by Doug Gray | Sep 16, 2012 | Business, Coaching, exercise
There is much being written and talked about in the subject of happiness. Martin Seligman wrote Positive Psychology and spurred a movement. There is a clever movie on Netflix called “Happy” that is shared within families, church and school communities. The “pursuit of happiness” is thought to be a uniquely American trait, associated with the New World, connected to the American Dream… and NOT related to Gross Domestic Product or Net Worth.
In fact, there is a movement called the Happy Planet Index, which measures the national well-being against resource use.
The happiest nation? Not Denmark or Switzerland… It is Costa Rica. Which stopped funding an army in 1949, has a commitment to renewable energy, and that “Latin vibe” that encourages social connection. One good reference on the Happy Planet Index (HPI) is statistician Nic Marks, on www.Ted.com, August 30, 2010.
Happiness is elastic. We experience happiness at different times, and some people are more happy than others. We know the reward mechanisms of the brain are reinforced when we do certain activities. And when we reinforce those behaviors, we can be happier. Some activities, such as mindfulness, are now being taught in MBA programs… so that people become more happy.
Here is step 1 of 5:
Our social relationships define our success. Extroverts have always known that they need social reinforcement in order to feel comfortable. Shared housing movements are increasing from Scandanavia to Sun City, USA. When we are dis-stressed we typically go to a group (think about Alcoholics Anonymous, a sacred church, or Starbucks…) When we are in transition we seek groups for social connection (think social media, affinity groups, job seekers…)
So, how are you connecting today and this week? Who else do you need to connect to?
Recently, on my birthday, I received many Facebook emails. They were nice. (Thank you.) And I treasure the phone calls even more, from loved ones or long-lost ones… But I will never forget the friends and family who stopped by to visit. There are never enough of those visits.
On a scale of 1-10, how connected are you now? What do you need to do to increase that number?
by Doug Gray | Feb 26, 2012 | book review, Business, change, Coaching, Leadership, Managers, Personal Development, Resources, Success
Book Review of Drive; The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (2009) Daniel Pink
(Daniel Pink has gained momentum from his earlier bestsellers, Free Agent Nation and A Whole New Mind. He is still on that thread of applying scientific knowledge/research to common application in business, education, community, which leads to sales/a broad readership.)
Drive explains that when thinking about motivating others, there is a gap between “what science knows and what business does.” I like that phrase because it immediately states the conflict, and opportunity, and focus of the book.
Psychologists, and researchers in organizational development, know what works when motivating others. For instance, external reinforcements do work to motivate people doing routine tasks that do not require complex thinking. However, as our knowledge workers evolve from 70% routine work to 70% complex/ heuristic work, we “need an upgrade.” The carrot and stick approach is limited. In fact, external reinforcements can lead to unethical behavior, short term decision making, crush innovation or creativity or initiative, and can cloud accountability metrics because of inconsistent practices.
So, what does work? Self-directed workers require environments where we/they balance three essential elements: 1) Autonomy, the desire to direct our own lives, 2) Mastery, the urge to get better at something that matters, and 3) Purpose, the desire to do something in the service of something larger than ourselves.
I imagined a descriptive model such as three overlapping columns in a 3-D bar graph. A worker may be high in autonomy (loosely managed or very experienced in one way of doing tasks), yet low in purpose (without vision from managers or lacking career development hope.) Consequently, no amount of skills training or micro-managing will be an effective motivator, because that person would not care to master a task. There seems to be a minimal necessary requirement/ threshold for self directed workers to feel autonomy/ mastery/ purpose.
The application of this model is in its infancy. He cites dozens of examples, such as performance incentives that need to be tied to ROWE, return on work expected, rather than hours at a cubicle.
Pink distinguishes between Type X (external reinforcement for routine tasks) and Type I (internal reward/ satisfaction for doing purposeful work that develops mastery and rewards autonomy.) He wants us to move from Type X to Type I. The good news is that Type I behavior can be developed. Also, Type I behavior leads to stronger performance, greater health and wellness, and higher self efficacy and well being.
