Learning to Listen

I thought you might like to see my 6 minute provocation from last nights #NoDust event.

“I can’t claim to know much about politics but I know a lot about people. 

I’m going to explain why I think political systems need to be redesigned for the 21st Century – for an era where constant change is the new normal.

I have spent my career figuring out how to get people who need to talk to each other, talking, and listening, to each other. Using digital sometimes. But not always.

Its really, really hard. 

For many years I trusted my intuition and just tried things. I made stuff up – some things worked, some things didn’t – but all the learnings helped me to get better and better at building bridges. 

Then I saw Mark Earls speak.

I realised that if I understood the human brain better, I could learn to overcome barriers better

The more I learn, the more I understand the complexity of the challenge in hand.

The world is changing at an unprecedented rate. It is unlikely the rate of change is going to slow down any time soon.

I believe that the digital technologies that are driving that change could be key to a more connected, collaborative, equitable world. 

But we are battling against a smorgasbord of cognitive pre-sets that mean we automatically resist:


and listening

and collaborating 

and respecting other people’s way of being. 

The more I learn about the way the human brain works, the more I realise the way we have done things is fundamentally broken. 

We need to change the way we change. 

Stop for a second. Imagine the last time you had change forced upon you. 

It does not feel good. Thats because we are hardwired to resist change.

Our decisions are based on subconscious drivers that mean we will do anything in our power to guarantee things remain the same. 

Coping with constant change is rubbing up against a deep-seated, powerful aversion.

Every time change is forced upon us, we go into flight or fight mode. It makes us anxious, stressed, un-collaborative, It even affects our immune system.

Then there’s the confirmation bias: We like things that confirm our own world-view, and dismiss anything that questions them. 

We don’t listen because we are hardwired to think our own ideas are the best ideas. 

We don’t connect because we are hard wired to stick with our own kind.  

Oxytocin bonds us to our “gang” of like-minded folk. It provokes defensive aggression towards people who think and act differently.

We have an inbuilt aversion to using products or knowledge developed outside of our gang.

We place a disproportionately high value on things they we have helped create.

The same goes with ideas and policies.

Having skin in the game makes people more attached to, and protective of solutions.

And yet we continue to force change on people, rather than working with them. 

The global organisations my company supports need to drive efficiency and productivity. They want to get people collaborating, and sharing, and accepting each other’s way of being.

It’s really hard but we’ve found out what works:

First: senior leadership have to fully buy in to a new way of doing thing. They have to be prepared to shift from command, control and mandate to listen, learn and buy in. 

A series of conversations and peer recommendations help us to identify what we call change- agents: influencers in different departments, brands, regions, levels.

Every change initiative provides a reason to bring these change agents together to co-create solutions. 

This collaborative design process lets them get to know each other. By working together on something they start to trust each other. 

As part of the design process, they feel an affinity to the solution. Remember the IKEA effect and we always think our own ideas are the best ideas. 

They begin to understand the complexity of the challenge in hand. They go back to their departments to share what they’ve learned. People are much more likely to buy into an idea that stems from within their own gang.

Every new change project becomes an opportunity to invite a new batch of change agents into the design process. 

We give platforms to the change agents so they can continue to communicate, to nurture growing networks of trust.

We call the process People Powered Transformation.

Enterprises are realising that top down command and control is not the best way to get the best out of people. 

If people powered transformation works for global enterprises, and it does, couldn’t we do something similar across the nation. 

Could we identify local regional national change agents and use every challenge as an opportunity to bring them together to co-create solutions? 

Could we provide platforms to allow change agents to share challenges, opportunities and learnings?

Could we develop national networks of trust at a time when trust in government is at an all time record low? 

The question is: How can we persuade leadership to shift from command, control and mandate to listen, learn and engage?”

I would as always love your thought and suggestions 

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