The secret of change is to focus all of your energy,
not on fighting the old, but on building the new.
I occasionally see the quote above posted on social media feeds. I shake my head each time, because, especially in the context of organizational change, I don’t agree with it.
But, it’s Socrates! How can I argue with him?
Well, as you should always do before sharing quotes posted on social media, I looked it up to see if it is a real quote.
Yes, it is a real quote attributed to Socrates. But not the ancient greek philosopher. It’s a quote from a character nicknamed Socrates from the book Way of the Peaceful Warrior.
You can’t always believe what you read on the internet.
Regardless of the source of the quote, I’d like to dispel it.
“The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” The quote essentially says to ignore the current state and only focus on creating the future state. There are a couple of reasons why this is bad advice.
- Before many people will jump toward the future state, they need to be able to leave their current state. The current state is the comfort zone that people don’t want to step out of. It’s the habits that keep people on autopilot doing the same thing they’re used to doing. It’s the pattern of collective organizational behavior that maintains the status quo. We need to understand and do something about the things that trap people in the current state, otherwise even the best future state vision will not move them from where they are.
- There’s a lot of energy that we can use from the current state to instigate change. We can build on our current strengths. We can leverage any dissatisfaction people have with the way things are. We can share a sense of urgency about what happens if we keep doing things the way we do them. Why rely only on the future to pull you forward, when you can get a push from the present?
When change agents focus all their energy on building the new and neglect the old, you know what happens? They leave many people behind. And those who do come along will find it easy to go back to the old way of doing things.
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Don’t listen to fake Socrates. Don’t focus all your energy on building the new. You need to fight (and leverage) the old as well.
Can we stop sharing this quote now?