Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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Why Systemic Change is Hard

by Judy Ryan

I recently completed a certification program with a group of bright, experienced, enterprise-agile consultants. In our final session, one of them asked, “Why is systemic change so difficult when it comes to social and emotional thinking and behaving? It’s these needed areas of change that drive so much resistance in our agile change process.” He added, “The social and emotional changes we just learned in your culture model should come before agile transformation.”

My take is that all systems change contains social and emotional components key to the success of every transformation process. The main reason for resistance to the social and emotional is that we are all being called to move to win/win thinking and behaving rather than win/lose, whether we know it or not. For many, there is resistance to letting go of win/lose (often by a death grip) because win/lose seems to benefit some. They fear that win/win will cost them. There’s nothing further from the truth. Win/lose is familiar, but fears of shifting to win/win are unfounded and destructive to all.

Most people don’t realize their attraction and addiction to subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways they abuse power. Their very identity is attached to overt and covert intimidation, threats, dangling carrots, praise, criticism, neglect, and enabling. These abuses of power keep others in an inferior position that negatively effects their social, emotional and physical experiences. Win/lose requires a numbing of empathy and social interest, the consideration of others. Win/lose promotes individualism at the cost of love and caring; it costs even those who think they are winning.

In Samuel Arbesman’s work on change blindness, he states there is a problem with change for two primary reasons. One is that we have to go out of our way to change. We have to consider why we want to change, what we should transform from and into, and then put in the effort to make the specific mindset and behavior changes. I recently did this when I committed to do 75 hard, a regimen for 75 days, in which I worked out daily for 90 minutes, drank a gallon of water, followed a chosen diet religiously, took a picture of my body, and read 10 pages of a non-fiction book. If I missed a step, I would have to start over. I did not miss a step. The changes were hugely beneficial on many levels, but it was not easy (especially in the beginning), and it was not always comfortable or convenient. So, going out of our way is a big deal.

The second reason Arbesman gives for why we dislike change is that we don’t like to consider our current ways of thinking and behaving as outdated. Social and emotional change often challenges our very identity and sense of security. If we begin to see that the win/lose thinking and behaving in which we’ve been indulging is not a winning strategy, or worse, is cause for all struggles within and between people, we not only feel the ground beneath us giving way, we may also feel guilty. In our society, because we are so bought into punishment and conditional love, we think that we deserve punishment if we are or have been guilty or wrong. Geesh - what a vicious cycle! So, what’s the solution?

To consider new systems (and I’m adding win/win systems), we need to scrutinize the status quo, win/lose beliefs and behaviors widely promoted and endorsed so we can recognize they are, in fact, primary root causes of all problems. We must also consider how to upgrade from win/lose systems to win/win systems and what specifically is required to do so. We must know and willingly engage in change, despite being uncomfortable. We will not feel tortured if we choose intentional purpose and high vision, combined with compassion, curiosity, and unconditional love for ourselves and one another.

When we see and acknowledge what win/lose systems are costing us and experience what’s possible with win/win systems, we eagerly remove barriers to real social and emotional systemic change. Then we make way for and succeed at every other needed change process effortlessly, whether these are best practices for globalization, technology, diversity, democracy, and any other trend and innovation.

Judy Ryan (, human systems specialist, is owner of LifeWork Systems. Join her in her mission to create a world in which all people love their lives. She can also be reached at 314-239-4727.
People hire LifeWork Systems because we help businesses become agile and manage their priority system: their human system. I hope this article helps you make sense of what’s most crucial to your evolving organization!


Submitted 1 years 357 days ago
Categories: categoryThe Extraordinary Workplace
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