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March 2010Scientists are realising they need better communication skills For some years now universities have been under increasing pressure to commercialise their research in order to access more of the value of what their scientists have discovered. However, all too often, even if a scientist has come up with an important piece of work, they’ll find that it gets ignored by the world at large. Scientists and engineers are often very poor at dealing with this because they tend to distrust what they see as the spin and manipulation of marketing: they feel that the value of their work should be self evident. This lack of influencing skills makes it tough for many scientists to be entrepreneurial and get the rewards they deserve. In November 2009 scientists really woke up to their need for better communication skills, when the “climategate” storm broke over emails hacked from the University of East Anglia’s (UEA’s) climate scientists. Many intelligent, honest and open minded scientists were shocked by the hysterical public reaction to the leaked emails. Even the UEA’s press office was utterly unprepared for what happened. They were notified of the leak on the 17th November by the website RealClimate. When the storm started to break in the press late on Friday 20th, a concerned NGO offered to send up a press team to Norwich to help them deal with it over the weekend, but to their great surprise were turned down. The UEA said they were “fine”, were off home for the weekend, and would deal with it on Monday! Unfortunately, as they discovered, by Monday, it was much too late and the UEA climate scientists’ reputation was in shreds. Traditionally scientists have been trained to do research and then publish and debate their findings in as neutral and objective way as possible. This may be all very well if they are working in one of the many areas of “normal”, non contentious science. PhDs in “The Rheology of Bread Dough” or “Ball Bearing Dynamics” spring to mind. But for scientists working in contentious and vitally important areas, like climate change or stem cells, this is dangerously naďve. There will inevitably be areas of uncertainty, mistakes and value judgements to be made, so it will be impossible to declare a simple objective, factual “truth”. The consequences of their work may be important and distasteful to some, so they risk getting savaged by those that have commercial or even philosophical objections to what they’re doing. The recent fiasco has been very disturbing for anyone who cares about science, or about society’s chances of taking the right decisions. However, if one of the consequences the recent fiasco is that scientists become more effective in communicating and debating their findings, ideas and uncertainties, then society as a whole will be much better off in the difficult years ahead.
October2009I was excited to discover that the Chinese edition is now available
Hopefully the translation is rather more enlightening than Google's effort!
September 2009On 1 Sept, “How to get your ideas adopted (and change the world)” was released in the USA. US and Canadian readers can get it here It seems a very appropriate time, with President Obama facing a storm of protest over the plans for a better healthcare system, and the US Climate Change Bill facing continuing delays in the Senate. I don’t claim to have the magic solution to President Obama’s problems in getting his ideas adopted, but here are a couple of things that progressive Americans could do to help.
Don’t allow the healthcare plan to be “reframed”. This is your opportunity to have fairer and more affordable healthcare, so don’t allow the Right to reframe it as a bizarre plot for bigger government. Never give in and use “their” language. For example, when Nixon said “I am not a crook” the whole world thought of him as a crook.
Engage people’s creativity in finding a solution. I am frequently asked to help in organisations where good ideas are being stalled by vested interests, fear of change or just sheer inertia. Every situation is different so my interventions differ, but one very simple thing you could do to help the changes get adopted is to run a creative workshop for campaigners in your area. This is a very effective way of moving things forward, because although people hate feeling ordered around, they like using their creativity to solve common concerns. This effect is so strong that if you set the right environment they’ll even collaborate with their “competitors.”
You can read an article here by the CEO of an NHS Primary Care Trust about a workshop I ran for his Executive Team on “Partnership Working.” This was the very sensible idea that Health, Social Services, and Housing should work in partnership so that they could both improve the quality of care for their “service users” and reduce costs through efficiency improvements. As a practical example of need for this, they’d realised that when an elderly patient was discharged from hospital, the NHS, Housing and Social Services would each send their own specialist (eg an occupational therapist) to assess their needs. This duplication was irritating for the patient, while wasting time and money.
Here is a simple creative workshop to overcome resistance to ideas:
This is based on the four stages of resistance outlined in “How to get your ideas adopted (and change the world)” First read the book, so you understand the principles of overcoming resistance, and as you go through, note down stories and case studies that could be useful creative starting points for getting your own idea adopted. You can then run a workshop with 4 stages
1. Open participants’ eyes to the problem you want to solve. Don’t be tempted to skip this stage: it may take longer than you expect. Once your participants all WANT to solve the problem, then analyse why the outside world might not care about it, and brainstorm on how you can open their eyes too. If your participants get stuck, you will find the stories in the book helpful, so, for example, you could ask your participants “The New York AIDS campaigners did xyz … what would they do in our situation?”
2. Look at why people might be in stage 2 of resistance “Frozen”. Divide into breakout groups to generate creative ideas for how to overcome each of the 3 elements to unfreeze people: shock, safety and connection. Come back together to share these.
