Resisting Change: Pearls of wisdom from the book 'Triggers' by Marshall Goldsmith

We often Resist Change. There are some basic fundamental reasons as to why we do so. The book "Triggers" by Marshall Goldsmith offers enough insights into this aspect. In this article, we would focus on three fundamental and basic questions that can trigger so many thoughts in us. These three basic problems to resisting change are sought to be discussed in detail in this article. The rest of the five in this series will draw upon other aspects of Personal Change and effectiveness, with appropriate links.


There are superb books that emanate from the Western World. Invariably, these books offer enough food for thought and action. The superb book by Marshall Goldsmith, Triggers: Sparking positive change and making it last is by one of the best thinkers on Leadership in the world. This Guru travels throughout the world enabling leaders and managers to lead far better personal and professional lives through an intense process of managing Change.

There are too many messages in this book that will simply take us to the next level in terms of personal effectiveness. The book does offer enough food for thought. This article is the first in a series of six. Relevant portions are quoted with full references. Only the points are taken. The interpretation and practical implications are discussed in light of several real-world observations and experiences, as usual. The articles will be inter-linked with appropriate references to the most important points and learning from them.

Pages 5 to 7 of the Book (paperback edition: People books, India edition by Hachette India, price Rs.299), contain three important and profound problems in our resisting Change of any sort. This book can be purchased from online stores and leading bookstores.

Marshall Goldsmith provides three profoundly important problems in the process of our Resisting Change, irrespective of what that change is.

The first of these is the problem that "we can't admit that we need to change". The second problem is "we do not appreciate inertia's power over us." The third problem is that "we don't know how to execute a change". Now let us get back to real-world experiences and observations.

We can't admit that we need to Change

Several decades ago, the Management of what was then called Madura Coats ( now under the control of the Aditya Birla group) was faced with a huge problem. The workers and the trade unions resisted change because they could not admit that they need to change. The Management hit upon a very unique idea. Take them abroad and show the trade union leaders the advantages of the most modern technology. The trade union leaders were stumped by what they saw.

They came back and started a campaign explaining to the workmen that benefits will come back to them when productivity improved. The Management gave an undertaking that with advanced technology, the labor will not be reduced. After a few years, it was reported that the Management was able to give a generous golden handshake as it is often called. That is, a Voluntary Retirement Option. This VRS option is now being tried in hundreds of organizations worldwide.

At the individual level, we are prone to this line of thinking. This problem simply overtakes us. For example, even if we do not have the latest smartphone, it is fine to drop into any retailer and ask him the most advanced product. He would patiently explain the same. If we could afford it, we could perhaps go in for the EMI option that is now available aplenty.

Some years ago, machine learning and artificial intelligence were strange words. Today these are there everywhere. We now have robots manning entire restaurants. We may even have them doing scientific research in the years to come. We don't or can't admit we need to change only because a) we do not know how it will affect us b) we think we could wait for the day when it could hit us and c) we are very unsure if we need the change itself. If we have either of these three mental blocks, we need to gear up and understand how the Change will simply sweep us and our family members if we are not properly geared up for it.

Let us take a plus two student in our family. The first thing that we need to do is to introduce him to all the nuances of what is called computerized examinations. This is soon going to become a reality when all competitive examinations will be mostly handed online. Secondly, we also need to give all the basics of all software, during the vacations and in his/her spare time. He or she should be so efficient and effective with what we call as powerpoint presentations, as this will help him or her to even face interviews for admission into the prestigious IITs or NITs or whatever. The more they are ready, the more effective they will become. Change is there everywhere. Low-cost housing with so many new technologies is now the order of the day. Why not embrace such change? Once we get over our mental blocks, our management of the first problem will become very easy. We will then admit that we need to Change. And when that happens, when the mindset change happens, our gearing up for the Change is very effective indeed.

We do not appreciate inertia's power over us

This is the second problem. We are more often very much the same, even after several years. The word "Hindu rate of growth" was coined by one famous economist ( now no more) to draw our attention to this inertia, as a nation, several years ago. Since then, the new highway roads have come up, private sector participation in infrastructure building has increased, the airports have become bigger and better, the urban areas have exploded and the IT revolution has also happened.

Yet, we still have a lot of inertia in us. We still do not like to Change and are very comfortable with several excuses as to why we would remain where we are. We should clearly understand what needs to change and what need not. Even an ordinary housewife with a matriculation qualification needs to understand how to send messages on What's up, open up Google and browse for information, do all the Netbanking, operate the ATM card and so on. These might sound a bit dazing in the beginning. However, when the inertia is gone and the enthusiasm is in, then the Change is bound to happen very quickly.

Cut to what need not change. If a lady is very comfortable with wearing just saris and would not like to wear the other dresses, she could perhaps tell this loud and clear to her husband, who might actually play ball. Similarly, if she is not very religiously inclined, and does not believe in doing so many poojas and all that, she can stick to this choice. So, matters related to culture is a hugely personal decision. However, lifetime changes are those that we need to accept as a fact of life. Those who refuse to change will automatically be left behind in the rat race. We better recognize this.

There are two important steps in overcoming inertia. The first is to have a new habit that we get done every day. For instance, waking at least one kilometer. Once this habit is formed, we will have overcome inertia to a large extent. Similarly, we should spread this attitude to new habits that might reinforce positive feelings. For example, those who are always short-tempered often fail in life. They are never liked by people. Once such people start smiling, though it will be interpreted as strange by others for a while, when it becomes consistent, people will start appreciating the change itself. So, a guy who starts to walk and also smiles at people has started two new good habits.

The scope of our change is so huge. There is no escape. It is a big journey without a destination.

We don't know how to execute a change

Let us take a very simple and common example. We often store fixed deposit receipts, life insurance policy documents, and such other important files and lock them up in our safe deposit lockers in banks or keep them safe in some cupboard.

We often have more than one cupboard, when we want to get to something so urgently, we are helpless and start searching for the cupboard in the first place. Once done, we start flipping through the flies one by one, wasting huge time. All this waste of time can be eliminated if only we index the files, keep that index safe in a diary and then trace the particular file. This is deceptively simple. But we do not do it at all.

Another example. We all accept that we should be very careful about booking tickets, particularly railway tickets. If that is done online, caution is even more needed. Yet, many of us do not know that anytime after 12 midnight is counted as the next day. We do the booking, assuming that everything is right. And when we board the train, we find some good fat fellow happily sleeping in our berth. In the next two minutes, we run up to the TTE, to only be told that we have the wrong booking in the first place!!

So, what happened? We are blissfully unaware of the actual rules. The trick is to check with someone who does the booking more often than us. Or to just ring up to the railway inquiry counter. We do neither.

So, the key is to just understand the path to the Change and then execute it. Of course, Change is never the mundane things that we have just discussed. However, we should understand that the nitty-gritty of bigger changes and the roadmap to such changes, often starts with the smaller ones. Once we are aware of what we need to do, we would have done ourselves a great deal of good.


The Western experts are superb in hitting the nail hard. They write tonnes of superb material, based on a huge number of good experiences and real-world observations. Three vital questions relevant to our resisting change have been discussed in detail in this article. The rest of the five will deal with other aspects of personal change with appropriate learning and inferences and with also appropriate links to relevant streams of thought, leading to a package of meaningful learning.

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