People’s resistance to change and innovation

I recently shared a very deep and meaningful conversation with a very accomplished US based Russian trained TRIZ practitioner – TRIZ involves working with the “theory of inventive problem solving.” As many of you are also aware, at ImagineNation™ our focus is also on problem solving. Where we provide the ultimate toolkit to help our clients succeed and flourish by transforming complex business dilemmas and wicked problems into creative ideas and innovative solutions.  It was very exciting to explore the range of openings and thresholds we could co-create between the very dense, concrete and analytical TRIZ process and our own generative and more abstract emergent processes. For problem solving as well as for enabling leaders to deal more effectively with people’s resistance to change and innovation.

Stuckness and blindness 

What powerfully disrupted my thinking on problem solving was her description of people’s resistance to change and innovation, as “psychological inertia” which – “implies an indisposition to change – a certain “stuckness” due to human programming. It represents the inevitability of behaving in a certain way – the way that has been indelibly inscribed somewhere in the brain. It also represents the impossibility – as long as a person is guided by his habits – of ever behaving in a better way”.

This resonated with me because I have invested many years in learning and experimenting with strategies for reducing people’s resistance to change and innovation, as well as to learning.

Also living here in the chaotic, volatile and complicated Middle East resistance to change and conflict sadly and tragically have become a way of life,  gave me the opportunity to observe this first hand. I noticed that people en-masse globally operate in this kind of “stuckness” and make generalized ‘right/wrong’ judgments about almost everything that occurs here, whilst being almost blind to the deep systemic issues that are at play. Being a bit of a learnaholic, this impacted my fascination with the phenomenon of resistance to change, learning and innovation, causing it to accelerate. I invested some time researching, studying and exploring what could be the incredible impact of the generalizations and judgments on people’s resistance to change and innovation. Especially in preparing people for a future we cannot predict or control.

How these blind us to the possibilities and opportunities available, to us, individually and collectively in embracing and harnessing change, learning and innovation.

Exploring psychological and cognitive inertia

This is what I discovered in very simple layman’s terms:

  • Psychological inertia creates many barriers to personal creativity and problem solving and is rooted in cognitive inertia.
  • “Cognitive inertia refers the tendency for beliefs or sets of beliefs to endure once formed. In particular, cognitive inertia describes the human inclination to rely on familiar assumptions and exhibit a reluctance and/or inability to revise those assumptions, even when the evidence supporting them no longer exists or when other evidence would question their accuracy”.
  • This results in a kind of “blindness” which inhibits us from seeing possibilities and opportunities, it restricts our ability to see options, it keeps us inside the conventional box, it causes us to miss seeing obvious data trends and patterns, factual information and effectively switches off our sensory perception.

If our sensory perception is switched off, we do not question or challenge the status quo or take in any new data or factual information. In other words we experience cognitive inertia which causes us, often unconsciously to resist change, learning and innovation.

For change, learning and innovation to occur, we have to break this inertia to see possibilities and opportunities, to sense patterns, to perceive and experiment with options, to play and think outside of the box and be able to associate possibilities, ideas, patterns, trends and data sets in new and unusual ways.  

Taking this one step further, we then slip from what might be many of our positive habitual preference sets into a state of judgment where according to NLP Master  Peter Andreas,  most (or all) of the rich sensory-based detail is deleted, a massive example of the deletion and distortion that results in a very simplified and impoverished generalization. “I do/don’t like what you do” expresses a relationship between us. But if I say, “You’re bad/good,” the badness/goodness appears to exist only in you–my relating to you, and my evaluation of this relating, is completely deleted. Since something is either good or bad, there is no room for it to have good and bad aspects, to be more or less good, good for one person and bad for someone else, etc. All that is left is a digital either/or distinction, (good/bad, right/wrong) in contrast to the detailed analog distinctions that occur in preference”.

The key problem with making judgments is that they imply universality. They assume that everyone else should have the same identical response, thus imposing the judge’s values on everyone else.

This does not allow the generative listening, questioning and debate to occur required for creative and inventive problem solving. This reactive response keeps people in inert and restrictive ‘either/or’ ‘good/bad’ or ‘right/wrong’ paradigms that focus on making others conform to their point of view in ways that delete possibilities and options for creating a different perspective or alternate point of view.

“Since a judgment is universal, it exists independently of who is saying it, and this is one of the great attractions of judgment. Someone who judges doesn’t have to take responsibility for the judgment or defend it; it simply exists. “It’s bad.” “It’s God’s will.” This makes it very difficult for the judger to even consider reviewing the situation being judged, or considering alternative understandings”.

How our brains neurology supports cognitive inertia

Bruce Wexler, in his fascinating book “Brain and Culture” explains how our brain requires sensory stimulation to shape the connections between the neurons that create the neuronal networks necessary for thought and behavior. He also states that by changing the cultural environment, each generation shapes the brains of the next, that by early adulthood, the neuroplasticity of the brain is greatly reduced.

By early adulthood, the individual attempts to make the environment conform to the established internal structures of the brain and mind.

He pays particular attention to the difficulties individuals face in adulthood when the environment changes beyond their ability to maintain the fit between existing internal structure and external reality. He outlines how these difficulties are evident in the meeting of different cultures and the phenomenon of inter ethnic violence by integrating recent neuro-biological research with major experimental findings in cognitive and developmental psychology.

Why this matters

“Judging sets in motion a recursive circular process that typically builds upon itself, and “snowballs,” becoming more and more widespread and intense as time goes on. The more I judge, the more I delete the details of my own experiencing. The less I am aware of my own experiencing, the more defensive and threatened I am likely to feel, so I will tend to rely on judgment even more”. 

So what can we do about people resisting innovation?

It all comes down to developing equal relationships that flow with change and innovation, encourages learning and creates the space for change and innovation to emerge by;

  1. Paying attention to, developing awareness of, and taking responsibility for our own individual judgment processes (or those of our clients) especially when dealing with complex, uncertain and ambiguous situations.
  2. Understanding our own preferences, how we select sensory based information, how we filter it, what we value and believe in. Being consciously aware of the role and impact of the generalizations, deletions and distortions we make.  Being consciously aware of the dynamics of our internal programming (or those of our clients or adversary) that result in judgments as whether something is absolute, universal or digital.
  3. Noticing how we naturally see things as ‘good or bad’ and how this causes people to come together or to separate, to incorporate an idea or reject it when asked to embrace a different way of thinking that defies the inherent conformity and embraces change, learning or innovation.
  4. Creating safe ways to allow us to recover and work with the content that we have deleted, to create new openings and thresholds for co-creating innovative ideas and solutions.

Imagine how powerfully transformative our work (and political) environments could be if we could cultivate less judgmental, and more respectful and equal relationships?

What if we began to treat one another as equals and started to communicate at the generative level? for problem solving?

What if we could share the information we have (and not delete, distort or generalize what doesn’t conform to our world view) and by work together to create positive, creative and imaginative win/win outcomes.  

If we can begin to find ways to flow with differences without judgment and condemnation and with compassion and forgiveness, we can navigate new pathways and cultures where co-operation, collaboration and creativity can be cultivated and flourish.

I am wondering how this could help make relationships, workplaces, communities, countries (and the world) better places and perhaps help bring an end to the alienation, polarization and violence that constantly surrounds us?

At ImagineNation™ we provide innovation coaching, education and culture consulting to help businesses achieve their innovation goals. Because we have done most of the learning and actioning of new hybrid mindsets, behaviors and skill-sets already, we can help your businesses also do this by opening people up to their innovation potential.

Contact us now at to find out how we can partner with you to learn, adapt and grow your business in the digital age.