There’s a lot written about change, change processes, change management, behaviour change, social change etc.
This week again Chris Collison was wondering about what’s stopping us from putting knowledge into action, or in other words, from knowing to changing.
This is a bit of an attempt to synthesise the pathways to personal (behaviour) change.
What are the stimuli of personal behaviour change? This video by Robert Cialdini about the ‘science of persuasion‘ offers some clues.
But this is not all of it. There are other factors that affect our pathways to behaviour change:
A realisation that we have to change something. It starts with that. No one changes a behaviour without realising the need to do just that (or do we?). A behaviour change can be sparked suddenly, when we are struck by the lightning of obviousness (e.g. “clearly I need to run meetings differently”). It can also be induced by repeated exposure to ‘signals of change’ (e.g. a regular chit-chat with someone you find inspiring). It could also be induced by a willingness to proactively anticipate events that will require us to change sooner or later anyway. In any case, feedback mechanisms bring about that moment when we realise why we have to change, because we see the unsatisfactory results of our current behaviour.
A more detailed understanding of what we have to change or how. From the realisation that ‘business as usual’ is no longer relevant, we need to examine closely what it is that we have to change. Again here we need some kind of feedback mechanisms, induced by others (direct feedback through online or face-to-face conversations), or by our own exploration e.g. finding out, while reading, that we seem to be out of pace with others doing similar things, or through regularly reflecting again, e.g. via after action reviews…
A willingness to change. Even if we understand clearly what we want to change, we have to assess whether, deep down, we are bothered to change… At that stage, we are no longer in the cognitive realm, we are immersed in the emotional world. And this is perhaps where the tipping point is. We may have totally irrational reasons to go against a perceived need to change, as is the case with smoking cigarettes, not washing hands… our will has to spring out of comfort and routine. Willingness to change is about the where and when we are ready to change.
A step up to actively effect change. And finally, we may realise, understand and even want to change, but if we don’t take active steps to change, nothing happens. Perhaps this seems unlikely if the three other conditions are met, but the intensity of all these other factors may not be as strong as required to modify our behaviour. We need to take a bold first step to make change happen. The how is the question here, but certainly small steps are more helpful than grand visions at this stage…
The pathways of change are not straightforward. And yet they are pathways because they go through different steps…
Somehow, the marketing model of AIDA comes to mind here too:
- (grab) Attention
- (stimulate) Interest, usually through information
- (create) Desire
- (generate) Action.
This model is usually applied to bringing people to buy products – but changing behaviour could be the product we’re interested in selling here.
If we look in more detail, we can single out finer granularity details explaining what inspires these four steps towards change.
- Accidents and incidents. Indeed accidents are major game changers. They reverse the order of priorities. Even incidents have that property to let change emerge. This is where the ‘safe-fail’ probes and approaches come in handy.
- Being connected. The more we are connected to others, and the more diverse those others are, the more we are increasing our chances of getting out of our comfort zone. Bill Taylor says just the same to learn as fast as the world changes.This is why staying for 30 years in the same company reduces our chances of changing – because we are then connected to a very slowly changing network. This is also why social media have incredibly accelerated change. They have massively amplified our feedback loops.
- Trust. As we are connected, we tend to follow those we trust – and we now know how complex the trust-building process is. Trust is the kind of cement to relationships that is built upon common experience, reliability, ‘authority’ and the ‘liking’ mentioned in the above video. It also relates to reciprocity, boiling down here to “being the change you want to see”. Along the same lines, rather than listen to us, children also watch us and trust our actions, not our words.
- Previous ‘tickling’ – the ‘consistency’ message that Robert Cialdini mentions in his ‘science of persuasion’ video shown above. Social change itself, in my view, consists of trying to bend the tree. Doing it ever so slightly each time eventually brings major breakthroughs – a typical case of emergence in a complex adaptive system…
- Reflecting, learning and processing emotions. Having a regular practice of reflexivity and learning – one of the reasons why blogging is so crucial – enhances our sharpness to signals of change. If being connected (see above) keeps us externally astute to signals of change, reflecting, learning and processing emotions keeps us internally astute to them. What might create the tipping point, again particularly emotions.
- Ownership – We need to be bothered about the issue at hand to change… Otherwise the ‘not invented here‘ NIH syndrome will kick in. “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand”. It is our change that will last, not others. We can undo what others have changed in us, a typical process for people suffering from tyranny.
