Meet the skeptics

Thomas Barta TryThisBlog
By Thomas Barta
Last updated: December 27, 2018

Change leaders know how to bridge gaps. Gaps in technology. Gaps in belief. Gaps caused by fear.

Supporters build your confidence. They love your idea—and perhaps even you. They are happy to follow. They are your energy source. Everybody in the business of change needs people who say, “Awesome—keep going!”

If taken in excessive doses, however, confidence can poison you. Digital Equipment Corporation’s CEO Ken Olsen was confident: nobody needs a computer at home. BlackBerry’s co-CEO Jim Balsillie was confident: data hunger will fail smartphones. And British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was confident: people will swallow the [unpopular] poll tax. You know how it ended. Hubris—excessive self-confidence—is the enemy of change.

Skeptics can teach you two crucial things about gaps: size and truth. Size is an obvious concern. What change-resistance will you face? What facts must you provide? What fears must you address? That information is useful. The second lesson is more important. But it demands that you ask: “Is there another truth?” Not the truth you see, not the truth you’ve planned for, but perhaps a truth that matters. Sceptics may be a pain, but that doesn’t mean they’re stupid. They may simply see a truth that you haven’t seen.

Change leaders know all about the gaps.

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Reach out to three people who disagree. With your project. With your political perspective. With your moral view. Listen and say: “Thank you.” It’s not about making promises. It’s about genuinely learning what it will take to bridge the gaps.

Meeting the skeptics could save your project—and build something even more precious: new bridges.