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Creating the need for change

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One of the hardest things to do is get people to change their attitudes or behaviors, primarily because they can usually see the immediate disadvantages (inconvenience, expense, harder work, uncertainty, etc.) whilst the advantages are a bit hazy and vague and somewhere in the distant future.

I've written elsewhere about various different ways to structure a presentation (see 7 ways to structure a presentation). If your objective is to persuade people to change in any way, I would recommend Problem and Solution.

When you're trying to persuade people to change, you're really asking them to buy an idea or proposal. And nobody, EVER bought anything that didn't satisfy a want, need or proposal. EVER. Period.

So the most effective way to effect change is to create as big a problem as possible in the audience's mind before even mentioning your solution. If you mention the solution too early, you'll immediately trigger a knee-jerk opposition from some people (see Why Emotion Will Usually Outweigh Logic for why this happens), and once these objections have been voiced, it's ten times harder to get them to change their mind (NB: bear in mind a need is more pressing than a want, and a problem is more pressing than a need).

If you create a problem (the bigger the better) in the audience's mind, and can actually get them to be thinking (even better - discussing), 'Wow - that would be disastrous' or 'We have to make sure that doesn't happen', you can then present the solution as something that is a help rather than a threat. And getting buy-in is much, much easier.

It's even more powerful if you can get them to state the size of the potential problem rather than you. So ask questions like, 'Jim - what do you think would be the effect on market share if this were to happen?' or 'Jane - if that actually happened, as a ball park figure what do think that would cost?' or 'John, what would be the effect in PR terms if this were to happen?'

So how should you open a presentation if your objective is to effect change? The two routes I would suggest are either a quote or an anecdote. When using either, don't open with 'I found this quote on the internet which I thought was interesting.' Just go right into it, by saying 'Famous person X once said ....' If the person is famous enough to be known by 95% of the audience (Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln, etc.), don't say anything but his/her name. If he/she is a bit more obscure, give just enough back-up information so they know who it is, e.g. 'the 19th century German philosopher Frederick von Nietzsche once said ....' Don't say, 'the 19th century German philosopher Frederick von Nietzsche who was born in 1844 and is perhaps best known for his views on the death of God, perspectivism, the Ubermensch and the will to power, once said ....' - you're not giving a history lesson.

Here's a couple of examples of quotes you could use.:

The Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli once said, 'There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.'

The British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said, 'He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.'

Albert Einstein once described technological change as being like 'an axe in the hands of a pathological criminal.' In other words, possibly dangerous and totally unpredictable.

Silent movie heroine

President Eisenhower once said, 'It is neither wise nor brave for a man to lie down on the tracks of history and wait for the train of the future to run over him.' Sometimes there are moments in an industry's history where change is so speeded up that you only begin to see the present when it's already disappearing. I believe that right now is such a moment in our industry, and I have no intention of letting this company be tied to the railroad tracks like the heroine of a silent movie. (said with the photo to the right as a backdrop)

Anecdote 1: Ignaz Semmelweis

Or you could use this as an anecdote, which would be very powerful if you were giving a keynote, you wanted the company (or your department) to radically change direction and you knew not all the audience would like what you had to say:

Ignaz Semmelweis was a physician who worked in the maternity dept of the hospital in Vienna in the 1840s. At the time, death rates for women giving birth due to what was called 'childbed fever' varied enormously. In some wards they could be 5%, in others as high as 30%. That up to 1 woman in 3 would die in childbirth was accepted with a shrug and the words, 'that's life!'

But Semmelweis wanted to know why the rates varied so much from ward to ward, and why women who gave birth prematurely and never made it hospital very rarely got childbed fever. He had no preconceptions about this, just an open mind. And he examined every possible thing it could be - was it mothers' milk? Diet? Bad ventilation? Constipation? Even the color of the paint on the ward walls?

Finally he narrowed it down to who was assisting in the childbirth. You see ... in one ward, where doctors or medical students assisted, the death rates were much higher than when in the second ward, where midwives did. Women would actually get on their knees and beg to be admitted to the second ward. Because unbelievable as it now seems, the doctors and students often came straight from the dissecting rom, where they demonstrated and practiced delivering babies from corpses, to the maternity ward where they did it for real, and the concept of washing your hands for hygienic reasons was completely unknown at the time. A simple wiping of the hands on the coat was deemed sufficient, and having bits of blood and body matter all over your front was almost a badge of honor. It meant you were a 'real' doctor.

In a decision that would save the lives of millions of new mothers around the world, Semmelweis determined that the deaths could be reduced simply by doctors disinfecting their hands before assisting in childbirth. His work introduced a revolution in hygiene.

But was he hailed as hero? Given promotion? Awarded riches and fame? Quite the opposite. His colleagues refused to believe that they could possibly be to blame. They were gentlemen, and the idea that their hands might need washing offended them. Semmelweis was viewed as a country bumpkin with dangerous ideas on innovation. His boss actually said to him, 'Keep yourself to what is old, for that is good. If our ancestors have proven it to be good, why should we not do as they did? I mistrust new ideas.' The difference between the death rates in the two wards was put down to men not being as gentle as women, or having bigger hands.

His ideas were ridiculed, rejected and ignored, and he was driven from Vienna in disgrace, back to his native Hungary. People began to fear he was losing his mind, and he was admitted to an asylum, where he died, ironically, enough from blood poisoning. His theories were only accepted years later when Louis Pasteur developed germ theory as a cause of disease, which gave a theoretical explanation for Semmelweis's findings.

The narrow-mindedness of Semmelweis's contemporaries in rejecting a discovery that would save millions of lives just because it conflicted with their ideas of the way the world worked is appalling to us nowadays. In fact the knee-jerk, reflexive rejection of new knowledge because it conflicts with accepted beliefs is now known as a Semmelweis reflex.

During my presentation today I'm going to talk about the need for this company to change. I'm going to say some things that many of you will find controversial. I'm going to say some things that most of you will find surprising. I'm even going to say some things that a few of you will find offensive.

But if you disagree with what I'm saying, I want you to ask yourself a question: Am I disagreeing because I think his logic is wrong, or is it just because what he's saying makes me uncomfortable? In other words, is it just a Semmelweis reflex?

2010 has been a difficult year for us ......

Anecdote 2: Karl Friedrich Benz

How about this if you wanted to talk about fundamental changes that were happening (or going to happen) in your industry, that you felt would cause you to change the way you did business....

In the late nineteenth century, Karl Benz - the man widely regarded as the inventor of the petrol-driven automobile - was asked to predict the ultimate size of the global market. He confidently predicted that one day there could be as many as 20,000 cars on the road.

Today there are around 750 million registered vehicles around the world, and this number is expected to treble in the next 30 years, so he was more than a little out in his forecast. How did he arrive at his figure? Quite simple ..... 20,000 was the maximum number of people he thought would be able to be trained as chauffeurs.

It's easy to laugh now, but Karl Benz wasn't an ignorant man. On the contrary, he was quite brilliant. And in his world, anyone who could afford to buy an automobile wouldn't be seen dead driving it; he'd use a chauffeur. So his calculation was based on sound logic. Benz's belief system just couldn't foresee the social changes that his invention would introduce. Because the invention of the automobile led to what's known as a paradigm shift.

A paradigm shift is a change so fundamental, so massive, so radical that it creates a totally new situation previously considered impossible or undesirable. The invention of the printing press produced one, as did the steam engine,and the invention of the telephone and the internet.

And I think that we in our industry are about to experience a paradigm shift of our own - changes so fundamental, so massive, so radical that we will have to completely change the way we do business, and so pervasive that every single one of you will be affected.

Let me give you a little bit of background ......

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