Salsa Scoop> Prodding an elephant

Prodding an elephant

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NTEN's Nonprofit Technology Conference was the biggest ever this year with registration of 2008 individuals. Every session I attended was informative and engaging, inspiring ideas for change and new ways of thinking about nonprofit advocacy and Salsa's role in the conversation. Dan Heath's presentation on making change was a refreshing and entertaining example of llama.

The author of Switch and a columnist with Fast Company, Heath said that though change seems difficult, we still manage to jump into change often, whether getting married, having children, getting over polyester fashions or moving somewhere new. These sorts of changes usually inspire smiles, but we still think of "change" as a terrifying thing.

Heath offered ways to think of change that are less terrifying, breaking his process into smaller steps and inviting us to change how we approach making change. Explaining that we use two parts of our brains when committing to change, Heath outlined how the emotional part of our brain is like an elephant while the rational part of our brain is like a rider of the elephant. The rider really thinks he or she is in charge, but if the rider ever disagrees with the elephant… trouble.

Even if you convince a number of people logically to support your viewpoint, there is an elephant in the crowd that's perfectly comfortable with how things worked yesterday. "You deserve ice cream. Check your email again. Call your ex." are the things we hear from our emotional brain. Probably don't listen to the elephant in these instances, but the elephant also gives us the feelings of "Wouldn't it be cool if…" "Let's move. Let's make a decision," and is the fuel for action and change.

Therefore, we have to make sure that the emotional part of our brain is ready and willing for change. To make this easier, Heath suggested three steps: Direct the rider, Motivate the elephant, and Shape the path.

Direct the rider

If you want to figure out how to make change in your organization or in the world, there's probably a problem to solve. Instead of focusing on all the little or big issues that need to be overcome to actually solve the problem, start by looking at what's working. Focusing on what's already working and how to do more of that enables you to work towards solving the problem without getting sidetracked by all the other problems that would have been roadblocks otherwise.

Motivate the elephant

For people to believe things, they often need to see the problems. Change starts with feeling, not with analyzing. Eliciting pity through pictures of starving children is an effective way to inspire feeling, except it has a side-effect because people can't take too much of it and start to ignore you. Eliciting guilt by sending a nickel by direct mail and asking your contacts to return it also abuses social norms for reciprocity.

You would never see a Nike ad that says "a lot of people in the world are slow and athletic," so why can't we be selling hope and success as well? The reason we do this work is because we believe there's a difference to be made. Instead of using the negatives to elicit feeling, focus on what's possible. Before and after pictures of how people have benefited from a homes for the homeless program inspired a strong emotional response with only images. Show your supporters what's possible and how they can help make more of the good.

Shape the path

It's easier to change a situation than it is to change a person. People aren't necessarily intentionally being defiant, but if we're used to the way things have always been done and something new isn't as easy, we're going to resist the new. Therefore, every tweak that you can make to your process matters. From giving clearer directions, providing simpler forms, it's important to "shape the path for a better view."


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