Changing direction when it's the hardest thing

Today in Samoa, for the first time in about 30 years, a country changed the side of the road they drive on. From the Associated Press article:

“As the 6 a.m. deadline approached, Police Minister Toleafoa Faafisi went on national radio to tell drivers everywhere to stop their vehicles. Minutes later, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi broadcast the formal instructions for drivers to switch sides.”

 Samoan change direction

(AP Photo/Cherelle Jackson) 

I was fascinated to hear this over the Australian radio earlier today.  

By the sounds of it, everything went according to planand there were no serious injuries or road deaths (yet). It sounds like it would have been a very interesting day to have lived in Samoa. The part I love most is that moment when everyone was instructed to stop there cars, before waiting to hear from the Prime Minister that it was ok to turn around and keep on driving!

But the thing I love about this little instance of change that took place in the world today, is what it represents in terms of innovation and business.How many times, when you’re at work or in your own start-up, have you thought “it’s easier to leave it the way it is than to change it.” I know I come to this conclusion almost everyday in the various projects I work on. As much as we hear the rhetoric about making small change and leading change initiatives within organisations through “Continuous Improvement” the truth is that all change in an organisation takes time to happen.  Sometimes, it’s easier to leave some things as they are than to push and rock the boat too much. If the boat is ever going to sail anywhere, it’s best to not take on too much water worrying about what the chef is cooking.

The Samoans though, had hit this point. The reason they changed the side of the road they drive on is so it’s cheaper for them to source cars from their neighbouring countries New Zealand and Australia. It currently costs them more to import cars from the US or Europe, with the left hand drive, than from Australia or New Zealand.

Now, the Prime Minister of Samoa could have wrung his hands together, twiddled his thumbs and proclaimed that it was all to hard to change. Sure, people would need to pay more for their cars – but the truth is, changing the side of the road people drive on is a huge national change. It would be expensive for government to change road signs. There will likely be a number of lives lost as citizens forget the new rules and crash. There will be trouble making slow changes to the fleets of cars on the country’s roads. But, it’s a great example of a country standing up and saying “we’re not doing this as well as we could” and making the required change to make it better.

Sometimes it’s much easier to maintain the momentum of doing things wrong, than to grind to a halt to do things right. Let the Samoans teach us a lesson and consider what you are letting slip today which might not be so right and think about making it better.