The Snowball Effect:Start Change Now (part 1)

To effect change, you must do something differently.

It starts with you. Do it right, and you’ll enjoy a snowball effect that helps your team, direct reports and even family members implement change.

While many books have covered organizational change, business school professors Chip and Dan Heath cover the patterns all successful change efforts have in common in Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (2010).

The Heaths avoid looking at the history of failed changes. Instead, they share stories of spectacular changes that worked because execution built upon prior achievements.

In researching significant social, educational, governmental, marital and organizational changes, the professors came up with a framework that anyone can apply in real-world business situations.

First Steps

In many ways, the first small steps you take to change your behavior are the most important. Once you initiate change, it seems to feed on itself, as two psychological triggers are at work:

  1. The mere exposure effect: The more you’re exposed to something, the more you like it. Initially unwelcome change efforts will gradually be perceived more favorably as people get used to them.
  2. Cognitive dissonance: Once people take small steps, it’s increasingly difficult for them to dislike how they act. We don’t like to act in one way and think in another. And once we begin to behave differently, our self-perception changes and our identity evolves, which reinforces our new approach.


The Snowball Effect

Such changes aren’t the result of “small wins.” Rather, they are automatic forces that kick in as time passes. It’s therefore essential to start as soon as possible and take advantage of the momentum.

While inertia and the status quo may exert an irresistible pull, at this point you need to muster the courage and just do it. Just get it started. Your first attempt doesn’t have to be perfect or complete. At some point, inertia will shift from resisting change to supporting it, and small changes will snowball into big changes.

Recognize up front that it’s human nature to focus on the negative. As you review the behavior you wish to change, it’s only natural to think of what’s not working.

When competing for brain space, bad thoughts easily beat out good ones.
In an exhaustive study of 558 words that represent emotions, 62 percent were negative versus 38 percent positive. When we learn something bad about someone, we pay closer attention to it and remember it longer. The negative receives greater weight when we assess a person.

In another analysis, researchers examined 17 studies concerning how people explained events in their lives. Across all domains-work, politics, sports, personal-people were more likely to spontaneously bring up negative events versus positive ones.

Continued Tomorow: Part Two including The Problem with Problems and Unleashing the Snowball Effect


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