Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Earning the Attention of a Prehistoric Brain

A colleague of Koliso recently created a blog posting with this title. You can see Terri's article here. Her point, from a trainer's perspective, is that brains are wired to ignore the repetitive and regular and pay attention to the unexpected and irregular.

Psychologists call ignoring the background sensations habituation, and paying attention to the what is new and different vigilance. Our brains are quite primitive this way; they work much the way a dinosaur's brain worked.

How does knowing this help a principled leader?

Koliso is currently working with a client where we are half way through an 18-month culture change project across their organization. One of the ways we are making the culture change stick is to use habituation and vigilance to our advantage.

When we first introduced the change we used as many different communication channels as we could. We also had as many different customizations as possible for each of the audiences. Each time the managers and staff saw the themes from the change process pop up in a memo, staff meeting or handout they thought "Ah, here's that thing again." With every twist in the communication they looked at the changes and thought about what it meant for them.

Once the change was successfully introduced we started finding a common language and reinforcing a common mindset among the staff by repeating the same materials. Over time the managers and staff no longer thought of what we were doing as change, and it just became "the way we do things around here."

We got the staff and managers to be vigilant about the changes coming their way, and habituated to the idea that change is natural.

Terri's article is a great look at the concept for improving training outcomes. Koliso also uses the concept with clients as one of the ways to help them make meaningful changes stick.

If you're responsible for making a change initiative work ask yourself, "When do I need to be novel and different with this message, and when do I need to make sure it's more of the same?"

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