Friday, October 23, 2009

Prisoners of Paradigms

Why is it so hard to change?

Just finished 'Management Rewired' by Charles Jacobs. This was the third book I've read recently on answering the question: Just how do we make decisions? This one focuses on management and leadership while Buyology and How We Decide led me to think about the "Biology of Branding".

It seems that rebranding, organizational change, and innovation are three sides of the same coin. We want people to see them as new and adapt them. We explain the logic using rational arguments and expect people to fall in line. It rarely works that way leading to the question: Why are they so hard?

They are all prisoners of paradigms.

The brain processes all inputs requiring each of us to filter the possibilities into a short list of things we need to pay attention to. We do that by forming expectations based on experience. Since we all have different experiences and each day brings new data to our mind, we need some tool to look at the big picture. It turns out that it is emotion or those parts of the brain associated with experiences and feelings that guide our course of action. These in turn create reinforced pathways - paradigms if you will - that create shortcuts to decisions and actions.

Without emotions I was never, ever be able to decide between Nikon and a Cannon based solely on a checklist of features because there is no referee. In the end, I chose Nikon because of I wanted one since high school. The desire to take emotions out of the RFP process, performance reviews, and 'balanced score cards' also explains why they rarely produce the desired results.

The implication is that there is not one universal cause and effect as in the physical world and this means:
  1. Newton's laws don't apply to people; so all those feeds and speeds brochures telling prospects why our product is better don't really help make the decision - they do help defend the decision. It also means pay for performance won't work either.
  2. There are multiple versions of the rational truth; while features and advantages maybe generalized benefits can not - they're personal. This is good for innovating at the fringe where people are actively seeking new solutions.
  3. Socrates was right and Aristotle was wrong; questioning and participative is a much better strategy than top down ordering. Maybe SoMed means Socratic Media?
Most of the time paradigms or mental shortcuts are good, as long as we want to perpetuate the status quo. But if we want to change our own, or others', minds we're in deep trouble.
  • Rebranding means creating a new pigeon hole in the mind for your company while simultaneously closing the old one down. Starting with "We want to rebrand, but don't want to piss off our core." will pretty much guarantee failure.
  • Organizational change means creating a new set of expected behaviors while eradicating the ones that got you to the point where you need change. Try adapting Henry V's style rather than Patton's when rallying the team.
  • Innovation means creating a new solution to an old problem (or at least a different way of satisfying a need.) Getting people to realize it doesn't have to be a certain way means severing pathways honed over time.
So how do we change people's minds? How do we institute change? Seems three things will help:
  1. Create cognitive dissonance - force the brain to say, "wait a minute this isn't what I expected." Make it process the information again (and again and again). We must be taught that coins have three sides, not two.
  2. Use an experience or physical act to demonstrate that things are different. A new logo is part of this as is moving the executive offices from the top floor to the main floor or even a new pricing model. (But by all means don't stop - these are simply symbols.)
  3. Paint a vision using a story. Brands, organizations, and innovations all succeed when surrounded by a culture formed by telling stories.
Paradigms are good when we're sitting on top of the hill we want to be on. However, they are serious obstacles when trying to get to the top of the hill.

1 comment:

Robert Dempsey said...

Great post Anthony. How did you like "Management Rewired"?

Emotions are at the root of many of the decisions that we all make, whether they be personal or business. For instance with buying behavior, people want to know that they are making the right decision, and once made, that the decision is a good one. As you say, this is why typical product literature is a big fail, and why the future, as it was in the past, is companies developing real relationships with their customers, making them the marketing and sales force of the brand.

A frequent example is Zappos. I needed a new paid of shoes, and happened to see a lot of my friends on Twitter speaking highly of them. I did my research, found out about their return policy, and gave them a go. The experience was great, the product was great, and I'm a happy customer that now mentions them often.

That's much better than any brochure can do.