How to manage change and relearning?

As you probably know, I’m a regular contributor to Larry Jordan’s Digital Production BuZZ talking about a variety of topics from technical to esoteric. Larry, Michael Horton and I recently started a discussion – yet again – on whether or not Final Cut Pro X was “for the pros” but fortunately moved the topic toward managing change. We all felt that the discussion about FCP X was over, since it is being used all across the professional production spectrum, but pondered why it still generates controversy.

The discussion was one of the best we’ve had on the BuZZ, and I felt that each of the questions deserved a little more depth than I could go into with a two minute answer.

Larry led off by asking:

You’ve been quoted as saying that people want things to improve but they don’t want things to change. How do you see the difference?

While this seems contradictory, because all improvement requires some kind of change, most people ignore incremental change but balk at more significant change that requires obvious new learning, or worse, relearning. My observation has been that people really do not like change. Probably for very good reason.

When we were young having our parents come out and say “Things are going to change around here” never seemed like it worked out well. Likewise, when a boss tells us that “things are going to change” it’s also rarely for the better, so people become change averse.

At the same time, we desire new features in our software, new tools and better ways to deal with the routine of our lives, except we get comfortable doing the things that we know how to do. When somebody brings a new format to us, or somebody brings a new editing interface to us, or somebody brings just a new way of doing something, even if it’s better or potentially better, we don’t like having that change thrust upon us.

Not everyone is change averse. I’m always looking for the new thing, and that’s good for me. Except I clearly remember my early days on computers: every time I opened a new interface my immediate feeling was shock and that “I’ll never learn that”.  But I did. And another interface followed, and yet another. Over time I realized I was going to conquer those new apps: it was just a matter of time.

The other issue with learning is that it takes time. In classic tree cutting, time had to be taken from cutting down the tree, to (literally) sharpen the saw. We all get the message that working with a blunt saw is going to be much harder and less productive overall, than taking the time out to sharpen the saw.

What we don’t get is that sharpening our knowledge is every bit as essential to our work productivity. Yet we are reluctant to take time out to learn new skills.

Michael Horton pointed out that this is a generational thing. Younger people seem to gravitate to what’s new. Of course younger people are still in learning mode, while older workers tend to “know how things are done’ and will keep doing them. Unless exercised regularly our brains become less plastic, less able to learn new stuff. The solution is life-long learning.

I noticed the generational shift a few years ago with a young prot̩g̩ of mine back in Australia. He had an almost intuitive grasp of my Media 100 despite Рor perhaps because of Рa complete lack of editing or postproduction experience. (This was an art project for his Senior year.)

When I asked him how he learnt Media 100 so fast, he replied that it was fairly obvious since he’d already seen Pro Tools! To his mind, the audio and video tool were similar. And I guess they are in that they both have media organized in some way along a timeline. What was interesting is how he processed the similarity, where my generation tends to let the difference dominate.

There’s another reason that the younger generation are more comfortable with change: they’ve known nothing else. I often joke that “the only constant is change”, except there is only constant change. Not learning, unlearning and relearning is not an option.

People want the change that’s a couple of new tools in a new release of an editing tool. People don’t want to be faced with rethinking and relearning a completely new editing interface, with some new paradigms underneath, even if they were guaranteed it would be faster or better.

Perhaps its because “improvements” feel more like walking up a gently climbing path while “change” feels like a set of steep steps or (for some) an insurmountable cliff. If there are new paradigms or workflows to be learnt, there will be significant unlearning involved.

It’s my strong belief that those who are best able to quickly leave behind – unlearn – knowledge that’s no longer useful or current will be those who adapt quickest to change. Alvin Toffle takes it even further:

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

As an adult I discover how influenced my thinking has been by copious science fiction reading in my youth. Asimov’s Profession turns out to be what inspired the Intelligent Assistance “Knowledge at the point of need” tools from 1999-2007. My approach to unlearning, or focusing forward (Toward the Future in NLP speak, for those who care) is also heavily influenced by a science fiction story I read (although cannot remember the name of right now). Update: The book is The Dark Cloud by Fred Hoyle.

In this story – from my distant memory so I may not be 100% spot on – an astronomer discovers a dark mass approaching Earth. Over time it’s discovered that this dark mass is an incredibly ancient intelligence and not threatening. The alien intelligence offers to “download” its knowledge to a chosen human.

Being the central character of the story our astronomer becomes the chosen vessel. Ultimately he goes mad, or dies, because he cannot resolve the conflict between so much of what he “knows absolutely as a scientist” and the new knowledge. He posits that it would have been better to choose the gardener because they would not have the same level of conflict in their knowledge that he did.

I see this as a very good parallel – and wish I could remember the name and writer of that story – between “improvement” and “change”. When it conflicts with our current ways of working, or currently comfortable knowledge, we don’t like it. And yes, I see a real parallel with Final Cut Pro X: new users adopt it very easily, while it seems the more history someone has with another NLE, the harder it is to unlearn and relearn.

We also tend toward being “ducks” with our software tools. Ducklings ‘imprint’ on the first living thing they see – usually a mother duck, but it can be anything. I think we tend to believe that the first NLE we used was “right” and all others “wrong” in some way.

Ultimately it comes down to change requiring work, and very few people actively go out of their way to take on more work.


This is part of the interview you find at  I will be tackling the other questions in further posts. Some of this post is based on the transcripts of the BuZZ being proved by

9 replies on “How to manage change and relearning?”

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  1. I think it’s a mistake to characterize resistance to change as a simple resistance to relearning. At least as professional editing is concerned.

