How We Respond To Change: A Short Thought Experiment.

Let’s do a short thought experiment.

Imagine you are out to dinner one night with some friends at a restaurant. At the end of the evening, you’re saying goodnight to your friends and you begin walking back to your car which is parked one block away.

It’s dark…and you’re alone.

As you’re walking, you pass a corner, and a few seconds later you see someone emerge from that corner and turn in the same direction as you. There’s no one else out on the street. You are now half a block from your car and that person is walking behind you about 15 or 20 feet as you are approaching your car.

Here’s the question: is this person going to do something harmful to you? Or are they just another pedestrian?

The answer is…

…we don’t know. We don’t know. We don’t have enough information. We don’t have enough evidence to really know one way or the other. Which can be tricky in a situation like this.

But there’s another problem:

Human beings are very uncomfortable not having answers to things. We also have very vivid and creative imaginations. And if we don’t have an answer to something, guess what we will do?

We will invent one. You will create an explanation of your own. In other words, you are going to make an assumption.

So here’s the next question:

In this scenario, you’re walking to your car, it’s low light, you’re by yourself and somebody who wasn’t there a few seconds ago is now walking after you, behind you. What are you more likely to assume in this scenario? Are you going to assume it’s no big deal? It’s just somebody who appeared on the street at the same time as you by happenstance?

Or…are you more likely to assume this could be a problem and I might want to be ready just in case? Which one do you think, the first or the second?

Yes, more than likely in this situation, you are going to assume a threat. Although you can’t prove it, based on what you’re seeing and the circumstances, you have reasonable cause to be concerned. So you put your hand on your phone, on ready dial or your pepper spray or your CCW or you get into your combat ready stance, whatever you use in your arsenal of self protection just in case you need to deal with this.

Now here’s the thing: it turns out we have that exact same reaction when there is not a threat…but we perceive there is one.

So let’s do another short thought experiment. This one I’m basing on several situations I have been in several times myself.

You’re at your job, and everything’s normal except for one little detail: your organization has not had as much financial stability in recent times. Rumors have been going around that there may possibly be cuts in budgets or resources but nothing has happened yet. Until one day you go into work and suddenly an emergency meeting is called. And everybody gathers in one big room and leadership of the organization comes out and says…

“We’re gonna be making some changes around here.”

Did you just get a little adrenaline bump just now? Right? Are you a little worried? So what are you assuming right now? Are you assuming best case scenario or worst case scenario?

Worst case scenario! Right. But why?

Because there’s no threat. It’s not as if you’re in physical danger. It’s not like you’re walking down a dark street and somebody’s following you. You’re in a well lit room with air conditioning, surrounded by all your friends and colleagues. Even leadership, you know who that person is, they’re not a stranger and they made no verbal threat to you. They only said, “We’re gonna be making some changes around here.”

So why are you reacting as if there is a threat? Why are we assuming worst case scenario rather than best case scenario? Why is our default assumption danger rather than safety?

Click here to find out more about keynotes by Tim O’Shea The Agent Of Change on navigating successfully through organizational change!


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