Simplify and Apply
In describing these barriers and providing the tools to break through them, we try to stick to an important principle. This principle is best illustrated by Albert Einstein who said that we should make things as simple as possible, but no simpler. In our view, the eight mistakes, twelve steps, and so on about change are often right in direction, but overly complicated for reality. But wait—we just got through arguing that today's changes are bigger and more complicated than the past and that changes in the future are likely only to get more daunting. Why would simplifying change help us lead ever more complex changes? There are two convincing reasons.
First, something is practical if we can remember and recall it, especially under pressure. No matter how comprehensive a model, framework, theory, or idea, if we cannot remember and recall it under pressure in real time when application is needed, it ends up making very little practical difference. So if change is more prevalent, faster, and more unpredictable than ever before, then it is equally critical for us to take action when needed. Whatever tools we hope to use in making change succeed, we must remember, recall, and apply them in real situations, in real time, and under real pressure.
In sticking with this simplicity principle, it is important to keep in mind that long history and scientific evidence have taught us that as humans we have limitations when it comes to remembering and recalling models, frameworks, or even strings of numbers that are too long or complicated. For example, have you ever wondered why most phone numbers around the world contain only seven digits or less? It is because 80 percent of the population can remember seven digits, but that percentage drops dramatically as you add digits. In fact, while 80 percent of the world population can remember seven random digits, that quickly drops to about 2 percent by only adding three additional digits (meaning, going from to seven to ten). If a change strategy sounds great on paper but can't be remembered by people in the field, then it really isn't worth anything. For this reason, we take a very pragmatic approach in proposing a framework for leading change. We offer up a framework that can be remembered, recalled, and—most importantly—applied. Fundamentally, it has only three components.
Second, we argue for simplification because achieving 80 percent of desired results rapidly is much better than never attaining 100 percent. If 80 percent quickly is your target, then 20 percent of the factors are usually the key. For example, we commonly see cases in which 20 percent of a firm's customers account for 80 percent of its sales. In sports, we see many situations where 80 percent of the team's points come from 20 percent of its players. And while a firm cannot ignore its other customers or a team its full roster of players, both organizations get the best bang for their buck by focusing on the critical core—the fundamentals. For this reason, we focus on the most critical elements of change.
This is one of the important differentiators of this book. We keep it simple, and we focus on the fundamentals. We have found through experience in working with a variety of firms around the world that if you get the fundamentals right—the critical 20 percent—and hit 80 percent of the desired result quickly, the rest will come. Conversely, you can spend truckloads of time on all the fancy frills of change, and the ignored fundamentals will steal success away.
In the end, a complete mastery of the fundamentals is key to breakthrough change. Just as mastering the fundamentals of gravity and friction allowed designers to make the wings thinner and sweep them back on planes so pilots could break the sound barrier, mastering change fundamentals is key to breaking through the powerful and persistent mental barriers of resistance.