    When you are a beginning editor, everything is new and you are not hired or valued for creativity. Instead, you are often hired because of your technical savvy. As you progress in the art of it, you are hired for what you bring to the table creatively. This means that the tools you use – especially now that it’s all software – are heavily tied to muscle memory. The manipulation of the tools falls into the subconscious as you tackle the creative challenges of the tasks at hand.

    Speed – to the extent it has any importance – is achieved by the default of this muscle memory. So, no matter how good or how much faster the changed application might be – it will still be slow because everything is in the “wrong” place. Therefore, for established, editing pros, there’s little benefit to transitioning to something radically different.

    Although I’m talking about editing, I see the same things happening in a wide range of products and systems. Even as basic as who has been happy (or not) about iOS7 versus previous versions.

    – Oliver

  2. Philip,

    I have enjoyed listening to your insights over the last couple of years and I am a fan of Larry’s as well. I am into video to promote my entertainment business, but I also use it on a personal basis and make a few bucks editing, on the side. I would consider it an avocation.

    I agree with everything you are saying about relearning, but I have noticed something more in the case of FCPX. I am an entertainer, but my history was in business. You are a businessman as is Larry Jordan. However, most creative people are weak when it comes to business. And… they often think with their emotions. I know this from the entertainment business and have seen this via the internet in the editing business.

    I think what we have with FCPX is a lot of people got ticked off at Apple for putting out, what they considered to be, an unfinished product. They did not listen to Larry when he said wait a few months. They jumped ship and went to Premiere. Six months earlier they would have said that Premiere was not for professionals, but in their minds Apple tried to force them into iMovie Pro so they jumped ship. I watch them on YouTube still complaining 2 years later. You cannot tell them the features are back and that FCPX is faster and better than what they are using, because they don’t make business decisions, they make emotional decisions.

  3. Change isn’t always software. Change is your bussiness model. right now currently looking at getting rid of my office because no one comes in to edit anymore, at least not beyond and hr or two for final fixes. So why pay the overhead ? compared to picking your software, this is a much larger change.

    1. Very good point Steve.

  4. It’s interesting that much of the discussion around FCPX relates to change (or resistance to change). I think our inability to use FCPX has less to do with how it looks or feels and has everything to do with media management and workflow. In an enterprise environment, the number of copies of the footage we have to make, the ability to relink and to manage media (outside of the editor) make a huge difference on our overhead.

    On top of this, we need to keep the color-correction, mix, and other tasks as separate, modular parts of our workflow. We need EDLs for our archival, budgeting, and graphics people. We need assignable tracks for delivery. We need to put graphics and titling on separate tracks. FCPX seems to make a large, scalable, modular work environment very difficult or nearly impossible. Please correct me if I’m wrong on this, but it seems like (at least for now) it would be a long list of workarounds to make this work for us.

    All of this said, we are using Avid and it has some significant shortcomings and workarounds of its own. We would love to change away from Avid and are constantly looking for alternatives. While Premiere is close, it has a lot of shortcomings of its own, which don’t seem worth the jump.

    Maybe those things will come with FCPX, but for now, it seems like it’s simply not a scalable enterprise solution for us. And that has nothing to do with resistance to change, or how things behave on a timeline, and everything to do with these other more technical things.

    Again, if these things have changed and the workflow is worth another look now, please let me know. I’m open to being wrong.

    1. Well, there are a lot of factual inaccuracies in there Tim. The issues in FCP X are those of learning, as you just demonstrate with the “we need” statements. There are already high end film and TV shows being edited on FCP X and doing very well without tracks. Like many, I find the lack of track to be a real speed booster because Roles solve that issue much better than using tracks as fake metadata. Roles are real metadata and the right way to do it.

      As for “enterprise” the only app that has any real sharing is Media Composer. All the FCP classic, Premiere Pro and FCP X (and Vegas, not sure about Edius) all do without.

      With FCP X media could always be on a san location and only one copy needed in the facility. I have expectations based on Logic Pro X and iMovie 13 that the media management next month will be significantly improved.

      I think you’re running on really outdated information, or rigidity in your work methodologies that won’t allow you to reap the benefits from a rethink.

      Which is fine. If you want to continue to force new media and workflows into tools designed for the tape era, enjoy living in the past. No-one coming into the industry now has any idea what the metaphors mean, and tools like Media Composer and Premiere Pro are too foreign to their thinking.

    2. Not sure when you last looked at X, but pretty much all of the shortcomings you list really aren’t applicable anymore. It does require a couple additional apps, but it’s actually easier in many ways now to get elements out of X than it was in 7.

      In addition to Philips’ tools for collaborating with anything that reads FCP 7 XML, you can get EDL’s out (with editable source tables and marker text as notes in the EDL) with EDL X. You can use Roles to either export split multichannel QT Movies, or get X2Pro and generate perfectly split AAF’s for protools, Logic and other DAW’s. You can share media on a NAS or SAN just as you can with 7 or Pr. As alluded to above, it’s likely that the next update to X will greatly improve the collaborative capabilities of X as well. And secondary Storylines have always given you the ability to mimic the visual organization of tracks (for your titles and GFX as well as music beds etc.)

      It’s definitely worth another look. 🙂

      1. Thanks guys,
        Giving it another try now. It might finally be time. Last test was 10.0.0

        1. Ouch. it’s not even the same app now, in a good way. 🙂 Might be worth holding out for the next update though. It’ll be this month, hopefully sooner rather than later…

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