(By Stephen Shapiro)
“If the effort to get from point A to point B is perceived as too great (relative to the benefit), people will be overwhelmed and not take action. Therefore, if you want people to change, you need to make the process simpler or make it appear simpler.“
You read about it all the time—amazing stories of survival. Regular humans enduring extraordinary conditions to stay alive. This is not a complete surprise if you understand that humans are wired for survival, not just physically, but neurologically as well. While we may have been built for survival, humans are not wired to change.
The mind says to itself, “What I’ve done in the past has kept me alive, so I must be doing something right.” This explains why change is often so difficult for most people. It’s risky, and threatens our survival.
But of course people do change. Sometimes a terrible tragedy, like the death of a loved one or learning you have a chronic disease, can cause a shift. While effective, this is a very passive—not to mention undesirable—approach to fostering change.
What if you could proactively inspire change?
Austrian economist Ludwig von Miseson once noted that three requirements must be present for an individual to change:
- The individual must be dissatisfied with the current state of affairs.
- The individual must see a better state.
- The individual must believe that he or she can reach that better state.
This translates into two primary levers we have to make change a reality:
1. Re-frame the outcome so that it is highly desired.
2. Re-frame the process of getting to the outcome.
Re-frame the Outcome
What is the primary message delivered in nearly every mattress commercial you have ever heard? “Buy our mattress and get the best night’s sleep.” Well, my mattress is 10 years old and it happens to be the most comfortable mattress in the world. Needless to say, these commercials don’t inspire me to buy a new bed.
Then I heard an advertisement on the radio that went something like this: “If your mattress is 10 years old, it weighs twice its original weight due to the dust mites that it has accumulated.” This got me thinking quite seriously about making a purchase.
This example highlights an interesting point about framing an outcome. When you frame things as opportunities like, “Wouldn’t it be great if we (fill in the blank)?” you drive creativity, not action. People may be interested, but probably not enough to make any change happen. On the other hand, the desire to avoid or eliminate threats, loss or pain drives action.
Let’s look at another example: diversity in the workplace. Although most people agree this is a positive way to run a business, it only tends to happen when there are mandates and quotas. Unfortunately, these tactics rarely get people to “embrace” the concept; they only look to “comply.”
But what is the real cost of not embracing diversity? And what if business owners were more in tune with the consequences of not embracing diversity?
A legal professional, and expert in these matters, shared this example with me: Take the law firm that is made up of all successful middle-aged white guys. The cost? They lose clients because minorities might feel they won’t understand their unique needs. The lose court cases with multi-racial juries. And, they alienate excellent attorneys, who may be women and believe they don’t understand their personal needs.
These are all very real problems affecting, among other things, the bottom line. Therefore, in order to get people to change, you want to emphasize the downside of not changing. This creates dissatisfaction with the current state, one of the three elements needed to prompt change.
Re-frame the Process
When scanning men’s health magazines, there are two headlines we see repeatedly: “Lose Your Gut Fast” and “Get Six Pack Abs.” But which of these headlines is more likely to sell magazines?
Although most people intuitively think that the second headline, “Get Six-Pack Abs,” is the sure winner, one website did a comparison and found that “Lose Your Gut Fast” was read significantly more times.
As stated earlier, how you frame the outcome dramatically affects action (or inaction). Six-pack abs are desirable, but it doesn’t address a pain like the embarrassment of a “gut.”
Additionally, to cause change, you need to believe you can reach that better state. For most, when someone is 20 pounds overweight, six-pack abs are desirable but seem inconceivable. Only when your gut is gone will six-pack abs even seem like a possibility.
This highlights the second lever of change: re-framing the process of getting to the outcome.
If the effort to get from point A to point B is perceived as too great (relative to the benefit), people will be overwhelmed and not take action. Therefore, if you want people to change, you need to make the process simpler or make it appear simpler. This could mean breaking tasks down into small, bite-sized chunks. Or, you could map out what needs to be done and find ways of making it simpler. Where can you automate part of the process? Where can you eliminate steps? Can you outsource anything?
Humans aren’t wired for change, yet we continually strive for it (and fail) both professionally and personally. However, if you couple the right motivation (pain/threat) with the belief that there is an attainable better state, you can produce change on a whim.