- Passion can be a strong driver of learning and change, whether inspired by sheer feeling towards another/others, inspiration given from a person, inspiration for a vision that has been jointly developed etc. Passion however bears the risk of putting us in the group think bias if used blindly collectively (something which Dave Snowden recently blogged about).
- Whatever it is, the carrot – the WIIFM – matters. If we see an incentive, we (might) go for the change. Our comfort zone is a very gravitational factor. Asking us to go through the trouble of moving out of it necessitates a very clear and obvious value proposition. The WIIFM includes cost-benefit analysis and return on investment (RoI) calculations. The benefit has to outweigh the cost or risk, at least in the longer run – or it might be lesser as a result of a compulsory move from the institutional environment (see below).
- The stick… the threat or risks that we associate with not changing our behaviour can also be a strong driver of change. The sense of ‘scarcity’ also mentioned in the video is part of this stick.
- Institutional pressure and biases. We work (certainly as employees) in a world of rules and regulations, of formal and informal incentives and boundaries. Typically, the heavily donor-driven development cooperation sector is an open field for many biases that can game operations and encourage or deter change.
- Peer pressure. That could be one of the sticks (or the carrots, to conform) that plays out strongly… positively or negatively for the kind of change. If you go against the flow, you are potentially just one more positive deviant.
- A certain confidence or at least having an idea of how to move forward and of having the capacities – or the courage – to go for it. Sometimes we postpone the actions we should take because we don’t feel confident enough to undertake them. Learning a new skill (using a PC, driving, managing staff) could be an intimidating first step to getting us to the change we want.
There are two major ways that we may face these factors: alone, or socially. Reading and doing things our way could lead us to change. So might conversation(s) and joint action. There was a while back a conversation (open to group members only) on a LinkedIn group about learning alone or socially, by reading or conversing, by codifying or by personalizing. Both approaches are different and can lead to the ‘aha’ moment that will lead to change.
It seems there are a lot of different learning styles out there – and I also blogged about that in the past – which mean there are many pathways to change.
What does it mean for our knowledge and learning work?
So where does this leave us?
A lot of knowledge and communication work is about persuading people to change / adapt their behaviour to be able to learn better for themselves, to get to share what they think/see/feel/like with others, to document their work life, to reflect on what is happening and to collectively stimulate others to do so.
Yet we tend to rely on the same levers to pull and buttons to push all the time. And for everyone. Particularly, we fall prey to believing that sheer information will influence people on their own pathway to change. A lot of research ends up accumulating dust on the shelves without any impact for this very reason.
It’s time to shift our approach and to focus on who we are really dealing with (ourselves, our brains and hearts) and to embark on more realistic, more effective approaches to influence change.
The summary table (below) of the different steps on the pathways to change and the factors that influence these (strongly when bold) might help realise where we need to focus our efforts to change our behaviours or stimulate behaviour changes of others.
|ATTENTION: Realisation that we need to change||
|INFORMATION: Understanding about what we need to change||
|DESIRE: Willingness to change||
|ACTION: Stepping up to effecting change||
In practice, this means that would be well informed to:
- Realise where, in the pathway of change, we are (or the person we try to influence is).
- Develop strong and rich (diverse) feedback mechanisms.
- Work on the appropriate levers and buttons that matter at that stage.
- Develop trust with those we want to influence or we believe might influence us positively, to develop strong feedback loops.
- Encourage gardening the diversity of our networks to establish rich feedback loops.
- Try different approaches for different types of people, based on the trust we have with them and on the kind of cost-benefit and RoI calculations that will form acceptable evidence of the need to change.
- Combine a compelling vision of success with small incremental steps that do not feel like we need to change everything in one go or add ever so much more on our (work) plate.
- Realise the ‘institutional’ factors (the carrots and sticks, the peer pressure mechanisms) that might influence change too.
- As much as possible, co-create our work processes with multiple and diverse parties to bring all of the above together.
The pathways of change are not straightforward, but perhaps that’s for the better: We are all different, and change keeps changing, right?
Related blog posts:
- X reasons not to learn, not to share, not to progress
- Managing or facilitating change, not just a question of words
- Stop judging and move on, because we all do (follow the seeds of change)
- Blogging for what? For reflecting, for sharing, for learning, for synthesising, for…
- Profile of the social learning hero