“Change is hard.”
Is it?
What if that’s just an opinion disguised as a fact? What if that is just a socialized complaint/expression that we’ve all been brainwashed into believing and repeating?
“Change is hard” can often be heard as an unconscious declaration of an inevitable, early surrender from the leader to the team that they are responsible for leading.
“Change is hard” often sounds like a veiled equivalent to: “Yes, I’m the boss, but I’m not going to be taking responsibility for implementing/supporting the new strategy or the business results….because change is hard.”

There are, however, many corporate executives and entrepreneurs alike who get excited about the possibility of change; they are masters at it; it’s easy for them. They would never say, “Change is hard.” So the “hardness” of change might not be an absolute truth. I’m not sure it’s true at all. “Hardness” may be a measure of mineral’s scratch resistance (e.g., Mohs’ scale), but “hard” is not necessarily an attribute of change. Is it?
“Hard” or “easy” (success or failure) is usually a relative comparison of two things: 1) the challenge and 2) our ability/inability to respond to the challenge effectively. Whether the challenge is to squat 300 pounds or to engage in expanding corporate competencies, there’s two ways to approach it: I can say, “300 pounds is too heavy,” or I can say, “300 pounds is too heavy for me. My leg muscles aren’t strong enough to squat 300 pounds.”
HARD is only relative to our ability to respond. HARD is not an attribute of change.
If our muscles aren’t ready for the challenge, then the challenge/change is harder for us. That same challenge may NOT be hard for others. Change (innovation) is not hard for leaders and teams whose muscles are developed/trained and ready to respond effectively.

Chief innovation officers (CINOs), transformation experts and executives who have learned from experience will agree that change (innovation) is harder when:

  1. We wait too long to get started or lollygag through the process of starting.
  2. We don’t prioritize it; we don’t have a plan or resources dedicated to it; we haven’t separated the essential from the important.
  3. We treat it like an event versus a lifestyle; we don’t walk the talk.
  4. We don’t use expert tools and processes; we wing it or “amateur-hour” it.
  5. We don’t create the space (culture) for creativity, collaboration, etc.; we try to command and control culture change.
  6. We’re not aware of our default, reactive language and habits; we hang on to old success formulas for too long.

7. We don’t ask for help; we pretend we know what to do when we don’t.

Experienced CINOs, transformation experts and executives will also agree that change (innovation) is easier when:

  • You see more: You’re more conscious (less likely to be driven by default, reactive habits), more awake, more open to learn and more curious to explore multiple perspectives beyond your own (conscious leaders make better innovation leaders).
  • You collaborate better: You’re more skilled at engaging and empowering people to use innovation tools/processes effectively; you’re more skilled at healthy debate, committed action and accountability; your leadership and culture of the organization help diverse groups of people feel powerfully valued and powerfully challenged.
  • You feel stronger: Your energy is sourced from a higher-order purpose — values and guiding principles are unconditional; you are grounded in sources of certainty that help you make decisions and take action in the face of increasing uncertainty.

