It took 10 years for me to make a podcast and the reason for that comes down to 10 factors that can be used to explain why most change does (or does not) happen. In this post, I look at these 10 factors as a bit of a preview for what’s coming on the podcast and in future posts here on Censemaking.
In this post, I introduce a list — an index — of factors that contributed not only to my success but, in their absence, the delay in creating what was an innovation of great importance to me.
These ten items are grounded in psychological and behavioural science and manifest themselves in change efforts and innovation attempts in organizations and individuals alike.
Individual Factors for Change-Making
Knowledge. Knowledge is the bedrock of change and the foundation of every major theory of behaviour change. Give people the facts and they will change goes the thinking. While knowledge is usually necessary to promote change, it is far from sufficient. Rational, logical arguments are limited as means of influencing people on their own. When it comes to innovation our knowledge is almost always partial because we are doing something new within a context. There is also the matter of knowledge curves — having or knowing too much. Knowledge can create perceptual gaps where we fail to see or consider things that lay outside of this domain of knowledge.
Skills. How we apply knowledge and transform it into activities, action, and change is the next piece. Knowledge is not the same as practice. In many areas we need specific practice knowledge — skills to make a change possible. For example, we might know that we need to evaluate our impact, but without the skill in asking the right questions with the appropriate tools, we won’t succeed.
Tools. These can be high or low tech like a type of saw for a carpenter and online whiteboard for a facilitator or even a simple pen set and paper, but having a command of tools signals that we know what we’re about to create and are serious about actually making something. Yet, all the tools in the world won’t produce something without these other items on the list.
Confidence. We might have everything else in place, but if we aren’t able to proceed with confidence we might just undermine our own efforts or that of others supporting us. Confidence is the bridge between our dreams and vision and our capacity to undertake the work needed to make them real.
Outcome Expectations. We are more likely to hit what we aim for than not. That means being very careful about where we focus our energy and our expectations. A quote attributed to Norman Vincent Peale can illustrate the implications of this point:
“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”
Contextual Factors for Change-Making
Time & Space. This is the most under-appreciated and poorly understood concept when it comes to real innovation. If you won’t create the space for learning and sensemaking you will not innovate over the long haul. Your ideas and inspiration need time and space. As productivity researcher and consultant Juliet Funt puts it
“When you make a fire, it’s the space between the combustibles the spark can’t live without. Space is what makes flames ignite and stay burning.”
Conditions. Having the right conditions to innovate and having that creation play a useful function when those you seek to serve are ready is as much alchemy as it is science. That doesn’t make it worthy of neglect and it’s something we can design for.
Social Support. The idea of a lone innovator, a maverick, or a rebel going out against all odds and without the understanding and support from their family, friends and community makes for a great movie 🍿 but a terrible recipe for innovation. It’s true that most innovators have to struggle with being misunderstood and challenged, but without others to support your work in some small ways (even if that’s just your customer, student, or client) you won’t be innovating for long.
Environment. Sometimes the very best ideas are simply ahead of their time. Sometimes, it’s not that we’re ahead of our time, it’s that the time needed to make something work is part of the environment in which we work. It takes on average 17 years to take a new idea in medicine and bring it into everyday clinical practice. You can have the best evidence, the greatest idea, and the most compelling problem to solve, but in some cases, the environment won’t allow those roots to take hold and grow at the pace we want.
Glue. This highly non-technical concept reflects how we line things up together to hold them. This is our strategy and the design for how we transform it and learning into real change. Once the materials are in place it’s time to glue them together.
An Index for Innovation
While it is possible to innovate and succeed without all of these, the more of them you have in place the more likely you are to find success and do it sustainably.
Most of us don’t want to make a single change, we want to grow. Growing as people and as organizations require that we take a developmental mindset and keep change in mind and in our praxis as part of our everyday life and work.
Thanks as always for reading and I hope that you find this podcast and the discussion of these ten factors and many more a useful and engaging listen in the months to come. I’m promising that it won’t take 10 years to get the next episode recorded and published.
If this challenge of change is something you face in your organization and want help designing for, contact me at Cense and let’s see how we can help you.