Why change is hard

I am giving a talk, Change through Comedy (#comedy4change) at SXSW V2V. A few thoughts in advance of the talk:

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. — Niccolo Machiavelli; The Prince (1532).

Indeed. Making change – personally, professionally or organizationally – is important, yet difficult. Why?

One reason why change is hard is that potentially negative outcomes often have a greater on perceptions and behavior than potentially positive outcomes – which is typically known as negativity bias or loss aversion. I even wrote a paper about it.

For example, how much money would you need to win in order to play this gamble?

50% chance to win $____ and a 50% chance to lose $900

Consistent with a loss aversion account, people demand to win about twice the losing amount ($1800 – $2000) to accept the gamble.

When choosing between starting a new path or sticking with an old one, loss aversion often causes a strong preference for the status quo. The negative aspects of the new path loom larger than the positive aspects.

A variety of strategies can help facilitate change (e.g., nudges, increasing rewards). Academics and industry types provide numerous solutions:

-Professor John Kotter’s 8 step approach.

-The Prosci system.

-Lewin’s change management model.

-McKinsey has a solution too, with their 7S framework:

-Chip and Dan Heath’s (excellent) approach, documented in their book Switch.

Add me to the list. I will be talking about how to use humor as way to address the status quo bias. My talk suggests that humor helps overcome loss aversion by: 1) creating positive emotion (increasing positivity and decreasing negativity), and 2) facilitating a reappraisal of potentially negative outcomes (transforming a violation into a benign violation). More on this later.