A Different Kind of ‘Resistance’

ChimpanzeeNo, Not This Kind of Resistance:

“The electrical resistance of an electrical conductor is the opposition to the passage of an electric current through that conductor. The inverse quantity is electrical conductance, the ease with which an electric current passes.” (1)


Fear-Based Resistance:

A 65 year old man has been an industrial welder and welding supervisor for more than 2 decades. His work consists of repairing industrial structures and pipelines, and then returning again a few years later to repeat the process. He’s grown fond of the cycle. It’s his security.

Every 4 to 5 years he oversees the repair of a set of pipelines located within yards of the coast. He begins to hear whisperings of an innovation that will outperform the old method by decades and provide huge cost savings to his employers. He finds himself overseeing the premier application of this innovation that will alleviate the need to repair those pipelines for the next 30 to 40 years, meaning he will, in all likelihood, never work on those pipelines again in his lifetime.

How will he react?

Conditioning-Based Resistance:

A group of behavioral scientists placed 5 monkeys in a cage. In the middle of the cage, they stood a ladder with a bunch of bananas on top.

Every time a monkey started up the ladder, the scientists would soak the remaining 4 with a blast of ice-cold water.

It took a few times of being soaked for the monkeys to make the connection, but soon the monkey who started to climb would find himself being pummeled by the rest, who didn’t want another cold shower.

Before long, no monkey would dare approach the ladder, no matter how hungry he might have been.

At this point, the scientists removed one of the monkeys and put in a new monkey. The first thing he did was try to climb the ladder. The other monkeys immediately grabbed him and beat him up. After several beatings, the new monkey would no longer approach the ladder.

A second monkey was removed and a new monkey was introduced to the cage. The conditioning process was repeated until the second monkey would no longer approach the ladder.

This was repeated until all 5 of the original monkeys had been replaced.

Although none of the monkeys in the cage at this point had experienced the blast of ice-cold water, they would not approach the ladder and would beat up any monkey that appeared to be tempted by the bananas at the top.

If it had been possible to question the monkeys about why they did what they did, their answer might have been “We don’t know. It’s just the way things have always been done around here.” (2)

Whether this experiment actually happened or not, it does illustrate how conditioning works. Resistance to change is often like the monkeys beating up the ones who dared to climb, even when the rewards for innovation and change are obvious. Perhaps the 8 most deadly words that could be used to guide an organization are “But we’ve never done it that way before.”

Resistance Because of a Lack of Vision:

If conditioning and the fear of change can delay or kill innovation, a lack of vision can make sure inventions and innovations are never conceived. In the hit movie, “The Princess Bride”, as they are about to enter the Fire Swamp, Buttercup tells Wesley, “We’ll never survive.”

Wesley replies, “Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has.”

The past has already been recorded and it can’t be changed. That doesn’t mean the future is settled as well.

The famous prayer of Sir Francis Drake begins like this:

“Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.”


The welding supervisor mentioned earlier – or anyone else for that matter – could react out of fear of change. He might ask himself, “What will the future be like if this change occurs, and will I like it?” His reaction might be based on having watched innovators and early adopters accumulate the bruises and scars administered by the conditioned skeptics. Maybe he is the conditioned skeptic. All of these things can limit his vision and imagination.

A good follow up to this article is “The ‘Why’ of Ovante”.

(1) “Electrical Resistance and Conductance” – Wikipedia

(2) Original story entitled “The Experiment”, from www.wheresmysammich.com

Photo credit: www.thegardenofeaden.com