Preparing for innovation: how to avoid resistance to change

Is your business culture truly open to change? Your colleagues’ reaction to a simple exercise might surprise you…

A simple exercise, with surprising results

Most people would say they are open to change, but challenge them with the following simple exercise. Ask them to extend their arm out straight forwards, with their hand pointing upward, so their palm is flat towards you. Now place your hand in the same position against theirs and gently push, without warning.

What happens? Do they push back without being asked to? Most people do – it’s self-preservation against losing balance. They push back because:

  • the change in their position was unexpected
  • they needed to retain their own safe position (i.e. not be pushed over)
  • they were unaware it was going to happen

Engaging your staff in the process of change

The same applies to change within an organisation, and a Harvard Business Review blog post by Rosabeth Moss Kanter* expands on the reasons for resistance to change, most of which centre around the failure to engage staff in the process of change. Lack of involvement means change comes as a surprise, and lack of awareness means lack of preparation too, for the extra work, learning curve and inevitable working adjustments change creates.


“Leaders of change (should) understand the predictable, universal sources of resistance in each situation and then strategize around them.”

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Think like a Scout; be prepared

Thinking back to the hand exercise, what would the difference have been if you had simply told the person what was going to happen? Chances are, they would prepare, both mentally and physically, perhaps putting one foot back to steady themselves. Not only are they prepared for what may happen, they are also involved at a much earlier stage, pre-push so to speak.

It’s a simple exercise but at its core is the fundamental business lesson that if you don’t involve people in the preparation for innovation, they will often resist the execution phase as a reflex.

And finally…

In practice, not all areas of change can be pre-empted in this way, but having people as part of the change as opposed to subject to the change is an important and fundamental difference. They might also have some great ideas for the future too….

Have you experienced serious pushback against innovation, and if so, how did you overcome it? Leave us a comment and share your experiences.


At TalkFreely, we specialize in easy to use software solutions that keep everyone talking about innovation – call us to talk through how to banish your innovation silences.