Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

the day to day experiences of a consultant operating in weird and wonderful client situations

Dealing with inertia successfully – the example staring us in the face!

I wrote last week about inertia as the true killer of innovation and change. One or two of you were kind enough to comment and provide some further ammunition on the topic…which led me to try and scratch around to find examples of where the inertia of the 80% had truly be galvanised into action.

Having a ginger beer or two with my friend Sanjeev Kumar in Hong Kong last week,  led to an interesting debate about a number of things and a thunder bolt! As these things often do, the example was staring me in the face and comes from the most ‘disengaged’ area of interest for most of us – politics.

What generated an 80%+ turnout in the referendum in Scotland last month?

To give some context, this is the highest turnout in election terms in 50 years in the UK. We have a ‘in/out’ referendum in 2016 for our continued membership in the European Union and I personally would be amazed if the turnout is anything near that, given European elections in the past….and yet the impact is potentially as great if not greater.

So, an incredible example of engagement where a sizeable portion of the electorate that had never voted before participated in the debate and the poll. Even more extraordinary, this was on the back of a 2 year campaign which surely would have had most of us reaching for the nearest stimulant to stay awake, let alone interested.

Sanjeev gave me another example of the recent Indian elections where typical turnout is high but was even higher than normal with the successful campaign of Narendra Modi. He also mentioned an aspiration which Mr Modi had used as part of his campaign, which perhaps starts to give us a clue as why the engagement was so high. Many of you will have heard about his commitment to have a toilet in every home by 2019…significant when you think that over 600 million people in India do not have access to this basic facility currently.

So, what can we draw from these two campaigns in terms of their ability to deal with inertia?

  1. The creation of real and meaningful, humanizing aspirations which everyone can relate to. Many will remember the first charitable campaign where you donate buy a goat / or some other material gift which created a real change in the context of mass philanthropy.
  2. An appeal which is as much aimed at the heart as at the head. Part of the success of the Yes campaign was this ability to respond to qualitative concepts / emotions, not just the hard rational facts which seemed to be the cornerstone of the No side.
  3. An incredible use of communications channels which reached an audience of quite unbelievable breadth:
    • 16-18 year olds in Scotland whose interest and access to social media is a primary channel for all forms of connection with the outside world
    • 30-40 year olds who engaged with the public debates via television
    • 60-70 year olds who were engaged through local events at town hall and high street level.
    • Remarkably, Modi’s use of the hologram in India (which from what I see on Youtube did seem to give him an element of Yoda (…very old reference to Star Wars trilogy!)) managed to combine technology with an apparent local physical presence, including the space for audience interaction built into his speech.

I suspect that none of these came about by accident. There was a thought process and plan around creating these types of vehicles for engagement and debate…and it seems to me that we could use similar techniques in other areas of complex change.

The big difference however is this:

In most complex transformation projects, the prevailing view is that achieving this type of engagement
is secondary to the main target.

In an election, it is the only ambition and with it comes all manner of consequence and change.

Beyond the tactical tools and techniques, perhaps that is the biggest learning of all. Defining success through the level of engagement…now that would be an interesting KPI to consider! No doubt there are examples out there of this…please let me know if you have any.

Categories: Agile, Change management, Complex transformation, Consulting, Defying gravity, Disruptive Innovation, human behaviour, Human Capital, Language, Learning, Politics, psychology, Transformation

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4 replies

  1. Ben,

    I think the turn out for Europe will be very high; I would say about 60%. Big subject…

    Regards, Bernie



  2. Lets hope so, Bernie…as you say, its a huge subject and probably the biggest decision for the UK in some time. My only reference point is the European elections which are a disaster as far as turnout is concerned, however with UKIP in the frame, no doubt the debate will become a lot more intense


  3. Ben, thanks for sending me the link to this. It is interesting reading. Your article on inertia put me in mind of a project a we did some years ago to achieve cultural change in distressed workplaces in education in Australia. Educators in Australia have “change fatigue” as each successive change in government and public service try to improve our system. Our initiative was successful in part because rather than work with a committee of volunteers (the enthusiastic adopters) we worked with a hand picked cross section of staff which included the sceptics, the weary and the opinion leaders. When we asked them to join the group charged with implementing change, we explained that they were chosen to make sure that the plan was relevant, practical and useful to the whole staff. We invited and addressed their concerns during planning. I think this gained the interest and buy of the people who were pre-disposed to find a reason to critique and resist the change.


    • Very interesting Yvonne..a great example as you say of engaging the 80%. I suspect that there are many applications of that type of approach in the corporate world, particularly in view of the global all time low in terms of engagement levels amongst employees.


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