Processes are valuable in scaling up to large markets, but they are resistant to change, and therefore innovation.

Hidden practices

There may be hidden cultural practices which supersede the organization's processes, sometimes to its detriment. Lecture also covers an HBR article (below) about mining the "digital exhaust" found in an IT system to see who is talking to whom, to recognize both influencers and dysfunction.

Firms lack an understanding of which talent dimensions drive performance in their organizations. Why? Their analytics examine only the attributes of employees, when people’s interactions are equally, if not more, telling.

Research shows that a lot of employees’ success can be explained by their relationships—something that’s the focus of a new discipline, relational analytics. The key is finding patterns in social networks that predict who will have good ideas, which employees have the most influence (it’s not senior leaders), which teams will be efficient, which will innovate best, where silos exist, and which employees' firms can’t afford to lose.

This article describes what indicators to watch for and how most firms already have the raw material they need to build relational analytics models: the “digital exhaust” from their internal communications.


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