Useful Metaprograms In Business: Sameness/Difference

(also known as ‘Relationship Filter’ or ‘Motivation Decision Factors’)

How much change are you comfortable with? How much change do you need to stay motivated?

This is about how people react to change and how often they need change. There are four main groupings along the spectrum from Sameness to Difference:

Sameness: these people like things to stay the same and dislike or actively resist disruption. According to Rodger Bailey’s LAB Profile (the definitive work in adapting the idea of metaprograms to make it applicable to the needs of business), they will accept a major change every 10 years but only initiate change themselves (e.g. changing jobs) every 15 to 25 years.

Sameness with Exception: these people like things to stay the same, but with minor improvements or changes every so often. They like evolution rather than revolution. They need a major change every five to seven years.

Sameness with Exception and Difference: these people are comfortable with both large and small changes, as long as the major changes are no more frequent than three to four years.

Difference: these people switch jobs, roles or assignments very frequently. They flourish in rapidly changing environments and quickly become bored in the absence of change.

Identifying the Sameness/Difference pattern

The classic question to identify Sameness/Difference for a given context (remember that as with any metaprogram, the degree of Sameness/Difference can change depending on the context), is:

“What is the relationship between your work this year and last year?” or “What is the relationship between this job/house/whatever and the previous one?”

These are typical answers you might get from each of the four groupings in the pattern:

Sameness: will talk about similarities. “No change really – it’s just the same as last year.”

Sameness with Exception: will talk about similarities, but also mention some changes, often as comparisons. “I’m still doing pretty much the same thing, but I’ve been given a bit more responsibility and a new team member has joined.” They will talk about how they got from there to here.

Sameness with Exception and Difference: may mention major changes and similarities, as well as using comparisons. “It’s changed quite a lot since the merger; we’re still expanding, and we’re getting better at responding to customer queries.”

Difference: may not understand the question – “What do you mean, relationship?” Will talk about what’s different and new. “It’s completely changed – we’re in a whole new ballgame.” They will talk about how things are now, rather than how things got to be how they are.

Job role examples

Sameness: roles that don’t change are increasingly rare in the modern economy. In the past, this pattern would have suited administrative or clerical roles; nowadays, people with a strong ‘sameness’ pattern are likely to be viewed by managers as impediments to necessary change. Working with traditional crafts or the backwaters of retail may be the last refuges of the ‘sameness’ person.

Sameness with Exception: this is by far the largest category (65% according to Rodger Bailey) – they will be comfortable in a role that changes gradually, where they can build on what has gone before.

Sameness with Exception and Difference: as for Sameness with Exception, but with the occasional major change as well, either in job role or employer/location.

Difference: the classic ‘Difference’ person is the management consultant, who takes on a new assignment every six months to a year – and gets frustrated when people in the client organisations don’t embrace change enthusiastically.

Influencing and Managing

Here are some phrases that people at various points along the sameness/difference spectrum can relate to or at least feel comfortable with:

Sameness: as usual, continuity, reliable, similar, the same, tradition, heritage

Sameness with Exception: better, evolution, upgrade, development, improvement, the same except for…

Difference: revolutionary, new, paradigm shift, disruptor, unique, a whole new ballgame, totally different, new, game-changer

Sameness with Difference and Exception: use a combination of elements from the Sameness with Exception and the Difference patterns above.

To help Sameness and Sameness with Exception people to accept necessary changes, you should present the changes as small, evolutionary improvements that build on the best practice and successes of the past.

The enthusiastic language of change advocates – “A revolution in how we do things! This is going to turn the whole business upside down!” – will not resonate with the majority of any workforce outside the high-tech sector.

Instead, you can find similarities and parallels between the new system and the old, and present it as basically the same with a few small enhancements, which will enable them to do what they’ve always done, but a bit easier and better.

Consider involving people in identifying which aspects of the current situation are working well and should be carried forward into the future to allay their fears of change (this is how the change method known as Appreciative Inquiry  works).

When you are not able to give Difference-oriented people the substantive change they need to stay interested, you can at least change things around by rearranging the office and moving desks every so often.

How to explore this metaprogram further

  1. Where do you think you are on this spectrum? Sameness, difference, or one of the points in between?
  2. Think about the people you know well, especially family members and work colleagues. For each, are they more at the Sameness or Difference end of this metaprogram’s spectrum, or somewhere in the middle?
  3. If you find yourself not coping with change as well as you would like, maybe you would like to shift your viewpoint closer to one that’s more accepting of difference. Try these thought experiments:
    Ask yourself ‘What would happen if things did change?’ If any of the consequences you imagine are unpleasant, take an objective look at how likely they actually are.
    – Think about times you’ve coped well with changes, even small ones. Make these memories more vivid and colourful so your brain gives them more significance. This will boost your sense of confidence that you can cope well with change. If you think you are not much of a visualiser, try writing about these experiences.
  4. If you find yourself getting impatient for change, try this:
    – Do something to make your desired change happen (having first checked out that this won’t lead to any downsides you can’t live with)!
    – If you can’t bring about the change you want at the moment, develop your patience by practicing relaxation exercises

Words That Change MindsThe best book that I’ve found about metaprograms is Shelle Rose Charvet’s Words That Change Minds: The 14 Patterns for Mastering the Language of Influence, now in its 3rd edition. Highly recommended!

And if you really want to go into metaprograms in depth, Shelle has a high-quality LAB® Profile Practitioner online certification course.

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