Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Resistance to Change

Recently I lost my trust calculator. A black & boxy Casio DX-100 that I remember buying on my first day of high-school with a crisp $20 note I bought from home.

Now just bear with me - that relates to Business Analysis eventually.

I found it difficult to use at first, but I grew to love it. Over years of high-school, a computer science degree, and a good chunk of my MBA, I think I had used every single function the calculator had and knew my way around it like the back of my hand. I found using it effortless, that perfect user experience where you don't have to think about the device, only what you want to achieve.

Then, to my horror, I lost it half-way through doing Accounting for my masters.

I was actually slightly depressed at the though of having to use any other calculator. I know this is weird, but you have to understand that my relationship with the calculator is four times older than my marriage and that I'm a geek.

So I bought a new calculator. $40 this time. It was all curved edges, sleek lines, and translucent blue plastic. I hated it.

It's true it was (a lot) easier learn than my old one, and had lots of new features, but I didn't know how to use them yet - and even when I did work them out if felt strange, and wrong.

Worst of all a function I used constantly, saving a number to memory and then recalling it, took an extra key-press, and that extra key press was all the way up the top of the calculator. Which drove me crazy.

Even though I knew that objectively my new calculator had more features - I resented it. Every time I saved a number to memory I would silently pine for my old calculator.

Until a few days ago when I found my old dull-black calculator, started using it again, and realised how much I missed all the new features of the shiny-blue impostor. So I went back to using the shiny-blue one.

I wish I could say that this means I now am happy with the shiny-blue one - but no. I still resent the extra key-press for the memory function.

So what are the BA lessons here? (Asides from the fact that I think too much about calculators)

  • Users value lost utility, more than they value gained utility.
  • Old systems are viewed through rose-coloured glasses, no matter how bad they are
  • The cost of learning a new system is intimately felt by users - expect resistance
  • Even when users rationally realise the new system is better - don't always expect them to be happy, because..
  • People have emotional attachments to systems that aren't always apparent

    I think the last is most important. I went through a whole project with and only found out afterwards that one of the main stakeholders considered the original implementation of the system we were working on the most professionally satisfying and productive point in their career.

    The result was they implicitly saw any move to retire bypass the system as slight on them personally.

    Resistance to change isn't just about technology, costs, benefits, and features. Even when we think we are being rational we generally aren't.

    I'd hidden contraband in the back of that calculator case during a math lesson almost twenty years ago while looking out over a grassy quad. This shiny-blue monstrosity that I'll use for my accounting exam doesn't even have a compartment for that.