Myths About Creating Change: Some Interesting Thoughts from A Social Scientist’s Perspective

Posted by Paradigm Learning on August 15, 2014

'Change Just Ahead'

My friend Dr. Pat Gill Webber– a change consultant and business coach – sent me a link to a very interesting Ted Talk. It’s called 3 Myths of Behavior Change – What You Think You Know That You Don’t and is presented by Jeni Cross, a Sociology Professor at Colorado State University.

She begins by saying that creating change is hard, but what reallygets in the way is our “common sense” … the beliefs we have about what it takes to create change.

She cites the following three “Myths of Creating Change” and provides evidence about why they are myths as well as what is critical to consider when you want to drive change:

Myth 1: Education Will Change Behaviors

Myth 2: You Need to Change Attitudes to Change Behaviors

Myth 3: People Know What Motivates Them

Since Paradigm Learning works with clients to help them educate and engage employees around change, many of Ms. Cross’s observations resonate strongly with me.

For example, as she talks about Myth #1, education will change behaviors – she makes the case that information alone doesn’t work. Instead, the presentation of that information makes a big difference in how it is interpreted and internalized. In her words, information needs to be:

  • Tangible (She cites the use of metaphors or visuals as a way to do this)
  • Personalized (She highlights the importance of appealing to a specific audience and providing information directly relevant to that audience)
  • Interactive (She makes the point that “Social interaction is one of the most important ways to create change” )

Studies, she says, prove that “…information presented this way triples the effectiveness of change”.

We have certainly found when designing and developing “change education” programs and deployment initiatives with our clients – often through the use of a Paradigm Learning Discovery Map™ approach – that the use of metaphors and visuals can be highly effective in engaging participants and presenting a “big picture” perspective that is difficult to achieve when information is presented in a piecemeal fashion.

We have also been very successful working with clients to design small team interaction activities that allow for peer to peer exploration of important information and concepts. And, of course, being clear about the audience … or in many cases, multiple audiences … gives us the ability to work with our clients to design relevant information, exercises and activities that drive a clear connection of information to business units, departments or jobs.

Helping clients zero in on the right way to present the right information is how we provide value to client organizations that are wrestling with major change communication and education initiatives.

A few other ideas (paraphrased) in Ms. Cross’s presentation include:

  • Human beings are loss-adverse. (Letting people know what could be lost if behaviors don’t change has been proven to be more successful than letting them know what will be gained.)
  • Setting behavioral expectations and then rewarding and reinforcing them leads to attitude change (As children, we may have learned from our parents to turn off the light switch when we leave a room. This ultimately changed many attitudes about energy conservation without lectures about energy conservation.)
  • Don’t ask people what will motivate them to change. They will not know and will mislead you – although not intentionally (Example: Studies show that when asked what would motivate them to reuse towels in hotel room, people said the environmental impact. But studies have shown that it was more motivational to know that other people are reusing towels than to be asked to do so for environmental reasons).

One more thing that interested me in the Ted talk video is that an artist was sketching on large poster boards as Ms. Cross spoke … creating a storyboard of the presentation. Those of you who know Paradigm Learning know that we use the visual storyboarding approach in our work with senior executives to create message alignment and in our Discovery Map™ education and communication programs for client workforces. This technique is being used more and more often, as you’ve no doubt observed, by strategy consulting organizations and at major conferences and meetings around the world.

For those of you involved in change initiatives, I recommend taking a look at the Ted Talk presentation.

Please respond below with feedback, thoughts, opinions, or even just comments.

Topics: Organizational Change