3. Help participants plan how they will convince those that are in stage 3 of resistance, ie “interested.” Often its worth getting your participants to think about how to be brief and impactful in explaining their ideas, so you might get small groups preparing a poster, trying out a 30 second elevator pitch, or brewing ideas for dramatic stunts.
4. Finally, to embed the results of the workshop and make sure the ideas and good intentions don’t fade when your participants leave, get people to list, and then share ideas for what they will do next to build on the ideas, and what will help support and reinforce their work. Ask the participants to think about things like “Who will help you?“ “How will you know if you’re making process?” and a popular favourite: “How will you reward yourself if you do well?”
To all the many readers of this blog from the USA … I wish you the best of luck over the next few months. As citizens of one of the richest countries in the world, you deserve fair and affordable healthcare, and the world needs the USA to pass a strong and binding climate bill before the critical talks in Copenhagen in December.
You have a lot to do......
February 2009With the usual last minute flurry, the new (paperback) edition is at last on its way for publication on 5 March. Regulars at this Forum will notice that the title has changed from"the Myth of the Mousetrap"
This has been an interesting process.
As I comment in the preface to the new edition, writing a book about how to overcome the resistance to ideas was always going to be fraught with danger.
I felt that this was an important and much neglected topic and one that would be of relevance to a wide range of people who were trying to get new ideas adopted. I saw that, in contrast to the myths that claim that the world will beat a path to your door for your good idea, the reality is that the newer and more important your idea, the more strongly it will be resisted and ignored. If I was right about this, my book risked sinking like a stone.
However, the key message of the book is that “Resistance is normal, so don’t get demoralised, get smart.” This meant that people would naturally be interested in how the book went, which might be embarrassing....
To read more, and download the preface, click here...
October 2008I’ve recently been discussing “Inattentional blindness” with one of the presenters of Insight Radio Europe’s first radio station for blind and partially sighted listeners.
Those of us with perfect sight tend to assume that when we look at a scene, we see everything that’s there. Unfortunately the reality is that our brains filter out everything that doesn’t seem relevant to what we’re paying attention to, because that’s the only way it can process the information fast enough to be useful. This means that when driving we think that it’s safe to pull out of a junction, but then suddenly find that we’ve nearly mown down a cyclist. Unfortunately, because we were unconsciously focussing on dangerous things like cars, our brains had filtered out the cyclist so we didn’t see it.
This inattentional blindness is a deeply embedded consequence of the way our brains work, so it also means that all sorts of new ideas get ignored because they don’t fit with what people expect. For example, even though the idea that South America and Africa must once have been joined has been visually obvious since the early maps of the Atlantic in 1620, it was considered heresy until 1965!
I discuss inattentional blindness and its consequences in more detail in Chapter 4, but if you think it doesn’t apply to you try the exercise here!
July 2008I had an interesting email recently from a business development coach Tony Wilson who works with innovative technology companies. He started by making some nice comments about the book
“I thought it was a very interesting and thoughtful discussion. I was keen to see how your ideas would apply to the selling of innovative products, and interested to note that although the more intelligent books on selling do manage to pick up on one or two of your main points, many of your ideas are new to the field, at least so far as I can see. So, there is much food for thought- thank you”
He then quite rightly pointed out a useful way of using the peer-to-peer reinforcement effect for reducing your customers’ fear of risk.
“It is to do with how potential (B2B) customers of an innovative product seek to reassure themselves about the risks of purchasing, by consulting with their peers and with others in their networks. In order to get a higher rate of adoption, the wise seller will attempt to sell his/her ideas (not necessarily their products) to the opinion leaders, so that their customers have a greater chance of encountering favourable third-party messages, and thus of perceiving a lower level of risk with the transaction.”
I quite agree with him that this is a great technique, so will include bit about this in the paperback edition. (This will be available in March 2009) Thanks Tony!
April 2008I was recently at a great talk on the science, ethics and responses to climate change by Bob Watson, Chief Scientist at DEFRA (the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
He was very clear both about the seriousness and urgency of the threat of climate change, but also that he was optimistic about our chances for solving it…… IF we get our act together. We’ll need to make both behavioural and technological changes.
We were discussing it after the talk, and he commented that after his talks he often gets people coming up and complaining that his talk was so scary it will freeze people into inaction, while simultaneously others complain that he was too optimistic. My take on this is that this probably indicates he’d got it just right: To unfreeze people about uncomfortable new ideas, it’s important both to demonstrate that the status quo is not OK, which often means giving people a shock, but you also to give people the psychological safety to act.
Often people fail to realise that you need both, so waste their energy in arguing about which approach is best.
For an article in Green World, discussing how to unfreeze people about climate change, click here
March 2008Mark Ridsdill-Smith sent me a copy of an interesting survey he’d done for The Climate Group on employee engagement in Climate change. He commented "I’ve been using large chunks (of the book) to inform my work!" In one section of the report he explores what motivates employees to become engaged in climate change .....more...
