“Give me an example of a company that’s made a complete turnaround to embracing their customers.” This request always makes me chuckle. I wish I had an answer, I really do. But the sad reality is that I don’t know of a single organization that’s customer-centered through and through—except for the ones that started out that way. In Outside In, my co-author and I included over 80 case studies and examples precisely because no single company had put all the necessary pieces together. That was true when we conducted our research in 2012, and it still stands true today.
The 2016 Service Design Network Conference showcased many organizations embracing service design. And yet, each of these case studies shone light on just a sliver of the organization. An island of service design thinking and doing amidst a sea of business as usual. This has become a recurring theme in the service design world: Practitioners pushing against the tide of that sea, trying to influence whatever part of the organization they can in hopes of greater change. During the interstitial conversations between the conference sessions, I started to see a bigger picture of the forces we’re up against—and what’s behind our organizations’ (or our clients’ organizations’) resistance to change.
I see two main reasons why people don’t change:
They don’t want to change. Sure, you might think you want to change. But when it comes down to it, what do you want more: Six-pack abs or that piece of chocolate cake? Publishing your next book or binging the new Netflix drama? Day in and day out, we all make choices that show that we are happier (or more comfortable) with the way things are than with the way we say we want things to be. Sure, we could blame our inertia on the power of habit—but I think we could all give up dessert (or sitting on the couch after dinner or whatever) if that’s what we truly wanted. In 2013, Author Mark Manson wrote that maybe we shouldn’t bother asking what we want. “A more interesting question, a question that perhaps you’ve never considered before, is what pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for? Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.”[i]
They’re scared. Last year, I got talking to a woman before a spin class at a hotel. We were both on vacation and she said she was taking spin for the first time ever that day because she was scared to try it at her own gym at home. I didn’t want to pry into the inner fears of a stranger, but I wondered what she was worried about: Hurting herself? Looking foolish? Looking wimpy? (I’ve experienced all those trepidations myself before a new fitness class.) But maybe it was something else entirely. Marianne Williamson wrote in her 1992 best-selling book, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
Our own resistance to change surfaces in our personal lives every day, but these factors play out at the organizational level as well. Years ago, a traditional advertising agency lured me in with an acknowledgement that they needed to change—and a belief that my kind of thinking (design thinking, that is) would help them do it. I lasted a year and a day. Believe me, I certainly made mistakes, but I saw two things clearly in the review mirror: 1) Although key leaders knew the agency needed to change, the worker bees were quite happy, thank you, with the way things had always been done. And 2) The key leaders ultimately did nothing for fear of falling out of grace and off their lofty (and well-paid) perches.
And that’s the rub. Our organizations’ resistance to change is directly linked to our personal resistance to change. An executive who’s got two kids at university and an over-leveraged mortgage is probably not going to rock the boat at work with some crazy new thing she heard about called service design. Though it may not be a conscious decision, she will instead plod along with business as usual and therefore protect herself from unwanted change to her lifestyle.
When I first turned my professional sights from making technology easier to use to helping organizations easier to do business with, I had an epiphany that went something like this: “Oh crap. Now I need to become an expert in organizational change.” After attending SDNC16, I’m thinking I now need to return to my roots in human psychology. Those seeking to create a customer-centered culture need both disciplines in order to make greater headway against the tide of personal and organizational resistance to change.