Posts Tagged ‘Resistance’

Ignorance means “not knowing” and as the saying goes “Ignorance is bliss” because we do not worry about what we do not know about.  Or do we?

We are not totally ignorant – because we know that there are “unknowns” that would be of value to us. This knowledge creates an anxiety that we are very good at pushing out of awareness and despite the denial the unconscious feeling remains and it is emotionally corrosive. Repressed anxiety leads to the counter-productive behaviour of self-deception and then to self-justification – both of which are potent impedients to improvement.

We habitually, continuously and unconsciously discount the importance of what we do not know and in so doing we create internal emotional dissonance.  Our inner conflict drives external discounting behaviour and the inevitable toxic cultural consequence – Erosion of Trust.  Our inner conflict also drives internal discounting behaviour and the inevitable toxic emotional consequence – Erosion of  Confidence. This is the toxic emotional waste swamp that we create for ourselves and is the slippery slope that leads down to frustration, depression, cynicism and apathy. Ignorance  leads to anxiety and fear – and because we have conditioned ourselves to back away from fear we reflexly back away from ignorance and we end up trading fear for frustration. We do it to ourselves first and then we do it to others.

The antidote is counter-intuitive: it is to actively acknowledge and embrace our ignorance – and to do that we have to deliberately expose our own ignorance because we are very, very good at burying it from conscious view under a mountain of self-deception and self-justification.  We need to become Ignorace Miners.

The opposite of ignorance if knowledge and the good news is that we only need to scratch the surface to find knowledge nuggets – not huge ones perhaps – but plentiful. A bag of small knowledge nuggets is as valuable as an ingot of insight!

Knowledge nuggets are durable because they withstand cultural erosion but they can get washed away in the flood of toxic emotional waste and they can get buried under layers of cynical-resentful-arrogant-pessimism (CRAP).  These knowledge nuggests need to be re-gathered, re-freshed and re-cycled – and it is an endlessly exciting and energising experience.

So, when we are feeling fustrated, demotivated and depressed we just need to give ourselves a break and indulge in a bit of gentle ignorance mining – and when we do we will start to feel better immediately.

One of the problems with our caveman brains is that they are a bit slow. It may not feel that way but they are – and if you don’t believe me try this experiment: Stand up, get a book, hold it in your left hand open it at any page, hold a coin in your right hand between finger and thumb so that it will land on the floor when you drop it. Then close your eyes and count to three. Open your eyes, drop the coin, and immediately start reading the book. How long is it before you are consciously aware of the meaning of the words. My guess is that the coin hits the floor about the same time that you start to making sense of what is on the page. That means it takes about half a second to start perceiving what you are seeing. That long delay is a problem because the world around us is often changing much faster than that and, to survive, we need to keep up. So what we do is fill in the gaps – what we perceive is a combination of what we actually see and what we expect to see – the process is seamless, automatic and unconscious. And that is OK so long as expectation and reality stay in tune – but what happens when they don’t? We experience the “Eh?” effect which signals that we are temporarily confused – an uncomfortable and scary feeling which resolves when we re-align our perception with reality. Over time we all learn to avoid that uncomfortable confusion feeling with a simple mind trick – we just filter out the things we see that do not fit our expectation. Psychologists call this “perceptual distortion” and the effect is even greater when we look with our minds-eye rather than our real eyes – then we only perceive  what we expect to see and we avoid the uncomfortable “Eh?” effect completely.  This unconscious behaviour we all demonstrate is called self-delusion and it is a powerful barrier to improvement – because to improve we have to first accept that what we have is not good enough and that reality does not match our expectation.

To become a master of improvement it is necessary to learn to be comfortable with the “eh?” feeling – to disconnect it from the negative emotion of fear that drives the denial reaction and self-justifying behaviour – and instead to reconnect it to the positive emotion of excitement that drives the curiosity action and exploratory behaviour.  One ewasy way to generate the “eh?” effect is to perform reality checks – to consciously compare what we actually see with what we expect to see.  That is not easy because our perception is very slippery – we are all very,very good at perceptual distortion. A way around this is to present ourselves with a picture of realilty over time, using the past as a baseline, and our understanding of the system, we can predict what we believe will happen in the near future. We then compare what actually happens with our expectation.  Any significant deviations are “eh?” effects that we can use to focus our curiosity – for there hide the nuggets of new knowledge.  But how do we know what is a “signifcant” deviation? To answer that we must avoid using our slippery self-delusional perception system – we need a tool that is designed to do this interpretation safely, easily, and quickly.  Click here for an example of such a tool.

