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Creating Change

Who loves change?

While preparing myself 20 years ago for working in another country and culture, I decided to inform myself about change/innovation from different angles. Without any doubt this list isn’t complete as it only focuses at the often overlooked aspects, it gives more different point of views than I have read in recently published articles and they are still valid, I think.

  • Social communication studies done to explain the failures of adapting innovations in developing countries revealed that it wasn’t that easy to introduce change. It definitely didn’t function in a linear fashion like analyzing the issue, building the vision, and coming up with a plan, informing those about the benefits and then get it done. At that time it was clear that without managing the network in which people participated, the change wouldn’t stick and the penetration would be below the level from which it would spread out (5%), even if the planning was correct and the resources available. The same observations I see these days repeated in articles about project management and innovation. So I wonder how long our incubation time is for “old knowledge” or whether the information just needs to presented in an up-to-date fashion.
  • Edward De Bono explained the strength of human mind, as being extremely good at seeing the difference between things that are equal (apple and bananas are both food but different ) and handling different things as equal (apples and bananas although different are both food). Particularly the last aspect doesn’t help with the implementation of change. When people feel they are following the right path, every induced deviation from that path will be worked back into the original direction of the path. In other words small steps of change don’t work when the change direction is different from the original direction. An acceptance of change of direction is needed first, then small or big steps can be applied.
  • The old direction can be the result of a wrong interpretation (outdated value system) of the observation or a wrong extrapolation of the situation (wrong scope, smartest student in the class isn’t necessary the smartest of the school or country).
  • When systems are implemented to achieve a certain goal, the systems are often translated into rules to follow through the processes. However in order to keep the rules usable they are simplified and underlying assumptions are left out. So over time people will follow the rules thinking that, as long as they do that the system will work. In reality those systems will mostly fail as rules will more and more be used towards their extreme cases, were they are weak.  When using incentive systems most people will find ways to optimize their outcome from the incentives system, so it be better they are well balanced.
  • The largest group of a population is absolutely against change, a moderate group is change neutral and only a small group loves change.
  • The users of the old approach will be able to better use the advantages of the old approach, while the users of the new approach will be lesser trained in the benefits possibly with bigger impact.
  • Externally motivated individuals will rely more on the benefits of the active system, while internally motivated individuals can live with not having benefits yet as long as they can see them at the end of tunnel.     


What to change

From the above list it is clear that a number of aspects need to be changed in order for the change to catch on and stay. Some steps are hard while others are simple and easy.

  • Arguments for change need to be created for the different thinking models people have. So the vision fits with all users.
  • The network relationship must be used to distribute the arguments of change.
  • System rules must be adjusted to make the old way more ineffective and promote the new way.
  • Incentives must pull the new approach.
  • The network must be used for fixing the bugs, change agents must have the knowledge or tools to make the change work.
  • Depending upon the change new believers have to be created that can be the leaders of the mass, new models with rules need to be created with matching incentives.

The hardest steps are those that are involved with updating the individual decision algorithm. As new ways must become the new logic for the individual, this requires the individual to see examples that work and are consistently. And they must be used by those he/she trusts and also bring the individual benefits. And as always… trust leaves on horseback and returns on foot.  


How to change

The following steps are a good guide, knowing that there is a lot of overlap.

  • Create a clear shared vision. The social network will have to support this step of creating and accepting the vision
  • New ways require new skills. With new skills new opportunities arise.
  • With these opportunities change must be pulled with the change of the incentive system that directs towards the new change. E.g. the change of TAX ruling in the Netherlands that lowered the taxation on a hybrid company lease car from 25% to 14% created more hybrid sales than all the reasoning why it would make sense.
  • Now the people in the network will start to question their trustees what to do. Having provided those key individuals with the convincing arguments for the different people, they can be heroes by having answers.
  • Assure the needed resources as the vision starts to become a reality with a realistic plan. With the new approach/product/service prototyped by internally motivated individuals who love change more skills are created and details collected to further detail the plan for the following stages.
  • With the change neutral people the experiments can be shared to improve on the concept.
  • Those results are again best distributed through the network.
  • To make the new system stable the system should not only be rule based, but also requiring individual testing against the required outcome. So a banker providing a loan should always be convinced that the loan can be paid back independent of the rules that allow a loan to be issued.

With the above generic steps and good project management skills many more complex habit changing innovations will succeed.

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