The Hardware and Software of Change

Human beings have always needed to adapt to change. The fact that we have survived so far, have managed to occupy almost every ecological niche on the planet, and have become the dominant species shows that we do adapt to change. Yet, it’s not hard to find people who hate change. So, how are we to understand this paradox?

Threat or Opportunity

To our ancient ancestors, change meant threat or opportunity. At times they faced the dangers of fire, flood, and drought. At other times there was an abundance of food and opportunities to flourish. New people brought the potential for conflict or disease, or an opportunity to mix, share ideas, trade, and learn.

We are all descendants of those people who were good at handling those threats and grasping those opportunities. Our human brains have the architecture to adapt to change: to recognise threat, to see opportunity, and to respond in ways that help us survive and flourish.

The Change Process

To a large extent, our experience of the change process reflects the hard wiring of our brains. We have the brain architecture to recognise feedback from the environment and to understand when something is wrong, and when we need to change. We have the brain architecture to evaluate the costs and benefits of changing, of rationally assessing various options, of making informed choices, of learning from experience, and of making new neural connections. People around the world can do these things because the capacity to do them is embedded in the structure of our brain, and they help us survive.

We are wired to engage in the change process and to adapt to the environment. That is our hardware, and it is partly why humans can survive in the harshest of environments. But there’s more going on than hardware.

The Software

We are familiar with the concept that computers need software to run. Software is information that tells the hardware what to do and how to perform. At its most basic level, it tells tiny electronic gates to either open or close. Without the right information, the gates cannot act in any coordinated way and cannot do useful work. The hardware is useless without the right software.

Our brains are amazing biological structures that are more powerful than any current computer. But they rely on the right information to work well. Our brains are structured to help us adapt to change, but they need the right kind of information to coordinate what they do and how they work. In the end, how well we deal with change depends largely on the software (information) we feed into our brains.

The author Carol Dweck has noted that some people have a fixed mindset and others have a growth mindset. People with a fixed mindset want things to stay the same, are generally resistant to change, and have rigid views, attitudes, and behaviours. People with a growth mindset are open to change, see it as an opportunity to learn and grow, and see many opportunities on the horizon.

But those with a growth mindset have the same brain architecture as those with a fixed mindset. The difference lies in the software – the operating beliefs and the information that drives how they respond to change. Both groups have the same brain structure and they both experience a degree of anxiety that is common around change. But they behave in different ways.

Kegan and Lahey have helped us understand that we all possess software that seeks to protect us from change. We all have thought patterns and behaviours that sometimes jump into action to protect us from change. They liken this to an immune system that jumps into action whenever it detects a threat to the way things are. The trouble is, this mental immune system can undermine us. It sometimes prevents us from using our brain architecture and causes us to protect things that could even threaten our survival.

Kegan provides a good illustration of this. He refers to some research with cardiac patients. Each of these patients was told by their doctor that they would die if they didn’t make significant lifestyle changes. They all understood the message, they all wanted to live, and everyone said they would make the necessary changes. But when they were followed up one year later, only 14% of the patients had made any of the changes.

These patients had the same brain architecture that enabled people to survive and adapt to change over thousands of years. But they were powerless to make changes that would enhance their own survival. This is how dangerous it can be to have the wrong software.

Change Fitness

So, what it the right software? Some people obviously have the right software because they have a growth mindset. They know how to minimise risk and take advantage of great opportunities on offer. But what information are they feeding into their brain architecture?

Until recently, we weren’t sure about that. Now we have a better idea. The right information is something we call ‘change fitness’. It’s helps us fit into new situations and adapt to change.

Do You Need an Update?

We like to have the latest software on our computers. It helps us work better and we are more productive. It can be frustrating using old software that reflects an out-dated way of thinking.

But many people go through life with old software in their heads. Even though it doesn’t work very well, they persist with it. They keep using the old software, yet they expect different results. Is it sensible to expect better performance if you’re feeding the wrong information into your brain?   Didn’t Einstein tell us that we can’t solve problems with the same thinking that created them in the first place? Wouldn’t a software update be a better idea?

Change fitness coaching is like having a software update. It introduces your mind and brain to the right information. You already have the hardware, but you need the right software to make it work properly.

Many individuals and organisations need a software update and the time to do it is now. Don’t accept the wrong information. Speak to me or a trained change fitness coach and seize the opportunity today.

Written by Dr Steve Barlow

Steve Barlow
Author: Steve Barlow

Steve heads up The Change Gym. He is a change readiness specialist. You can contact him at