I believe that one of the reasons people resist changing the status quo is because every change creates winners and losers — and creates an uneven decision-making field. Studies have repeatedly documented that people’s decision-making is impacted three to five times more heavily by the probability of losing than by the probability of winning.
When you want to sell an idea, you focus on the myriad of positive outcomes while minimizing or denying any potential downsides. On the other hand, when you want to kill an idea, all you have to do is enumerate all the real or perceived downsides.
Allowing the fear of losing to prevail locks you into the status quo, a position that external events can eventually make untenable. Take, for example, a union’s relentless focus on holding on to past gains regardless of their company’s ability to remain financially viable and avoid bankruptcy.
Minimizing or denying all the potential downsides can leave you with a huge mess to clean up after you implement the change. Witness the auto industry’s relentless focus on the price of a part, regardless of its longer-term impact on overall product quality or supplier base viability.
To successfully change the status quo, you need leadership and a safe forum where all the real and potential negatives can be aired, thoroughly understood, and addressed. Over the past two decades, we at Myrna Associates have identified and refined the elements that enable teams to change the status quo for the better in their organizations.
Thirty-four years after my first encounter with strategic planning, I continue to be struck the power of that process to shake up the status quo in a positive way.