In all of the hubbub in recent months surrounding the launch of the new Windows products, there’s one angle that I haven’t seen explored much and that is related to the way in which people react at an emotional level to change.

Over the years I’ve been able to work with all sorts of people in helping to assess and implement change, mostly within the relatively controlled environment of a company. For those trying to make change happen, there is an often heard refrain that “people are resistant to change”. Resistance, however, forms but a part of a change transition at an emotional level, and actually marks a level of acceptance that in healthy. It’s the stage that comes before that can be a challenge: denial.

Denial is how we generally first react to the news of any change – whether negative or positive: think about the cliched first words of the average lottery winner: “It’s not going to change my life…” A classic example of a denial statement.

The trouble is that change conflicts often with our worldview. As such, it takes emotional investment to take on board. And therefore the most emotionally economical route to dealing with the news of change is to just deny it.

Beyond denial then come more aggressive reactions: hostility in the form of resistance (“I’m not going to let this change happen!”), through exploration (“How’s it going to work, then?”) through eventually to acceptance and commitment to the change. These kinds of patterns of reaction stem from research into subjects like bereavement, can happen slowly or quickly, and don’t necessarily follow a one-way linear path (bouncing from denial to resistance to exploration and back is a common occurance).

When it comes to helping people within organisations to change, an area that I have had particular experience is within changes that are to business processes and the business IT that supports them. In there lies a potential trap – the concept of “parallel running”. Sometimes for operational reasons, sometimes because it (mistakenly in my view) will be better for the people using the systems, the old way of working and the new are run together in parallel for a period of time. This, for people in denial about changes happening, is terrible because the continued existence of the old after the “change” has happened reinforces their sense of denial about that change.

It’s only when the old ways are eventually removed, and the people responsible for implementing the change are in blissful ignorance of the real emotional stage that people are at, that the denial is sharply taken into resistance at a time in the project when most think it’s been reasonably well accepted.

Making a hard switch, somewhat counter-intuitively for many, makes for an easier transition because there is nothing to reinforce denial about the end of the old.

And that, it seems to me, is a challenge facing adoption of the new versions of Windows. When someone is given an iPad, for example, there is no question about it being a new form of computing device; there’s no keyboard, no mouse, no desktop, and so therefore there is (for those who choose to) no doubt that a period of learning something new will be required. With Windows, because it comes in forms that are reminiscent (if not identical) to the old in terms of both some hardware forms (laptops, ultrabooks, even many of the convertibles when they are in “PC mode”) there is a sense of cognitive dissonance – this is at once what I am used to (form factor, desktop) and yet something new (touch screen, Start Screen, no Start menu etc.). Denial… Resistance… Denial… Resistance…

It’s not an insurmountable hurdle – it’s just that it is possibly more difficult to invest the energy to learn something new when it appears to not be a million miles away from the old. Think of it as the challenge of when aisles are moved around in your supermarket in comparison to making a decision to only ever go shopping at old-fashioned markets.

So – the challenge emotionally for a new user of the new Windows is that it’s strength (new + old in a single device) is also the thing that makes the learning curve a little harder because there is so much that is already familiar.

3 thoughts on “Parallel running

  1. I agree with the general thrust of fully committing to a change and because of that I feel Windows 8 is the wrong example to use. If parallel running is a bad thing then running a mobile, touch driven OS (Modern / Metro) in parallel with the stunted remains of a traditional desktop OS is clearly a bad idea.

    I imagine Win8 is awesome on a touchscreen enabled laptop (or surface machine), but on my non-touch home desktop machine it’s a daily struggle to keep swapping between two totally different environments. I’ve fully committed, immersed myself in the experience for over two months and can say it makes my life harder and not better.

    So I don’t agree that all change per se is always good, or inevitable, and to be blindly accepted. From my perspective the change that is needed is for Microsoft to make Win8 work in a more consistent and cohesive way for users. I just hope they aren’t in denial (leading to resistance).

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