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Exploring why voting for change difficult, using the peak paradox framework.

Voting or asking for change, especially where it creates a change to an existing balance, is difficult to accept and justify. Some change, such as reducing our intake of sugar, salt, and alcohol, is hard even if for our own good. Some change such as increased tax, giving up personal transport or a decrease in lifestyle may be good for society but is equally challenging. Whilst small incremental changes, behavioural nudges create the effect over a long period of time and create less resistance to immediate significant change, maintaining changes is complex. Significant overnight changes happen, such as a medical condition or accident, but are not always created for the best reasons. Whilst the impact creates immediate change, that change is eroded over time.

Given the impact and variance, change and change management is a popular topic that is well researched. There is a wide range of change theories, and each work within a context, but since no two contexts are the same, a universal change management theory remains elusive. Both voting for change and being in a change process feels like walking on soft sand; change is possible, but it is more challenging than the alternative of no change. Change creates different paradox’s for everyone.

The first impression of plotting to vote for change on the Peak Paradox framework is set out below. It is where, to steal the Pink Floyd song, everyone can remain comfortably numb. We try to accept everyone’s difference and purposes, finding we are at Peak Paradox. The place where decisions become the most difficult. At “comfortably numb”, we don’t vote for change; it happens. It happens not because we make it happen nor prevent it, but because we can all pretend, as it is someone else who is driving it, so I can have an opinion but don’t have to live with the consequences of change leadership.

Suppose we add two areas into the framework in the drawing below. The first is a driver for change-oriented towards Peak Individual Purpose, which can be interpreted as selfish. It is where the critical driver benefits the person who is requesting the change, essentially for their benefit at the expense of others.

The second area is towards Peak Society/ group purpose. It may be an individual or a group who have the energy, motivation, determination to bring about a change that benefits a comprehensive group or nation. Mandala, Gandhi, Thunberg, MLK, Mother Teresa, Lincoln.

For me, what is interesting is when we explore the role of Peak Work Purpose in change. Work can provide the right incentive to drive change. Bonus, capital gain, remuneration and prestige. Does change in a commercial environment only happen when the work to be done is an intermediary for selfishness, which becomes a hidden driver? There is a healthy/ unhealthy relationship between the incentive and selfishness that results in the change. The observation is not about “is the change the right thing to do” (efficacy), but change happens when the reward for achieving it has sufficient pulling power that it is worth doing.

What is the role of policy and regulation within a Peak Work environment framing that creates change in society? How does better social housing, better fire retardent regulation, or, say, tax policy help those with “energy” see change at a broader societal level? Does change in society only happen when the work to be done in policy and regulation is an enabling intermediary (lag or lead) for those with the energy to create the change?

What does peak paradox indicate about “Why is change so hard?” Probably because the driver may most often be an intermediary, it is not direct. The intermittently being something that can create the right incentive for the team to drive through change. In some cases, change results from a direct action; we see it as a person and recognise it, eventually calling it leadership. For the rest of us, change happens because something else needs to happen first, and needs an attractive incentive.

Because most of us are restricted to being linear and process thinkers who do not have access to the complexity of emergent dependent eco-systems, we find that change does not tend to happen without an alignment of incentives. Climate change is hard and short-termism has created incentives that have kept stability until something changes. Today (20th April 2021), the UK government takes on the 78% reduction of carbon by 2035. Maybe this will create a change in incentives, but the UK government will still have to target those sectors where additional motivation is needed.

Regarding digital transformation and organisational change, is it part of the issue that the change agent is the same thing that needs to change? That agent does not have the incentive or energy (power) to create the change? Whilst we maintain governance, boards, power, voting, structures and clubs, we can remain comfortably numb, waiting for that leader? But we reject the leader who changes our incentives if they disadvantage us. How strange we are!

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