Author: Lois Kelly


Learning from the Persuasion Scientists

Influencing people and decisions is complex, but thereโ€™s much we can learn from persuasion scientists. This past weekend I read the great new book, The Small Big: Small Changes That Spark Big Influence, by Steve Martin, Noah Goldstein and Robert Cialdini.
Here are highlights, all based on fascinating research studies that the authors explain in the book.

Lotus Mud

No Mud, No Lotus

My husband and I were hiking in the Orkney Islands and spotted a run-down, Stonehenge-like cluster of rocks on the other side of the expansive field. Rather than try to find a road, which could take hours, we opened the pasture gate and started across the field. Despite the cold rain. Despite the cows and that one big bull who gave us the evil eye.

After about 50 yards we started sinking into the mud. Past our hiking boots, halfway up our shins, soaking our pants. With every step came a loud sucking sound as we pulled our feet out of the mud.

As we slowly, slowly made our way across the field we became discouraged. Was mucking in this rain and mud worth it? What if the stones were just a pile of big rocks and nothing historically significant? Might the field become firmer and less muddy up ahead? Should we turn back? Once we make it to the rock Cairns, how do we get back to the inn? And, oh yeah, are you sure this is just mud and not cow dung, too?

Mucking in mud vs. failing fast

Pursuing a new idea at work usually means a whole lot of uncomfortable mucking about in the mud. And the most effective rebels and change makers at work are both idea people and skilled mud sloggers.

While many entrepreneurs urge us to experiment and fail fast, thatโ€™s not realistic when youโ€™re trying to create change inside a big company, government agency, hospital or school system. Things just donโ€™t move at start-up speed, and failure is rarely looked upon as a badge of honor.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist spiritual leader, has said, โ€œNo mud, no lotus.โ€ Without suffering through the mud, you cannot find the happiness of the lotus. Without grit, there is no pearl. He also believes that when we know how to suffer, we suffer less.

When weโ€™re creating change there will be mud and all its discomfort and messiness. Perhaps this is a more useful wisdom than โ€œfail fastโ€ for those creating change inside of big organizations.

Of course we all yearn for for predictability, and faster if not instant-gratification. It would be nice to fail fast because we would minimize the duration of the โ€œmaking something new workโ€ suffering.

Creating change requires doing the homework, building alliances, forming a realistic picture of whatโ€™s possible, standing up to the naysayers, and steadfastly moving forward, planning the next step and the one after that. Many days sinking up to our knees in mud, others restraining ourselves from angrily tossing cow flaps at people who resist what weโ€™re trying to accomplish, and some laughing and commiserating with our co-workers.

Ban the heroes. Together, itโ€™s less uncomfortable

Our relationships with people at work may be the only way to suffer less. The comfort in being able to talk through a problem and have someone listen intently without judgment. The trust in being able to ask difficult questions and get honest answers. The kindness of an unexpected latte on your desk after a tough meeting. The surprise of hearing belly laughter floating above the cubicles.

The optimism from the human spirit lifts the suffering and injects new energy to keep going. Even though you may still be in the mud.

No one person can or should try to be the big idea change hero. We need our co-workers, collaborators, compatriots. They improve on our ideas and help us figure out how to sell it and get it adopted. As importantly, they ease the suffering of that goes with most change efforts.

It took us hours to get across that Scottish field that day, and neither the rain nor the mud ever let up. We did find a magical standing rock formation thousands of years old, and the bath that night was one of the best in my life.


This article originally appeared in Forbes on 1/18/15.

Terror in anticipation of bang

Shame on Me (Maybe)


This post was anonymously written as part of Blog Secret Santa. There’s a list of all Secret Santa posts, including one written by Lois Kelly, on Santa’s list of 2014 gift posts.

Lois recently wrote a deeply sad blog post about shame. I read it a couple of times, and bookmarked it. Something nagging meโ€ฆ

Tonight I sat down to write my Blog Secret Santa post. I knew I would have to revisit the concept of shame. (Merry Christmas one and all!)

Then two things happened. I read this short message from Simon Terry

โ€œIn a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.โ€ – Czesล‚aw Miล‚osz

and, I was flicking through the new book by Seth Godin, โ€œโ€ฆand itโ€™s always your turn.โ€ In it, a quote by Alfred Hitchcock.

โ€œThere is no terror in the bang. Only in the anticipation of it.โ€

I took a photo and appended it to Simonโ€™s post.Terror in anticipation of bang

And now, I link them both to Loisโ€™ post about shame and silence.

Shaming those we work with upsets me as a manager, as a colleague, as a worker. As if there was not already enough discord and discomfort to deal with in the workplace!

And now I see what was nagging me about the idea of shame. It is this:

What if they are talking about me?

I donโ€™t think they are, but what ifโ€ฆwhat if?

I had a couple of slightly uncomfortable meetings in my team recently. Nothing desperate or sad. They were discussions about the future, and how we get there. They were strategic, and practical. Nothing personal โ€“ we get along as a team. But there was enough discord and tension for me to consider: do I know my team well enough? Can I well represent their needs and desires? Have I presumed too much?

I have plenty of self-confidence and assuredness in embracing the changing nature of work. I am a change agent and provocateur, an intrapreneur and disorganizer. I can deal with a lack of certainty, with the ebb and flow of constant change, I embrace a fail-forward approach to work. I cheerlead the team to try! To fail! To keep going! To self-manage!

I always see this as open-mindedness, about creating opportunities for greatness. I care about my team deeply and want them to succeed. But what ifโ€ฆwhat if instead they feel stymied? What if my SHOUTY cheerleading holds them back? What if they thought / knew that their way โ€“ another way โ€“ would be a wrong way (in my eyes)?

I would never say any of the sentences Lois listed as symptomatic of the shameful leaderโ€ฆ Whatโ€™s your problem? et al. But what am I implying in my enthusiasm, in my single-minded pursuit of tomorrowโ€™s workplace?

I am questioning whether I really let their voices be heard. I know my listening skills are less than stellar. Does it add up to a culture of bias to my way or the high way? Are they consequently lost or let down (if not shamed)?

There are too many rhetorical questions in this post. Apologies. Of course, like most of my blog content, I am talking and learning out loud. I am thinking: what is the BANG!, the pistol shot of truth that releases all the pent upโ€ฆSTUFF? How do we โ€“ me, you, the team โ€“ really get to that better workplace tomorrow?

Change agents and rebels at work like Lois are helping me navigate this leadership journey. That is their gift to me. This is a small one in return.


<โ€“This Much We Know.โ€“>