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Using Nostalgia to Deal with Change Management

By: Meredith Lesueur // March 3, 2017

Using Nostalgia to Deal with Change Management. Image courtesy of #WOCinTech Chat

Image courtesy of #WOCinTech Chat

What role do our memories and nostalgia play in organizational change management?


Today is the day that Nintendo releases their new gaming console the Switch. It is also the release of the newest installment in their incredibly popular Zelda series. Fans haven’t seen a new Zelda game for a main console in a little over ten years – something I’m aware of because the last game came out right before my daughter was born who is now ten. That game also was launched with a new and wildly different console – the Nintendo Wii, which revolutionized how we play games and interact with content. The Nintendo Switch aims to do the same. It got me thinking about organizational change management and using nostalgia to sell innovation.

It is interesting that Nintendo has used one of the most popular and enduring franchises to launch both revolutionary and innovative products – it speaks to their genius in merging marketing with change management principles. As any CEO or manager knows, selling new ideas and concepts can difficult and the public (or a team) is sometimes slow to get on board. Although advertisers and politicians have been using nostalgia and emotion to sell and manage change for years, inserting nostalgia for training and organizational change management is just starting to catch fire. In a great article in the New York Times called “What is Nostalgia Good For?”, John Tierney explores the role that our memories and our longing for connection to our past helps us learn new skills or adapt to difficult or new environments. Research shows that young adults and people over 60 tend to be the most nostalgia, while those in middle age are more invested in their present. Think of a college freshman feeling homesick while also feeling in love with their new adventure, or the joy and vigor observed when an aging grandparent recants adventures from their youth. Both age groups experience huge waves of change – change management crises you might say- and intuitively recall memories and warm feelings to help feel grounded amid the chaos. They are using nostalgia as a change management tool.

While the new Nintendo Switch is not anticipated to be a huge seller, the new Zelda game is being heralded as the best video game on the market. The Nintendo Switch is radically different from the Wii and the rest of consoles on the market and a little complicated to sell in a sentence (I’m not even sure how it works) – another change management crisis. The Zelda game on the other hand incorporates elements from the original Zelda game and storyline from 1987 and connects parents to the joy of their youth while they introduce the game to their kids. An incredibly powerful change management tool if ever there was one. So how can you incorporate this idea into your change management strategies. How can nostalgia help you sell new and different ideas to your employees or your market? Here are a few simple suggestions that you have probably already used without even realizing they were hitting on nostalgia nerves.

  1. Framing new concepts or strategies under existing company values or vision statements.
  2. Beginning quarterly meetings with emotional and inspiring stories of recent wins.
  3. Highlighting the successes of past products or innovations and then positioning new roll-outs as the inevitable evolution of that success.
  4. Using universal nostalgic themes in advertising; connecting concepts to love of country or memories with friends and family.
  5. Re-packaging products in old imagery, re-launching your classics during growth plateaus.

There are so many ways to incorporate nostalgia into change management strategies whether they are for internal training, product marketing, or general organizational management. Looking forward can only ever happen if we are gladly grounded in our past. How have you used memory, emotion or nostalgia to handle a change management crisis? What worked? And what hit the wrong note?