We might expect to hear “change is hard” from stereotypical leaders/politicians when they shirk accountability and make a career out of saving face and preserving their innocence versus keeping their promises. But it never makes sense when accomplished, successful leaders responsible for change inside of powerful and abundantly resourced organizations say, “Change is hard.” However, we hear it all the time in reference to corporate initiatives that involve: a) doing something new versus doing the usual/status quo and b) letting go of old default habits in favor of more effective habits. You’ll hear it in every innovation/transformation and change management meeting. You’ll hear it in every systems implementation, digital integration and customer experience session when the experience involves a people-centric service or delivery system. When a leader responds to these kinds of challenges regarding learning, complexity and ambiguity (aka innovation/change/growth) with the “change is hard” hedge, the change does in fact get 1,000 times harder. It gives the organization permission (from the top) to lower their standards. It gives everyone permission to resist learning/training — permission not to grow — permission not to be a part of changing because, after all, “change is hard.” The boss even said so! In these contexts, it serves as an early and convenient scapegoat to hide the leaders’ inference that their teams’ muscles might not be ready to follow through and deliver. When the team isn’t ready, that’s the leader’s fault. Don’t blame the team and don’t blame the culture. Your team can do it. They need an innovation leader to lead them. That’s you.
In today’s VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) environment, unskillfully declaring, “change is hard” is nothing more than an expression of the victim — a choice of powerlessness and incompetence hiding behind an external circumstance, portrayed as something out of our control. A creator/player would never say that. It is true that I won’t be able to change/innovate effectively if my muscles (and the organization’s muscles) are not ready. But the hardness is relative to my muscular readiness. If I were more ready (if my organization was more ready), I could do it more effectively. Instead, my mind will go immediately to blaming the change itself for being too hard.
If you’re the leader of your business, department, community or family, stop saying, “change is hard.” Try this instead: “I don’t think I’m ready” or “my team and I aren’t ready for change. We need to be more ready.” Ask, “How can my team and I get more ready?” That’s what a player/creator would do. Then we will see if that helps us focus and find an even more effective response to dealing with change. We might as well choose to change (and stop blaming it for our poor results) since change is going to keep coming, whether we are ready or not.
Being a creator/player does not mean that I/we will magically be able to change everything and anything. Being a creator/player means I need to train because the speed of change/VUCA and the challenges I have in front of me have exceeded my ability to handle them. It is essential for me and my team to develop an expanded capacity for change — or as Argentine Ricardo Gil, Axialent chief culture officer…aka RichiWanKenobi, would say,

“Learn to live at peace with the difficulty and suffering you’ve chosen by not developing (the appropriate growth muscles).”

Don’t be a victim. Victims can’t innovate, and they don’t usually change without creating permanent damage and unnecessary suffering. That can be avoided. Change is easier when you train for it. It’s harder when you don’t. Drop everything and train #d3&t. “Don’t just be a better leader, be an innovation leader.” Train to be a Jedi. See more, collaborate better and feel stronger (build those muscles and you’ll be more Jedi). The world needs more Jedi.
Focus on separating the essential from the important. It is critically important that we get the DOING innovation management stuff right (e.g., process, strategy, metrics). But don’t minimize the innovation essentials (e.g., people, leadership, culture) just because we think the people/change part is “hard.” Prioritize the essential and it becomes easier.
 The important goes on the to-do list.
The essentials go on a to-die-for list.

(“d3&t” is borrowed from barbellshrugged.com, a podcast team that focuses on “talking training with crossfit games athletes, strength coaches and more.”)
Some of the biggest companies in the world are consolidating learning and development (L&D) efforts to focus on key changes that will transform how their companies work every day. They are focusing on embedding specialized lifestyle transformation leadership training, transformational DNA, communities of practice, and prioritizing deliberate daily training rituals to help shift mindsets and biases and elevate conscious awareness into the daily/weekly calendar of senior leadership.
You can see some of the real world cases of this being put into action in the following examples (and an even longer list of examples, case studies and references can be found at the end of this article):

As corporate dinosaurs watch these progressive-thinking giants working on their own individual and collective de/re-programming, they’re panicking noticing the gap widening faster and faster.
These companies are training vigorously to strengthen their innovation and transformation muscles in order to continually upgrade their operating systems.
In three years’ time four out of 10 CEOs expect to be running significantly transformed companies.” According to KPMG’s 2016 CEO study, “65% of U.S. CEOs acknowledge that the next three years will be more critical for their industries than the past 50.”
The essential need in business today is to reimagine and reinvent business. This starts as a business strategy, design and implementation conversation, and it continues into a culture, people and mindset transformation conversation. That’s why one needs to focus on not just being a better leader (that won’t be enough), but being a transformational leader.

