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Thursday, January 17, 2013

16 Fear of Knowledge and Fear of Change

We have addressed all the topics on fear except fear of knowledge and fear of change. These two fears are treated together and separate from the others because they are inherent in the personality of people and not caused by either the manager’s behavior or by organizational culture. This is a short lecture so I’ll follow it with a review and work on your action plan.
Henry Ford is credited with saying “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”  Unfortunately fear of knowledge is an inherent fear. You can recognize it from comments made by workers that sound like the following:
        “I can’t go to class, I’ll appear too ignorant”
        “I’m retiring in (1,2,3..) years. Why should I learn this crap?”
        “I already know how to do it!”
        “What? Learn this? Why, then, I’ll have more responsibility!”
Well, they may not explicitly say the last part of the first and last statements but it is what they are thinking.
Fear of knowledge is a challenge for the manager. Workers must retrain themselves more and more often during their careers due to more and more rapid advances in technology. Managers must make this clear and that retraining is expected as part of the job and is a required skill for nearly any job. Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline says that the only advantage an organization can sustain is the capability to learn faster than its competitors.
Workers must overcome their inherent fear. Even retirement does not relieve them of the necessity to continually learn due to the rapid change of technology used in daily life. The effective manager can help workers overcome their inherent fear of knowledge by listening to their excuses (listening with empathy), being sympathetic but firm in the requirement that they participate in training when necessary and offering to help if needed. However, if you have done these positive things and still have a worker whose fear of knowledge is preventing the worker from keeping up with required training and/or technology change you should look for another assignment for that worker. A manager is not required to be a psychologist.
Is change happening often in your organization? In today’s work environment your organization is the exception if change isn't happening often. To mitigate the damage to organizational effectiveness from fear of change you need to understand that people react to change differently. Some relish change, some fear change, some move out before having a plan, some are immobile until every detail of the plan is explained. This is another example of where the effective manager must treat workers as individuals. People’s response to change can be explained by their personality type from Myers/Briggs or similar personality tests. These tests are helpful in that they explain why people react the way they do and help the manager realize that some workers are not just being arbitrarily difficult, it’s inherent in their nature and they must be treated as individuals to help them overcome their fear of change.
There are some excellent books on managing change and it is worthwhile to own and periodically reread at least one of them. For example try one or more of the three books cited in lecture 4 and Who Moved My Cheese: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life by Spencer Johnson and Kenneth Blanchard. If you have workers that are exhibiting fear of change recommend that they read Who Moved My Cheese or Our Iceberg is Melting.
People’s fear of change and fear of knowledge are primary reasons why changing an organization’s culture is so hard and fails so often. As cited in lecture 4 research has shown that successful cultural change requires investment of about 10% of the total annual hours for an organization. A rule of thumb is that management must spend 2% of payroll per year for 5 years to successfully change an organization’s culture. (I am assuming here that an hour of time costs an hour of pay.) This is the reason many management fads and quick fixes to organizational problems don’t work. Even if the approach is fundamentally sound organizations typically don’t spend the required time, energy or money to make a successful cultural change.
Managers succeed with change by taking small steps so they don’t create chaos in the organization, by working through the details of each step and having the persistence to overcome mistakes and errors of judgment (get help from experts if possible). Managers that seek too big of a change in a single step or too many changes at the same time risk throwing the organization into instability and collapse. It is better to limit change to a series of relatively small steps so that everyone that needs to change clearly understands each step and has time to adapt. The keys to success are commitment, patience, persistence and having the top manager lead the change by example.
A reminder; what you are trying accomplish with the aid of this self training is to change the culture of your organization so that it will be dramatically more effective. Don’t expect to be successful without investing several years and the time equivalent of 10% of the annual hours of your organization in training your people. Make sure you lead any necessary changes. It is a lot of effort but when you are successful you will realize a 20% or more increase in effectiveness year after year. This is a very satisfactory return on investment. If you are committed, patient and persistent than you can succeed within the limits of the organizational culture that you can influence.
If you find that the pace of blog posts isn't compatible with the pace you  would like to maintain in studying this material you can buy the book “The Manager’s Guide for Effective Leadership” at:
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