1) Autonomy. Management needs to foster autonomous workers who have autonomy over time, task, team and technique. Companies that foster autonomy greatly outperform their competitors. Examples include 10% innovation time for projects, at Google, IBM, etc.
2) Mastery. Results from engagement. When workers are “in flow” time passes without great challenge. In fact, mastery has a) a unique mindset that one can improve one’s abilities, b) mastery is painful and requires deliberate practice, and c) mastery is impossible to attain, therefore both frustrating and attractive.
3) Purpose. Alongside profit maximization, the baby boomers are defining “Purpose maximization” in the workplace. Companies are using a) goals to use profits to support a purpose (such a triple win proposals and social investing), b) careful diction/ plural pronouns to emphasize the impact of us/we, and c) new norms and policies that encourage purposeful endeavors (sabbaticals, cross functional action learning sets, collaborative initiatives…)
Pink has an easy style, with enough examples that the pages fly by.
At the end of the book he has clever approaches to engage readers into discussions. For instance, “Twenty Conversation Starters to Keep You Thinking and Talking” and “The Type I Reading List: Fifteen Essential Books” in an annotated bibliography. The result is that this book becomes one among other conversations, with other authors and readers and thinkers. The reader is engaged. In fact, the structure models self-directed workers by assuming one is autonomous (capable of independent thought), has mastery (desire to improve) and purpose (ability to apply these ideas to one’s own world.)
In short, one of the most important books I can recall reading in many years.
- Builds upon shift in psychological services from illness toward health. Extension of positivism. Huge opportunity for consultants and business leaders.
- Reinforces huge need for coaching that develops unique strengths. Could be connected to StrengthFinder assessment
- Complex model that needs a simple application in order to gain momentum in an organization…
- When I emailed Daniel Pink, he replied quickly and that impressed me…
On 2.26.12 I just re-read the book for several reasons.
1. Our daughter is taking AP Psychology and Drive is required reading. That fact says something about the reach of his book within 2 years. She is tasked with implementing a capstone project at her independent high school. I am curious what shea nd her fronds develop.
2. In the March, 2012 Inc magazine there is a related reference to “The Motivation Matrix” which cites research and a forthcoming book by Noam Wasserman at Harvard, which extends some of Pink’s concepts to explore why entrepreneurs start businesses, and what they (we ) want… very provocative.
Anyone know of any related assessments being used in the field?
by Doug Gray | Jan 2, 2012 | Business, change, Coaching, exercise, faith, Personal Development, Resources, Sales, strengths, Success
The holidays are a perfect time for baking and cooking… but an epiphany?
The word “Epiphany” can be both a holiday and a feeling.
Perhaps you know that the Epiphany holiday is celebrated near January 6, as a traditional time for feasts, fruitcakes, Twelfth Night, and the manifestation of Jesus to the Maggi. In Colorado, people celebrate by catapulting fruitcakes. In France, people eat the “King Cake” until a child finds the porcelain bean and is declared “King for the Day.” A baptism connected to sudden surprise. I love how we mash traditions and beliefs into one holiday.
The feeling of Epiphany is a sudden realization, that “Eureka!” moment, when we discover something important (such as gravity), or something spiritual (such as God.) In fact, psychologists study the feeling of epiphany when studying innovation. Philosophers study supernatural insight. Mystics study the conditions that support epiphanies.
Why not celebrate both the holiday and the feeling?
What if we could, somehow, select the ingredients, create a recipe, then bake a fertile climate for epiphanies? For instance, if we mashed together “preparation” and “inspiration”? Or “market” and “opportunity”? Or “buyer” and “seller”? Or chocolate on top of peanut butter cookies?
As a coach I help people design their future. Kind of like helping them create the recipe, so that they can frost the cake. The coaching process has 3 steps: 1) increasing awareness (of your strengths, a situation…), 2) taking action (with intentional constructive steps toward your personal and professional goals), and 3) driving accountability (determining what works, then doing more of that…”
I wonder if we can create Epiphanies, in a similar way?
