decision processSeth Godin of Fast Company and Purple Numbers fame has a new BHAP (big hairy audacious project) called ChangeThis. The idea is that we need to be more open to well-articulated opposing (or at least different) points of view on important issues. The ‘This’ in ChangeThis is Your Mind, and by changing it, you will become part of a broader, urgent change movement. The vehicle that gets the ball rolling is something called a Manifesto. Seth has plans for some online Manifestos penned by some very big names.

It’s a very intriguing idea, but I don’t think it will work, not because of the Internet’s limited reach or because of anything inherently wrong with Manifestos, but because it’s out of sync with human nature. Here’s why, IMHO:

  1. What I’ve observed is that people want to make up their own minds. They will only read a Manifesto if they already deeply trust its author. A Manifesto by Krugman or Gladwell will go far, but the same ideas by the same source in a NYT editorial or New Yorker article will go just as far. We each have our own (usually small, or very small) audience of people who trust what we write, what we say. A Manifesto will not enlarge one’s audience. It is preaching to the choir.
  2. When people write to thank me, it’s not for changing their mind. It’s because they trust me enough to allow me to inform them about something they’re not already informed about — Tax shifting, or entrepreneurship, or innovation, or whatever. They know me well enough to know my spin, and my blog articles help them learn about something much more quickly than reading books or doing exhaustive research.
  3. So if it’s from a trusted source, a Manifesto or blog post or editorial or book review or whatever will help people Make Up Their Own Mind. On any important issue it will not change anyone’s mind. People make up their own minds by reading sources they trust. They don’t want to change their minds. Only ex-British private school students enjoy real debates, and that’s only because they’re better at them than anyone else. Most people want reassurance that they’re right, and will be more inclined to read things that reinforce what they’ve decided than things intended to make them change their thinking. That’s not lazy thinking, it’s good time management. I want to be informed and make up my mind so that IF I need to make a decision (who to vote for, what to buy) I can do so quickly. Making up one’s mind is a means to an end.
  4. How and when do people Change Their Minds? Very rarely, and not by reading or debate, but by direct experience. If Bill Cosby goes on the talk circuit and tells me welfare recipients are mostly lazy black women with too many babies, and I’m a conservative or a fan, I’ll probably believe him (see today’s NYT editorial by Barbara Ehrenreich on this). But if I volunteer at an inner city soup kitchen I learn from direct experience that Bill is full of shit — he has his facts wrong to start with, and what he says doesn’t jibe with direct observation — the mostly-white women I meet are dying to work, if they could afford day care for their two children. I change my mind. And I no longer trust Bill Cosby — he let me down, and the next time I hear him I’m going to be inclined to Make Up My Mind that the truth is the opposite of what he’s saying.
  5. You want to change people’s minds, get them the hell away from the TV, and the newspaper, and the Internet, and let them find out the truth face to face, in the streets, from direct experience.
  6. To every rule there is an exception, and the exception to this rule is that sometimes you can change people’s minds by telling them a story. The reason stories are powerful and subversive is that they can be (especially if from a trusted source, or accompanied by remarkable pictures) a surrogate for direct experience. That’s why the story can’t be too detailed — the listener/reader needs to internalize the story and make it their own. Then it’s as if they were at the soup kitchen, and all of a sudden they don’t trust Bill Cosby anymore either. And they loved Bill Cosby. But they suddenly know from ‘personal experience’ that Bill’s facts don’t add up. They’ve changed their minds.
  7. So my suggestion to Seth is to change the word Manifesto to Story before he launches ChangeThis. Ot at least whisper in writers’ ears that their Manifesto should be a Story in disguise.
  8. This is not unique to humans. I could tell you a story…

What do you think? Am I just old and curmudgeonly and cynical, or is this really how people make up their minds, and why they change them so rarely?

(Diagram is from an earlier post on The Decision-Making Process)

This entry was posted in Our Culture / Ourselves. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to CHANGE YOUR MIND?

  1. According to Michael Shermer of Skeptic Magazine, people can’t generalize from their mistakes, either: they have to have direct proof countering each specific belief they have. If that belief is based upon an error in their thinking, countering it still won’t counter the rest of the beliefs arising from that error. One must meet each false belief, each time, individually. Frightening, and exhausting.

