Implementing change series: Plant a seed

A few years ago, I was talking to a friend of mine, a college English professor, who was discussing a book club meeting he was at. One of the other members stated a belief about the text, that was factually incorrect.

This conversation happened years ago, but here’s my best recollection of what happened next:

Me: Did you let them know that’s false?

Him: Nope

Me: Why not?

Him: I could tell they hold that belief very strongly. They weren’t ready to hear the fact about it. If I’d countered with that fact, they would have shut down. So I just asked them for support what they said, which they couldn’t provide, but got them thinking. My job isn’t to change their mind fully, I couldn’t do that with such a strongly held belief, my job is to plant a seed toward new information and understanding and hope that it grows.

Planting Seeds

This conversation really changed my perspective on change management. When someone holds a strongly-held belief, presenting new facts or information and thinking they will change right away is a fools errand. In the majority of cases, they won’t. So, I take solace in planting seeds.

I recently read a Washington Post article about Derek Black renouncing his family’s white supremacist stance. This is a great example of seeds being planted, it wasn’t just one dinner, or one conversation, that moved Derek Black, it was a number of encounters and conversations that moved him to where he is now.

In my work consulting schools on encouraging faculty to adopt Open Educational Resources (OER), I’ve witnessed this many times with faculty. and administrators. There are some faculty who are ready to make the leap right away, and I coach institutions to focus on helping those faculty adopt, but I also consider the work we’re doing on their campuses now as planting seeds for those in the late majority or laggards part of the Diffusion of Innovation Curve.

Similarly, there are also faculty who I’ve now worked with for three years to adopt. They email me every six months or so, ask a question, and disappear again. Each conversation is a seed that brings them closer, and it’s very exciting when one of these faculty do decide transition to OER.

As I’ve written about before when discussing advertising ROI, most major purchase decisions also aren’t made from a single communication or a single source of communication. It’s usually a series of seeds, an ad they see, a conversation with a friend, an experience they’ve had, that move someone to purchase.

What does this mean for OER and other change initiatives?

  1. Still track faculty or consumers who say “yes” now. This gives you an idea what parts of your initiative are working.
  2. Keep track of who interacted with you, but didn’t say yes. You planted a seed with these folks and you have a good chance these folks will say yes in the future.
  3. Make note of other ways you can tell a seed was planted. If for nothing else, to remind you that you are making progress. But,  #1 on this list should always your main focus with any of your actions, followed by #2. This one is just gravy on top. See Combine Active and Passive Strategies for High Impact Results for a more detailed outline of these three.

What does this mean in personal conversations?

What I learned from my friend, is, when someone states a strongly held belief that you think is untrue, don’t counter directly. Take a deep breath and plant a seed by asking for more information. But, you also have to open to maybe having them plant a seed in you during this process as well.

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