Is change impossible?

I have been watching that show Restaurant Impossible lately.  I think it is on the cooking channel and features a restaurant entrepreneur (Robert Irvine) who goes into failing restaurants and spends two days trying to turn them around.  He redecorates the dining areas, spruces up the menu and does some marketing and training.

I am attracted to shows that are business-oriented, and while this one has a bit too much reality TV fiction, I still find it interesting.  And unlike a similar show, Kitchen Nightmares (Gordon Ramsey), at least the main theme is not yelling insults.

While I watch TV, I usually have a laptop with me, so I decided to do a bit of research and find out how these revamped restaurants are doing a few months later.  What would you guess happens after Robert Irvine revamps the restaurant, introduces incredible new dishes and showers the owner with his expertise?

A bit of research on sites like Yelp tell me:

1) The restaurant almost always abandons Irvine’s new menu (usually because it is too much work; many of them are used to cooking out of cans).
2) After a few days of increased business, revenue drops back to where it was before the remake or just slightly above where it was.
3) In many cases, the restaurant closes within a few months. (I have watched probably 8 episodes and at least 3 of those restaurants have since closed.)
4) None of the restaurants have had a dramatic turnaround.

My suspicion is that Irvine means well and he actually does know what he is talking about.  For sure, he knows far more than the restaurant owners he is trying to help. 

So why the high failure rate?

The concept fails because people very rarely change.  It is very easy to talk optimistically about change.  It is easy to do New Year’s resolutions.  It is easy to get good expert advice.  However, it is not easy to actually change and very, very few people every will.

I know that is true in my life.  There are things I have been trying to change for the past few decades.  I do not know all my weaknesses but I am painfully aware of some of them.  What I know is that reading books, getting help and making decisions to change is not nearly enough.

There are a couple of ways to look at this.  The bleak mindset would be to say that we are who we are and have to learn to live with that.  But a more intelligent approach is possible.  For me, it involves these steps:

1) Inventory yourself. Know your strengths and weaknesses.  There are psychological tests that are incredibly helpful in this area (such as the DiSC profile).

2) Learn to put yourself in situations where your strengths and emphasized and your weaknesses are minimized.  There are things I can do well and things I should never do. 

3) Find other people or ways to do the things that you cannot do well.  In other words, if you own a business but can’t work with people, find someone who can and put them in charge of that aspect of your business.

4) Never give up on trying to improve and be realistic about how much success you will see.  With time and effort, you be able to change some things or at least learn how to avoid weaknesses.  Understand that when pressure comes, your old tendencies are likely to return.

5) Plead with God for help.  Keep in mind that while God obviously could eliminate our weaknesses in a second, that is not normally part of His plan. Some of you theologians may disagree with me of this because a big part of our theology is based on the idea that God creates “new creatures” (II Cor 5:17).  It is common to hear preachers and speakers talk about significant change as if it were as easy as dropping by the bank on the way home.  While being a Christian gives victory over sin, I am not so sure that it gives a Christian the ability to fundamentally change who they are as a person. 

To be sure, changing yourself is a big deal.  And that is why those restaurants have failed in spite of Robert Irvine.  Their owners were unable to change.