If you are among the business leaders responsible for implementing a new winning strategy, building new competencies and nurturing new cultural attributes, you are probably struggling to get the results you want and are open to learning about what works.
How you arrange your day to prioritize deliberate practice will distinguish the “best from the rest” when it comes to learning new things and delivering elite performance. Drop everything that stands between you and your transformation dojo. Stop all other L&D programs, so that you can focus your energy and budget on training your innovation and transformation muscles more effectively, for the sake of better business outcomes. If you are not sure which L&D programs to continue and which to leave behind, you should work with an objective specialist who can direct you and help challenge your current thinking.
The “system” is represented by those with the power. Sometimes even the individuals who are demanding the transformation are unaware that they are not appropriately integrating L&D into the strategy, which, in the end, compromises the transformation results.
Most large corporate leadership developmental efforts are highly limited because:

  • They mistakenly treat development like an event, not a daily lifestyle practice commensurate with the chosen lifestyle change.
  • They do not tackle the dynamics of the dominant power system, which is responsible for locking leadership’s default patterns and habits into place.
    • Their L&D departments and programs often suffer from the same “learned helplessness” taught by the system. They become overly sensitive to what’s reasonable, practical and convenient for leaders to “work-in” instead of being more sensitive to what’s impactful/effective:

The repeated cycle of failed transformation efforts isn’t for a lack of intelligence or lack of effort. It is more often a lack of understanding around how we orient ourselves to the transformation opportunity itself. We might be putting in a lot of effort, but not necessarily our best effort.
“d3&t” — Drop Everything and Train is a mantra from a podcast that focuses on talking about fitness training with crossfit games athletes, strength coaches and more.  The phrase places an emotional, physical and spiritual emphasis on refocusing and recommitting to your goals and purpose every day. There are no secrets or shortcuts for making extraordinary gains, whether we are talking about physical gains inside the gym or business transformation gains in the world of commerce.
Specifically, the metaphor of “physical fitness” is too generic to suggest an appropriate training regimen for an athlete or a company. What kind of “fit” do you want to be? World-class athlete kind of fit? Olympic medal worthy? Gold medal worthy, or will you settle for any medal? Or are you happy just to qualify for the games?  What is the specific goal? Clarity around your goal, and honesty about how far away you are from the goal, will help expose the fitness (or capabilities) gap. From there you will be able to consciously plan an effective training regimen.
More likely than not, your company’s L&D programs and culture efforts are executed like a poorly planned exercise regimen – the efforts don’t actually match the planned shift, because in most cases the transformation goals require training for a lifestyle change. Most companies brave the transformation strategy because something is not working the way they want at the current level. They feel stuck and they want to shift to the next level. Most companies in this position are lucky to get any transformation at all, much less the world-class transformation they are hoping for.
Continuing with the analogy of physical fitness, if you just want to lose some weight or just get in better shape, then exercise is enough. Engage in some physical activity that gets you moving and burns calories – simple as that. But powerlifter and author Mark Rippetoe makes the distinction that random physical exercise cannot produce a physical transformation beyond a certain point. Once the initial inspiration to get in shape wears off, our interest in transforming wanes and we stop making meaningful progress.
The only way to achieve the desired physical transformation (or transformation gains) is to carefully plan and monitor the full integration of intensely focused training for said goal. This vertical learning trajectory is required to get to the next level. Just working on horizontal learning at the current level won’t be enough. It requires an elevated awareness and focus. One must stay committed to the prescribed ongoing deliberate practice with increasing levels of stress/tension, renewal and growth across all the relevant diverse dimensions of performance training for very specific domains/specialties (e.g., strength, endurance, speed, agility, flexibility, mobility, mental toughness). One must also be willing to persist regardless of circumstances, accepting uncertainty and fear of failure achieving that specific goal. One must be committed to staying in the tension of the transition between the current level and next level.
If yours is like most companies on a transformative path, you are working on shifting from one unhealthy word cloud of culture descriptors to an ideal word cloud of culture descriptors:

