Let Go of My Levers!
Morten T. Hansen has an intersting post at HBR Blogs entitled "Ten Ways to Get People to Change". Each of the ten ideas is compelling (and apparently well researched), as is Hansen's advice to use all of them, not just one or two. Yet I cannot help but feel uneasy about the implicit (and surely unintended) hubris in the very title of his post.
The idea that we can "get people to change", and that there are ways (ten of them, to be exact) to do it ... well, what change management consultant in his right mind would want to argue the point? On the other hand, when I hear talk about "pulling the right levers" to "get the right behavior" (even when we're pulling those levers on ourselves, as Hansen suggests), I get worried. It's not to say we shouldn't do some (or all) of the things Hansen suggests. They are good ideas. (In fact, I especially like ideas 3-5, which have all kinds of interesting implications for the use of social media). The danger I see is in reducing the person to a mechanistic level, to a sort of emotional machine we can calibrate at will.
I prefer John Seely Brown's approach -- or rather, I should say, the spirit of his approach -- as outlined in his book (co-authored with Douglas Thomas), A New Culture of Learning. Brown is all about change, adaptation, and adoption, but without all the levers and lever-pulling. You don't hear Brown talk much about "getting people to change". Instead, he talks about "cultivating imagination" -- and doing this by optimizing the seemingly boundless scope and resources of social networks within a bounded (problem-focused) learning environment. He talks about the vital role of play and the need to instill the childlike dispositions that enable us to act in new ways. This is a very different thing from "getting people to change". Of course, change we must, and we must be able to measure our progress toward change adoption. Those of us who manage complex change cannot turn all squishy about these things. Take a look at Brown's book. The guy is a serious research scientist. He's not making this stuff up. There is also a humanistic quality to his approach (although some might dismiss it as a Birkenstock quality) that I find appealing, and which might be very effective when helping groups of human beings deal with change.