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Change for the Sake of Change

January 27, 2010

This past fall, I moved out of my condo for a few months. I gave about a fourth of what I own to Goodwill after I packed all the stuff I really wanted. Then I moved back into my condo two months later, still feeling like I owned too much “stuff,” but lighter and less burdened that before.

Have you ever rearranged a room just because you hadn’t rearranged it in a while? And the result made you feel good–made things feel fresh and new?

I wasn’t sure if there was any factual psychological basis for that concept until I read a chapter in Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw the other day. Gladwell was discussing traffic laws in Sweden a few decades ago. Apparently Swedish drivers used to drive on the left side of the road, but at a certain point, the laws changed so that everyone had to drive on the right.

Chaos ensued, right? Surely accidents much have gone up after the disorienting change, right?

Not the case. Quite the contrary, really. Accidents immediately dropped by a whopping 14%. Why? Because people had to actually pay attention while they drove for the first time in forever. They couldn’t just daydream during their commute.

Perhaps you’re thinking that it’s just safer to drive on the right side. Also not the case. After a few years, car accidents in Sweden went back up to their previous levels. The change had settled in and people had gotten used to it. They could relax and daydream while driving again.

I think the point is that sometimes, change for the sheer sake of change is a good thing. It’s good to rearrange your furniture (or move, like I did) from time to time just so you can throw away the stuff you don’t need and be happy with the stuff you have because your space feels fresh and new again. I’ve even read that a good way to run meetings that run longer than 40 minutes is to have everyone stand up and switch seats at the 40-minute mark. Simply for the sake of changing the dynamic of the room and getting people’s blood moving.

What are some other examples of this? How can we apply this to our lives? In which situations does it not work?

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. T-Mac permalink
    January 28, 2010 8:21 am

    Great post! This is right up my alley at work. Change (improvement) can be a wonderful thing, but there are 2 potential negatives that aren’t overtly mentioned here. (1) Acceptance. Sweden might not have had to deal with this because the roadside change was a government mandate, but when you make a major change, how are you going to get people to buy in? Any change is more productive if your people understand why it’s happening. I’m guessing Sweden was able to provide some type of answer to the “why” question. Hopefully they didn’t just decide one day to switch the side of the road people drive on. (2) Sustaining. This is the biggest problem I face in organizational change (and it seems like Sweden faces it too). You noted that accident rates went back up after a few years. Similarly, when positive organizational change takes place, one has to find a way to “keep it fresh”. We emphasize it all the time in my job, and it’s an issue we don’t always have a good answer for (for those of you who don’t know, when I’m not doing something immature like pole dancing or selling children in South America, I moonlight as an organizational empowerment specialist). Without a good structure put in place to sustain the positive aspects of change, your acccident rates go back up, your fulfillment levels go back down–your progress is relegated to yesterday’s news and forgotten about. For me, the biggest question then is this: How do we “keep it fresh”? What innovative ideas do Jamey’s amazing (and I mean that) readers have for sustaining the positive impact of change? I’d love your feedback!

    • January 28, 2010 11:06 am

      I see what you’re saying. On a large scale, it’s not like you can reorganize a company or a factory every few years. That would create consistent chaos, not a pattern trending towards efficiency and production. And some changes don’t make sense. I can think of a former company that I may or may not have worked for that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars rebranding the entire company (which simply amounted to changing a logo and some letterhead). To me, that seemed like a total waste of resources and time.

      So how do you keep it fresh without causing chaos or wasting resources or time? I think it really depends on the situation. Like with the example of changing chairs in a staff meeting. That wouldn’t work in a huge conference hall. But when you have 12 employees, it works just fine (at least, I think it does. I’ve never tried it).

      This is a non-answer here, but I thought your comment was worth replying to. Any other thoughts?

      • T-Mac permalink
        January 28, 2010 4:04 pm

        C’mon, author friends of Jamey. I know you’ve read this. I’m genuinely curious about your answers! You’re all creative people!

  2. Lisa permalink
    January 28, 2010 10:50 pm

    Here’s a time I have a timeline, and you (perhaps) don’t. By the end of March I will have gotten rid of everything in my apartment that I can possibly get rid of… anything I haven’t needed in the last year (wouldn’t want to throw away summer clothes of course) or don’t have a timeline for using. This is part of my intentionally single life – my room is a nightmare right now, but I’m up to 20 garbage bags of things I don’t need going out the door. Why March? I started in December and it seemed like a do-able date.

    Clothes, old papers from school, books, leftover stationary, etc. I’m getting rid of the half-embroidered pillowcase and the empty scrapbook with lots of potential. The cases for the DVDs I have are all gone. No more extra power cords or anything. Instead of having a full storage unit and 4 sets of shelves with all my junk… storage unit is empty (except 2 boxes I’m still working on) and 2/4 shelves are full and being deconstructed for ridding.

    I love it. I echo change for the sake of change (I’m probably the queen of that in more ways than this) and all the benefits of that. I also looove getting rid of STUFF. So freeing.

    • January 28, 2010 10:55 pm

      Lisa, I love it! That’s amazing. I don’t necessarily have a timeline (at this point, I really don’t have much stuff), but I go to Goodwill with a few bags about once a year. Aren’t you amazed at the stuff you accumulate but never use?

      I really like the idea of getting rid of DVD cases. I hardly ever watch my DVDs but have had trouble parting with them, but perhaps a better solution is just to get a 3-ring DVD binder and get rid of all the cases. Brilliant!

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