My 5-year old granddaughter asked me, “What is chewing gum?” She had picked up the word “chewing gum” from a book.

How am I to answer the question? I could show her pictures. I could describe to her what it is like. But the most basic point is that chewing gum is the experience? How could I adequately teach her what chewing gum is without including the most important point, which is the experience of chewing gum? But chewing gum has been banned in Singapore for more than a decade because of the public nuisance it was causing with irresponsible people putting the gum on seats, throwing them on the floor, and even disrupting train services when the doors could not shut properly when gum was inconsiderately placed between the train doors.

Thinking about this made me think about trying to bring about change in organisations. Often there is resistance to the change because people consider it unnecessary, inappropriate, or impossible to achieve. Most often it is due to an inability to visualize the benefits of the change. We can imagine what we would lose much better than we can imagine what we would gain. The benefit of change is about a new better experience. But how do we explain the experience when the change has not been done? Much too much energy is wasted arguing about the unsuitability or impossibility of a change, instead of getting on with the change, and then evaluating the worthiness of the change through actual experience. Companies that entertain such argument for too long can never be winners or leaders.

As pointed out in the book THE LEADER, THE TEACHER & YOU, Change is a matter of Leadership and the role of Leadership is Change.  Leadership us about making (good) things happen that on their own would not happen. Organizations should adopt a “learning by doing” approach. Make progress by trying rather than arguing.

Of course change is a challenge. Machiavelli said about change and innovation: “And let it be noted that there is no more delicate matter to take in hand, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful of success, than to set up as a leader in the introduction of changes. For he who innovates will have as his enemies all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and only lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new. This lukewarm temper arises partly from the fear of adversaries who have the laws on their side and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who will never admit the merit of anything new until they have seen it proved by the event.”

On the other hand, the late Dr Goh Keng Swee, once First Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore, has said, “The only way to avoid making mistakes is not to do anything. And that, in the final analysis, will be the ultimate mistake.”

The only way to really know what chewing gum is all about is to chew gum, just like the only way to really know what change is all about is to change!

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