How Driving Lessons and Organizational Change are Related
Take for example the first time that you drove a car.
- Your whole life until then you have been a passenger without any driving competence. But you are unaware of it because you never tried it. This is unconscious Incompetence: I can’t, but why should I care?; as they say: Ignorance is bliss.
- After getting into the driver seat for the first time and trying to start the car and drive, you know enough to realize that you are incompetent at driving a car. You are unable, and your first confrontation with the dashboard, the gearbox, the steering wheel and the pedals made you painfully aware of your incompetence. You are now the second phase of learning: Conscious Incompetence. Your innocent and peaceful worldview falls apart, much like the disappointment that hit you when you found out that Santa Claus wasn’t real. This is where most people get in the rollercoaster of change (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance).
- One day, you are ready to do the tests in order to obtain a drivers license. At that point you are most probably in the third learning stage: Conscious Competence. You are skilled at driving the car but it still demands a lot of your attention.
- Finally, it is only after a long while that you will be able to drive the car as an automatic response, as doing normal checks, turning the keys and driving off. You accomplished the 4th learning phase: Unconscious Competence. The skill has become a habit by now, which requires no extra attention.
Plotting Resistance Against Learning
When we translate this learning cycle to the context of an organization and start to wonder what this means in terms of resistance, we will find that these 4 steps are a reliable indicator to predict when resistance will occur on a larger scale. As shown in the second drawing, people will only start to react to the change from the moment that they become aware of their own incompetence in the face of change.
What’s even more important is that this resistance is actually the learning tension that is necessary to absorb knowledge. The frustration of one’s own incompetence is the best motivation acquire new skills and knowledge.
Therefore, when you are introducing a new initiative and you are at the level of instructing people on new things face to face or in a classroom, look at their resistance from a learning perspective. They are incompetent at that moment, painfully aware of it, mostly in the presence of their colleagues and peers. How would you react? I know I would be grumpy! And what would be the best way to overcome that grumpy-ness? A blaming instructor or a caring one?
If you crush resistance at that vulnerable moment, I guarantee it will come back later in a dirty and unexpected way. On the other hand, if you consider this moment of resistance as a moment of truth, you just found an opportunity to build a network of change agents.