Change and the Status Quo

Nature changes.
Culture changes.
Technologies change.
Societies change.
Markets change.
We change.

Change is everywhere around us. All the time. Inevitably. Change is a constant. The only problem with this is that human beings generally don’t like change that much. We are even afraid of it. So once something seems to work well for us, we stick to it. Food, tools, habits, whatever it is: We rather play it safe than to risk being worse off after a change. Try a new shampoo brand? Na, the old shampoo smells so nice and familiar. Try a new JavaScript framework? Uhm, you never know which one is worth learning anyway so let’s stick with the one we are already using.

There are many explanations for why we avoid change. For one, we are loss-averse. We tend to rather avoid a potential loss than to acquire an equivalent gain. So unless the benefits of a change substantially outweigh the risk of potential losses, we rather don’t make any change at all. But our preference to stick with the status quo can’t be explained with loss aversion alone. It goes much deeper. When asked to choose the color of a new car, for example, people tend to pick the color they already own. Cognitive scientists call this bias the status quo bias.

That’s why it might be so hard for some companies and markets to respond when a technological shift occurs and suddenly a new competitor appears who does things a bit differently. It might be the reason the ice companies weren’t the ones inventing the household refrigerator, which would ultimately replace the entire ice industry. It might be the reason Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer laughed at the iPhone because it had no keyboard and the managers at Nokia probably did the same before they sank into insignificance. And it might be the reason German car manufacturers laughed at the idea that electric cars would be the future.

If we want to be able to keep playing the infinite game we are playing, we need to be ready and willing to adapt to change. By highlighting the costs of inaction. By reducing uncertainty, for example through building prototypes and testing. And also by not trying to change everything at once, but by splitting it up into smaller, gradual changes that are easier to process and getting used to. Let’s try to hone that skill – we will need it going forward.

This is the fifth post of my 100 days of writing series. You can find a list of all posts here.


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