  2. xian says:

    i think you want “purple cow” where you have “purple numbers”(purple numbers is a paragraph-level permalink concept, purple cow is a marketing concept)

  3. I have thought about the issue of changing human minds quite a bit. After all, if I believe in a cause, the natural next step is trying to convince others about my cause. However, from my life experience, I knew humans were exceptionally stubborn to new ideas and to changing their mind. I wondered about this human closed-mindedness and human conservatism. Perhaps the roots are engrained in us, since our society is mainly convergent in its thinking, from the school system to business life to rules and regulations in the governement. People tend to grab on to a single belief and hold on for dear life. They ignore everything else around them and don’t consider that there is more than one way to do things. They hold on until the last moment, until their fingers start to bleed and they cannot hold on any longer. Then, they jump to safety of a different belief.The irony of my situation is that my strongest belief is that people should be more open to new ideas and other people, with the help of self-understanding and controlling themselves. I, myself, had to work on welcoming new ideas, instead of getting angry or upset at them. I had to learn that is it good to have many different opinions, since it leaves us with an open mind to take the best course. Now, then, how do I open up people to openness?I figured the easiest way for society to be open is to encourage open-mindedness in children. However, the adults having children have to become open themselves first. It seems like the chicken and the egg problem. The best way I knew how to convince people was one person at a time. The key factors in the process of convincing that should be present, the more the better:1. The person should want to change their mind.2. Reaching empathetic understanding of the person’s situation.3. Present the person with success stories of yourself or other people who changed their mind.4. The change will leave the person in a better situation.Now, with billions of people on the planet, convincing each person individually seems like an overwhelming task. I know that you’ve been running your site “How to Save the World,” for a while, so I would think you’ve thought of ways to bring your message to the non-believers. I would assume you know more than me on this subject.A point about stories. It is true that stories are extremely effective at changing opinions of masses. However, I don’t like the fact that people are left at the whim of a good story. Let’s take a recent example: “Farenheit 9/11” in America. Michael Moore uses the same techniques to tell his story as the US governement used to tell their story. The US governement told a story about terrorists, backed by patriotism and fear, playing on people’s emotions. Now, Michael Moore, although having a nobler cause, tells people a different story about selfishness and money, backed by patriotism and tragic emotional images of death. In a way, as the US governement brainwashed the American people, Michael Moore is reverse-brainwashing them. So where does that leave us? What is to stop another president in the future from telling the public an even better story and lead America right back to war? Apparently, a story is only good until a better one comes along.

  4. People make up their minds based on their inner personality as well as their experiences (read: a combination of nature and nurture). People who are more sensitive or emotional will view the world differently than someone who is more logic/reason oriented or at least different factors (or process) might come into play when making up their mind. Someone more emotional might fear terrorism more than someone who thinks logically. A rational person will more easily realize you are more likely to be killed in a car accident than a terrorist attack and yet terrorism dominates the news and peoples fears. An introvert might want city noise by-laws more strict than an extrovert as the extrovert is less affected by outside noises (and are more likely to be creating the noises themselves). The built in personality (nature) won’t change over a person’s life so this is a limiting factor to how often people change their minds.Similarly, a person’s experience will play a major factor in decision making (nurture). Are you religious or not? Did you grow up rich or poor? Do you have a high paying job or do you work for minimum wage. What do your family and friends think. Over years a persons experiences may change but usually not dramatically. Someone who wasn’t religious may become religious or vice versa or someone who was poor may become rich but in general people’s lives don’t change that dramatically. This is again why peoples minds don’t change often and generally change more gradually over years.So, is the manifesto idea a good one? Maybe. One problem I see today is a lack of differing ideas in the mass media. It doesn’t matter what news show you watch they all present more or less the same thing as spun by those with influence (i.e. politicians). The more and more we can get diverse opinions out there the better. Will someone immediately change their mind by reading a manifesto? Probably not but that manifesto will stick in their minds and add to a person’s pool of experiences. Down the road that person may come across another experience that adds or supports what he/she read in the manifesto. Then over time that persion may have more and more experiences that reinforce the menifesto and eventually over tune that person’s opinion may change.Lets take the Iraq war for instance. Pre-war all the talk was about WMD and Saddam’s links to al-Qaeda. At the time of the war, the majority of Americans supported the war. There were few dissenting voices. But as the war unfolded, as WMD were not found, as links to Al-Qaeda proved to be weak at best and as more and more dissenting voices became heard peoples opinions change. Through a year+ of experiences Americans went from the majority supporting the war to a majority not supporting it. It didn’t change over night or by reading one persons dissenting view. It took time and a build up of experiences.

