No wonder changing is difficult!

In the upcoming weeks I shall be undertaking an important personal change, and I have experienced all the little quirks and nuances of that situation. Your subconscious creates an unlimited supply of “things that could go wrong” or reminds you “how well you are” in a subliminal effort to make you forget about changing. Those of us who work in the Innovation realm know quite well that this resistance to change is one of the greatest barriers for innovation development and application. But is there any analogy in the Laws of Physics to this resistance? I believe there is. Welcome to a new Physics of Innovation post, this time dedicated to the subject of change.

Change is everywhere around us, it does not matter where you look, you see something changing, and being in May, Spring is a wonderful example of blooming change in Nature (hope you like my picture of an almond blossom). Change is not only ubiquitous, but also necessary for things to happen. But the question I actually want to focus on is if change should be easy or difficult. Let us go back to basic physics laws and phenomena and try to draw some conclusions from there.

Firstly I would like to focus on Newton’s First Law of Motion, which states that an object will remain at rest or continue to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a force. This Law of Inertia basically says that unless something acts upon an object, it will stay as it was before. Inertia is a great barrier to change, and the larger the “mass” of the object, the greater the force to change it. So, the larger an organisation is, it would be more difficult for a new process or  any innovation to succeed in it. You can think that start-ups are nimbler and incumbents slower because they are just obeying good old Isaac Newton.

But is there an actual price or cost for change? Let me relate this question to the States of Matter, you know: solid, liquid, gas (allow me to “forget” about plasma and other fancier states for the sake of simplicity, but you can check out a list here). In solid state, matter is in quite a peaceful situation, its atoms are “fixed” in a structure without much change in shape or volume. Liquids, on the other hand, are a bit trickier, able to change shape and with its constituents sliding around each other. But gases, well, they sure are the crazy ones, moving around, filling every bit of available space, and with atoms or molecules bumping into each other all the time. So going from solid to liquid to gas is like moving up the ladder of complications!

Do you think our venerable solid will change easily into a liquid? Or the fancy liquid into the crazy gas? Probably not, right? Well, that is actually the case, to accept these changes, matter asks for a price in terms of energy. These phase transitions are “endothermic” meaning that change itself requires some additional energy to take place. A typical application you can see of this if how sweat cools your skin when it evaporates or the operation of air conditioning machines. Actually, the reverse transitions, from gas to liquid to solid, are “exothermic”, thus liberating energy in the process, as if changing towards something more “quiet” were easier. Allow me not to go into the relation to the second law of thermodynamics and the concept of Entropy because it would be too complicated for this blog.

Going back to the realm of Innovation, what would be the analogy of this “energy price” in innovation changes? Several things come to mind, but I would like to focus on motivation, any type of motivation: economic, social, whatever. Some changes are possible, but would never happen if the corresponding actors do not have the “extra energy” required provided by motivation.

To wrap up, if you are facing a change and it feels difficult to carry it through, well, don’t you worry, you are just following the fundamental laws of classical physics. Inertia will drive you to stay where you are, and you need to pay a price using some energy to make it happen. You just need to know if your motivation is strong enough. But remember, the longer you take, the harder it will be!


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