Religious leaders and mystics talk about “Thin Places.” These may be cathedrals (like Winchester) or ancient sites (like Stonehenge) that enable us to feel connected to the supernatural or spiritual. If you have ever looked through stained glass, or sung in Handel’s Messiah, then you know about Thin Places.
For me, natural wild places are perfect conditions for Epiphanies. Last week, for instance, I was running along a rocky ridge line in New Hampshire. Imagine spruce and fir trees. Ancient granite. Snow and ice. A good friend nearby. Spectacular views of lakes and mountains. Then imagine the sun setting into crimson lines of endless colors. In that Thin Place I felt more spiritual than physical.
My epiphany was that, despite advancing age, I always feel stronger after a run. Connected to something ancient. Thankful for being alive.
So, here is a short Recipe for Creating Epiphanies:
1. Be physically active every day
2. Serve others
3. Do meaningful work
4. Consider possibilities
5. Maximize living in the Now
6. Design the Future
And let me know how it goes…
Do you think it is possible to celebrate both the holiday and the feeling of epiphany?
by Doug Gray | Jan 1, 2012 | book review, Business, change, Coaching, Employment, energy industry, Leadership, Managers, Personal Development, safety, strengths
Change or Die
A long-time friend often says, “If two people tell you to stop drinking, then it’s time to stop.”
In my world, if two people reference the same book, then it’s time for me to read it. Like a brick on the forehead, I just read an article and scanned the book Change or Die (2007) by Alan Deutschman.
Here are some takeaways, followed by some takeaways for EH&S professionals.
- Leadership requires changing behavior. Yet only 10% of people change
- Our brains are elastic. Thankfully, we are capable of change throughout life
- Younger people respond to behavior based learning; older people need to create new stimuli for mental and physical health
- Emotional persuasion is more effective than logical persuasion
- One insurance company saved $30,000 per patient when they engaged in 12 months of healthy lifestyle behavior. Consider the ROI for your company or project site.
- Our brains respond to frames-mental concepts- not facts
- When we select re-frames that are uplifting, emotional, evocative, persuasive we create lasting change in others
- Creating joy is a stronger motivator than creating fear
- Radical changes (like a new CEO who replaces top managers, or a healthy intervention) force others to change behavior
- Radical changes require alignment/engagement groups to support one another
- Leaders, and coaches, have a responsibility to apply these takeaways daily
Takeaways for Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) Professionals:
- Behavior-based safety training and monitoring works well for new craft or new hires. For those who have been in the field longer (including most of you) emotional persuasion will be more effective.
- Your safety moment stories need to be uplifting, emotionally evocative, and memorable. Some good ones include: “This morning I met a guy like you and asked him which eye he liked best- his right eye or his left eye? You may be thinking, what a stupid question. Then I explained that most recordables are hand and eye injuries, and he chose not to wear his PPE. So, what is your favorite eye?”
- The 3 R’s are a great model for safety coaches: Relate, Repeat, Reframe. 1) How you relate to others defines your ability to influence others, 2) how you repeatedly reinforce safety norms and choices defines your effectiveness, and 3) how you reframe concepts- like the choice of wearing PPE or sharing safety tips with others- reinforces mental constructs in our brain and changes behavior.
- Values lead to behavior that can be measured in our brain. For instance, if you played the flute for over 10,000 hours, your body will develop sensory stimuli in your fingers, lips, ears that change the neural image of your brain. In a similar way, if you value openness and collaboration at a work site, your corpus colossus is thicker as you process more information between hemispheres in your brain. If you values rigidly repeating whatever you have done before, the neural pathways in your brain will not change. We can choose openness and collaboration (for instance) at any time in life or career.
- Values-based safety is a choice.
- Behavior based safety leads to compliance, and can define safe norms in a company or job site when consistently reinforced by an EH&S team. However, if you are monitoring safety from the cab of your truck, or a distance, or without consistent backup from others, then you are not likely to reinforce consistent norms.
Here is the article for your reference…
Change or Die
By: Alan Deutschman May 1, 2005 in Fast Company
All leadership comes down to this: changing people’s behavior. Why is that so damn hard? Science offers some surprising new answers — and ways to do better.