  • From unhealthy (e.g., stalled sales, declining margins, commoditization, distribution pressure, self-centered, highly reactive, driven by habit, very siloed, political, risk-avoidant, fearful, punitive, command and control, traditional, discouraging, overconfident, distracted, “armored-up”)
  • To becoming a “world-class” competitor at the highest level of competition in your chosen domain (e.g., growing, partnering, reconfiguring value chains, client-centric, open, collaborative, creative, resourceful learning, integrated, inclusive, courageous, empowering, energizing)


“Tweaking the system” is a related metaphor and a similar trap to be aware of. Some believe that making slight modifications and additions will miraculously provide most of the transformation all on its own. See if you recognize these patterns:

  1. Physical fitness: Buying a standup desk and visiting the gym three times a week to exercise doesn’t transform my lifestyle. It doesn’t give me six-pack abs or sufficiently elevate my performance to a next level domain. It doesn’t even guarantee I’ll be healthy.
  2. Corporate fitness: Attending a few workshops every year, doing the homework exercises in my head (instead of in writing), reading a few books now and then, and sharing articles and podcasts doesn’t make me ready and fit to lead my organization on a transformation journey. It doesn’t mean I’ll be more adaptive or skilled at facilitating teams or be any more effective at complex problem solving. It doesn’t even guarantee that I’ll be better at stopping myself and recovering more quickly when my reactive stress triggers make me want to rescue, persecute, yell, gossip and bully people with my old command and control default habits.


In both physical and corporate metaphors, to break away from status quo leadership behaviors and dominant culture, leaders need to be transformational. They need to be:

  • Training to sustain a mastery pattern of learning (vertical learning)
  • Training to sustain adaptive levels of growth and performance
  • Training to sustain relational connection, support, coaching and identity

Exercising and tweaking the system are not the same as training.We don’t get the desired result of getting to “consciously competent” with new capabilities and new default habits that help amplify the business strategy with mere exercise. Without proper lifestyle training (reprogramming), we are still consciously INCOMPETENT and therefore undermining the business strategy with our consciously incompetent gaps.

Corporate training L&D programs designed specifically to support transformation include a very focused training regimen. Effective programs clearly articulate the business context, shape the environment, and design the strategic scaffolding of support, discipline and liberating structures. Effective programs make it safe enough and challenging enough to help individuals and teams reach their full transformational potential. The most effective training focuses on integrating the deep work of the intellectual, physical, spiritual, emotional, relational, procedural, structural areas of people’s lives. Transformation happens in community. So, we have to train together in a way that recognizes them/us/me as a whole human being, irreversibly changing the DNA of the person, the team and the culture. That’s how to accelerate the desired lifestyle transformation.
We’re all at our own current level – pursuing our own next level. We are all working through that transition on the path to transformation.  Winning and losing the transition follows basic patterns that one can unconsciously fall into or consciously train to more effectively climb out of. See for yourself – sample from the never-ending buffet line of training benefits.
Don’t just be a better leader, be a transformation leader.
Or consciously choose not to transform.
Prioritize what needs to transform and why it matters to you. Prioritize which muscles need to be developed and in what integrated sequence – then get your reps in. Embed a deliberate practice into every day and embrace the lifestyle changes that need to be made. Be kind to yourself as you prototype your own sustainable rituals and rhythms that you can fall in love with.
Don’t just exercise and tweak the system – train. Train like your business strategy and results depend on it. Or consciously choose not to transform.
Train like you’re truly committed to developing these new muscle groups by making irreversible lifestyle choices. Just “exercising” undermines your winning strategy. Real, integrated “training” for a transformed lifestyle, over time, amplifies your winning strategy.
Don’t just train alone – train together. Practice not quitting — together.
Or consciously choose not to transform.
Life is the dojo. Life is the curriculum. There’s nothing to figure out, nothing else to go find. Drop everything that stands between you and your “dojo.”  Drop everything and train.