Later in his career, the famous artist William Heath-Robinson (1872-1944) created works of great ingenuity that showed complex inventions that were created to solve real everyday problems.  The genius of his work was that his held-together-with-string contraptions looked comically plausible. This genre of harmless mad-inventorism has endured, for example as the eccentric Wallace and Grommet characters.

The problem arises when this seat-of-the-pants incremental invent-patch-and-fix approach is applied to real systems – in particular a healthcare system. We end up with the same result – a Heath-Robinson contraption that is held together with Red Tape.

The complex bureaucracy both holds the system together and clogs up the working – and everyone knows it. It is not harmless though – it is expensive, slow and lethal.  How then do we remove the Red Tape to allow the machine to work more quickly, more safely and more affordably – without the whole contraption falling apart?

A good first step would be to stop adding yet more Red Tape. A sensible next step would be to learn how to make the Red Tap redundant before removing it. However, if we knew how to do that already we would not have let the Red Tapeworms infest our healthcare system in the first place!  This uncomfortable conclusion raises some questions …

What insight, knowledge and skill are we missing?
Where do we need to look to find the skills we lack?
Who knows how to safely eliminate the Red Tapeworms?
Can they teach the rest of us?
How long will it take us to learn and apply the knowledge?
Why might we justify continuing as we are?
Why might we want to maintain the status quo?
Why might we ignore the symptoms and not seek advice?
What are we scared of? Having to accept some humility?

That doesn’t sound like a large price to pay for improvement!

I learned a new trick this week and I am very pleased with myself for two reasons. Firstly because I had the fortune to have been recommended this trick; and secondly because I had the foresight to persevere when the first attempt didn’t work very well.  The trick I learned was using a webinar to provide interactive training. “Oh that’s old hat!” I hear some of you saying. Yes, teleconferencing and webinars have been around for a while – and when I tried it a few years ago I was disappointed and that early experience probably raised my unconscious resistance. The world has moved on – and I hadn’t. High-speed wireless broadband is now widely available and the webinar software is much improved.  It was a breeze to set up (though getting one’s microphone and speakers to work seems a perennial problem!). The training I was offering was for the BaseLine process behaviour chart software – and by being able to share the dynamic image of the application on my computer with all the invitees I was able to talk through what I was doing, how I was doing it and the reasons why I was doing it.  The immediate feedback from the invitees allowed me to pace the demonstration, repeat aspects that were unclear, answer novel queries and to demonstrate features that I had not intended to in my script.  The tried and tested see-do-teach method has been reborn in the Information Age and this old dog is definitely wagging his tail and looking forward to his walk in the park (and maybe a tasty treat, huh?)

Improvement implies change;

… change implies learning;

… learning implies asking questions;

… and asking questions implies listening with both humility and confidence.

The humility of knowing that their are many things we do not yet understand; and the confidence of knowing that there are many ways we can grow our understanding.

Change is a force – and when we apply a force to a system we meet resistance.

The natural response to feeling resistance is to push harder; and when we do that the force of resistance increases. With each escalation the amount of effort required for both sides to maintain the stalemate increases and the outcome of the trial is decided by the strength and stamina of the protagonists.

One may break, tire or give up …. eventually.

The counter-intuitive reaction to meeting resistance is to push less and to learn more; and it is more effective strategy.


We can observe this principle in the behaviour of a system that is required to deliver a specific performance – such as a delivery time.  The required performance is often labelled a “target” and is usually enforced with a carrot-flavoured-stick wrapped in a legal contract.

The characteristic sign on the performance chart of pushing against an immovable target is the Horned Gaussian – the natural behaviour of the system painfully distorted by the target.

Our natural reaction is to push harder; and initially we may be rewarded with some progress.  And with a Herculean effort we may actually achieve the target – though at what cost?

Our front-line fighters are engaged in a never-ending trial of strength, holding back the Horn that towers over them and that threatens to tip over the target at any moment.

The effort, time, and money expended is out of all proportion to the improvement gained and just maintaining the status quo is exhausting.

Our unconscious belief is that if we weather the storm and push hard enough we will “break” the resistance, and after that it will be plain sailing. This strategy might work in the affairs of Man – it doesn’t work with Nature.

We won’t break the Laws of Nature by pushing harder. They will break us.

So, consider what might happen if we did the opposite?

When we feel resistance we pull back a bit; we ask questions; we seek to see from the opposite perspective and to broaden our own perspective; we seek to expand our knowledge and to deepen our understanding.

When we redirect our effort, time and money into understanding the source of the resistance we uncover novel options; we get those golden “eureka!” moments that lead to synergism rather than to antagonism; to win-win rather than lose-lose outcomes.

Those options were there all along – they were just not visible with our push mindset.

Change is a force – so “May the 4th be with you“.