The Difficulty of Change

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Dr. David BurtonAt our weekly Health Catalyst leadership meetings, one of us is asked to provide a reflection. Not long ago, I found myself reflecting on change and how it’s sometimes seen as difficult or intimidating. New regulations, technologies and techniques are changing the very nature of the healthcare industry. As we try to manage these changes, many of us can find ourselves unexpectedly needing to lead change management efforts within our organizations. We may have thought we were simply introducing a new solution or technology, but then find that the more important issue is helping the organization to change a way of thinking or addressing the problem. For those of us in the thick of this rapidly changing environment, turning to the inspirational words of leaders, who both coped with change and found motivation in it, can provide us with the direction we need to navigate the challenges ahead. I looked back at a few statements from some of the great minds and leaders of history to see how they addressed change. What I found was eye opening – so, as a result of the exercise, I shared the three quotes that follow with our leadership team.

The greatest problem many of us have in training others is gross impatience. When you are trying to teach a principle, you must remember that you are requiring a change in concept. That is far more difficult to do than might appear at first blush:

  1. The first time you teach the principle, most people do not hear you.
  2. The second time you teach the principle, they say, “I’ve heard that somewhere before.”
  3. The third time they say, “I’ve heard that somewhere before. I don’t like it, it will require me to change, and I do not want to change.”
  4. The fourth time they hear it, they will say, “I’ve heard that somewhere before. That’s a good idea. Someday I’ll try it.”
  5. The fifth time they hear it, they say, “That’s a good idea. I’m going to try it today.”

Those are the geniuses. The rest of us take much longer.

— Lloyd Lafot, MONY, from a private communication

… there is nothing more difficult or dangerous, or more doubtful of success, than an attempt to introduce a new order of things in any state. For the innovator has for enemies all those who derived advantages from the old order of things, whilst those who expect to be benefited by the new institutions will be but lukewarm defenders. This indifference arises in part from fear of their adversaries who were favored by the existing laws, and partly from the incredulity of men who have no faith in anything new that is not the result of well-established experience.

— Niccolo Machiavelli, excerpted from The Prince

Tell [them] that if this stone does not seem to fit  … just now, to roll it aside. You can help them to roll it aside out of their way so that they will not stumble against it while at their daily duties, and it will be but a very short time till they will find a place in their building where no other stone will fit, then it will be on hand all right, and will come into its place in the building without the sound of hammer or chisel.

— 19th century religious leader

So, as you venture forward on the leading edge of change in the healthcare industry, I hope you can find meaning and encouragement in these quotes as I have. Their wisdom feels as if it has been borne out in my own experience over many years in many different settings when I have tried to introduce and effect change. Contemplating the words of these leaders makes me more patient with the people I am trying to encourage to adopt new ideas or make changes. I hope you are inspired by them as well.

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