Want to Foster Change? Look for ‘Bright Spots’

Focusing on problems is a recipe for paralysis.

April 13, 2011
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The heart and mind often disagree. Fervently.

That’s why it’s so difficult for people and organizations to make lasting changes, says Dan Heath, co-author of "Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard."

He says two different, competing systems rule people’s minds: the rational and the emotional.

The rational mind wants, for example, a great beach body, while the emotional mind wants a cookie, he explains. This type of conflict can doom efforts to make changes—a must-have skill for credit union leaders.

Heath—who will address the America’s Credit Union Conference in San Antonio, June 19-22—shares his insights on change.

Why did you write this book?

All of us crave some kind of change. We want to change things at home or at work or in society—not to mention changing ourselves.

But when you bring up “change” with people, they tend to shake their heads and say, “Change is hard.” No one seems to have a sense of how you go about changing things.

We wanted to provide the “how,” to mine decades of research in psychology and make it practical for people who are fighting for real change.


How do we convince people not to resist change?

We always say “change is hard” and “people resist change.”

But there are some relatively massive changes that people sign up for: People get married every day. And if minimizing change is your goal, having a kid is a deeply dumb decision.

But note that those big changes appeal to our emotions in a way that lots of small changes don’t, like changing something at work or going on a diet.

So one hint we discovered from our research on change is that we can’t think our way into change. Change starts with feeling.

What happens in our brain when we reach for that fattening cookie when we know we shouldn’t?

There’s a tug-of-war going on between two sides of our brain—the rational side and the emotional side.

The rational side of us knows we have no business eating the cookie. But the emotional side lusts after it.

And, unfortunately, for most of us, the emotional side is more powerful.

Next: A surprising discovery about change behavior

Ignorance is bliss - Or is it?

Serge Milman
April 13, 2011 3:40 pm
This is an interesting take on how to improve performance, but I am unclear how defocusing from the challenge areas will ever result in improvement. I am not one who believes in 'Ignorance is bliss' nor have I ever heard of circumstances where this approach has ever resulted in improved performance. Imagine telling a member that you are very sorry that they are having a problem with bill payment but that you are very pleased with the fact that your check deposit system is flawless. I just don't think this would resonate well. Dan Heath is right in that it is important to have the right perspective of the various challenges within their own context, to reward success, and to avoid 'paralysis by analysis'. However, this does not mean defocusing on problem areas. My experience as a consultant tells me that only by focusing on problem areas and finding ways to improve the overall system are the only mechanisms for greater process simplicity, improved customer experience, faster growth and more robust profitability.

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