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The Science Behind Why It's So Hard to Change Minds to Spread Improvement

Posted by Mark Jaben

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Jan 15, 2016 6:40:00 AM

Frustrated that you can't expand the improvement culture beyond an initial small group?

Having trouble convincing senior leadership to commit to improvement, or maybe the organization has committed theoretically but  is having trouble changing behaviors and habits?

Struggling to "pull" rather than "push" people into participating in improvement?

We all know that KaiNexus works to spread improvement. Of course, that can only happen if people want to be part of that improvement. 

(Learn about the "pull" approach to improvement one KaiNexus customer has taken here).

Just as we are taught in problem solving to seek out the root cause,  maybe all these frustrations really mean we haven’t found the root cause of why it's so hard to engage people in improvement.

Are people really resistant to change?

We all believe change is difficult for people, but if that is really true, how do you reconcile this with the reality that each of us changes every day whenever things don’t work out as planned? In such a circumstance, we do something different; we change and adapt. The fact is, everyone wants something to change when what they're currently trying to do isn't working. 

We want change when it fixes our problem.

 

The scientific reason:

Berns and colleagues at Emory used fMRI studies to show that when a person is expressing a closely held belief,  their amygdala lights up. But when they offered these same people $100  to vote differently on a survey, those who would were put back in the fMRI to find that now their amygdala was quiet and an area of the prefrontal cortex was active instead.

What this means is that someone processing in their amygdala (the stress response area of the brain) is not in a frame of mind to consider other options or possibilities. Analyzing alternatives takes place in the prefrontal cortex.

Whether someone thinks a certain way because their brain is processing in that area, or if that area is active because of what they are thinking, the result is that same; if you're talking to someone about a closely-held belief, they're thinking with their amygdala. And if they're thinking with their amygdala, they're not open to other possibilities. Therefore, you are unlikely to have a productive discussion about any change with someone processing that information in their amygdala

Rather than assuming a defender stance to protect oneself - as with the "fight or flight" amgydala - your brain must instead be in challenging mode, firing in the prefrontal cortex so that you are interested and willing to consider other views. 

The kicker is that we are not even aware of this processing, which occurs in what Shankar Vedentim has termed "the Hidden Brain," those functions outside of one’s awareness.

Perhaps this is the reason it's so hard to change peoples' minds and engage them in continuous improvement.

 

So what can we do?

Whatever the countermeasure should be, it takes reconciling this paradox of change:  people most certainly act based on what they believe to be true. If beliefs determine behavior, then the root cause of change should aim at changing beliefs.

However, if that were true,  we wouldn't have observed that 'it is easier to act your way to a new of thinking than it is to think your way think your to a new way of acting.'

The reality is that you cannot actually convince anyone to do anything. You cannot change their minds; only their brains can do that. And people do change their minds.

The question, then, is what’s going on in there and what can you do about it?

Turns out there is a lot you can do, once you identify and address the real point of cause. However, to understand this, you have to understand how the brain makes its decisions and choices.

Tune in to my next post to learn about how the brain makes decisions! Subscribe to the blog to make sure you don't miss it

 

 

Topics: Leadership, Employee Engagement, Spread Continuous Improvement

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