Common objection 6: That’s just the way it is

November 26, 2012 by Joshua
in Blog, Leadership, Tips

[This post is part of a series on internal objections and blocks and how to overcome them. If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Objection

People think some things can’t change. They say

It’s a fact.

That’s just the way it is.

You have to accept that some things are just that way.

Examples

Bureaucrats consistently tell me how their process works, saying I can’t do it any other way. They probably tell you the same thing. (I hope you, like me, consistently achieve things they call impossible.)

My leadership seminar includes a couple slides with quotes from experts then stating how things had to be in their fields of expertise. Today we look back at their pronouncements like they were fools, but at the time, their authority must have led people to accept their views without a second thought.

Stocks have reached what look to be a permanently high plateau.

— I. Fisher, Prof. of Economics, Yale, 1929.

We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.

— M. Smith, Decca Records, rejecting the Beatles’ demo tape, 1962.

Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.

— Lord Kelvin, President, Royal Society, 1895.

Everything that can be invented has been invented.

— C. H. Duell Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.

Are they not all saying some version of “That’s just the way it is?”

It may be difficult, knowing about the Great Depression that started months after his pronouncement, but can you imagine how much you would have questioned a Yale Professor of Economics after a decade of growth in 1929?

Knowing the Beatles’ success today you may have trouble imagining if you would have questioned someone at a well-established successful record label with decades of success, but I suggest you may have simply agreed with an expert in the field that that was how things were: “guitar music is on the way out.

Likewise, think of how many expert opinions you probably accept today that tomorrow may look like these experts’ predictions. Would you rather be M. Smith at Decca Records or Paul McCartney? (Keeping in mind I bet Paul would have to put in longer hours and take bigger personal risks than M. Smith, who may have never risked a comfortable job with great perks).

Underlying belief

“That’s just the way it is” comes from beliefs like how something is now is how it will always be. Experts know everything. The particular fact is the only relevant fact. There is no other way to view that information.

Or that I am powerless.

Alternative belief

The obvious alternative beliefs are that things change and you can create that change; experts are often wrong; other facts may be relevant and more important than that fact; other perspectives may reveal other ways to move ahead.

I hold successful leaders like Martin Luther King and Gandhi as models because they succeeded in the face of what must have felt like overwhelming force against them. The incumbent powers they faced — the British Empire!, centuries of lynching, slavery, laws, and more — must have looked like the way things had to be. Well, to others, anyway.

Alternative strategy

What appears to be a fact may not be a fact from another perspective. Other facts may be  more relevant.

Look for countervailing facts. Dwell less on rightness or wrongness in favor of what you can do.

Start with what you can. See if that change doesn’t enable more change later.

Notes

Other people aren’t the only ones who may tell you things are just that way. You may tell yourself something is impossible, which can make it hard to distinguish between something being impossible and you believing something possible is impossible.

My classic example to myself is Einstein’s well-accepted principle that nothing can move faster than light in a vacuum. No experiment has found evidence to that contrary. Obviously, that doesn’t mean a future experiment won’t invalidate those results. Or find some exception to the rule.

You have to consider the consequences of your choices for how many apparently established facts you want to challenge and how far you want to push them.

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