What if you were given that choice? For real. What if it weren’t just the hyperbolic rhetoric that conflates corporate performance with life and death? Not the overblown exhortations of a rabid boss, or a slick motivational speaker, or a self-dramatizing CEO. We’re talking actual life or death now. Your own life or death. What if a well-informed, trusted authority figure said you had to make difficult and enduring changes in the way you think and act? If you didn’t, your time would end soon — a lot sooner than it had to. Could you change when change really mattered? When it mattered most?
Yes, you say?
You’re probably deluding yourself.
You wouldn’t change.
Don’t believe it? You want odds? Here are the odds, the scientifically studied odds: nine to one. That’s nine to one against you. How do you like those odds?
This revelation unnerved many people in the audience last November at IBM’s “Global Innovation Outlook” conference. The company’s top executives had invited the most farsighted thinkers they knew from around the world to come together in New York and propose solutions to some really big problems. They started with the crisis in health care, an industry that consumes an astonishing $1.8 trillion a year in the United States alone, or 15% of gross domestic product. A dream team of experts took the stage, and you might have expected them to proclaim that breathtaking advances in science and technology — mapping the human genome and all that — held the long-awaited answers. That’s not what they said. They said that the root cause of the health crisis hasn’t changed for decades, and the medical establishment still couldn’t figure out what to do about it.
Dr. Raphael “Ray” Levey, founder of the Global Medical Forum, an annual summit meeting of leaders from every constituency in the health system, told the audience, “A relatively small percentage of the population consumes the vast majority of the health-care budget for diseases that are very well known and by and large behavioral.” That is, they’re sick because of how they choose to live their lives, not because of environmental or genetic factors beyond their control. Continued Levey: “Even as far back as when I was in medical school” — he enrolled at Harvard in 1955 — “many articles demonstrated that 80% of the health-care budget was consumed by five behavioral issues.” Levey didn’t bother to name them, but you don’t need an MD to guess what he was talking about: too much smoking, drinking, eating, and stress, and not enough exercise.
Then the knockout blow was delivered by Dr. Edward Miller, the dean of the medical school and CEO of the hospital at Johns Hopkins University. He turned the discussion to patients whose heart disease is so severe that they undergo bypass surgery, a traumatic and expensive procedure that can cost more than $100,000 if complications arise. About 600,000 people have bypasses every year in the United States, and 1.3 million heart patients have angioplasties — all at a total cost of around $30 billion. The procedures temporarily relieve chest pains but rarely prevent heart attacks or prolong lives. Around half of the time, the bypass grafts clog up in a few years; the angioplasties, in a few months. The causes of this so-called restenosis are complex. It’s sometimes a reaction to the trauma of the surgery itself. But many patients could avoid the return of pain and the need to repeat the surgery — not to mention arrest the course of their disease before it kills them — by switching to healthier lifestyles. Yet very few do. “If you look at people after coronary-artery bypass grafting two years later, 90% of them have not changed their lifestyle,” Miller said. “And that’s been studied over and over and over again. And so we’re missing some link in there. Even though they know they have a very bad disease and they know they should change their lifestyle, for whatever reason, they can’t.”
Changing the behavior of people isn’t just the biggest challenge in health care. It’s the most important challenge for businesses trying to compete in a turbulent world, says John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor who has studied dozens of organizations in the midst of upheaval: “The central issue is never strategy, structure, culture, or systems. The core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people.” Those people may be called upon to respond to profound upheavals in marketplace dynamics — the rise of a new global competitor, say, or a shift from a regulated to a deregulated environment — or to a corporate reorganization, merger, or entry into a new business. And as individuals, we may want to change our own styles of work — how we mentor subordinates, for example, or how we react to criticism. Yet more often than not, we can’t.
