The Best Advice on Changing Things

As an athlete in college I got many great pieces of life advice from my coaches. One of those pieces of advice has significantly shaped how I think about influencing change to both design and development practices of people I work with.

My junior year, the cross-country team got a new coach. A few weeks went by and I was confused as to why we weren’t doing several things I understood to be best practices. Things I knew he was doing at his last coaching gig.

“Coach wouldn’t it be better if we did x”

“Absolutely Adam. Absolutely.”

“So why aren’t we doing x?”

He sat and thought about it for a second.

“Adam. Runners are fickle creatures. They’ve been doing things a certain way for a long time and they attribute a lot of their success to their current habits. Even if some of those habits aren’t the best.

If I tried to walk in here on day one and change everything - I’d lose a lot of people. It would be too much change too soon. And we need these people if we’re going to be a successful team.

If you ever try to change a group of people and their habits - to do something great, it will probably take about 3 years. You introduce small changes, you introduce them slowly. Eventually you’ll get there. It’s not a light switch you can just flip and have everything fixed overnight. If you try to make it that way, you’ll fail every single time.”

Three years after he gave me this advice, the Women’s team won their first conference title. They have won every single conference title since and are now ranked in the top 10 nationally.

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