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« The long life of a great idea | Main | Gravity is not just a good idea... »

I changed my mind yesterday

...Actually, I changed it a lot.

As alert readers know, I’ve been holed up all summer, working on a new project that will debut this fall. We’ve got an exceptional team of people, and the invention process has been refreshing, fascinating and completely energizing.
Cube
Yesterday was the second day of a marathon 11-person meeting. We started at A and worked our way all the way to Z, considering the features, strategies and stories of everything we’re building. And I watched myself change my mind, not once but quite a few times.

I don’t know how it is for you, but for me, when I change my mind something chemical happens. I go from one mental state to another and I can feel something flip. What’s interesting (and particularly relevant to you and to your customers) is that a person can easily insulate himself from this flip.

It’s very easy to walk into a conversation with someone with the intent to persuade, but not to be persuasive. If the person you’re talking with (or marketing to) sets out to not change her mind, it’s very unlikely that any other outcome will occur.

Last week, I flew to Buffalo. The flight was full and I was on standby. It was a cheap flight and I really needed to get to my meeting in Buffalo. I decided it was worth $100 to get on board. And all I needed to do was persuade one person to give up their seat and I’d be fine.

New airport rules don’t make this easy, but it turns out that if someone ahead of you on the standby list gets on the plane but decides against it, that’s permitted. So I camped out and waited for the standbys to get called.

First person, about 20 years old, obviously a student, gets called. The next flight out (for which she has a ticket) is in ninety minutes. “Hi,” I say, calmly taking $100 in cash out of my pocket. “I’ll pay you $100 to take the next flight—the one you’re already on—so I can take this one and make my meeting.”

Now, my guess is that this woman has rarely made $65 an hour to read a novel. But that's precisely what she turned down without a thought. She smiled, said no thanks and got on the plane.

The next two guys to clear standby had precisely the same reaction. I didn’t get on.

My guess is that I could have offered $1,000 and it wouldn’t have mattered.

Why?

Because for an hour, the people on standby had been imagining/visualizing/praying that they’d make the earlier flight. They had fallen into the human trap of believing that mental effort can impact external events. And when the thing they'd been dreaming of happened, they were sold. There was no way a short conversation with me would change their mind. Not because my offer wasn’t good, or my presentation was deficient or I wasn’t credible. No, because they’d already decided and they weren’t open to changing their mind.

This phenomenon is absolutely critical inside your organization. There’s no point whatsoever in having a meeting designed to elicit change if the attendees are insulated against changing their minds. Assuming you are surrounded by co-workers who are willing to try, it’s essential you go through exercises designed to loosen up the flip muscle.

Ironically, the setting and tone of a conference room work to create precisely the opposite effect. Business meetings (and sales calls) are custom-made for failure. People walk in and are reminded (in an overwhelmingly Proustian way) that this is the place to stand your ground, this is the place where good arguments carry the day and build careers, and weak-kneed flip-floppers hurt their careers. When was the last time you changed your mind in a conference room?

My recommendation? As a group, start by changing your (everyone’s) mind about something astonishingly simple, obvious and unimportant. Establishing a pattern in which people flip (no flopping, just flipping) is the first step to creating an atmosphere where things actually get done.

And what about outside your organization? How on earth are you going to sell something to someone when you don’t get to meet them, don’t get to pick the conference room, don’t have the leverage to insist on change?

Well, you can argue against human nature or you can follow a two part strategy:

1.    sell to people in the mood to flip. Pick an audience that for all sorts of external reasons is open to changing their minds. Example: people who just moved to a new town, just started college, just got a new job, just bought a new car. The value of these groups is well-known, but still underestimated. People who are reading a magazine about new ideas are a lot more receptive to new ideas than those rushing to catch the commuter train to work...

2.    Start a cascade of small flips. Apple argued for years that people should abandon the Windows platform and switch to the Mac. It’s better. It’s faster. It’s cooler. It’s proven. No dice. Mostly because Windows users refused to even consider switching. BUT, when it comes to music, getting someone to flip to an iPod from a walkman was a lot easier. And then, gradually, as people open up to flipping the other electronics in their life, Apple has a voice in that conversation.

Sometimes, people who come to my blog come with the intent of changing their mind about something. I'm hoping I can get you to change your mind about changing minds. If you’re one of those folks who's predisposed to flip, ask yourself the following questions before you try to persuade anyone of anything:

Is this person in a situation (emotional, professional, even architecturally) where they are pre-disposed to flip?

And

How can I get them to make a tiny flip? And then another one?

Being right isn't the point. Being right and being persuasive don't seem to matter much either. Being right, being persuasive and being with the right person when that person is pre-disposed to change their mind... that's when things happen.

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