CEOs are supposedly the prime change agents for their companies, but they’re often as resistant to change as anyone — and as prone to backsliding. The most notorious recent example is Michael Eisner. After he nearly died from heart problems, Eisner finally heeded his wife’s plea and brought in a high-profile number-two exec, Michael Ovitz, to alleviate the stress of running Disney. But Eisner proved incapable of seeing through the idea, essentially refusing to share any real power with Ovitz from the start.
The conventional wisdom says that crisis is a powerful motivator for change. But severe heart disease is among the most serious of personal crises, and it doesn’t motivate — at least not nearly enough. Nor does giving people accurate analyses and factual information about their situations. What works? Why, in general, is change so incredibly difficult for people? What is it about how our brains are wired that resists change so tenaciously? Why do we fight even what we know to be in our own vital interests?
Kotter has hit on a crucial insight. “Behavior change happens mostly by speaking to people’s feelings,” he says. “This is true even in organizations that are very focused on analysis and quantitative measurement, even among people who think of themselves as smart in an MBA sense. In highly successful change efforts, people find ways to help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thought.”
Unfortunately, that kind of emotional persuasion isn’t taught in business schools, and it doesn’t come naturally to the technocrats who run things — the engineers, scientists, lawyers, doctors, accountants, and managers who pride themselves on disciplined, analytical thinking. There’s compelling science behind the psychology of change — it draws on discoveries from emerging fields such as cognitive science, linguistics, and neuroscience — but its insights and techniques often seem paradoxical or irrational.
Look again at the case of heart patients. The best minds at Johns Hopkins and the Global Medical Forum might not know how to get them to change, but someone does: Dr. Dean Ornish, a professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco and founder of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute, in Sausalito, California. Ornish, like Kotter, realizes the importance of going beyond the facts. “Providing health information is important but not always sufficient,” he says. “We also need to bring in the psychological, emotional, and spiritual dimensions that are so often ignored.” Ornish published studies in leading peer-reviewed scientific journals, showing that his holistic program, focused around a vegetarian diet with less than 10% of the calories from fat, can actually reverse heart disease without surgery or drugs. Still, the medical establishment remained skeptical that people could sustain the lifestyle changes. In 1993, Ornish persuaded Mutual of Omaha to pay for a trial. Researchers took 333 patients with severely clogged arteries. They helped them quit smoking and go on Ornish’s diet. The patients attended twice-weekly group support sessions led by a psychologist and took instruction in meditation, relaxation, yoga, and aerobic exercise. The program lasted for only a year. But after three years, the study found, 77% of the patients had stuck with their lifestyle changes — and safely avoided the bypass or angioplasty surgeries that they were eligible for under their insurance coverage. And Mutual of Omaha saved around $30,000 per patient.
Why does the Ornish program succeed while the conventional approach has failed? For starters, Ornish recasts the reasons for change. Doctors had been trying to motivate patients mainly with the fear of death, he says, and that simply wasn’t working. For a few weeks after a heart attack, patients were scared enough to do whatever their doctors said. But death was just too frightening to think about, so their denial would return, and they’d go back to their old ways.
The patients lived the way they did as a day-to-day strategy for coping with their emotional troubles. “Telling people who are lonely and depressed that they’re going to live longer if they quit smoking or change their diet and lifestyle is not that motivating,” Ornish says. “Who wants to live longer when you’re in chronic emotional pain?”
So instead of trying to motivate them with the “fear of dying,” Ornish reframes the issue. He inspires a new vision of the “joy of living” — convincing them they can feel better, not just live longer. That means enjoying the things that make daily life pleasurable, like making love or even taking long walks without the pain caused by their disease. “Joy is a more powerful motivator than fear,” he says.
Pioneering research in cognitive science and linguistics has pointed to the paramount importance of framing. George Lakoff, a professor of those two disciplines at the University of California at Berkeley, defines frames as the “mental structures that shape the way we see the world.” Lakoff says that frames are part of the “cognitive unconscious,” but the way we know what our frames are, or evoke new ones, springs from language. For example, we typically think of a company as being like an army — everyone has a rank and a codified role in a hierarchical chain of command with orders coming down from high to low. Of course, that’s only one way of organizing a group effort. If we had the frame of the company as a family or a commune, people would know very different ways of working together.
