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Overcoming resistance to change

"We tried that before, and it didn't work" might be the wrong approach to change. How to reframe failure to create long-lasting innovation.
By admin
May 22, 2023, 9:01 AM

You’ve probably heard it before, either in a conference room or a Zoom call: “We tried that before, and it didn’t work.” This dismissive response, however well-intentioned, can quickly stifle creativity and innovation, causing promising ideas to be prematurely discarded. In fact, the “we tried that before” response is almost a cliché and has become a type of organizational shorthand for resistance to change. 

To be fair, the “we tried it before” resistance often originates from rational concerns. After all, nobody wants to repeat past mistakes. However, this mindset assumes that past conditions and methods of implementation are static, unchanging, and incapable of improvement  which is rarely the case. A new team, a new approach, new market conditions, new technical platforms, new workflows or processes, all represent new variables that could make whatever was “tried before” irrelevant to the current proposal. 

As innovators, how can we overcome this resistance? Here are some practical strategies to break through these barriers to positive change and foster a culture of continuous improvement in your organization; keep in mind that these are not magic bullets, just proven strategies for getting the wheels of innovation moving again: 

  1. Champion Leadership Buy-In: Engage leadership in supporting change. Their endorsement can create an immediate shift in attitudes and expectations within the organization. 
  2. Reframe Failure: Start reshaping the narrative around failure right away. Celebrate learning and growth from setbacks in meetings, newsletters, and team conversations. 
  3. Communicate Success Stories: Sharing stories of previously unsuccessful initiatives that later succeeded can be done immediately and can have a powerful impact on the prevailing mindset. 
  4. Encourage Innovative Thinking: Begin rewarding creative problem-solving and risk-taking. Recognition can be given promptly and can significantly influence behavior. 
  5. Promote Collaboration: Immediately start fostering a more collaborative environment. Encourage open communication and cross-team brainstorming sessions. 
  6. Highlight Changes in Context: Regularly discuss how market conditions, technology, or organizational shifts could make previously unsuccessful ideas viable. This can be done in team meetings or newsletters. 
  7. Promote Detailed Postmortems: Although it takes some time to see the results, start conducting detailed postmortems of failed initiatives. The insights gleaned can inform future projects and change the way teams approach challenges. 
  8. Cultivate a Culture of Learning: Developing programs or workshops to instill a growth mindset requires planning and resources, but this investment can yield significant long-term benefits. 
  9. Prioritize Effective Execution: Overhauling how projects are planned and executed can be a time-consuming process, but it is crucial for ensuring that ideas get a fair chance to succeed. 
  10. Create Safe Spaces for Innovation: Establishing a culture where novel ideas are encouraged and celebrated may take time and a significant shift in organizational norms, but it will ultimately stimulate creativity and discourage the “we tried that before” mentality. 

Building on extensive experience in the fields of journalism, media production, and learning design and development, John Marc Green’s newest adventure is serving as Director of CHIME Innovation. In this role, his ongoing conversations with CHIME Members and Partners provide insights and direction to serve their interests in a variety of ways, including digital healthcare innovation journalism, professional development events and program facilitation, and on-demand educational development through CHIME Innovation.

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