  5. Tom Collins says:

    I don’t think it’s so easy to lump all of humanity into one category and talk about how to change minds. On your trust point, there’s a chicken-and-egg issues regarding how people come to trust a source in the first place. I learned to trust your blog (and, by extension, you) by reading and assessing the content of your messages. That makes it easier for you to convince me in the future, I guess, but doesn’t account for how I changed my mind about your trustworthiness (say, from lack of awareness, to analyitical, to trusting) in the first place.Unless you and I think we’re the only ones capable of independent thought (and I don’t), I think your assessment overstates the closed-mindedness of humanity. That’s not to disagree that the problem exists. I just think it varies widely across individuals, issues, and environments. I definitely agree about the power of stories as the best way to deliver a message, whether its an attempt to change political or social beliefs, or simply to show a new technique for programming your DVD player.Regarding your decision-making diagram, I think you should insert a new arrow, second from the top, labeled: “Reach an Emotional Decision” maybe with a parenthetical “and pretend you haven’t.” The rest of the decision chain shows how we rationalize the decisions already made.That’s why the story is so powerful, especially if it’s told right at the beginning when the decision-maker is assessing the situation.

  6. Have I just read too much Kierkegaard? Or maybe plain old Jean-Paul…?Thank God for Fridays – that’s all I added…best regards,

  7. Catnmus says:

    The problem with the “direct experience” scenario is that it can lead to false conclusions. Instead of “think globally, act locally”, it promotes exactly the opposite. People that go to a soup kitchen in Iowa might think that all poor people are white. People going to a soup kitchen in Harlem might think all poor people are black. East Central LA, hispanic. Etc. In Brentwood LA, they may not think that poor people exist at all! And then people extrapolate that experience to the whole country, or the whole world, and try to come up with a solution that will benefit everyone and end poverty. And it may not work because it may not be appropriate. Sure, direct experience brings it home like nothing else, but that is more likely to be only the initial motivator. After that, it helps to know the scope of the problem, and for that you need internet, newspapers and TV – probably in that order!

  8. Kevin says:

    When you talk about changing someone’s mind, I think of two different scenarios. Maybe the reason no one mentions this is that it is too obvious, but I think that before trying to change a mind, you have to decide which kind you are trying to change.1) Someone has already made up their mind, and they have beliefs or ideas different from you. 2) Someone hasn’t really thought about it (having time seems to be a huge factor here since it is required to even start step one of your diagram), so they are just going along with the ideas of those people around them who they feel they can trust somewhat (even though everyone around them may not have made up their mind yet either).Once you know what kind of mind you are trying to change, then you have to figure out how that person thinks. Big companies give their employees personality tests so that they can get a better idea of how to manipulate… err… communicate with them. If you want to change a mind, I think it is good to know the personality type of the target.Obviously as a blog writer, or the writer of the manifesto, they can’t aim it at every personality type, every socioeconomic class, every cultural background, etc… but how about writing several manifestos. All ending up at the same point, but each one getting there in a different way. You often spoke of the “tipping point” and I too am very intrigued by that, and wonder what is the tipping point were someone who never cared about an issue starts to. But I think we have to stop looking for the one magical tipping point, and start looking for the many tipping points. Get scientific. Use stories, but carefully craft each story, for each target personality type differently. It’s hard for one person to do this of course, because the trust factor comes in. If I knew you were writing several versions of your blog, and each one attacked an issue differently, I might loose some of the in-group feeling that lets me trust you.Also, and I am not saying that people should not talk about so many issues on a blog, because it is personal space, and it is very helpful to people who already share your views to some extent, it may not be the best vehicle to change the minds of a person with different political orientation who is automatically put on the defensive because they disagree with other non-related posts. No matter how open-minded we think we are, I am sure that there are cases where we would agree with an article on a blog we usually agree with, and we would disagree with the exact same article if it was on a blog we usually disagree with.I’m not trying advocate becoming a political wish-wash, never stating your beliefs for fear of turning off a constituency, but rather that if the manifesto is to *change* someone’s mind, as opposed to simply expressing the author’s beliefs, the writer should decide what exactly is the point, then try to tailor the approach to the selected audience, leaving out anything else which is unrelated (even if they feel it is valid and important on it’s own) which would turn the target off, presenting the story or facts against as blank a background as possible so as not to trigger any biases they might already have. (unless that bias can be used as an advantage)Finally, there was an interesting discussion on NPR’s The Connection a few months ago with the author of Changing Minds. He talks about the role of the seven “R”s1. Reason2. Research3. Resonance4. Re-descriptions5. Rewards6. Real World Events7. ResistancesIt’s on my reading list, but you seem to be much faster… maybe you’ll pick it up and I can wait and just read your summary ;)

