Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Change Science

A friend sent me this yesterday.

Change or Die
Fast Company
May 2005
Issue 94
By: Alan Deutschman

"All leadership comes down to this:

Changing people's behavior.

What if you were given that choice?

For real.

Your own life or death.

What if a well-informed, trusted authority figure said you had to make difficult and enduring changes in the way you think and act?

If you didn't, your time would end soon -- a lot sooner than it had to.

Could you change when change really mattered?

When it mattered most?

Yes, you say?

Try again.


You're probably deluding yourself.

You wouldn't change.

Don't believe it? You want odds? Here are the odds, the scientifically studied odds: nine to one.

That's nine to one against you.

The conventional wisdom says that crisis is a powerful motivator for change. But severe heart disease is among the most serious of personal crises, and it doesn't motivate -- at least not nearly enough. Nor does giving people accurate analyses and factual information about their situations.

What works?

Why, in general, is change so incredibly difficult for people? What is it about how our brains are wired that resists change so tenaciously? Why do we fight even what we know to be in our own vital interests?

John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor, has hit on a crucial insight. "Behavior change happens mostly by speaking to people's feelings," he says. "This is true even in organizations that are very focused on analysis and quantitative measurement, even among people who think of themselves as smart in an MBA sense. In highly successful change efforts, people find ways to help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thought."

Pioneering research in cognitive science and linguistics has pointed to the paramount importance of framing. George Lakoff, a professor of those two disciplines at the University of California at Berkeley, defines frames as the "mental structures that shape the way we see the world." Lakoff says that frames are part of the "cognitive unconscious."

The big challenge in trying to change how people think is that their minds rely on frames, not facts. "Neuroscience tells us that each of the concepts we have -- the long-term concepts that structure how we think -- is instantiated in the synapses of the brain," Lakoff says. "Concepts are not things that can be changed just by someone telling us a fact. We may be presented with facts, but for us to make sense of them, they have to fit what is already in the synapses of the brain.

Otherwise, facts go in and then they go right back out. "

And then there is this story from the Associated Press

Experts: Petroleum May Be Nearing Peak
AP National Writer
Sun. May 29

Could the petroleum joyride — cheap, abundant oil that has sent the global economy whizzing along with the pedal to the metal and the AC blasting for decades — be coming to an end? Some observers of the oil industry think so. They predict that this year, maybe next — almost certainly by the end of the decade — the world's oil production, having grown exuberantly for more than a century, will peak and begin to decline.

And then it really will be all downhill. The price of oil will increase drastically. Major oil-consuming countries will experience crippling inflation, unemployment and economic instability. Princeton University geologist Kenneth S. Deffeyes predicts "a permanent state of oil shortage."

Deffeyes thinks the peak will be in late 2005 or early 2006. Houston investment banker Matthew Simmons puts it at 2007 to 2009. California Institute of Technology physicist David Goodstein, whose book "The End of Oil" was published last year, predicts it will arrive before 2010.

None of this will affect vacation plans this summer — Americans can expect another season of beach weekends and road trips to Graceland relatively unimpeded by the cost of getting there. Though gas prices are up, they are expected to remain below $2.50 a gallon. Accounting for inflation, that's pretty comparable to what motorists paid for most of the 20th century; it only feels expensive because gasoline was unusually cheap between 1986 and 2003."

So, let me try to get my mind around this.

If you are told by a well-informed, trusted authority figure that you must make difficult and enduring changes in the way you think and act and that if you didn't, your time would end soon -- a lot sooner than it had to...

that you are going to die,

unless you change your behavior,

the odds are 9 to one that you will tell them to

go jump in the lake.

Somehow I feel better knowing this.

All this time, when I would talk about Climate Change,

When I would speak to group after group about Peak Oil,

When I would testify before the legislature

of the need to move boldly towards a Solar Hydrogen Economy,

I would focus on my facts, on my charts, on a good humor,

and on being a likeable, believeable guy.

Now I know that if I was a heart surgeon with grave news,

that 9 out of 10 of my patients wouldn't change their behavior anyway.

I think my batting average may be better than that.

And I don't wear a white robe or have gizmos hanging on my head.

I was thinking about it though.

Perhaps we should be thinking about Lakoff's mental structures

that shape the way

we see

and feel.

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Blogger Charlie Loving said...

I posted a comment some while back about changing behavior. I doubt that mine will change much. I will pay the high prices to be able to move about.

When I posted that comment I had visited a graveyard of machines. Not so ancient plows and agrigcultural equipment that were either steam driven or pulled by mules and horses. Can society return to those thrilling days of yesteryear? When out of the fields came the cry, "Gee Haw!"

6:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My friend Telebob thinks peal oil is already well understood at the highest levels:

"Demand continues to increase, but production is
flattening. A look at the stats shows this. Higher
prices cannot create more oil or find more than is
there. Bush put us in Iraq for one reason, to build
the 14 permanent bases that will give the USA
something to say about one of the largest reservoirs
of oil in the world over the next 30 years. It was
strategic, and he figured it was 'now or never' since
he could pin it all on Saddam and the 'fight for
democracy'. It's always about the money.
I don't think we would be there if Bush, Halliburton,
and the think tanks didn't think Hubbert's Peak is

6:18 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the we were willing to take some of that military budget and apply it to the new technology that is already available, we could move forward and still walk more lightly on the earth.

8:25 AM  
Blogger polit thoughts said...

The caution is not to let past behaviors become an excuse for present choices. The temptation is to say, "Well, I have always done that. Since change is so hard, and so unlikely, I may as well do it again." Instead, we need to realize the power of every individual decision we make--with each choice we lay down a new pattern of behavior. This is how we write our personal legacies.

Today, I choose.

9:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good post. I'm sending this one around.

11:20 AM  

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