A recent post about effecting change generated some interesting comments and sparked an email commentary from my dad. I keep thinking about each of these comments, and I want to highlight them here, offer my reflections, and hopefully nurture further discussion of the factors which will create a successful viral message.
In the late June post, I outlined Andrew Zolli's guidelines for framing our ideas in a way that will get the audience's attention. He said to "bake every idea" with a message that is:
- Personal (Individual Stories, not Impersonal Facts)
- Tangible (vs. Intangible)
- Present (What does this mean for me today?)
- Desirable (What's in this for me, rather than is this the responsible choice)
As we talk particularly about education and the shift required from teacher-centered classrooms to student-centered, project-based, constructivist learning (supported by web 2.0 tools), Willy Kjellstrom added that the message needs to demonstrate that "it is possible." If you want me to change my behavior (pedagogy, business process, communication methods), then you've got to show me where it fits into my endless list of things to do. How does it become a priority? Does my supervisor lighten my workload so it is possible to make it a priority? Is my performance based on my acting on this "idea"? I suppose that goes hand in hand with Zolli's point about it being "desirable": To make it possible we've got to wrestle with basic human behavior and show "what's in it for me." Perhaps it would be valuable to conduct focus groups in various schools (public, charter, needs-improvement, private) to determine the factors required to make the change. Certainly from observation we see there are teachers, executives, and others who are adopting the tools and philosophy to construct their classrooms and businesses for the shifting paradigm. However, they are in the minority and I wonder if they represent a population that is more willing to take a risk, is more open-minded, and (dare I say) more committed to their own learning (perhaps willing to "grow" is a better way to say it)?
My Dad (Jim Walker) is a former researcher for DuPont with a PhD in Applied Mathematics. He has spent the last 10+ years as president of a retail/wholesale/online business my mother started 25 years ago. He argues that the issue in changing behavior is to show that the problem is more immediate and requires urgent action. Though he is the first to say he finds himself more at home with academics than marketers, his email to me would have made marketing guru Seth Godin proud:
As you know, the problem is how to present the issue (that is not necessarily immediate) so that the individual sees it as immediate. How do you use the technology to show an individual the effect of some issue, such as global warming, on them? In the same way that a medical person can create an image of how a missing person might look today (based on a photograph from 10 years ago), can we show an individual how their life will "appear" 20 years from now as a result of some phenomenon? The "phenomenon" might be sociological in nature or physical.
Cool idea. How might we visually demonstrate what an individual's life will look like if he or she does/doesn't make this shift in education and/or enterprise? And what are the steps that he/she can take NOW to move toward the more desirable outcome? Show what success looks like..and show failure. And then give the roadmap to succeed. Hmmm...
Finally, I want to address the question of the pace of change. I have mentioned that there is frustration in the edublogger community with the slow pace of personal understanding and the adoption of new practices. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach comments:
According to John Seely Brown, it took 20 to 50 years for electrification to take hold and for society to enact new social practices that leveraged the potential of that infrastructure, and so it will be for the reculturation of schools. (my emphasis)
I cannot disagree that real change--systemic change/paradigm shifts--takes time. Some might argue that to effect a change you've got to start small and then grow it like a "rolling stone grows moss". OK, I hear that as well. However (and I will note that this is both a "good" and a "bad" thing), isn't the power of the web and its network of connections just the right framework for social practices that can leverage the idea and rapidly increase the speed of change? We aren't talking about an industrial revolution or an evolving information age; we're talking about something that is more personal, social and behavioral in nature: the age of the network.
My passion is to harness the viral nature of that network for meaningful change in human behavior such as greater understanding, improved communication skills, and the fostering of creativity, collaborative problem-solving, and life-long learning as "the norm."
Lots to keep thinking about...and read. I've just reread parts of The Tipping Point and all of The Art of Possibility. And I'm probably late to the game on this, but The Starfish and The Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations is really compelling.
Thoughts, books, ideas always welcome...