Back to Insights

The rational rider confronts the emotional elephant

It isn't every day that I leave an industry event feeling entertained and inspired, but "The Art of Marketing" event hosted by Microsoft Dynamics CRM in Calgary proved to be an extraordinarily valuable and insightful day. It seemed appropriate that I take this inspiration and channel it into a series of blog posts reflecting my personal learnings and perspectives from each of the six speakers. This first post is inspired by Chip Heath and is based on his book "Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard."

The title of this post, "The rational rider confronts the emotional elephant" reflects Heath's underlying premise of why change is hard. Our rational mind (the rider) is analytical and strives to do what is logical. The emotional mind (the elephant) is emotional and is motivated by our senses and feelings. You can see the analogy. The rider holds the reigns, but is so small and overmatched compared to the elephant. If the elephant is not motivated, the rider will quickly tire and the elephant will be in control.

Here are some highlights I took away from the talk...

Focus on the bright spots

Our analytical minds tend to migrate to problem-oriented conversations because we love to solve problems. These conversations (and investigative endeavours) are like oxygen to the analytical mind, giving it the nourishment it needs to continue on its course. However, ever heard of "analysis paralysis"? :) Deeper and deeper investigation and analysis of problems doesn't necessarily equate to better answers and solutions because it is exhausting. That time and energy would be better invested in understanding the bright spots — the things that actually do work. I learned this early on when working in business architecture. It's more helpful to understand the informal processes and work-arounds people use than to spend time investigating why they avoid the formal processes they were expected to use. Looking at what is working, even if not in compliance, will yield more valuable insight into what may work even better in the future. In his "Direct the rider" discussion Heath told a very rich story about the work Jerry Sternin did on behalf of Save the Children in Vietnam and how his focus on the bright spots achieved amazing outcomes.

Grow the elephant

One of the statements from Heath that resonated strongest with me was "Appeal to emotional identity, not analytical consequence. Grow the elephant!" Despite economic downturn, Apple continued to sell their products — at a premium price! No question, Steve Jobs absolutely gets design aesthetics. Our industry is rife with examples of highly functional solutions that no one wants to use. Too often we in this industry forget that our customers bring their likes, dislikes, preferences and emotions to work. The lesson here is to build solutions that users enjoy working with (even take pride in) and you may be able to drop user adoption from your list of project to dos.

Tweak the environment.

Or another way of saying this is "remove the barriers". Again, Heath had another very poignant example of how to put this into action: Amazon's 1-click purchase button. Make it as easy as possible to buy online to remove resistance to buying online. It may seem obvious, but from my experience the "obvious" is not something to be taken for granted. I often see the same (dare I say tired?) approaches to change management; unimaginative, coercive, and even condescending. Interestingly, I've always thought that the role of a manager was to remove barriers (be a filter rather than a megaphone I like to say), but ironically most managers are doing the exact opposite by trying to find ways of controlling what employees are doing. If managers were constantly looking to remove barriers, perhaps change would be infinitely easier for your organization. I'll leave that topic for a possible future blog post.

I loved Heath's final story to drive home how change can work in a seemingly impossible circumstance with the right application of principles to the rider, elephant, and environment. He explored the challenge Texas faced with roadside litter (and having too much of it). If you are curious to find out more I'd recommend you have a look at the "Don't Mess With Texas" campaign site and search Google for some interesting case study material.

Thanks to Chip Heath for a terrific and thought-provoking talk. The insights were valuable and I know they can be applied and refined in the work we do with our clients.