Talya Vaish, “The Funnel”
Countries, organizations and individuals vie for influence. It is a major component of human interaction and is important in any professional or personal setting.
For people charged with leading innovation, it is critical. Innovation often makes people feel uncomfortable and out of their comfort zone, can add more tasks to an already busy schedule, operates outside the regular corporate hierarchy and usually requires teamwork. These are all things that don’t come naturally to most people.
When we talk about trying to change behavior or influence it may have a negative connotation. It shouldn’t. It is not about tricking them into doing something they wouldn’t want to do; it is rather, about understanding their needs and tapping into them in order to bring about the desired change or behavior.
Organizations tend to think that employees will buy into the change if they are persuaded that it is the best thing for the organization and focus their persuasion attempts at that. However, the first thing to realize when instituting change such as an innovative culture, it is the innovation leader’s responsibility to convince different types of people – from employees in different departments all the way up to the CEO that the change or innovation is what’s best for (on a personal and professional level).
People won’t necessarily become passionate or zealots about the change they are taking part in, but there are certain actions that can make them more likely to participate and even be enthusiastic about the change or new project.
This is a complicated and fascinating field, and we won’t be able to cover everything in this short span. In this article, we won’t be addressing formal sources of influence such as hierarchy, nor more obvious incentives for motivation – promotion, money etc.- but rather, focus on internal and external mechanisms that help people adopt and maintain new behaviors that are important for innovation.
- How and Why People Learn and Change
There is no solution that fits all, and each group or audience will need a different motivational/behavioral tool set. It is about understanding real underlying needs.
There are some behavioral theories: diffusion of innovations, social learning theory or self-determination that challenge conventional “carrot and stick” assumptions and attribute significance to social and group effects. These theories can serve as an efficient basis when trying to create influence and infuse innovation outside the regular organizational structure.
Social Learning Theory
TL;DR – We learn by observing others and through positive and negative reinforcements.
This theory by Albert Bandura (1977) says that we learn and imitate behavior by observing different models from our immediate and remote environments,or by seeing how others are reinforced for their behavior. There are several factors which affect whether or not we will repeat the imitation:
- We are more likely to imitate someone we see as similar to ourselves.
- The reinforcement is more likely to have an impact if it matches the individual’s needs.
- If the imitation is limited to behavior or if we also imitate values and beliefs (identification).
- Cognitive processes such as how much attention we can give the model, how well do we remember a certain behavior, our ability to repeat the action, etc.
Diffusion of Innovation
TL;DR – different people adopt innovation and adapt to it in different paces. As an innovation leader, each type of adoption rate requires a somewhat different approach.
Diffusion of innovation (DOI) theory was developed by E.M. Rogers in 1962. It is one of the oldest social science theories around. It attempts to explain how, over time, an idea or product gains momentum and spreads through a specific population or social system until it is adopted (be it a new product, service or behavior). The key to adoption is that the person must perceive the idea, behavior, or product as new or innovative. It is through this that diffusion is possible. The most relevant part in this theory to corporate innovation is that adoption does not happen instantaneously nor simultaneously; it is a process. Some people are more inclined to adopt innovation than others. Researchers have found that people who adopt innovation early have different characteristics than people who adopt it later.
There are five established adopter categories.
Innovators >Early Adopters >Early Majority >Late Majority > Laggards. Different strategies are used to appeal to the different adopter categories.
Successive groups adopting the new technology (shown in blue), its market share (yellow) will eventually reach the saturation level. The blue curve is broken into sections of adopters.
TL;DR – This is a macro theory of what affects motivation and has many different factors. Some are external and some are intrinsic. This theory recognizes three basic needs that come into play when discussing motivation – autonomy, competence and relatedness.
This is a mega theory or framework for theories of motivation. It was initially developed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan in the late 70’s and has been refined by many other scholars since. Motivation can stem from external factors such as reward or fear, but it can also come from within by factors such as interests, curiosity or values.
