The Danger of Dismissing Ideas Too Quickly




Art Markman is the Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin and Founding Director of the Program in the Human Dimensions of Organizations.  Art brings insights from cognitive science to a broader audience through his blogs at Psychology Today and Fast Company, as well as his radio show and podcast, Two Guys on Your Head.  Two Guys on Your Head will be speaking at the Mission Driven 2017.

Change is hard for everyone. There are many aspects of human psychology that enable people to repeat their behaviors. For one, people develop a lot of habits that allow them to engage in actions without having to think about what to do next.

For another, there’s always a potential danger in change, because new procedures may have unforeseen negative consequences. Keeping that in mind, people are often mistrustful of new ideas when they first hear them. While everyone has some hesitations about making a change, there is a personality characteristic called “openness to experience”. People low on this trait are particularly wary about new ideas.

These factors can make it hard for people to get on board with new ideas. So, one of the most important things you can do when introducing a change to your organization is slow things down.

Slowing Down the Pace of Change

It is natural for people to want to find reasons why a new idea won’t work. It’s also common for group members to feed on the criticisms that others make.  This can create a movement to squash an idea before it even has a chance to take hold.  Slowing down the change process makes it clear to people that the idea is not going to go away quickly, nor will it be implemented overnight.

Start by simply introducing the new idea to people outside the context of an evaluation. Send a memo or give a brief presentation. There’s a lot of evidence for the mere exposure effect– familiar ideas are liked better than unfamiliar ones. So, introducing an idea to people well before they are asked to evaluate it gives individuals a chance to become comfortable with the new concept.

Proceeding with Caution

In the first few meetings in which the idea will be discussed, let people know that their feedback is welcomed. Work to understand people’s concerns, but don’t make any decisions about whether to pursue the idea. This way, people can voice concerns on potential problems they see with the change in a productive manner.

In this period, it’s important to truly listen to concerns. There is always a danger in making change, no matter how acute. Things that worked well in the past may come undone when a new procedure is implemented, and it’s important to be tuned in to this possibility. Even when you’re championing a cause, it’s crucial to be your own worst critic, remaining alert to possible shortcomings.  After all, if an idea really is a good one, it will stand up to scrutiny.

Successful Change

By following this approach, people are much more likely to buy into a new idea if they feel like all the due diligence has been done. By giving people the opportunity to air their concerns and voice their opinions, individuals are more likely to be confident in the overall success of the enterprise.

Most importantly, the success of any change is partly a self-fulfilling prophecy. When people believe that a venture will succeed, they work harder to make it succeed. That effort is ultimately a large part of whether the implemented change works.

Interested in learning more about navigating change in your organization? Consider attending Mission Driven 2017 and hear from the Two Guys on Your Head team as they expand on the psychology of change. Space is limited- reserve your seat today!

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