The Problem of Status Quo Thinking

"Status Quo. Isn't that Latin for the mess we are in now"

AIM, 2000

The combination of behaviours and cultures that resist change and managers who support the status quo is lethal for any change process.

People, who have strong attachment to the status quo, are reluctant to change. It has been found that the benefits need to be greater than 2.5 of the downside, for people to change (source: Jonah Berger, 2020)

Status quo is shown by:

Management and staff regard themselves as "custodians of the organisational traditions"

Mindset triggers resistance to change

Restricted thinking process that is not able to handle and evaluate change

Curtailed, limited evaluation of the past

Widening gap between those leading the change and those being affected by the change

People who live to maintain the current system

People who think in terms of hierarchy and management seniority

People who are into the preservation of personal power and status, ie look good, cover your back and move quickly past your mistakes

People whose thinking is dominated by plans and budgets

Structures, systems and lack of training that discourage empowerment

People who think in terms of system cycles like hours, days and weeks

People who think in terms of formal structures, not culture

People used to the command-and-control style of management

People who only think of the good of the past, and forget the bad of the past

"Do not rock the boat" approach

People are suffering from incumbent curse, ie you are happy with the status quo as you are doing well. There is no pressure to change until a disruptor appears.


"new stories disrupt the status quo. At one time or another you have probably been in trouble for telling the truth. Dressing your truth with a story is better than delivering naked truths, but it still carries some risk......even a skillful story that helps people to see that naked truth risks defensive attacks..."

Annette Simmons, 2002

Status quo thinking is linked with perception of safety.

People are feeling insecure as accepted notions are being challenged. For example, the whole Western economic system is built on the presumption of infinite growth; with GDP as a measure of a country's success. This is under challenge.

Similarly a company's success is in its growth-focused progress, ie if you are not growing, you are a failure.
"...this notion of infinite expansion has hit a wall......we are using 125% of the earth's bio-capacity every year..."
Barbara Kingsolver as quoted by Charis Perkins, 2018

This is not sustainable.

When this happens, ie people's assumptions are suddenly proved to be wrong, they tend to
"...bunker down and believe stronger. Or they look to leaders who could protect them from new disturbing truths that require a dramatic change in mind..."
Barbara Kingsolver as quoted by Charis Perkins, 2018

This can help explain the recent rise of popularism, eg Donald Trump:
"...we'll have to find a new way of living within our means as a species. And most of us don't want to do that..."
Barbara Kingsolver as quoted by Charis Perkins, 2018

A similar thing happened in the late 19th century with the end of the civil war in America with the political, economic and social uncertainty it created. This coincided with the publishing of Darwin's Theory of Evolution, ie "...humans are not king of the world: that natural laws applied to us in the same way they applied to other life..."
Barbara Kingsolver as quoted by Charis Perkins, 2018

The civil war and Darwin's theory made people feel very insecure.

In recent times, the rate of technological change around artificial intelligence, machine to machine communications, sensors, genome mapping, mobile phones, renewable energy, Internet of things, digitalisation, etc is seen as a threat to status quo, especially as
"...according to some estimates, it is accelerating towards 100 times more than the historical average..."
Andrew Clark, 2018

Unfortunately most people see innovation, new technology, etc and equate it to the fear of losing their jobs. It has a bad public image.

"...Innovation drives productivity and productivity drives GDP growth, GDP growth drives living standards and with get sustainable jobs and more jobs, not less..."
Bill Ferris as quoted by Andrew Clark, 2018

 NB Whenever you are trying to challenge the status quo, and/or create something new or different, you will have detractors who will try to stop you. You will not be regarded as a hero; by some, you will be regarded as a terrorist!!!!! You need to learn how to handle these situations.

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