In New Book, ’87 Grad Tackles Challenges and Science of Change

Aaron Anderson wrote “Aaron Anderson book Engaging Resistance: How Ordinary People Successfully Champion Change” not just for practical reasons, but for idealistic ones, too.

“Several books offer recipes on the ‘right’ way for businesses to implement organization-wide change. But until mine, none explained why people tend to be so quick to buck change or how to best overcome that resistance,” said Anderson, who in 1987 earned a bachelor’s of science in math from UConn’s Neag School of Education and is now acting executive director of graduate business programs at San Francisco State University.

“I also wrote the book to improve the world for my kids. It’s somewhat selfish of me, but I’m hoping education leaders will use my findings to create improved systems that will lead to my kids having an even more fantastic and powerful educational experience than I did.”

Describing both how resistance occurs over time, and specific strategies proponents can take to overcome it, “Engaging Resistance” includes the detailed case studies of two schools, Olivet College and Portland State University.

Both colleges in the early 2000s decided to implement radical curriculum changes to overcome financial shortfalls–a move that, as many would expect, was met with “major resistance” at all levels of the organizations. Anderson studied the schools’ transformations and staffs’ “healthy resistance” as part of his doctorate dissertation at the University of Michigan Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education in 2003.

At the end of the process, he considered using results to write several journal articles, but members of the dissertation committee suggested the work would be more powerful kept as a whole.

Stanford University Press (SUP) agreed, as well as saw that Anderson’s findings about the nature of change resistance crossed over and were applicable to all types of businesses and disciplines–not just education.

After several revisions, SUP published Engaging Resistance in February 2011, listing it in its catalogue as a Business/Management and Leadership title.

In chapters dedicated to analyses, Anderson details why resistance to change is a natural and healthy part of an organic process, as well as how businesses can use it to both improve change efforts and strengthen the organization overall.

“Truly, the findings from studying the broad-based changes that occurred at Olivet and Portland State transcend the classroom. Now, my hope is that they’ll do a little good in the world,” Anderson said.

“It’s scary to put a book like this out there,” he continued, “because it’s all me.  I gathered all the data, made all the analyses and then put so much time and work into presenting it in an understandable way.”

Now focused on the fall semester at San Francisco State, Anderson said he no longer compulsively looks for positive online reviews or the book’s sales ranking on Amazon, but instead for feedback on how “Engaging Resistance” has concretely helped an organization president, CEO or other administrator.

“One clear aspect of change is this: If you make a change and don’t get resistance, you’re not really changing the operation, you’re just tinkering with it,” Anderson said. “Big change sparks big resistance. And as my book shows, resistance can come in many forms, from completely crazy to absolutely legitimate.”

He also plans to make a conscious effort to apply the lessons in “Engaging Resistance” to his own daily life: “When we don’t carry out the best practices we find, we’re not being true to who we are, and should be, as academics.”