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"We only change in order to keep things the same."

This is the most accurate and powerful statement on change I have ever seen: Most of what we call “change” is not really change at all. It is just an adjustment in order to keep things from changing. 

When you change a light bulb that is burnt out, all you are doing is restoring light to the previous condition. Some say banking has changed so much. Not really, you still put money in the bank, get very little interest and when you need it, you take it out. There are just a few more ways to put your money in and take your money out.

We are hearing so much about how fighting a war has changed. Fundamentally, there is no change. War is the same as it was thousands of years ago. The premise of war is to find your enemy and kill them before they kill you. The tactics and tools may be a little different, but the strategy and objective remain the same. 

This illusion of change applies to most situations. 

The great philosopher Machiavelli once wrote, “There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.”  It is a fact that over 50% of all company restructuring (or downsizing or rightsizing or whatever fancy word you put on it) is still ineffective. 

A few years ago, Hammer & Champy wrote their famous and best-selling book, “Reengineering the Corporation.” After selling thousands of books, an equal number of companies tried their technique. They wrote a follow-up book that said, essentially, Oops, we were wrong! We didn’t mean to disrupt business as much as we did.

 So what has really changed? There has been lots of activity, but little improvement. 

When I read resumes, I often want to break out laughing (sometimes I do). The resume reports that overhead was reduced 25%, productivity increased by 33%, etc. etc. If you could read the resumes of the next four people from the same position, who say the same thing, one would expect that company or division would soon be perfect. Nevertheless, if the division exists 25 years from now, we will continue to see the same claims.

(Don’t forget: the biggest joke is the infamous marketing words boldly displayed on every product: “New and Improved.” All this is to create the illusion of meaningful change.)

Ten years ago, in the aftermath of the corporate financial scandals, we heard the SEC and others calling for massive changes in the system. Do you really believe that significant long-term changes have taken place so we never encounter this problem again? If you do, than you will lose your money again. We need to change are not systems, but our values. However, changing values is much more difficult than changing some SEC rules. Nevertheless, if you watch closely, you will see and hear the illusion of change.

Many companies tell you to try their product for 30 days, and it will change your life. This false concept isn’t supported with solid research.  

If the claim were true, we would be the most self-actualized people in the history of mankind. 

What about all the diet and exercise programs sold? We buy more of these than any country in the world, yet we are the most obese and under exercised people on planet Earth. If you think real change is easy, then do something simple like committing yourself to losing 25 or 50 pounds and keep it off for five years, or start a new exercise program and maintain it for just one year.

If it is so difficult for one person to change such a simple thing, which we each have 100% control over, why do we persist in the illusion that we can easily change businesses or our educational institutions? Oh, don't get me started on the archaic educational institutions of this country. They are to be the leaders in change and innovation, but they are stuck in their bureaucracy of the middle ages.

The real question is, "Can real change take place?" The answer is yes! However, change for individuals, businesses, and yes even institutions, is much more difficult and takes much longer than most could ever imagine. The good news is that the results are well worth it.

Most business and institutions are similar to dysfunctional marriages. Many years ago when I was a marriage therapist, dysfunctional couples would come for marriage counseling stating they wanted to improve their relationship. 

What most really wanted was to remove the recent problem that had changed the equilibrium of their relationship. 

Once that recent issue was resolved, most couples terminated the counseling and returned to their predictable dysfunctional relationship. Very few were ready to go all the way to make major changes to their relationship. Marriages are a microcosm of business and institutions.

If you as an individual or as a company want to learn about real change and how to implement it, we can help you. For more details on our experience in helping individuals, leaders and businesses change, review our credentials on our web site at

Remember there is a huge difference between the illusion of change and real change that brings improvement and progress and between mere activity and fundamental improvement.

Don’t be deceived by THE ILLUSION OF CHANGE, when you can get real progress and improvement.


P.S. Feel free to pass this on to your colleagues and friends.

(Copywrited by John H. Brownlee 2002) 



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