February 2008The other day I was giving a talk about creativity, and one of the audience asked me whether brainstorming was the only way to be creative. I thought this was a good question, because brainstorming is definitely not the only, or even always the best way to help people be creative. Different techniques work best for different people. .....more...
January 2008The Art of Getting Ideas Adopted
If you’re creative and independent minded, the sort of person sometimes called a “Creative Maverick”, the transition from the creative freedom at university to the world of work can often feel very daunting. You have to work with people who don’t share your creative spark and who always seem to be pouring cold water on your bright ideas. It’s easy to get demoralised and frustrated, but there are some survival tricks……
For the full article, published in Transition Tradition (a website for creative people making the transition from university to employment) click here.
To hear me discuss creativity and how to turn ideas into reality on Women's Hour on the BBC click here. This clip also features Rachel Lowe, the successful entrepreneur and inventor of the Board Game Destinations, who was refused funding on BBC2's Dragon's Den.
30 November 2007
The founder of a small electronics firm asked me whether the techniques for “unfreezing” people worked with all ideas. He clearly had an idea in mind, though didn’t say what it was.
I found his question a little difficult to answer without knowing the nature of the idea, but said that in my view the “unfreezing” techniques were particularly useful for getting people to act on difficult and uncomfortable ideas (ie Stage 2 of resistance)
He thought a bit, and then made the interesting comment that although his idea seemed to him, on the surface, to be logical and non-controversial, quite possibly it was significant that he’d been procrastinating about telling anyone about it, when normally he was very relaxed about sharing ideas with his colleagues. Maybe his unusual procrastination was a useful warning sign that he was subconsciously aware that people would be less keen on his idea than he thought, so should be careful how he told them.
See Chapter 6 for more on “unfreezing”
15 November 2007
A hypnotherapist came up to me after a recent talk and made the interesting comment that, just as when trying to break through someone’s blindness to your ideas, hypnosis only works if you can fit in with the client’s mental models.
She said that hypnotherapy is a very effective way of breaking through people’s self limiting beliefs. For example, the power of suggestion can be so strong that one client of hers was able to have a minor operation without anaesthetic, just hypnosis.
Interestingly, the secret of being a good therapist is to be able to adapt to the clients mental models and “speak their language”. For example, if they see the body as basically a biological machine, she’d use very mechanical language to describe what was going on. If the client thought in more spiritual terms, she’d adapt to that too.
I thought this was an interesting example of the way your ideas will sink into someone’s subconscious, if you can only be skilled enough in adapting the way you talk about it to fit with their mental models and language.
I was discussing the ideas of the book with "Robert", a risk analyst in an investment bank. He said
"I so agree with you that we should use images more often. I was recently trying to get my idea across to the senior management team, in competition with a colleague who was proposing a different solution. I knew his idea wouldn't work and spent a lot of effort trying to explaining why, but I don't think the senior managers understood….See Chapter 5 for more on "speaking their language" and reframing, and Chapter 7 for more on images)
I knew I'd lost the argument when my colleague put up a slide of two athletes hurdling. Somehow I let him label his idea as the "champion" athlete and my idea as the "challenger": the athlete that was trailing behind and looking as if he was about to trip over.
Even though in reality, my idea was closer to the normal proven way of doing things, my idea was better, and my logical case was better, I lost the argument because he was MUCH better than me at using images in his presentation, reframing the debate and talking to senior managers in language they could understand."
At last, the moment every author looks forward to.The first copies arrive from the printers ... hours before 100 people arrive for the book launch!
The Israeli peace and human rights activist Gila Svirsky, sent me a powerful article about the way that the women's peace movement in Israel is reframing the concept of security. She said
In Israel, the concept of "security" is a powerful one, used to justify all military activity. However, for several generations, neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have had security, not in its narrow nor in its broader sense. Both societies have lived in an ongoing state of fear and insecurity for many years.For the full article, see Desperately seeking security, by Gila Svirsky on www.commongroundnews.org
The women's peace movement in Israel has begun to work on this problem. We call it a campaign to "reframe security" - to broaden our conception of it. We seek to demonstrate to Israelis that security is not the end-result of having a strong, aggressive army, but rather the product of a broad range of activity, which includes living in a society that cares for its poor, reduces violence, protects its natural resources, and co-exists in peace with its neighbors. Indeed, this campaign seeks to instill the understanding that "peace is the best way to promote security".
As part of this campaign, we take Israelis on "reality tours" to show them the Separation Wall. We bring them into the homes of Palestinians who are cut off from their land, jobs, and schools by the Wall, and we give Palestinians an opportunity to tell about their lives and how the Wall has changed them. For most Israelis, this is the very first time they have ever spoken to a Palestinian.……
These tours are powerful experiences…..
See Chapter 5 for more on reframing.