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