IT Best Practices

The Dumb Idea that People Fear Change

“We have nothing to fear, but fear itself,” said Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his 1933 inaugural address. Eighty-two years later, Patrick Gray has the same advice for IT project teams looking to launch that new change initiative. In an article for TechRepublic, Gray describes the “fear explanation” as a default excuse for failed IT adoption.

Who doesn’t want to be a millionaire?

People don’t fear change; they fear the unknown. That’s Gray’s central argument surrounding the failure of IT change implementations. Would you fear the extreme change of becoming an instant millionaire? Of course not! Therefore, it’s not a stretch to say that we fear adversity, but to point all the blame at change itself is a misnomer.


WIIFM – What’s in it for me? Benefits to self significantly reduce fear, argues Gray, even if those benefits are for the greater good. In war or in times of tragedy, we see ordinary people facing fearful situations to establish some form of benefit, or to bring about a better state of affairs beyond their own personal interest. WIIFM isn’t necessarily a selfish drive, but it must be inspired.

Fearing the Unknown

If you’ve seen the movie Office Space, you’ll remember the fear that was inspired when “the Bobs” were brought in to conduct performance reviews. People start to talk. Their imaginations run wild. Making a specific case for the change that is tailored to individual needs is the surest way to dismiss the very rational fear of the unknown:

…too often we focus on vague notions of value or efficiency, where there are obvious personal benefits to those involved. If you create an initiative and extol the virtues of shareholder value and improved performance, I’ll likely summarily ignore your initiative. If you extol the time I’ll save performing a tedious task, or the increased authority I’ll have to perform my job since I’ll be equipped with better information, I may be so excited I’ll join the project or preach its virtues to colleagues.

In short, that “innate flaw in the human race” excuse is often just laziness on the part of project initiators to motivate their constituents toward the proposed change. But fear of the unknown is real. Use WIIFM and make the positive benefits tangible to avoid invoking terror in your customers or associates.

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