SDT research focuses on how social and cultural factors facilitate or undermine individuals’ experience of autonomy, competence, and relatedness as three core needs for motivation and engagement.
- Autonomy – Desire to act in harmony with the complete self
- Competence – Control over outcome
- Relatedness – Will to interact, be connected to others and experience caring.
Recognise the role of power, and understand that behaviour sits in a matrix of technologies, infrastructures, institutions, norms and social structures, all of which need to be open to strategizing and potential modification.
Behaviour change is therefore a multi-disciplinary effort. It involves practices and ways of thinking that no one profession can claim expertise in, like organisational change, infrastructure design, observational and social research, regulation, design thinking, social psychology, and communication and marketing.
2. Encouraging Learning and Change Mechanisms
In the previous section we discussed how people learn and adopt new behaviors, what motivates people and touched on how they are affected by one another. While motivation and action have to correspond to people’s needs, setting the right environment has a lot to do with meeting those needs.
The environment – Space, time, conditions – determines how hard people have to work in order to learn and adapt and to commit to the desired change. It is about fostering creativity; but, even more importantly, it is about working on the right setting that will create a commitment to making those ideas into products, new business models, services etc.
Creating and reinforcing routines that make innovation the natural state of the organization takes time and a lot of moving parts.
How the theories translate into action
One of the main pieces of advice you get when trying to influence a group of people is start with the ones that are more open to the idea or change what you are creating. This advice combines some of the messages from the theories we mentioned – adoption patterns, imitation etc.
Getting people to switch to the electric car – Research has shown that in order for the general public to switch to the electric car (based on previous adoption behavior in the automobile industry) would require a 3% adoption rate by early adopters. When that number is reached, the new product is commonplace enough to become prevalent in the larger public’s awareness, making it seem like a safe enough choice and that surrounding infrastructure will be set up to accommodate that new product.
- Different people have different paces adapting to change. Embrace that.
- People imitate what they see, especially if they feel the person they are imitating is similar to them.
Five things you can do in order to improve your chances of influencing and motivating – Learning from different fields
- Make it as easy as possible – We are cognitive misers and are programmed to take the easiest route. Several cities around the world, realizing that have installed a number of dog hygiene stations all over town. These stations consist of a garbage can with a liner and a dispenser with plastic mitts that can be used to pick up dog waste. These stations make it easier for dog owners to clean up after their dogs, which cuts down on the number of people who fail to do so. After a certain time the cities can put in less effort but the new behaviour has already been programmed into the public.
- Add rather than subtract – According to the prospect theory, from the field of economics and game theory (Khanmen and Tversky) people are more averse to risk when it comes to potential losses rather than gains (and place less value on the outcome).
- Go for the positive and celebrate success – Much like sugar, our brains like celebrations. According to research by Fred Bryant – celebrations, even minor ones help buffer from difficulties and manage challenges and stress. Research of soccer teams (Moll, Jordet and Pepping) demonstrated that teams that celebrated individual and group achievements were more successful.
- Build common ground – Common ground is an important tool in multiplayer systems mediating between personal and collective goals. In addition common ground creates an atmosphere of sharing (especially shared goals), trust and consensus orientation. Research into how urban governance employs common ground shows that it is a dynamic process (much like the innovation process itself) and requires a constant state of negotiation.
- Use your emotions – Tone, posture and other aspects of nonverbal communication convey as much if not more than our words. Emotions are contagious. In a study on teachers and students (Keeshan Nadler and Bainbridge Frymier) they discovered that teachers who used more “immediate” behavior (that caused perceived intimacy) such as eye contact, wider vocal range, forward lean, smiling etc. created greater motivation in students, more effective learning and more tolerance of demanding coursework.
Because influence and motivation are critical to innovation it is important to have some understanding of the underlying currents and hidden causes, and more importantly how to translate it to actions that push innovation forward.