Stop saying people don’t like change — it’s a lie

Barack Obama campaigning for change (original photo by Will White - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Obama_at_American_University.jpg)

Jared Spool recently wrote that users don’t hate change — they hate our design choices:

There’s a myth out there: Users Hate Design Changes. This isn’t true. Users don’t hate design changes, they hate the choices designers make when rolling out a change. That’s a nuanced, important difference.

This is so true. And it is applicable to all change, not just design changes.

People often say things like “change is hard” or “people don’t like change”. That is a dangerous delusion.

It is true that people don’t like bad change — or at least, change that’s bad for them.

But it’s just a lie to say that people simply don’t like change.

Just look at the past 20 years. Yes, I’m about to wheel out all the same old digital transformation stories we already know about. But it shows you that people actually love change.

People couldn’t wait to change the music industry. When file sharing came along to challenge extortionate CD prices, it rattled the music industry. The big cheeses didn’t like that change, because it was bad for them. But the writing was on the wall. The consumers had spoken — they wanted change so much, the music industry had to change.

People couldn’t wait to change the way they watch films. No longer did they want to tolerate eye-watering cinema ticket prices, or video rental store fines designed to catch you out. Netflix came along, and people loved that change.

People couldn’t wait to change the way they took photos. They didn’t want to spend money on expensive film, which would then take an age to develop. People flocked to buy digital cameras, before eventually making do without cameras at all, and just taking all their photos with their phone. Kodak hated that change, but everyone else loved it.

In our lifetime we have gone from writing letters, to sending faxes, to using emails, to being constantly connected with everyone in the world via mobile devices. And you think people don’t like change?

In organisations, change is often necessary. It is a way for an organisation to deal with the uncertainty of the future.

If an organisation handles change badly, it becomes a thinly-veiled way of pushing that uncertainty directly onto employees by turning it an uncertainty about people’s jobs. Obviously, people hate that.

But there is an opportunity to present change for what it really is — a chance to seize the moment to improve the organisation and create a better future.

How you change matters much more than whether you change. The most successful digital organisations are constantly changing. The difference is that their changes are small — often almost imperceptible — and constant. They continuously respond to demand and tweak to optimise accordingly.

When it comes to design, a big bang relaunch is tempting for the organisational ego. Often, a clueless middle manager somewhere has decided they need to change their entire website overnight. The reasons for this are usually vague, but often seem to revolve around wanting a back-slapping party to celebrate its opening.

Unfortunately, that sort of change serves no-one well. By turning your website upside-down, you just annoy your users. They can now no longer find that one thing that they do on your website that’s been in the same place for years. (Incidentally, chances are you haven’t even bothered to find out what that one thing they do is.) Congratulations, you now have a disgruntled customer.

That doesn’t mean that people don’t like change. Nor does it mean that change is bad.

Bad change is bad. But your job is to make sure that your change is good.

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