Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Selling ideas without application experience means low credibility

How do we get others to adopt new ideas? This is a question I am often asked. One way I find useful is to think about how I might not get someone to adopt a new idea. What can I do to stop it happening?

I was triggered into thinking this "negative" view when hearing a group of training course attendees debrief themselves after an event they had attended. The event was on a semi-innovative topic, with the participants exhorted to use a variety of new techniques in their work. It appears that those doing the training had not used or were not using at the time, the techniques they were espousing. This meant their own knowledge was superficial and lacked any credible examples, including the examples of what doesn't work so well. So the attendees I overheard all said they enjoyed the day and it gave them some new ideas, however, they were left feeling unable to actually carry out any of the techniques. They had received the equivalent of the management summary written by a technical writer and they wanted instead to be linked to the people who actually have experience of the techniques covered. When I asked whether they would adopt the techniques they all said "not until we see the organisation espousing them, use them".

This does give us a problem in how we get new ideas across to others. I find it useful to label courses, events, papers etc as "information" or "ideas only" events. Thus distinguishing them from the more "applied" events where we are expecting some demonstration and application of the techniques back in the workplace.

My caution is selling, training, espousing good ideas and theories - with the expectation others will use them - when the self (person, team, organisation) hasn't the experience of implementing them). This disconnect is obvious to the recipient of the message.

If we take a topic like protocols and guidelines or new theories on how to deliver improvement, this then emphasises the importance of having examples of good practice, examples from the people who have implemented it. Only they know the real issues in applying the techniques. Maybe we need to be patient in developing theory into practice and also be patient in finding and supporting those who are applying whatever it is we need to have in place. Without this, credibility of the espouser will drop off - yes, people will be entertained at workshops, but behaviour will not be changed.

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