What's in it for Me?
My job is to bring change into organizations.
Sometimes it’s big change, to do things that were never done before.
Other times, it is doing something differently so that the organization is more efficient.
I have noticed something over the years.
As a rule, while people say they want change, they don’t really want TO change.
They were good with change, as long as it was someone else doing the change.
This used to frustrate the bejeebers* out of me.
Then I read something in a book that relieved much frustration and allowed my bejeebers to remain relatively intact.
Sidebar: If you follow my musings, you will see that I have had a number of epiphanal moments while reading.
You know how I feel about the necessity of those in leadership to read. Interestingly enough, I have never had one epiphany while binge watching Netflix… but I digress.
It was a book by Donald Norman entitled ‘The Invisible Computer’.
Mr. Norman knows a thing or two about design, and more specifically, how people interact with things.
This book came out in 1998, but unlike most other books, is still in print and available today because some concepts are timeless.
In Chapter 2 of his book, Mr. Norman introduces us to Gertrude.
Here’s an excerpt (emphasis mine):
Let me tell you about Gertrude. Gertrude disliked technology and, above all, computers. Nonetheless, in the early 1970s Gertrude went out and purchased one of the first personal computers, an Apple Il, despite her lack of enthusiasm for technology, despite her skepticism. She became an early adopter because the new devices provided a service that could not be had in any other way. I learned an important lesson from Gertrude.
In the early days of the personal computer, I was one of the skeptics who failed to see the importance of this new and, to me, disruptive technology. I was a comfortable and long-term user of computers, starting with mainframes, such as the Remington-Rand Univac and minicomputers, such as Digital Equipment Corporation's PDP and VAX lines. This was long before the days of the graphical user interface: I was an expert user at Unix, arcane commands and all. When I saw the first Apple Il, I considered it as a giant step backward. Information was stored on audio cassette tape. The display was a low-quality, low-resolution home television set. The keyboard was deficient. The machine was slow and woefully lacking in power compared to the minicomputers and mainframes. It all seemed so primitive—how could these new, limited systems be of any value?
Gertrude changed my mind. I was chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of California, San Diego, and Gertrude was the department's accountant. She refused to use computers. I tried hard to get her to use my laboratory VAX, but no, she was adamant. She pored over the huge printouts provided at regular intervals by the university financial department, reconciling the numbers with her manual adding machine. She was a whiz at her hand-operated calculator.
But one day she went out and bought an Apple Il specifically so that she could use Visicalc, the first spreadsheet. This technology-hater fell in love with the spreadsheet, technology quirks be damned. The command set was complex and, even to me, a long-term computer user, intimidating. But Gertrude was determined; for her, the value was worth the pain. One of her duties was to do budget projections: Assuming we hired this many people or bought these pieces of equipment or supplies, what would be the impact on our budget? These were tedious to do by hand, especially as her clients, me and the grant-writing faculty, would often ask for revisions: "Suppose we increased this and got rid of that, what would it do to the budget?" For Gertrude and many others like her, it was worthwhile to buy a computer just for this one program, just for this one task, much to Apple Computer's surprise and delight.
In the early days of a technology, it doesn't matter if it is hard to use, expensive, or ungainly. It doesn't matter as long as the benefits are sufficiently great: if the task is important, valuable, and can't be done in any other way.
If you are a young whippersnapper, you may not recognize any of the technology Donald Norman talked about, but believe me, in its day, it was as high as high tech could get.
The other thing to know is that the Apple II (and even the IBM PC) were considered ‘toys’ by those who espoused the ‘big iron’ computing.
But this post isn’t really about technology.
I think we all know a Gertrude.
She represents everyone that resists the changes we are trying to make, even though we know they are for the better.
These are changes that will make the organization more competitive, more efficient, more diverse.
All good things.
Except for Gertrude, it didn’t matter.
It wasn’t until changing actually made it better for Gertrude, that Gertrude was ready to embrace change.
As Donald Norman points out, “it doesn't matter if it is hard to use, expensive, or ungainly. It doesn't matter as long as the benefits are sufficiently great: if the task is important, valuable, and can't be done in any other way.”
Every user impacted by the change you propose is going to ask themselves.
“What’s in it for me?”
It would be a mistake to assume they don’t.
We all do.
What I learned from this little anecdote is that I need to be sure to ‘frame the change’ in light of the question when I present the benefits of the change.
To the president I will talk about how the change is going to help her achieve her strategic goals.
To the CFO I will talk in terms of economics and savings, and payback.
To the front line workers, I will talk about how the change can reduce the ‘pain points’ of their jobs.
… and so on.
To get ‘buy in’ for a change, you have to present the value of the change to everyone impacted by the change.
It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s a lot less work than cleaning up the mess of a failed project._______________________________________________________________
* I have no idea what a ‘bejeeber’ is… but when I’m frustrated, I lose a few of them.
Image: Used under Creative Commons License
About the Author:
I’m the Chief Information Officer for Appleby College, in Oakville, Ontario Canada, where my team is transforming the delivery of education through innovative application of technology.
I'm convinced that IT leadership needs to dramatically change how IT is delivered rather than being relegated to a costly overhead department.
In addition to transforming IT in my role as CIO, I look for every opportunity to talk about this... writing, speaking and now blogging on BeBee (www.bebee.com/@kevin-pashuk) , LinkedIn, ITWorld Canada, or at TurningTechInvisible.com.
I also shoot things... with my camera. Check out my photostream at www.flickr.com/photos/kwpashuk