Dave Pollard's environmental philosophy, creative works, business papers and essays.
In search of a better way to live and make a living, and a better understanding of how the world really works.

June 11, 2006

How to Change Hearts, Minds & Behaviours

Filed under: Our Culture / Ourselves — Dave Pollard @ 20:10

My Purpose is Provoking Change. So I’m very interested in the change process. I’ve observed how easy it is to persuade people about something if they have no preconceived views on it, and how hard it becomes once they’ve ‘made up their mind’. I’ve observed how our worldview ‘frames’ profoundly affect what we believe, and what we’re prepared to believe, and always trump facts. I’ve observed how hard it is to bring about real, sustained change in large organizations, even with coercion and massively expensive change projects. And lately I’ve observed that:

We do what we must, then we do what’s easy, then we do what’s fun. There is no time or energy left for what’s needed to save the world, even if we can agree on what that is.

In response to this, ‘KF’ wrote:

This made me think of those of us who are inclined to think about saving the world. We’re no different than anyone else but in some ways it must be more necessary, easier (perhaps because years of necessity have translated to a degree of skill), and more fun (the enjoyment of acting in accordance with, rather than denying, our nature) for us to be this way…If others are just acting out their wiring (their particular brand of what is necessary, easy, and fun) we must then try to “package” world-saving as necessary, easy, and fun in order to obtain, if not cooperation with, at least toleration of, [some] proposed solutions.

To see if this ‘packaging’ might be possible, I put together a model of how people change (their minds, their beliefs, and/or their behaviours), and the result is the graphic above. Here’s a brief walkthrough:

  1. If a person is ignorant of the information needed to precipitate a change of mind, belief or behaviour, they obviously won’t be ready to change. Only 10% of the population is aware of information about the End of Oil, so the other 90% are not going to do anything to prepare for The Long Emergency. We can have an impact on that by offering information in a clear, compelling, non-confrontational manner.
  2. If they do have access to that information, they will process (‘internalize’) it through their existing ‘frames’ and worldview. If the information is not consistent with those frames (e.g. if the information suggests an urgent need to reduce human population, and the person’s belief system is opposed to birth control), the information will be rejected out of hand. There are only two ways around this: (a) the information has to get to people before they have any preconceptions or ‘frames’ on the subject (this is why children are the best learners — they are more open-minded than adults), or (b) methods like story-telling that circumvent our usual frame-based pre-judgements must be used. Stories like 1984 and A Scientific Romance allow new information and ideas to infiltrate our brains without being processed through the frames that assess and pre-judge ‘factual’ information. We can use stories and other techniques to help people imagine different worldviews in a non-threatening but very subversive and powerful way.
  3. Once people have received and accepted new information that suggests a need for change, they are ready to change, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will change. There are three more barriers to change to surmount. The first of these is the sense of urgency. What is urgent always trumps what is important — it is natural, and human nature, to be preoccupied with the needs of the moment. Thirty years in business has convinced me that, contrary to conventional ‘change management’ wisdom, you cannot create a sense of urgency (except perhaps by abuse of power — threatening or terrorizing can be effective at creating urgency, as Al Qaeda has shown, but in the long run such abuses are dysfunctional and usually backfire). For that reason, my ‘how you can influence and provoke change’ column in the above chart is blank for step 3. People either feel that something is urgent or they don’t. You can’t force it. If someone is ready to change but has other priorities, the only things you can do are (a) wait for additional information or events to raise the sense of urgency, or (b) make it easy and/or fun (steps 4 & 5 below), so they may change anyway.
  4. Once the needs of the moment have been dealt with, people will do what is easy — things that demand little of their time and energy. For most of us that’s not much — we’re so exhausted by doing what we have to do every day that by the time it’s done, we want to relax and take it easy. Change advocates can tap into that by connecting people with others who are open to making the same change — it is easier when more than one person shares the workload. We can also provide tools, models and means to make it easier. Canada’s One Tonne Challenge (recently canceled by our execrable minority Conservative government) for example provided a simple tool for every Canadian to reduce their emission of greenhouse gases, and its simplicity was the secret of its success, and the reason why our horrific prime minister Harper, who ideologically opposes Kyoto changes, shut it down. It did not fit with his ‘frames’!
  5. If it’s not urgent, a change has to be both easy and fun, or people will defer it in favour of things that are. And once something is deferred, you know how it is — it tends to get deferred indefinitely, and never get done. The best way to make something fun is by making it a collaborative team effort (it is in our nature to enjoy accomplishing things with others, even if we have to make the time and energy to do so). Another way to make change fun is by rewarding it — making a game of it, providing prizes or recognition or enjoyable tools to do it. We all respond to different rewards, however, so if you’re going to use them to provoke change you need to know your ‘audience’, and what kinds of incentives they are likely to respond to. We environmentalists tend to rely too much on people’s altruism, and to under-use rewards to encourage environmental responsibility.

Daniel Quinn used his stories Ishmael and Story of B to introduce new information to people in a non-threatening way, in order to get them to the point they were ready to change. He says, in Beyond Civilization:

People will listen when they’re ready to listen and not before. Probably, once upon a time, you weren’t ready to listen to an idea than now seems to you obvious, even urgent. Let people come to it in their own time. Nagging or bullying will only alienate them. Don’t preach. Don’t waste time with people who want to argue. They’ll keep you immobilized forever. Look for people who are already open to something new.

Quinn is saying that, as entertaining as they may be, debates don’t change minds (except for those who haven’t yet really made up their minds). So, in addition to the things we can do to change hearts, minds & behaviours (the things in the left column of the chart above), Quinn points out what we should not waste time doing: bullying, nagging, arguing, preaching and debating. As much as I admire An Inconvenient Truth*, I am not convinced it’s going to accomplish anything, because it’s preaching to the choir. Who, among those not already convinced of his message, will go to the theatre to watch this film, if something easier or more fun is playing on the screen next door?

Many of the changes we need to bring about, alas, are complex ones, and require more than one iteration of this chart. Ran Prieur, according to a note I received from Peter Ireland, has called David Korten’s book The Great Turning, “Final Empire for Dummies”. What he’s saying is that, while I was impatient with The Great Turning for not having

…practical discussion of how to create models, intentional communities, sustainable natural enterprises, peer-to-peer sustainability information exchanges and personal sustainable living programs. You know, community-building stuff. Real what you can do stuff,

Korten has produced a book with information, geared to appeal to a wide variety of frames, that could get a lot of people from point A to point B — at least aware of the need and opportunity for change. They will then be ready for change, and more open to the additional stories and information (like those on this site, and Ran’s crash story, and James Kunstler’s dystopia The Long Emergency, and even William Kotke’s Final Empire) that could ultimately get them from point B to point C on this complex and difficult change journey.

We humans do change slowly! For three million years that was a blessing, keeping us from messing with Gaia’s remarkable balancing act. Now, as we careen out of control towards the end of an unsustainable civilization, it’s become a curse. But, as KF says, those of us who are ready to change are finding it more urgent, easier and more fun than it was even a few years ago. And as a result we will keep changing, andchange faster. And we do, and will do, what we must.

* Coincidentally, the Inconvenient Truth website, on the What You Can Do page, has suggestions very similar to the One Tonne Challenge. And they’re easy (if not much fun).

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