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Look, there’s a squirrel! A new approach to change

Yesterday there was an article in the Wall Street Journal that caught my attention. It has a lot to teach us about how people experience change, and how we can help them through the process. For a quick overview of the main concept, check out this video:

According to this study, people don’t notices differences or changes in key elements when they are distracted. (Oh, look, a Squirrel!) We call this Change Blindness.

You have probably noticed that the people you lead have pretty solid mental pathways. Some of them are very attached to the color of the carpet, the personality of a certain leader, or the tempo of worship. This study shows us a few things that need to be considered regarding change in the church:

1. Silos, infighting and bickering might simply an attempt to distract ourselves. If distraction changes our focus and keeps us from noticing change, then maybe people create silos and lobby infighting campaigns as a way of distracting themselves from the perpetual changes that are a part of an active, growing congregation.


2. What you say is important! People focus where you tell them to. Set up a change, and then focus on the outcomes and the future. We need to help people develop new paradigms and mental pathways. One of the best ways to do this is to direct their focus toward life change or people change – the positive things that are going on in the congregation. This helps people have something different to look at, focus on, and it actually begins to give them a new mental map to work from.


There was a study where participants were asked to choose between two resumes to fill a key position. One of the candidates was solid – well rounded with an excellent track record. The second candidate showed great potential. Without fail, the participants chose the second candidate while admitting that the first candidate looked better on paper. Why is this? People like hope. We want to believe in potential. Those people who dig their feet in on change? They want hope. If you help them see potential, they will jump at the opportunity to join the great things that will happen.


3. Change isn’t the problem. If you have a map in your brain of where you are going, and someone suddenly puts a canyon in your way, you are going to have to change course.


The hardest part about that change is stopping before you fly over the edge of that canyon.


Why? For the same reason people don’t notice change if they are distracted – we focus more on the picture inside our head than on what is happening on the outside. If someone changes the road, the people who throw the biggest fits are those that drove right of the canyon edge. It is no fun to be in a fireball at the bottom of the canyon – no wonder they get mad!


The real problem is focus. Make sure you let people know change is coming, but don’t just expect them to take the leap. Paint them a road map of what a successful new route will look like.


4. People can successfully navigate change. Change is uncomfortable. It causes us to lose our balance. The older we get, the harder it is to maintain our balance anyway. When people get older, we look for places where they might lose their balance and work to give them extra support bars and balance helpers. What if we were to find a way to help people through the change? Distractions will obviously lesson the pain, new maps and a well built bridge will also help.


In my years as a pastor, I discovered that people resist change most when it doesn’t make sense to them. In essence, they have a mental map of what is important and why we do what we do, and they can’t figure out how the new change fits. You will help them find the bridge and not crash at the bottom of the canyon if you show them how this new change fits into their long-term values and paradigms.


Want more information on Change Blindness? Check out this YouTube video.
What does this study bring to mind for you? 


Have you successfully distracted people right into a positive change? How did you do it? Take a moment and share in the comments below.

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