A book on the Human Element and resistance to new ideas, in the podcast ofHidden Brain
MIAMI, FLORIDA.-On Sundays, as I cook, I do listen to the radio. One of my favorites is the NPR program ‘Hidden Brain’, where Shankar Vedantam , tries “to explore the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior and questions that lie at the heart of our complex and changing world”.
On a recent Sunday I was so fascinated with what I was hearing that I had to stop what I was doing and began to take notes.
What I learned during half an hour of listening has to do with the importance of identifying the ‘frictions’ that prevent us to achieve innovation in all kinds of organization or are an obstacle in personal relationships.
During this podcast, organizational psychologist Loran Nordgren explains that most organizations think of elements that may help them move forward, but disregard those that hold them back. He uses ordinary life examples to explain why good ideas sometimes do not succeed because they fail to take into consideration the needs of the people they are supposed to serve.
One example is that of a furniture store that received many customers with great interest in their sofas but would disappear and never return.
David Schonthal a colleague and co-author with Loran Nordgren of the book The Human element, about Overcoming the resistance that awaits new ideas. did a study of the disappearing customers and found out they did not return because they did not know what to do with the existing sofa.The solution was to offer to remove the existing sofa upon delivery of the new one, and the customers did not disappear again.
Nordgren comments that Introducing new ideas is hard because most people think that if something is not working one must push harder, present the idea better, offer incentives , or what is called ad ‘FUEL’, to the idea, but do not consider the hidden impediments, or what he calls the ‘FRICTIONS’..
And this , he says, also applies to personal relationships and to non-profit organizations.
A woman working at a shelter of domestic abuse noticed that the women would pull up at the shelter, look at it and, never return. Then she discovered that the reason was the sign: no pets allowed.The shelter created an animal house on the grounds and the issue was solved.
The solution was to remove the hidden impediment, the friction.
At the University of Chicago, fewer and fewer students were applying and this was not happening in neighboring universities. Chicago presented itself as a place of rigor and study and the application form included writing a customized essay. When this requirement was dropped the applications greatly increased.
In presenting their book, Nordston and Schonthal explain that, by examining frictions, readers will “ discover how the very frictions that hold us back can be transformed into important catalysts for change”. They offer examples and name four frictions:
Inertia: The powerful desire to stick with what we know, Emotion: The unintended negative emotions created by the very change we seek. Effort: the energy , real and perceived, needed to make change happen.Reactance: The impulse to resist being changed.
In terms of personal relationships, they explain, it is important to have conversations not from the point of conflict.
In self persuasion, Nordgren says, it is important: First: beguin by understanding what is our place of alingnment and establishing that base of agreemet. And second not to start by telling people what to do but instead we need to ask.
When at a meeting, “if you disagree never give your counterarguments until you first get people to tell you that they are open to what you have to say. And, the way to do that is by listening very closely and then ask: I see the merit of your position, but are you open to what I have to say, open to a different perspective?”
One place to see where Fuel and Friction produce different outcomes, says Vedantan, is in interpersonal relationships like marriage. Adding fuel, he explains, is a good thing: compliments, flowers… but it is even more important to reduce friction, ”removing the negatives in a relationship is often more important than increasing the positives”.
Norston explains that if “for every one nice moment you have a negative moment, that is not a balanced experience”. In a one to one relationship, negative experience carries so much more weight and, that is why focusing on friction can be so valuable.
Vedantan summarizes saying that : focusing more on the problems in relationship may matter more than increasing the positives. And Norton corroborates: “you have wonderful romantic dinners and surprising delight flowers but then, your are prone to the blow out fight. That one moment can undo much of these other positive experiences”.
And the same is true for health and happiness in organizations, he says. “When you have a toxic work culture often the impulse is to offer rewards and perks…. Happy hours… That is part of Fuel-base thinking. That does very little because until that negative experience is addressed that positivity is worth very little”. ( A. Cantero)
You may learn much more by listening to the podcast or reading the book