The status quo is a powerful force. We often talk passionately about the need to transcend it. We paint the status quo as the villain in the story of our quest to greatness. We must do battle with it if we are to do not just good work, but great work.
It is the obvious barrier to change in every dimension of our world that is calling out desperately for change. Education, the economy, wide scale corruption, obesity and environmental sustainability are a few of the big challenges of our time that come to mind.
But let’s get personal here. Organizations don’t change anything, people do. It really is up to you and me.
The status quo doesn’t live out there somewhere. It resides inside of each of us. Collectively the status quo of any human system may be the villain in our quest to transform how we live and how we work. Yet until each of us starts dealing with that villain as it lives in each of us we are unlikely to play a role in bringing that villain to justice.
In every moment we get to choose through our action or inaction to perpetuate the status quo or act in service of the future we say we want.
So what stops us from challenging the status quo?
By “us” I mean you and me, not “them”. We are creatures of habit. The allure of the status quo, the known, the certain, the stable, is compelling. Challenging it requires we take a risk, that we do something out of the ordinary, that we commit to changing ourselves in some way. The perceived rewards of safety and belonging can seduce us into unwittingly being the villain in our own quest for change.
I say perception because I believe, especially in today’s world, protecting the status quo is actually dangerous rather than safe. Nonetheless as human beings we want to feel like we are on solid ground. We will go to great lengths to feel like we “know” and to feel certain. Despite how much we want the change we often prefer to avoid the pain we might have to endure. We may be passive about it, letting the opportunities to challenge go by unnoticed. We may fall back on justifying why we can’t rather than admit we simply won’t. And when we get agreement that things will never change, nothing can be done, it doesn’t matter, etc. our justification is reinforced.
In fact agreement is actually the status quo’s best defender: when I agree with you it reinforces that sense of being right which feeds our illusion of safety. It also feeds the sense that we belong – the more people who agree with us the more evidence we have that we are all “on the same page”. This feeds the sense that we belong in the group purely because we share the same thoughts and thought process.
There are of course the courageous few who challenge the status quo at every turn, but I would venture to say every one of us faces this challenge in at least some domain of our life. As leaders it is in understanding and owning our personal resistance to change, that we may just find the way to support others in transcending their own resistance.
So if that is what is stops us, then what will it take to motivate us to be an agent of change?
The status quo has significant casualties including our creativity, innovation, passion, self expression, satisfaction and success. In the moment of feeling safe, certain, comfortable and like we belong, even these incredibly important ingredients to our happiness are not always so compelling or even present for us. Yet it is the lack of these things in our life and our work that continually tug at our spirits as we wonder why we don’t feel more satisfied, more stimulated, more alive.
Consider that until the cost of reinforcing the way it is can be perceived and felt to be much greater than the benefit of hanging on to the way it is, there is no motivation for us to do anything to challenge what is.
If you want to instigate change ask yourself and your team this question: what is the status quo costing you? The cost just might be the ammunition you need to stop the villain in it’s tracks.