Why do We Fear Change?


We love continuity and certainty. We have wishes and needs (even if we sometimes don’t even know what they are). Fear is always then arises whenever, for some reason or another, this continuity and certainty is put at risk and a situation can arise which no longer fulfils our needs. An incongruity is created, a condition in which, as Grawe refers to it, one’s own goals are not being attained. Only is the reality truly so beautiful? Are our goals today better satisfied than perhaps this could be in the future? Heinz von Förster once said “the truth is an invention of a liar” and, in this way, we are all then liars because we all build our own reality for ourselves in our mind. We adapt our reality to ourselves in such a manner that it is in harmony with our needs and goals – and we can do nothing in this regard because it is a result of our neurological congruency system. Information is simply left out or distorted until it fits precisely into our world. That makes it easier for us to deal with real complexity.


Our selective interpretation of situations is very helpful to our congruency system. The insight that we must change ourselves and our systems around us opposes our congruency system. From this perspective, it is completely understandable that we do not automatically embrace change. And even if the future scenario appears to be attractive and worth striving for as well as addresses many of our needs and goals even better, then change nonetheless oftentimes means uncertainty and a loss of autonomy because the management oftentimes cannot provide this certainty – because it indeed during this phase is itself often confronted with a change process and thus uncertainties – or does not wish to sufficiently integrate the employees into the change. The change process is then more painful than the result. 


Many persons in the top management do not intend this at all; they are simply not aware of their own actions. But secret meetings, vague hints with minimal informational content trigger uncertainties. For example, during a change process, we then experience communication in which one speaks “of good discussions”, but does not communicate to the employees what was discussed. Even the development of distance is interpreted by the employees as a risk. And, in this context, it is completely irrelevant regarding whether a risk truly exists or not. Each employee’s brain creates his own reality and we underestimate that, if this reality indeed exists in their brains, this can only then be changed back with great difficulty. Thus, during the change process, the communication must then be designed to be much more transparent, candid and clear.


However, we do not experience a distortion of the reality only among the employees. In the case of the management as well, during a change process, we must also deal with distortions. Herbert Simon termed this “satisficing”. The term “satisficing” is a portmanteau word from the English words satisfyingand sufficeand describes the behaviour of selecting the first option that comes along in a decision-making situation if this first option fulfils the purpose being striven for and/or a previously-defined aspiration level. How often have I already experienced during change processes that, even before the beginning of the respective change process, the management already has a clear image of a structure regarding how it must look; a structure as it has oftentimes already looked at another successful company. Precisely during times like these, if we speak a lot about agile organisational models, it would be more important to pose the question of meaning beforehand in order to structure organizations from internally to externally (the organisational structure is then the very last stage because it is only the means to the end), but our distortions unfortunately very often do not allow us to take this route. Thus, the design of organizations themselves becomes the end, the end to preserve one’s own power architecture.


Our brain is very well-trained to simulate a reality if it encompasses interpretations and experiences which do not even exist at all. We have developed neurological mechanisms which help us to perceive the reality to be better than it actually is – and this is good as it is. Otherwise, we would always be dealing only with negative emotions. However, during change processes, this is unfortunately not helpful because we must develop an awareness of existing problems whereby some people refer to this as self-awareness. 


We must learn to admit our own mistakes and problems. In the agile world, we always know this as being “developing a mistake-learning culture”. Self-awareness is then the best, first way towards change. If I begin changes, then the question regarding the cause “for what type of problem is the new organisational model supposed to be a solution?” is in the forefront. We must thus experience our system internally and, in so doing, eliminate distortions. Thus, a sustainable change always begins from internally to externally.

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