In his essay “The Study of Administration,” Woodrow Wilson states that “In government, as in virtue, the hardest of hard things is to make progress.” Such a declaration initially may appear so obvious as to be rather pointless. But as I consider its veracity, I find myself pondering the reasons why making progress is so hard. Why, when we all want improvement, when we all want to provide the best services and options for our constituents, is making progress so difficult?
Easy answers flow quickly: budget restrictions, shifting political priorities, insufficient staff, competing interests. These are indeed components that must be considered when addressing progress, but I believe the heart of progress lies in the desire for and — perhaps more importantly — the willingness to not just accept but actively seek change.
Change, as we all know, is a difficult pill to swallow as it implies that the status quo is not good enough. Acknowledging that fact, however, does not equate to judging previous efforts as inadequate. And therein, I believe, lies the real resistance to change, and thus progress.
We change clothes because the focus of our activities changes: the office attire appropriate for public meetings is not conducive to weeding the corn. We change vehicles because the sporty sedan we enjoyed as newlyweds no longer fits our growing family. We change careers because growth of our interests, skills, and knowledge challenge us to seek new opportunities. We all change because such change meets our needs. We do so willingly and regularly, without considering our previous choices to be wrong or poorly made; they simply reflect the needs of a different moment in time. Today’s minivan recognizes adaptation to growth. A promotion celebrates our increased understanding and abilities.
So, too, must we learn to consider change in the workplace if we are to ever achieve progress. The hardest of hard things becomes much easier when we recognize that changes demanded for progress highlight growth and improvement rather than correction of error.