The big challenge in trying to change how people think is that their minds rely on frames, not facts. “Neuroscience tells us that each of the concepts we have — the long-term concepts that structure how we think — is instantiated in the synapses of the brain,” Lakoff says. “Concepts are not things that can be changed just by someone telling us a fact. We may be presented with facts, but for us to make sense of them, they have to fit what is already in the synapses of the brain. Otherwise, facts go in and then they go right back out. They are not heard, or they are not accepted as facts, or they mystify us: Why would anyone have said that? Then we label the fact as irrational, crazy, or stupid.” Lakoff says that’s one reason why political conservatives and liberals each think that the other side is nuts. They don’t understand each other because their brains are working within different frames.
The frame that dominates our thinking about how work should be organized — the military chain-of-command model — is extremely hard to break. When new employees start at W.L. Gore & Associates, the maker of Gore-Tex fabrics, they often refuse to believe that the company doesn’t have a hierarchy with job titles and bosses. It just doesn’t fit their frame. They can’t accept it. It usually takes at least several months for new hires to begin to understand Gore’s reframed notion of the workplace, which relies on self-directed employees making their own choices about joining one another in egalitarian small teams.
Getting people to exchange one frame for another is tough even when you’re working one-on-one, but it’s especially hard to do for large groups of people. Howard Gardner, a cognitive scientist, MacArthur Fellow “genius” award winner, and professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, has looked at what works most effectively for heads of state and corporate CEOs. “When one is addressing a diverse or heterogeneous audience,” he says, “the story must be simple, easy to identify with, emotionally resonant, and evocative of positive experiences.”
In Louis V. Gerstner Jr.’s successful turnaround of IBM in the 1990s, he learned the surprising importance of this kind of emotional persuasion. When he took over as CEO, Gerstner was fixated on what had worked for him throughout his career as a McKinsey & Co. consultant: coolheaded analysis and strategy. He thought he could revive the company through maneuvers such as selling assets and cutting costs. He quickly found that those tools weren’t nearly enough. He needed to transform the entrenched corporate culture, which had become hidebound and overly bureaucratic. That meant changing the attitudes and behaviors of hundreds of thousands of employees. In his memoir, Gerstner writes that he realized he needed to make a powerful emotional appeal to them, to “shake them out of their depressed stupor, remind them of who they were — you’re IBM, damn it!” Rather than sitting in a corner office negotiating deals and analyzing spreadsheets, he needed to convey passion through thousands of hours of personal appearances. Gerstner, who’s often brittle and imperious in private, nonetheless responded admirably to the challenge. He proved to be an engaging and emotional public speaker when he took his campaign to his huge workforce.
Steve Jobs’s turnaround at Apple shows the impact of reframing and telling a new narrative that’s simple, positive, and emotional. When he returned to the company after a long exile, he recast its image among employees and customers alike from a marginalized player vanquished in the battle for market share to the home of a small but enviable elite: the creative innovators who dared to “Think different.”
When leaders are addressing a small group of people who have a similar mind-set and shared values, the reframed message can be more nuanced and complex, Harvard’s Gardner says. But it still needs to be positive, inspiring, and emotionally resonant. A good example is how chairman and publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. rescued The New York Times from crisis. Former editor Howell Raines had alienated much of the newsroom’s staff, undermining its communal spirit with a new culture of favoritism. Raines fell when a star reporter he had shielded from criticism was exposed for fabricating news stories. The scandal threatened the famed paper’s credibility. Gardner says that Sulzberger successfully reframed the narrative this way: We are a great newspaper. We temporarily went astray and risked sacrificing the community spirit that made this an outstanding place to work. We can retain our excellence and regain our sense of community by admitting our errors, making sure that they don’t happen again, and being a more transparent and self-reflecting organization. To achieve these goals, Sulzberger replaced Raines with a new top editor, Bill Keller — a respected veteran who reflected the lost communal culture — and he appointed a “public editor” to critique the paper in an unedited column. Now, Gardner says, “the Times is a much happier place and the news coverage and journalistic empire are in reasonable shape.”
