Some studies seem to imply that aversion to change is embedded in human genes. Author Raúl Ilargi Meijer* tells us that “We prefer to focus on those things that stay the same, or seem to stay the same, ignoring those that don’t, even if they change in -comparatively- radical ways, until we no longer can.”

We tend to keep to our comfort zones. I remember in some of my early positions coming out of university. I was ready to change the world, to put into practice of all this newly acquired knowledge based on years of reading, analysing and essay writing. Then I hit the wall. Colleagues of mine who had been on the job for decades quickly tried to reign me in. “Slow down kid”, “Don’t rock the boat”, and other similar instructions came from those who liked status quo and saw me as a trouble-maker. Even my superiors often didn’t like my ideas for new initiatives. I learned that change was not welcome in many circles and I had to work in very small increments to implement any new ideas where I worked.

A researcher by the name of David Gleicher, back in 1987 actually devised a formula for overcoming resistance to change. It’s such a strong force that we need a number of parameters to actually drive change. The formula goes like this:

D x V x F > R

The R is the Resistance element and it will always be greater than 0. That goes along with the idea that it’s in human nature to resist change. So the other side of the equation must be greater than 0 to have any change at all. Which also means that all three parameters must be greater than zero. Any multiplication by zero will always result in zero. So what are the three elements that must be present to break the resistance.

The D stands for Dissatisfaction. This is what I didn’t get with my colleagues at work. The work done may have been mediocre and inefficient in my view but everybody liked it that way so the dissatisfaction factor was zero. My attempts were doomed from the start.

The V means Vision. It is an identification of a desired state of affairs. A lot of people are quick to criticize but when you ask them what they would do differently, few really have any idea of what that should be. It’s simple in principle to repeal the ObamaCare program for health but what will replace it has not been articulated in any way.

The third element, however, is the usual stumbling block. The F means First step. You can be unhappy about something and know what you would want to have in its place but until you do anything about it, it’s pointless. It’s like wanting to win the lottery without ever buying a ticket.

Applying this to emergency management in Ontario, many who know me have heard of my dissatisfaction. I’ve tried to bring constructive ideas to create at least a partial vision of what should be brought in. I’ve often taken the first step on some of the initiatives where I had the authority. There are areas, however, where I had no ability to bring in any change. The first step had to come from someone else.

So I am happy to report that I saw this first step a few weeks ago when I accepted the invitation to attend the “First Friday” event put on by Mike Morton, Director of Emergency Management at OFMEM and his team. The event was open to all CEMCs and emergency management professionals to create an opportunity for dialogue. We were provided to an introduction to some of the initiatives that EMO staff and partners were working on. It gave us a glimpse into what the province sees as priorities. It also, more importantly, gave us a voice at the province to raise any concerns and issues we may have had as well as a place to bring suggestions. We had the chance to bring the D of dissatisfaction and the V of vision to the forefront with a group of people ready to hear us. Even better, those people affirmed to us the willingness to take the first step towards this vision.

I am often the voice of the silent majority. I often write and express my concerns publicly, while I know many of my colleagues in the field would hesitate to do the same. I understand that for many junior EM professionals, this could mean a career limiting move. At my stage in my career, it is not something I worry about. This time, however, I wanted to show that I am also able to recognize the positive and give praise where it is due.

In a recent blog, I criticized the fact that emergency management positions were often filled with the wrong people and I voiced this directly to Fire Marshall Ross Nichols at the last OAEM AGM. So I was happy to see that the latest key hiring and promotion to key positions within EMO went to respected EM professionals, notably Aileen Cassels and Mike Morton.

I am optimistic. The resistance is breaking. I am also grateful to those who have had the courage to take the first steps.

Alain Normand

One thought on “The first step is the most important

Leave a reply