  9. KevinG says:

    This is something I’ve been thinking about recently. I agree with many of the comments here and your observations. My own thoughts were focused on the initiation of change. How do you start the change? How do you overcome intellectual inertia? As other commentors have pointed out different groups of people will respond differently based on their predispositions and background.For me, the answer is market segmentation and, as my old management coach said, “pitch it so they can catch it”.My efforts to change minds will focus on middle class and upper middle class educated moms – soccer moms. Why? Because they are predisposed to think of the future, they have time to think about these issues (more time than poor moms who spend the whole day making things work out) they drive consumer decisions, and they have financial resources to deploy in advancing the issue if they adopt it.To “pitch it so they can catch it” I’ve collected a group who are willing to serve as a focus group in reviewing chapters from a planned book of photos and short environemntal issue essays (300 words to identify the issue and suggest things to do). Kind of a colletion of glossy advertorials delivering a hard message using a vehicle they’re comfortable with. Like the manifestos, it won’t work for all people but it will work for some. A collection of effective efforts with limited scope is a great way to advance an idea. Try lots of things, keep what works.

  10. gbreez says:

    Through reading your blog fairly regularly since discovering it, I have come to trust you. The ideas you present are always interesting and thought-provoking. I examine them, mull them over for sometimes days, then re-examine them. Some I accept, some I reject, and some are still in that great “undecided” pile, along with ideas presented by others. I have responded in this particular form, absolutely subjectively, as I truly do not feel qualified to do otherwise, despite my 61 years of experience. Changing minds is very difficult; but, not impossible. It takes practice, and I am still working on it (the process of changing my mind). Keep writing; I adore a challenge.

  11. Dave Pollard says:

    Apologies to all for my sudden and unannounced absence. My Dell laptop motherboard failed and somehow also damaged the AC adapter and fully discharged the battery, and it’s taken a truly nightmarish 10 hours over 6 days just to get the problem properly diagnosed. Now I have to wait for them to courier me a replacement power cord and AC adapter before I can resume blogging. The battery may also be damaged but they won’t replace it until I check whether the new adapter will recharge it. NEVER buy a Dell! A hellish experience and it’s still not over. /-/ Dave

  12. Camilo says:

    We change minds when we acknowledge that, in effect, our previous model of the world is limited and unsatisfactory. This is not a linear process, but one that repeats itself, and undergoes a lot of iterations until a new theory emerges, a new perception of reality.Good logical thinking helps, as well as possession of the facts. That we might be able to learn about conflicting issues, synthesize those and generate our own conclusions and questions comes from training and constant critical appraisal of the world around us.So, we do not need manifestos – authority positions – but openness to discussion and conversation. Manifestos will be good for conclusion, starting points, debatable subjects.

  13. Dave Pollard says:

    I’m still down and unable to blog or e-mail. Dell has replaced the defective AC adapter but now tells me that the *replacement* motherboard is also defective and that it’s doubtful I’ll have a replacement for it before next week. They also think there could be something wrong with the battery but they can’t tell until they replace the motherboard. Absolutely unbelievable. I’m sure people have murdered for less.

