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Why Is Change So Difficult?

I’m reminded of one of my bosses who had a large, framed piece of art in her office.  It read “But we’ve always done it this way”.

When it came time for us to look at procedures or consolidate processes or departments, woe to the person who wasn’t willing to question the status quo. Our boss would just point to her wall.

Why is it hard to question it? For many it’s a matter of dealing with change; for others it’s Making the Right Decision. And still others it’s the mentality, if it’s not broke don’t fix it.

I’m sure we’ve all heard the tales regarding the new bride and her first roast or why railroads are 4 feet 8 ½ inches apart?

They are worth repeating.

A new bride was creating her first big dinner for her husband and makes her mother’s famous pot roast, cutting off the ends of the roast as her mother always did. The bride’s husband loves the meal, but wonders why the love of his life cut off the ends – the best part in his opinion. She responds, “That’s the way my mother always made it”.

Curious, she contacts Mom who says the recipe came from her mother and she would follow up. Mom contacted Grandma and asked why the she always cut off the ends of the roast. After some thought, Grandma says, “That is the only way the roast would fit in my pan.”

The railroad story is even better.

The distance between the rails for the standard US railroad gauge is 4 feet, 8 ½ inches. Why? That’s the way they were built in England and the first railroad engineers were primarily English. Why did England have that width? Because that’s the width of the tramways used prior to railroads in England. Why tramways that wide? Because the tramways were built using the same tools as wagon-builders and that how wide the wagon wheels were spaced.

Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that’s the spacing of the wheel ruts.

And how did they get rutted? The first long distance roads were built to be used by Imperial Roam for their legions. The ruts were first formed by Roman war chariots, which were all made alike. Other wagons followed suit so they wouldn’t break wheels from the ruts in the road.

The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the original specification for an Imperial Roman war chariot.

Are the stories true?  I have no idea, but it makes you think.  It made me think.

Why are we so afraid of questioning the status quo?  Is it because of not wanting to buck tradition?  Or not wanting to appear foolish – or lead the charge down a road that may not work out?

For many people change is painful. It doesn’t matter what their current path may be or how promising the opportunity of other possibilities.  They just don’t want to change. It is also hard to admit that what you have been doing needs to be changed.   Accepting change means accepting the possibility that you are not currently doing things the best way.  Who wants to admit that?

The point is, never take “because we’ve always done it that way” as a reason not to update a process. Always investigate the reason for a process, but when no one can provide a reasonable answer for it, go ahead and propose changes.   Sometimes there’s a perfectly good reason it’s always been done that way, but you won’t know if you don’t ask.


Berni Hollinger helps companies solve problems through patterns. As a Professional Quilter and CFO / Controller, she sees things differently. As a highly experienced CFO, Controller, Accountant, and Financial Consultant, she has led financial departments for Fortune 100 companies increasing bottom line growth and compassionately leading and training employees and restructuring processes to maximize profitability in the publishing, printing, subscriptions / fulfillment, manufacturing and transportation sectors. She is a Professional Quilter, and Quilting Instructor, creating lasting memories through exclusive designs of one-of-a-kind memory quilts.

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