When Mustafa Ataturk brought Turkey into the modern world, he did so by making many small but very important social changes. He allowed women the freedom to not wear the veil. He had the Quran translated into Turkish. He wore a Panama hat and a Western suit.
Changing a culture – whether it’s a country, a company, or a small group of friends – can’t be done by mandate alone, it has to be done with subtle nudging. King Mongkut, leader of Siam in the mid-19th century, also knew a thing or two about how to nudge people towards change, avoiding British colonialization not with battle, but by embracing modernization and the adoption of some Western customs. That’s why Thai people now eat with forks and spoons. Mongkut’s son, King Chulalongkorn, followed in his father’s footsteps, and adopted a spiffy style of dress that included stylish English suits and an Homburg.
Effecting change in peoples’ behavior, and changing long-held customs and practices isn’t an easy thing to do, whether you’re a world leader, the head of a Fortune 500 company, an entrepreneur with a small business, a schoolteacher, or anyone who is tasked with the difficult task of changing the way people think. Strong-arm tactics, mandates, and threats may work in the short-term, but seldom end well. According to Sean Murphy, CEO of Lootok, the “push” model is far less effective – a better approach is to change the conversation so that the people you seek to influence begin to demand the desired behavior. It becomes a “pull” model.
Murphy is a rare individual who purposely went into the field of risk management and disaster preparedness, and even more rare, he is probably one of a handful of people who think it’s actually fun. Disaster preparedness is one of those things that everybody knows they need, but nobody wants to do it, and typically it gets accomplished by a “push” mandate from somebody in the C-suite. Nobody really wants to work on the preparedness project, but they do it because they have to, and as a result, those sorts of initiatives often fall short of expectations. The trick is to change the culture, so that people value it and actually want it.
“You’ve somehow got to engage people in a way that they want to participate in order to create a sustainable program,” said Murphy. “What you want is for them to pull. You want them to demand.” In his practice, Murphy takes a page out of the book “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness,” by authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, which describes a process of effecting change and influencing behavior by “nudging” people in such a way that they see the value in what you are trying to encourage, rather than using unwelcome mandates and demands. A simple example is how a school cafeteria might encourage healthier eating. “Eat your broccoli!” mandates from the lunch lady never work. Putting the healthiest foods at the front of the line might, just by making it easier to grab them before students see the hot dogs and soda pop.
How can you make changes in peoples’ points of view, if they have little interest in it? Murphy describes his own process of getting people on board: “We take all the stakeholders of an organization and put them on a continuum of demand, which goes from ‘unaware’ to ‘draftee’ to ‘enlisted’ to ‘loyalist’ to ‘evangelist.’ I’m looking to nudge people up that chain, because the more demand I have for my services, the better program I can run.” The nudge program builds interest – a challenging task in the field of risk management – using things like gamification and internal competition.
Murphy uses games and activities to change how people relate to stifling topics like risk management. “An example of one of the things we do is to build internal competition,” said Murphy. “For one financial company, we created an ‘amazing race’ where each side used an online tool we created to get a passport stamped. It was a way for them to engage and win something. And while they were doing this game, it was teaching them things about the program and local threats, and building interest in a program that would drive a risk assessment.”
Not that many people go into risk management because they think it’ll be fun, but Murphy did. “When I started Lootok, I started with this idea of playing with fun. We created a bunch of games, and it wasn’t meant to do anything but make people laugh. But when we got down to business, what we realized through this process was that not only could it be fun, we could actually teach people things, and we could collect and analyze data.”
Part of the process has historically been in creating plans, but Murphy says that the plans are less important than the planning process, which should be continuous. “The planning process allows us to simplify complexity, build common ground, share mental models and expectations,” said Murphy. “It’s the planning that creates a culture.”
Finally, storytelling as part of the nudging process is essential – “People just need stories,” said Murphy. They are memorable. “I could say a Seinfeld episode right now that you haven’t seen for seven years, and you could remember it. Why is that? Storytelling! It was impactful.”
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