  14. Don Dwiggins says:

    Dave,”NEVER buy a Dell! “, “I’m sure people have murdered for less.” I hope you’ll use the forced absence from blogging to do something else that you haven’t given enough time to lately (or something that you’ve always thought might be fun, but never got “a round tuit”). Go for long walks in the woods with your dogs; spend an entire afternoon making love; wander around downtown looking at, or for, nothing in particular, but completely open to whatever emerges; learn what Maturana means by “autopoiesis” and by “homo amans”; whatever.Come back refreshed; we’ll still be here. 8^)

  15. This is only the germ of an idea, but it is relevant to the current debate.There are two types of opinions people can have: – those they have already formed – those they will form in the futureIt is almost hopeless to try to change the opinions they have already formed. People will hold to their opinions even in the face of direct contradictory evidence. people will cling to inconsistent opinions.On the other hand, put a brand new issue in front of a person and it’s a whole new ball game. Now, of course, most people will leap to a judgement on the issue, only later accumulating evidence and argumentation to support their view.They will have formed their view based on what felt right. How this is determined is complex, but essentially, the opinion that is most in accord with their background knowledge will be the one they select.That is, they will form the opinion that causes the least disharmony with their previous opinions. They may form their opinion by analogy, drawing on similar cases.The way, therefore, to influence their new opinions is to provide a new, non-threatening frame of reference in which to form them. This is purely background knowledge – it doesn’t involve anything controversial, but is a system of thought that they can learn to depend on naturally.For example, consider questions of justice.A natural pre-existing opinion may be that ‘people ought to pay.’ This leads to a typically ‘eye for an eye’ type of response, leading to things like support for harsh youth laws, support for capital punishment, etc.These opinions cannot be countered directly. It won’t matter what sort of data you can bring to bear, no matter how irrational it may be, they will continue to believe in the noose. And why wouldn’t they? The noose just is justice, as far as they are concerned.In order to respond to this, we want to set up an alternative framework for belief. For example, we may want so set up a Rawlsian ‘Justice as fairness’ mindset in the person.Of course, handing them ‘A Theory of Justice’ won’t do the trick; who is going to read it and be convinced? But the principles of fairness are widely applicable, and so a background belief in justice as fairness can be instilled bit by bit.In order to do this, in matters unrelated to the issue at hand, therefore, the principle of fairness is usedto suggest resolutions to new issues, issues outside the domain of criminal law (outside, if possible, any of their already estaqblished domains of opinion).”How should we select Olympic athletes? we may ask. Well, what would be fair? Is it fair to pick only the best? How do we determine who is best? Perhaps there should be some latitude – perhaps we should send two people.” And so on.By appealing consistently to a set of principles across a range of new issues, and by doing so in such a way as to inculcate a trust (an implicit trust) in these principles, we gradually set up an alternative framework to address the original issue.Even here, it may only be applied to new cases (the inconsistency with past cases won’t be a problem). The person might never generalize to the desired degree. But will begin to base actual opinions on the new framework.After this, it becomes a metter of semantics, since they are now working with two world views over the same domain. It is important to frame all new instances of the issue in terms of the new domain. So it’s not ‘Should Jones be made to pay for his crimes’ but ‘can Jones be given a fair enough trial to have grounds to execute him?’If we look at the wider world of political debate, we see these sorts of tactics being used a lot. The new conservatism, for example, is the result of the society-wide inculcation of a new set of values (more precisely, new linguistic framework in which to entrench age-old values which were previously rejected) being applied to new questions as they come up.In the U.S., for example, the issue of privatization has very successfullybeen recast as the issue of choice. In health care, in education, privatization means (in the new rhetoric) choice. The framework of choice has been so successfully established (drawing, ironically, on leftist pro-choice arguments) that it is almost impossible to propose a state-run (equals ‘dictatorial’) system.The error of most people who work in the field of reason and rhetoric is the belief that argumentation is effective and it is short-term. They work on an atomistic, cause-and-effect theory of reason and belief. But the human mind is a complex network of interconnected concepts, emotions, experiences and ideas. Argumentation, rather than changing this network, must learn to mesh with it.

  16. Snehi Jarvis says:

    After reading what you have all put I would like to add my two-penneth about change. My understanding is that change is commonly resisted because of the need to perpetuate social co-hesion….it keeps us all in rapport, even though the ship may be sinking…at least we can all go down together! People who suggest change are often resisted because they break with tradition, however it is through change that we grow; as a person, a culture and a species, it is called evolution.However when change occurs there is a need for a new set of instructions/ directions and often there are none or they are produced by the suggestors of the change and therefore ignored. As we are pattern identifiers (schematics) and the new schema may not hold identifiable features to engage us, we can find ourselves resisting change due to our personal model of the world as we attempt to make meaning of our world. I have been researching change recently and have looked at Scharmer

Comments are closed.