A neglected question in process design
[2-minute view + 3-minute read]
Aside from being a cute video, this is also a challenging one.
It suggests that we should be looking for ways in which the changes we’re trying to make could be fun. Thinking about how they might appeal to the people’s desire for novelty, for intrinsic reward, for whimsy. In short, asking:
How can we make change pleasurable in itself, instead of relying on pain (or the avoidance of pain) to drive change efforts?
I don’t subscribe to the “Change is Pain” cliché. And yet … The process of building awareness, mobilising energy and then pushing through (or transforming) resistance is often characterised by plenty of challenge and discomfort. It often does feel like an uphill slog instead of a joyful dance across the ivories.
Of course, the example in the video – which aimed to encourage more people to climb stairs instead of taking an escalator – is a fairly simple behavioural change. And, the creative mechanism – stairs becoming piano keys – that produced the (impressive!) 66% adoption rate was backed up by a Volkswagen-scale budget.
That’s quite different from the kinds of complex change we often aim for in organisational systems. And we usually don’t have the financial resources of a massive corporation behind us.
And yet, I think there is something to be learned here… Here’s my takeaway.
Some questions to ask ourselves as change agents
Change is often a ‘grudge-purchase’ – like insurance… Too often, we see it as a difficult passage we must negotiate in order to reap some future reward. This mindset often leads to limited, and quite uncreative, thinking. Which is made worse by some common starting conditions:
- Time pressure and urgency – and therefore too little time and space allowed for creativity and imagination before we start messing with the system in question.
- An underlying assumption that change is hard and resistance inevitable. (Aside: Change is often hard, and resistance usually is inevitable. But perhaps we spend too much time focusing on these aspects of it, and missing the potential for pleasure and joy.)
- Habit and laziness. “It worked before, so it’ll work again.” (This may well be true… I’m not talking about reinventing the wheel here – just considering that perhaps with a little imagination things might work better, and be more fun.)
Instead, as we design change processes and mechanisms to support change, perhaps we should make space to ask a few novel questions:
- What would it take inject more pleasure into the change process itself? Where are there opportunities for fun?
- How can we build intrinsic rewards into the process, so that people want to be part of it?
The big takeaway for me is that I need to make more space for creativity and play in the diagnosis and design process. It’s easy to go from diagnosis to rational design with little regard for what the people involved (the subjects of the change!) might find attractive and enjoyable… Which, in itself, can fuel resistance.
Change is the water we swim in – it’s life itself. Perhaps we need to treat it with a little more humour, and reverence, and creativity. There’s a lot to be said for a practical and ‘workmanlike’ approach. But perhaps a little bit of art – and artfulness – has it’s place too.
This is the challenge I’ll be taking into my next change projects:
Let’s stop for a minute and ask, “What can we do to make changing fun?”
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If you have any thoughts/reflections on the video or this post, please share them in the comments below.
Wishing you a great week!
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I first encountered this video on a post at the Change Management Network – an excellent learning and discussion space for anyone interested organisational change. The original video was created as part of Volkswagen’s ‘fun theory’ initiative.
Cover image credit: Jason Leung