A framework to assess, understand and overcome people’s resistance

Images by Juan Carlos Montes http://moxstudios.com/

Driving change is a dangerous mission as I discussed in my previous post that was featured on the Business section by Medium Staff.

You are against the odds. Your mission success depends on surviving attacks from both friendly and unfriendly fire. I’m talking about the hardest resistance you will ever face: the Enemies of Innovation.

Disguised as a warm, caring boss (“The Caregiver”) or a smart client that wants to get the best out of you (“The Intellectual”), the enemies of innovation just want to slow you down.

Empathy for the Devil

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” — Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Figuring out their personal motivations is critical. Their actions (or lack of) can stop you from making change happen. My model uses storytelling and empathy to understand these enemies.

The following tensions drive their behaviors:

– “Desire of Freedom” versus “Need to Control.”

– “Ego nurturing” versus “Social acceptance.”

Thus, creating four basic types of these enemies of change:

The Enemies of Innovation Matrix
  • “I Choose the Easy Way Out”: fun and easy, short cut, what’s the fast way to get there.
  • “I Avoid Taking Risks”: status quo over challenging, preserving what they have.
  • “My Reputation Is What Matters”: looking good, being respected and increase personal prestige.
  • “I Want Things My Way”: to be right, prioritizes his own experience over others.

Meet the Eight Enemies of Innovation

“I Choose the Easy Way Out”

The problem is not that he wants success with no effort, but that he can do it at your personal expense. The thief will steal everything from you. He will try to keep you away from the final decision maker. If things go wrong, it’s all your fault. If things go well, he will be at the right time and place to be part of the success. If you are okay with moving a solution forward without getting the credit, you might get along with the thief. But be cautious, he doesn’t want to leave evidence of his crimes. The thief will do whatever to get rid of any witnesses.

You might not call him a clown, but you know exactly the kind of person I’m talking about. She is present in every organization. Always minimizing work with jokes, making fun of those who work hard. Life is pure joy. She will turn any serious conversation into a trivial one. Actually, she will do whatever it takes to get more allies around a low-effort work style. In the end, she doesn’t like being called out as a clown. She will position anyone who wants to drive change as “boring.”

“I Avoid Taking Risks”

Too much love can kill you, and that applies to overprotective managers too. The caregiver will minimize team exposure. His primary goal is to protect the team both from internal and external threats. Think of that client or boss that wants to manage internal politics to protect you from eventual friction. His desire to make everyone feel good can hurt the team’s potential. It can damage its creativity and confidence. Bonding, mutual appreciation, and camaraderie are all that matter. Taking care of each other is priority number one. What actually happens is that the team is either slowed down or suffocated to death.

Similar to the caregiver, this enemy of innovation is risk-averse. The difference is that, while the former does in the name of love, the traditionalist does it to protect the status quo. “That’s not the way we do things here” or “We tried that idea several times, and it didn’t work” are clear expressions of the not-invented-here syndrome. The main purpose of this is to protect individuals or team members against outsiders that want to change things. The traditionalist tends to behave as a gatekeeper. She wants to control what’s said and not said to decision makers. You’ll listen to a lot of logical excuses based on “supposedly” previous experience.

“I Want Things My Way”

He uses his power to provide or take things away. This innovation enemy is anything but generous; he will use the system, authority, and control to limit your ability to do things your way. So, if you are trying to move forward something that is aligned with his interests, consider yourself lucky. But if you are presenting something that “the ruler” hasn’t thought about it, then you are at his mercy. He will use power to subdue you. His priorities will become yours.

Don’t get fooled by her smarts and challenging questions. The abstract conversation and 10,000 miles perspective are not meant to enrich the conversation but to get you lost. The rhetoric conversation is meant to confuse you without having to provide a yes or a no to your request. By using “intellectual anesthesia,” she wants to slow you down. You’ll start to feel numb until you fall into a never-ending intellectual comma. Once you wake up, you’ll have forgotten about your dreams and ambitions as well as the initiative you wanted to implement. The only thing you will remember is that you are working at a place than intellectual discussions seem more important than real action.

“My Reputation Is What Matters”

For him, no one is strong enough; no one knows as much as he does. That’s why the superhero believes that only he can change the world. He is bold and embraces risks. He will challenge you, put you in very uncomfortable situations to wear you down. If you blink or doubt it is because you are not as strong as he is. By making you feel weak, he wants you to surrender to his power. And to follow his lead. A superhero can be a good supporter when you are aligned with him. He is more concerned in looking good (and strong) than the actual outcome.

Even the deadliest enemies can wear a friendly smile. Don’t make the grave mistake of confusing friendship with manipulation. This enemy wants to befriend anyone, including those who oppose her. Friendship doesn’t mean support; it means appreciation. This cool gal wants to be loved and respected. That’s why she has a hard time saying Yes or No. Her reputation is the only thing that matters and won’t allow your innovative ideas to create tensions among those that love “the friend”. This chameleonic character knows how to adapt to survive. Make sure you don’t get caught off guard when she suddenly changes colors.

Innovation’s Worst Enemy

Oops. I forgot. There’s another enemy of innovation. Actually, the one you should be more afraid of.

Look yourself in the mirror.

It’s you.

When you allow others to slow you down. When you let the enemies of innovation wear you down with their tactics. When you use them as an excuse. When you stop doing what you want because someone else gets on your way.

Don’t become your worst enemy. Learn how to fight the enemies of innovation.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

“I choose my friends for their good looks, my acquaintances for their good characters, and my enemies for their good intellects.” — Oscar Wilde

Be more aware of the enemies that want to wear you down. Anticipate their moves. Develop specific tactics. Join them but don’t become one of them.

Enemies test your endurance: fighting resistance is not fun but will strengthen your spirit and desire to reach your destiny.

Enemies make your ideas better: the more they attack your idea, the more you need to bulletproof it. This process will not just keep your idea alive; it will help make it stronger.

Enemies keep you on your toes: anticipating their next attack, being vigilant to their next ambush, will keep you awake and focused.

Enemies remind you of who you are: every move they make, every time they try to kill your idea out of ignorance, envy or fear, is a reminder. It will help you be aware that you don’t want to be like them.

Learn how to fight The Enemies of Innovation!

Check this self-guided exercise to defeat the Innovation Enemies:


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