Reframing alone isn’t enough, of course. That’s where Dr. Ornish’s other astonishing insight comes in. Paradoxically, he found that radical, sweeping, comprehensive changes are often easier for people than small, incremental ones. For example, he says that people who make moderate changes in their diets get the worst of both worlds: They feel deprived and hungry because they aren’t eating everything they want, but they aren’t making big enough changes to quickly see an improvement in how they feel, or in measurements such as weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. But the heart patients who went on Ornish’s tough, radical program saw quick, dramatic results, reporting a 91% decrease in frequency of chest pain in the first month. “These rapid improvements are a powerful motivator,” he says. “When people who have had so much chest pain that they can’t work, or make love, or even walk across the street without intense suffering find that they are able to do all of those things without pain in only a few weeks, then they often say, ‘These are choices worth making.’ ”
While it’s astonishing that most patients in Ornish’s demanding program stick with it, studies show that two-thirds of patients who are prescribed statin drugs (which are highly effective at cutting cholesterol) stop taking them within one year. What could possibly be a smaller or easier lifestyle change than popping a pill every day? But Ornish says patients stop taking the drug because it doesn’t actually make them feel any better. It doesn’t deal with causes of high cholesterol, such as obesity, that make people feel unhealthy. The paradox holds that big changes are easier than small ones.
Research shows that this idea applies to the business realm as well. Bain & Co., the management consulting firm, studied 21 recent corporate transformations and found that most were “substantially completed” in only two years or less while none took more than three years. The means were drastic: In almost every case, the CEOs fired most of the top management. Almost always, the companies enjoyed quick, tangible results, and their stock prices rose 250% a year on average as they revived.
IBM’s turnaround hinged on a radical shift in focus from selling computer hardware to providing “services,” which meant helping customers build and run their information-technology operations. This required a momentous cultural switch — IBMers would have to recommend that a client buy from competitors such as Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft when it was in the client’s interest. But the radical shift worked: Services have grown into IBM’s core business and the key to its success.
Of course, radical change often isn’t possible in business situations. Still, it’s always important to identify, achieve, and celebrate some quick, positive results for the vital emotional lifts that they provide. Harvard’s Kotter believes in the importance of “short-term wins” for companies, meaning “victories that nourish faith in the change effort, emotionally reward the hard workers, keep the critics at bay, and build momentum. Without sufficient wins that are visible, timely, unambiguous, and meaningful to others, change efforts invariably run into serious problems.”
Even when leaders have reframed the issues brilliantly, it’s still vital to give people the multifaceted support they need. That’s a big reason why 90% of heart patients can’t change their lifestyles but 77% of Ornish’s patients could — because he buttressed them with weekly support groups with other patients, as well as attention from dieticians, psychologists, nurses, and yoga and meditation instructors.
Xerox’s executives learned this lesson well. Four years ago, when the company was in crisis, they came up with a new vision that required salespeople to change the way they had always worked. “Their whole careers, salespeople had done one thing,” says James Firestone, president of Xerox North America, who leads a sales force of 5,400. “They would knock on doors, look for copiers, see how old they were, and sell a refresh. They knew how to do that.” The salespeople had such predictable routines that they could plan their days, weeks, even years. It was comforting. But it just wasn’t succeeding any longer.
Under the new strategy, the salespeople were supposed to really engage with customers so they could understand the complexities of how their offices operated and find opportunities to sell other products, such as scanners and printers. Maybe they would find that the customer actually needed fewer machines that could do more than the old ones had. Learning about the client’s needs meant that the sales reps had to take a lot more time and talk to more people about broader issues. It undermined the cozy predictability of their routines. The reps became anxious, Firestone recalls. “They’d say, ‘I know how to sell and make a living the old way, but not the new way.’ ”
Their anxiety was compounded by the fact that Xerox lagged in giving them the support they needed. It often took a couple of months before the salespeople received their scheduled training in the new approach. And it took two years before the company changed its incentive pay system to fit better with the new model, in which the reps had to invest a lot more time and effort before they signed deals. Eventually, though, the change effort, by expanding the sales focus to a larger range of products, helped Xerox avoid bankruptcy and return to profitability. “People need a sense of confidence that the processes will be aligned internally,” Firestone says. “For large companies, this is where change usually fails.” Even if change starts at the top, it can easily die somewhere in the middle. That’s why Xerox now holds “alignment workshops” that ask middle managers — the people who make processes work — to outline the ways its systems could inhibit its agendas for change.
