Inspired Work Services Logo
surfing spectacular
By David Harder on November, 30, 2017

How Humans Kill Off Change Without Thinking

Every single one of us has been trained since birth to wipe out change by using five different filters. Think of the filters as shades in which we see the world. The filters are triggered by fear and of course, change requires courage. The “killer filters” can operate so smoothly that we might not even notice their impact on our lives. However, I find that when we pay attention to these filters, they lose their power.


Change tends to be one of life’s more uncomfortable and even frightening experiences. So, we often torpedo change and not take action simply by applying one of the filters. Let’s review them.



Cynicism, most often associated with distrust and pessimism, occupies valuable time with negative dialogue about the change at hand or the individual who proposes a change. Savvy leaders recognize that when they suggest a vast change in the business model, or an improvement in culture, or even, for that matter, employee engagement, cynicism chips away at buy-in.


“We shouldn’t be doing this. “We don’t have the time or money to change.”


“I don’t have the time to learn something new, I’m barely keeping ahead of the work as it is.”


In the career development space, it can show up similarly.


“I could never make a living doing that.”



This is the “assassination filter.” When we are particularly confronted by proposed change, we use a distilled version of cynicism to kill the idea on-the-spot.


Webster Dictionary’s definition of contempt makes the point: “The feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn: he showed his contempt for his job by doing it very badly.” I often tell leaders that if someone comes after you with are more than just fearful, are terrified.


A few years ago, poet and performance artist Gary Turk created a video called “Look Up,” which quickly went viral. It shows two alternate scenarios. One where a young man who is fixated on his cell phone misses the life he was meant to have. In the other version, he “looks up” and meets the love of his life. They marry, raise a family and he holds her hand in old age as she passes away. Turk’s performance piece is a rather eloquent message about what we lose when we “check-out” with our technology. To be clear, I don’t interpret video as an attack on technology. Indeed, many are also using it to connect in meaningful ways with others. It is directed towards those of us who become so consumed by technology that we lose out on meaningful human interaction.


Clearly, Mr. Turk’s message sparked much contempt:


“I don’t know I find more galling – Gary Turk, who wrote this one-dimensional preachy fluff, or the millions of sheep sharing it on social media.”


“ Helen! Every time I read it, I just want to rip it apart line by line – I’m glad someone else has the energy to do so.”


I prefer to think of teams as tribes and tribes have rigid rituals and expectations. When we break one of those expectations, the more dominant member of the team will often deliver the contemptuous message. It feels like a slap in the face. Make no mistake, contempt is designed to kill change on the spot and go back to the routine.



Ah, routine. If over 80% of America’s workers don’t like what they do for a living, then we can assume our workforce is in a bit of a trance, going through the motions. Aimlessness is life without a highly personalized mission, vision, and purpose. In our employee engagement programs, we bring every individual into a clear definition of what they want out of life and how they are going to get it. We cannot count how many times employers have responded with the notion that if we get them to define what they really want out of life, they will pack their bags and leave. Actually, when a person makes that clear definition and stays, virtually every job becomes more important. Voicing that mission to their peers also raise the level of support.


Why do we examine these filters? Why do I suggest the importance of a personalized mission, vision, and purpose? Because, without that investment, we are going through the motions. Socrates once said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.”



“I’m too young, too old, too fat, too gay, too stuck, too short, too angry.”


“I can’t take care of my own desires and needs, I have three kids to get through college.”


“We don’t have the resources to change, so why should we bother?”


Resignation is the file cabinet that stores all of the “evidence” we have compiled to prove we cannot and will not change.


Some of us would characterize resignation as a lack of hope. But it is actually a lack of optimism, an unwillingness to take the positive action that will make things better. Many times, the experience of failure blossoms into a belief that we simply don’t have what it takes to pursue vision or success. Often, we present our problem as a form of bias: “These companies are only hiring young people. You know how it is when you turn sixty.” That form of resignation overlooks the fact there are scores of people in their 60s, 70s and even 80s who are making a big difference in the workplace. Resignation is the filter of giving up. In the midst of the dialogue consider watching Tony Bennett’s 90th Birthday Celebration, “The Best is Yet to Come.”



According to Dan Schabner of ABC Television, today’s employees work an average of 49 hours per week, about six days out of seven days. Since 1993, the average American worker has given up over a month of leisure activity because they are now investing part of the weekend to work. We work harder than any other industrialized nation, including Japan, where workers who used to die from stress received a hero’s funeral. 3.6 million American workers spend over three hours per day commuting. According to the Washington Post, our annual commute time, if added up nationally, could have built the Great Pyramid of Giza 26 times over.


How do we deal with these destructive filters?


Point them out.


Recognize they reside in all of us.


Make a practice of seeing them in ourselves and in others.


Because, cynicism, contempt, aimlessness, resignation, and frenzy can only survive in the dark.


Brought to you by David Harder, President – Inspired Work, Inc.

(C) Copyright, 2017, Inspired Work, Inc. – (All Rights Reserved)

If you would like to discuss your workplace or your career with David Harder, schedule fifteen-minutes, Here.