In their newest book, Switch, Chip and Dan Heath use a wonderful metaphor to explain how we get motivated to change. Imagine a big elephant with a little rider on top and a path the two is following. When we use words to convince people to change, the little rider on top is all ears and the big elephant is not moved by our exhortations. When we show how the change is accomplished and what results occur from the change, the elephant gets it. When others have joined in making this change, the path becomes a herd that the elephant follows naturally.
The little rider on top favors negative thinking about changes, about the elephant and about itself. It attempts to change by its own willpower, self control and determined thinking. The little rider usually works against the elephant and loses the battle. Trying to resist what the elephant wants only ends up with more of the pachyderm's irrational urges to oppose rationally. The little rider gets nowhere with its negative thinking.
Elephants are easily spooked by the unexpected. Elephants get the urge to change when they get spooked by the status quo. They suddenly anticipate the consequences of making no changes. They became afraid of getting left behind, getting into more trouble or getting stuck in a dead end. Elephants also get moving forward when they see a better solutions for themselves. The change sells itself without a sales pitch because the advantages are obvious, the value is palpable and the results are undeniable.
The little rider on top needs to switch from trying to change a lack of motivation with negative thinking. As Yoda famously said in the first Star Wars film, "there is no trying, only doing and not-doing". When we think about doing change without trying, it makes sense to pursue approaches I've explored previously here:
- appreciative inquiry
- solving for pattern
- third and fourth order change
- discovery systems
- connected dashboards
When we succeed at changing, we don't get to be in control. As Chip and Dan Heath show us in their latest book, we need to work the elephants and the structure of the path. We stop attributing negative motivations to others and start seeing the big picture. We join a herd that finds tons of motivation to do what is obviously a better way to get better outcomes.