This Is Your Brain on Change
Are most of us like the fearful copier salespeople who dread disruption to their routines? Neuroscience, a field that has exploded with insight, has a lot more to say about changing people’s behavior — and its findings are guardedly optimistic. Scientists used to believe that the brain became “hardwired” early in life and couldn’t change later on. Now researchers such as Dr. Michael Merzenich, a professor at the University of California at San Francisco, say that the brain’s ability to change — its “plasticity” — is lifelong. If we can change, then why don’t we? Merzenich has perspective on the issue since he’s not only a leading neuroscientist but also an entrepreneur, the founder of two Bay Area startups. Both use PC software to train people to overcome mental disabilities or diseases: Scientific Learning Corp. focuses on children who have trouble learning to read, and Posit Science Corp. is working on ways to prevent, stop, or reverse cognitive decline in older adults.
Merzenich starts by talking about rats. You can train a rat to have a new skill. The rat solves a puzzle, and you give it a food reward. After 100 times, the rat can solve the puzzle flawlessly. After 200 times, it can remember how to solve it for nearly its lifetime. The rat has developed a habit. It can perform the task automatically because its brain has changed. Similarly, a person has thousands of habits — such as how to use a pen — that drive lasting changes in the brain. For highly trained specialists, such as professional musicians, the changes actually show up on MRI scans. Flute players, for instance, have especially large representations in their brains in the areas that control the fingers, tongue, and lips, Merzenich says. “They’ve distorted their brains.”
Businesspeople, like flutists, are highly trained specialists, and they’ve distorted their brains, too. An older executive “has powers that a young person walking in the door doesn’t have,” says Merzenich. He has lots of specialized skills and abilities. A specialist is a hard thing to create, and is valuable for a corporation, obviously, but specialization also instills an inherent “rigidity.” The cumulative weight of experience makes it harder to change.
How, then, to overcome these factors? Merzenich says the key is keeping up the brain’s machinery for learning. “When you’re young, almost everything you do is behavior-based learning — it’s an incredibly powerful, plastic period,” he says. “What happens that becomes stultifying is you stop learning and you stop the machinery, so it starts dying.” Unless you work on it, brain fitness often begins declining at around age 30 for men, a bit later for women. “People mistake being active for continuous learning,” Merzenich says. “The machinery is only activated by learning. People think they’re leading an interesting life when they haven’t learned anything in 20 or 30 years. My suggestion is learn Spanish or the oboe.”
Meanwhile, the leaders of a company need “a business strategy for continuous mental rejuvenation and new learning,” he says. Posit Science has a “fifth-day strategy,” meaning that everyone spends one day a week working in a different discipline. Software engineers try their hand at marketing. Designers get involved in business functions. “Everyone needs a new project instead of always being in a bin,” Merzenich says. “A fifth-day strategy doesn’t sacrifice your core ability but keeps you rejuvenated. In a company, you have to worry about rejuvenation at every level. So ideally you deliberately construct new challenges. For every individual, you need complex new learning. Innovation comes about when people are enabled to use their full brains and intelligence instead of being put in boxes and controlled.”
What happens if you don’t work at mental rejuvenation? Merzenich says that people who live to 85 have a 50-50 chance of being senile. While the issue for heart patients is “change or die,” the issue for everyone is “change or lose your mind.” Mastering the ability to change isn’t just a crucial strategy for business. It’s a necessity for health. And it’s possibly the one thing that’s most worth learning.
Alan Deutschman is a Fast Company senior writer based in San Francisco.