A live cat is placed in a box. The box has solid walls, so no one outside the box can see into it.
Inside the box, a device will move a lever that will release either fatal poison or nourishing food that the cat will ingest; the probability of either occurrence is 50/50.
Time passes. The device activates, the lever releases. The cat meets its fate.
Is that cat alive?
Or, poisoned; dead?
The cat could be alive, and we might think it dead …
The cat could be dead … yet we might think it alive and well!
Our perception of the cat’s state seems to be independent of the cat’s actual state. And if perception is reality … can there be two realities, simultaneously?
* * * * *
This is another reason why change is hard.
What? you say? You’re connecting this dead or alive cat to change management John?
Yes yes; I will be drawing a change management lesson, soon, but first — what do you believe? Is the cat alive? Or dead?
It is alive and dead.
* * * * *
This intriguing thought experiment was devised by Austrian physicist Irwin Schrodinger to suggest the nature of quantum mechanics, and the idea that a subatomic particle can be at rest and in motion, simultaneously, but the two states of being collapse into one when we attempt to measure it.
In other words, our viewing it changes it.
The cat is alive until we open the box, and see, alas: chance has not been kind to the cat; the cat has been poisoned, and is dead.
Or, conversely, the cat is dead until we open the box, and see, alas, the cat is alive and well …
We, by opening the box and looking therein, collapse the AND into one state of being … the cat, so sorry, is dead. Or, for all you cat lovers out there, the cat is alive! …
* * * * *
It seems our perception is reality only until we see reality.
In this sense, during times of great change, we can be living and working in a world that no longer exists if we do not actually see the changes in the world we are actually living and working in …
We learn from our study of change and change management that it is not so much the change that we resist as it is the transition to the new ways that the change requires …
Change is external; transition is internal.
So our avoidance-strategy-of-choice is to deny that there is any change! Hence, we preempt the need to transition … because there is no need to transition if there is no perceived change!
In other words, we simply refuse to look into the box!
We can continue to live and work in a world that no longer exists! We can keep the cat alive by not looking in the box. Or we can keep it dead (for all you cat haters out there!).
And the change management lesson is exactly what John?
Help people look into the box.
One key component of change management is communicating the need for change early and often. It is selling the problem. It is noting the forces and effects that require change. It is articulating the “burning platform.” It is projecting out in compelling fashion what the consequences are if we don’t begin transitioning.
It is encouraging people to open the box and see the cat.
Dead; or alive; whatever.
We see the cat.
And the transitioning begins.
Mike W. said:
Idunno, John. You’ve got some pretty good posts on this blog, but this one is clearly the goofiest.
John M. Greco said:
A clunker for you Mike? Uh oh … regrets!
I like the CM lesson, and I love the Schrodinger’s Cat Paradox, but I only see a thin line connecting the two. However, there is my understanding of your post, and there is your thinking that went in to your post. Both are valid, and the reality of whether the cat paradox illuminates your CM lesson could only be a conversation about it (you sharing your thinking behind the post, and me sharing my reading of it). Without opening that box, it’s both a great illustration and an obscure connection, all at once. 🙂
There are many places in science–and I think many more in psychology and sociology–where reality is “both/and”. In Western thinking especially, we object to the idea of two apparent opposites as anything other than “either/or”. Here are a few examples I have noted over the years:
1. Lao-Tzu (600 B.C.)
Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.
2. John Gottman
“A lot of people feel shame about having a need,” he says. “Our culture tells us that to be needy is to be weak, but it’s really a tremendous strength to know what you need and to be able to ask for it.”
3. Steven Covey’s “win/win” strategy
Only settle for highly effective solutions without compromise. This applies personally as well as in a business setting. Let both sides win. Have you cake and eat it too. Ultimately, what is good for me IS precisely what is good for you.
4. Stephen Lyle (~2004)
To give is also to receive. It is not a transaction where once you give, then you are able to receive. Giving does not get you credit that can be cashed for reward. No, the act of giving is the reward itself. Giving IS rewarding. Giving IS receiving.
5. Stephen Lyle (~2007)
Love is selfless, yet produces greater benefits to self than any selfish act.
A few of these may be more just counter-intuitive rather than true paradoxes, but the effect on people and organizations is the same–we don’t realize the “both/and” nature of much of life, and it limits our understanding and decision making.
In terms of change management, I’ve worked with people who can’t fathom that they could transition and still be relevant, productive, and needed. Their work environment changing is synonymous with the end of their relevance and contribution. They can’t see how they can be successful in the new regime, structure, or with the new system. That’s when the change manager must be able to help people see through the transition to their success on the other side.
After all this, I seem to have written BOTH a comment AND a whole different post. Oh well. Such is life.
Whoa! I am sitting here with coffee in hand and the remnants of sleep still in my eyes. I love this post, but you just blew my mind with the quantum mechanics analogy.
By the way, if my cat is any indication, then I say that cat is DEAD but I need to see it to believe it. 🙂
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