Dr. Rob: How Resistance Can Overwhelm a Dream

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My friend, Mike Anleitner, and I are working on a new book tentatively titled, Balanced Leadership in Technical Organizations.  Today, I present to you an excerpt from the “Coaches Clipboard” section of the book.  We would greatly appreciate your feedback on the material.

Coaches Clipboard:  No Matter What the Obstacles,
Commit to Your Dream

Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated.
You can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.
David Lloyd George, British Prime Minister 1916-1922

One of the most profound principles that Mike and Rob have discovered in their work with organizations can be found in something called the “change equation.”

This equation, which was originally proposed by Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher, says that the potential for any change to become reality is affected four factors:

  • The level of dissatisfaction that exists with the status quo (D)
  • The vision of what the future will be like—after the change becomes reality (V)
  • The likelihood that meaningful first steps of the change can be accomplished (F)
  • The level of resistance that exists among those affected by the possible change (R)

The change equation then suggests that just a small amount of resistance can overwhelm the other factors:

D  x  V  x  F  >  R

Of course, it’s not realistic to expect that you can put numbers on each of these factors and thereby calculate some specific probability that a dream will become reality. However, this is an extremely powerful concept because it does show an apparently inescapable principle.

If any of the first three factors—dissatisfaction with the way things are today, vision, or first step probability—is close to zero or negative, the impetus for change will be close to zero or negative. As a result, even the smallest level of resistance will render the change impossible.

Just one—not all—of the factors at or near zero will insure that resistance will win.

In Star Trek’s The Next Generation series, Captain Picard and his crew are frequently engaged in life and death—or perhaps worse than death, enslavement—struggles with a consortium of beings known as “The Borg.” Short for cybernetic organism, or cyborg, this polyglot empire seeks to “assimilate” all intelligent life (and their associated technology) into their collectivist domain.

The Borg’s signature salutation is simple. “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.” Of course, the earthlings and their allies resist—and the resistance is always successful in the end.

If you follow the plots of these episodes, you quickly understand that the earthlings are not dissatisfied with the status quo (particularly so if the Borg would stop trying to devour their souls), and they have distinctly negative feelings about the Borg vision of the future. No matter that the achievable first steps—turning each earthling into an electro-mechanical zombie—is all too easy; the other factors make resistance powerful and effective.

This means you need to have a positive, constructive dream. You can’t just be against something; your dream needs to be about upbeat and beneficial change. It also means that you must be prepared to face resistance. Finally, it also means that you have to jump in with both feet if you really expect to achieve something significant.

The key conclusion that you need to draw is crystal clear:  resistance is natural and expected whenever you are leading the clarion call to change something. Crushing or pushing back against resistance doesn’t work because resistance is not futile; it works amazingly well.

To overcome these hurdles, you must be prepared to work hard, and to face peril. Moreover, if your dream is truly a Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG), then you will realize you can’t wade into raging surf.

On the north shore of Oahu in Hawaii in January, huge waves are the norm. It’s dangerous to just get a bit wet, because there’s also an extremely strong riptide that can easily sweep you out to sea if you simply walk on wet sand. If you get close to the water, the next wave can unexpectedly arc over you without much warning. You need to be ready to swim as if your life depended on it, because it does.
If you aren’t ready to swim for your life, you can’t get just a little bit wet.

YOUR PLAYBOOK

  • Recognize the distinction between a wish and a dream. A dream is bigger. You have to feel deep passion for it. It’s the kind of thing that makes you nervous. You know it’s not going to be easy. But no dream is going to come true by accident. You’re going to have to dig deep for it and risk something.
  • Don’t just go through the motions. If you aren’t risking something important, there’s unlikely to be any significant reward.
  • Develop a plan and implement it. You don’t need a perfect plan to succeed, just a good one executed with precision. Ask critical questions and try and develop this plan with friends, allies, and those who share the dream.
    1. What are the dissatisfactions that this dream expresses? If you love what you have, why would you want something different?
    2. What vision are we offering of a better future? Can we explain this vision? Is it practical? While you shouldn’t expect unanimous support, you really must plan to promote and sell your ideas. Trust us: few visions are so wonderful that they sell themselves. You have to be ready to work very hard just to get people to notice what you have proposed.
    3. Does your plan include some initial actions that are likely to succeed? If you can’t show other people that you can execute something simple, they won’t believe you can achieve a dream.
    4. When making decisions, ask yourself: Am I running away from something or toward something? Toward is always better, because resistance isn’t futile. That means working on the positive side of the ledger, rather than browbeating people about the negatives. You can make a list of the reasons why people will resist your ideas, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can dissuade them from believing in these negatives. Instead, fill the agenda of your plan with things that will accentuate the positive—run toward something that’s appealing, not away from something negative.
    5. Often, you need to educate others to make them feel dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs. This is tricky—if you become a naysayer or prophet of doom, you’ll still end up with nothing but a dream. If you can put facts on the table, over time you may well be able to make people realize they have been lulled by complacency, and storms are brewing over the horizon. They may not know it, and you need to create awareness of the risks that are likely, and lay out why they should be dissatisfied with the status quo. And this is hard, because any prediction about the future is certain to be less than 100% accurate. But you need to do this with a minimum of negativity.

Mike and I would appreciate your feedback on this project:

  1. If you’re in a technical field, would you be willing to read a rough draft of the book?
  2. Do you find the language of this excerpt appropriate for the leaders in the technical world?
  3. What do you think of the format?
  4. Do you have other comments?

Please email me your comments at rob@robpasick.com.

So Mike and I have a dream, to have Balanced Leadership in Technical Organizations published in the Fall 2017.

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