Resistance to Change

A characteristic of human culture is that change occurs. That people’s habits, tastes, styles, behavior, and values are not constant but are continually changing can be verified by reading 20 year old magazines. However this gradual cultural growth does not occur without some resistance; new methods, ideas, and products are held to be suspect before they are accepted, if ever.

The degree of resistance to new patterns varies. In some situations new elements are accepted completely and rapidly; in others resistance is so strong that acceptance is never forthcoming. One study using Hofstede’s data shows that consumer’s acceptance of innovations varies across cultures – innovation was associated with higher individualism (IDV), and lower power distance (PDI) and uncertainty avoidance (UAI). Others argue that culture also influences the production of innovation.

Other studies show that the most important factors in determining what kind and how much of an innovation will be accepted is the degree of interest in the particular subject, as well as how drastically the new will change the old that is how disruptive the innovation will be to presently acceptable values and behavior patterns. Observations indicate that those innovations most readily accepted are those holding the greatest interest within the society and those least disruptive. For example, rapid industrialization in parts of Europe has changed many long honored attitudes involving time and working women. Today, there is an interest in ways to save time and make life more productive; the leisurely continental life is rapidly disappearing. With this time consciousness has come to the very rapid acceptance of many innovations that might have been resisted by most just a few years ago. Instant foods, labor savings devices, and fast food establishments all supportive of a changing attitude toward work and time are rapidly gaining acceptance.

The resistance to genetically modified (GM) foods (some call it “Frankenfood”) has become an important and interesting example. European ethnocentrism certainly entered into the equation early – Europeans protested in the streets the introduction such as tomatoes genetically designed to ripen slowly. Conversely, Asian governments labeled the foods as genetically altered, and Asian consumers ate them. In America where this revolution in biotechnology first took hold, the government didn’t bother labeling food and consumers distinct care at least not until about 2000. Now the protests have begun in the United States. Companies such as Frito –Lay have responded by eliminating GM ingredients and the federal government is debating new labeling laws.

Although cultures meet most newness with some resistance or rejection, that resistance can be overcome. Cultures are dynamic, and change occurs when resistance slowly yields to acceptance as the basis for resistance becomes unimportant or forgotten. Gradually there comes an awareness of the need for change, or ideas once too complex become less so because of cultural gains in understanding, or an idea is restructured in a less complex way, and so on. Once a need is recognized, even the establishment may be unable to prevent the acceptance for others approval may come only after decades or centuries.

An understanding of the process of acceptance of innovations is of crucial importance to the marketer. The marketer cannot wait centuries or even decades for acceptance but must gain acceptance within the limits of financial resources and projected profitability periods. Possible methods and insights are offered by social scientists who are concerned with the concepts of planned social change. Historically, most cultural borrowing and the resulting change has occurred without a deliberate plan but increasingly changes are occurring in societies as a result of purposeful attempts by some acceptable institution to bring about change that is planned change.