We’ve all heard the oft-quoted definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

There’s a reason we like repetition – it’s familiar and it’s comfortable (two decidedly sane things) but the clincher isn’t doing something over and over again, it’s the expecting things to change part that gets us.

And it gets the brain too. Every time. Which is why, when it comes to workplace change, the brain can be your worst enemy. It simply doesn’t like change and will happily go about conserving energy, being as efficient as possible, taking short-cuts and looking for routine – again and again – if we let it.

The brain wants to reduce variables, have a stable, predictable environment, and work with the same, safe people. Transformation initiatives, however, want just the opposite: Transformations require different thinking with new people and in new ways.

But, as the insanity quote suggests, we need to do things differently if change is to be successful, lasting and meaningful. And the brain needs help getting there. It can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results.

Preparing Your Brain for Change

When a change initiative is happening and the brains of your team haven’t been prepared, you can almost guarantee adverse behavior, even blatant resistance.

The reason it’s difficult is because of the toll it takes on the brain. The brain resists change in five very limiting ways: it goes blank, it sabotages, it hunkers down, it gets angry and/or it gets super anxious, none of which is altogether surprising given what we know about the brain and its resistance to change.

Successful business transformations mean not only upgrading business processes, technology and infrastructure, but also upgrading how leaders work with the brains of their teams (and their own brains).

Unless brains are prepared for change in the right way, transformation will be governed by the capacity of highly constrained brains that love doing the same things over and over again. They’ll react with fear and resistance, doing whatever it takes to maintain a sense of structure and safety.

So instead of trying to lead from a place of insanity, give the brain what it needs to adopt new ways of doing things – an environment that feels safe and familiar, even in the midst of crazy-making change.


Noesis delivers neuroleadership consulting and training to organizations handling everyday change and major transformation initiatives. We help our clients scientifically improve leadership.