Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher

What’s Holding You Back?

>Why do some people and companies consistently make changes while others keep doing what they’ve always done – right to the bitter end? Here are four common change-barriers that come from inside ourselves.

First, everything we agree on: Change is constant, hard, scary, costly, necessary, fun. Did we miss anything? You can fill it in. But once we’ve all agreed that we “have to change,” will we do it? We chant it to consultants, nod when trainers say it, smile at our managers who encourage it. We must change! Lather, rinse, repeat. So:

Why do so few people and companies actually do it?

That depends upon us. Some of us don’t even try. We put on a good show: buy new stuff, attend workshops, talk the talk. But inside our minds, we have our arms crossed. In addition to all the reasons we don’t have to change, some of us even claim our customers don’t need it. Our customers are special, old fashioned, traditional, or from Mars.

In our experience, there are four common change-limiters we see every day. New ones often appear, but these four are perennial. They are the most reliable causes of inertia, except one which we have decided not to write about (laziness). Be on guard for these in your mind, and your company:

  1. Yeah, But… Syndrome. It’s the instant reaction when confronted with change. Shown some data or trends, the first response for some people is, “yeah, but that’s not what’s happening to us.” Even if they agree intellectually on the point, many people quickly use this “nimby” change-limiter to justify why they can remain the same. Ironically, “yeah, but…” sounds exactly like something many real estate hear from their sellers who resist their advice on prices, staging, conditions, etc. We see YBS a lot from workshop participants who come up to us during the break to politely explain why everything we’ve said doesn’t apply to them. It’s the most dangerous form of resistance, because it happens so fast, it’s so comfortable, and it can often prevent us from even exploring a possibility.
  2. That’s not our way. Similar to YBS, the “we don’t do it that way” limiter keeps us from benefitting from the simplest change techniques: being a copycat. Very few successful innovations are secrets. Yet it’s puzzling to see companies resist copying others’ successful strategies because “their way is different.” Consider how few airlines have copied Southwest’s successful formula, although it’s widely documented. Even partial copying is absent: Apple’s power-cord for its MacBooks is small, elegant, simple, yet most Windows-based laptop manufacturers insist on bulky brick-and-cord systems as if it’s 1950. Can country-folk sell like city-fold? Do American sellers really want something different than Australian ones? It’s easy to resist change by viewing it as culturally foreign, rather than judging it on its operational merits. Even worse, when “our way” was formed in different times, for different customers and economic conditions, sticking to it puts style ahead of substance. Unless you’re Lady Gaga, style doesn’t pay the bills.
  3. They tried it and they failed. Dismissing opportunities because others failed attempting it is also common, but it almost always proceeds from insufficient knowledge of the failure. Certainly, many changes fail the first time, and the tenth time. Expecting instant and automatic success is a unreasonable but pleasing rationalization against change. Many things cause others to fail in the past at what might become a success today: economic conditions, commitment by agents and managers, money, and so on. Those conditions will certainly be different – and possibly better – if you explore them today. In the 1990s, AT&T tried to bring video conferencing to consumers, but the technology and economics were not right. Today, Skype has made video conferencing simple and free, and wroth $8.5 billion dollars to Microsoft.
  4. We tried it once already. Some changes fail because we simply don’t give them sufficient time to work. More time won’t make every change a success, but too little time almost always guarantees their failure. It might take weeks, months, even years to bring important improvements to a successful level. Few companies, and salespeople, however, think in terms beyond a few weeks or months. The industry that loves silver bullets doesn’t often commit to the long (over)haul. A simple example is holding open houses on a weekday rather than Sunday. Gen X consumers say weekends are too busy with family and friends to go tour homes; but if they could stop in at lunch or after work, they’d attend more open homes. Sounds simple enough, so why do so few real estate agents do it? The common answer is “we tried that last week, and nobody showed up.” The mistake is concluding that because the failed that time, it will always fail. A simpler explanation is that the consumer didn’t have sufficient time to notice it, understand it, and value it, to make it a success. When we jump to conclusions in a short period of time, we abandon opportunity based upon assumption rather than fact.

There are certainly other reasons why we struggle with change, but these four seem to perpetually accompany us – even while we’re experiencing success today. Ironically, the people and organizations most likely to hold themselves back are the ones who are doing “just fine” right now. We hope they are saving every penny they earn, because chances are when they reach tomorrow’s market, they’re going to find their challenges aren’t lack of opportunities.

Often times what’s holding us back is us.

  • Anonymous

    I would agree wholeheartedly with your assessment but would add one more of my own: Learn to fail.

    For many years I held a senior position with a  large firm. Each and every project that I was assigned was a “you can’t afford to fail” in this. Somehow, failure was seen as inexcusable if not down right embarrassing. The stress level was high, the stakes were even higher. Then, a wise person took me aside and said “just give them what they want”. Until then, I thought what they wanted was my best work, instead, this sage advice told me that the bosses for whom I worked really only wanted their ideas put into action. Years later when I undertook real estate as a profession, I tried to get back to my core, that is, do the best that I can and to hell with failure. Failure in life just defines the boundaries that you (or someone else) has set. Focus on failure…seek it and most importantly don’t just “give then what they want.” Give far more…

  • David

    Change is painful, even though we know we need it. Even though I need to be in a gym, I’m more likely to be found in a restaurant! Until that changes, reading all the health magazines in the world won’t change my appearance. Knowledge without implementation is actually pretty useless.

  • Paul:

    An excellent addition to the list! I think we need a new approach to
    failure in our industry, because we often don’t try many things that might
    surprise us because we don’t give ourselves the time, the permission or
    even the money to fail. Excellent point – thanks for adding it!
    – MF

  • David:

    One question I always ask people is: After we admit change is painful,
    THEN WHAT? That’s the key to growth: either it’s painful and you stay put.
    Or you work through the pain and grow. If we don’t answer the “THEN WHAT”
    part of the equation, then we might as well just pack it in…. Thanks for
    your comment!

  • I totally agree, but I am just the opposite. Change brings Opportunity!  I love change.  So much so, that I left my comfortable desk (5 years) as a Broker-Associate, and now I am the Broker/Owner of a woman owned (ME) Real Estate Brokerage…1st Source Texas Realty.  There are lots of changes and I’m facing them head on.  I love a good challenge.

  • Marilynn Currie

    I agree. What holding us back is us——-  and the fear of “What will people think?” as you  step out of your comfort zone or leave a job that is secure to do what you love. You only live one life— so be brave..