Most of us are good at deciding between possible solutions, but not necessarily great at coming up with original and counterintuitive solutions in the first place. This is even more pronounced when it comes to organizational change. Mavericks, heretics, catalysts, and different thinkers are original solution seekers, who wander away from the main group and well-worn paths in search of improvements. Established organizations like to seek new ideas, but rarely implement these ideas. This happens for a variety of reasons from protecting the existing business model, to a threat response by the status quo.
However, a major challenge often comes from the communication of the idea. In their enthusiasm, change agents can often deliver their ideas full of energy, but to the recipient of the idea, (the idea buyer), it can feel like drinking water from a hosepipe. After their encounter with the innovation team, it feels like their brain needs a break.
In “Words Can Change Your Brain”, author Dr. Andrew Newberg says, “Language shapes our behaviour, and each word we use is imbued with multitudes of personal meaning. The right words spoken in the right way can bring us love, money, and respect, while the wrong words — or even the right words spoken in the wrong way — can lead to a country of war.”It is for this reason that we must carefully orchestrate our speech to achieve our goals and bring new solutions to fruition. In change initiatives, we cannot underemphasize the importance of communication. (It is so important, it is the entire focus of my next book.) When we introduce new ideas, without clarity there is a lot of ambiguity, and ambiguity is mostly perceived negatively (if the pandemic has taught us anything). This is why changemakers must communicate effectively to those employees who can talk to (and be understood by) other people across the varied communities and tribes within an organization. This is why we require a common language of change, the simpler and more universal that language, the better.
I find great examples in nature, from the pheromone of ants to the sonar of bats to the dance of bees. Let’s take the bee example for this Thursday Thought. Just as an organization should explore new business models, a bee population explores new hive locations. My point in sharing this analogy is both to emphasise how there is always a small percentage who search for alternatives but also to highlight how the scout bee communicates and sells her idea.
In every population, there is a small percentage of the tribe who explore “what else is out there”. In bee populations, about 5% of the bees are scouts, and after exploring the surrounding area for possible hive sites, when a scout finds something worth sharing, she communicates the new discovery by performing a waggle dance. The dance indicates the location and quality of the site. The waggle dances serve to recruit additional scouts to further investigate the “advertised” site. The longer the dance, the more likely that the new scouts will investigate the site and bring back independent evaluations. Over time, positive feedback loops are generated, and once the number of scout bees at a particular site reaches a quorum threshold (of about 30 to 40 bees), those scouts return to the swarm and lead it to the new site.
Let’s map this to an organization, first individuals search for feasible alternatives, (that should be) biased by the quality of the options revealed during their search attempts. Then, they communicate the idea first to a smaller group for evaluation. Once this communication is effective and the group understands the merits of a new direction more resources are sent to the new location for full deployment. Remember, as Howard Aiken put it, “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” Let’s take some lessons from nature and go slowly to encourage lasting change.
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