INSEAD Professors, Black and Gregersen believe change agents must contrast the new from the old when introducing change. Contrast is essential to help people see the need for change. These change experts offer an illustration from the physical world to highlight this need.
"To see physical objects, we need some contrast in shape, light, and color. Take away differences in color or shape, or turn off the lights, and what can you see? Not much. The objects might be there, but without contrast we can't see them."
J. Stewart Black and Hal B. Gregersen. It Starts with One: Changing Individuals Changes Organizations. (Wharton School Publishing, 2008)
There is a second reason why contrast is essential to successful change initiatives. People must be able to differentiate the new from the old or they will simply re-fashion, re-envision, re-construct, or re-whatever the proposed change to make it fit neatly into what they already know. (In part, this phenomenon is known as cognitive dissonance.)
Unfortunately, many change agents fail, often intentionally, to make the contrasts clear; believing people will resist change. As a result, change agents don't take the time or make the effort with their people to explore why change is needed. Some change agents distort the reality of the proposed change by blurring the contrast in an attempt to make changes appear as nothing more than a variation of a present reality. When either of these situations occurs, things tend to turn out badly.Tomorrow, we'll consider three negative consequences of failing to contrast the new with the old.
Then, in several, subsequent blog posts we'll examine how to communicate contrasts effectively.