It's a Matter of Trust
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Change Your Behavior, Change Your Mind

A.J. Jacobs, Esquire writer and author of two hilarious books is a man after my own heart. As he explains in this TED Talk, he spends much of his time immersing himself in learning experiments, such as what it's like to outsource your life (the best month of his life) or to be "radically honest" (the worst month of his life). Not only do these become fodder for his writing, they also teach him some important lessons. 

Jacobs' most recent book is The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. As he reveals in his TED Talk, one of the major things he learned from this experience was that the "outer affects the inner." That is, if you change your behavior, you change your mind.

This is one of those deceptively simple, profoundly important realizations. It's the "fake it till you make it" school of thought that says if you want to become something different, you have to start by behaving differently. We tend to think the opposite, that our beliefs must change first and then our behavior will come along later. Much of professional development is about trying to change people's attitudes by "training" them them that they should think differently. This is often unsuccessful because in many cases, we need to first change our behavior before we can change our beliefs. I'm not going to truly believe in the power of exercise until I actually begin doing it.  I have to start with acting differently and it's the process of engaging in new behaviors that helps me start to develop new attitudes.

Think, for example, of trust. Yesterday I wrote about how I think many of our failures of development are the result of a lack of trust. In comments, Roberta asked what we can do to change this. The simplest and best answer I can come up with is for us to start behaving as though we trust people and for us to behave in ways that encourage people to trust us. Act trusting and trustworthy and trust in yourself and in others will follow.

Same thing with using social media. We talk a lot about getting people to change their attitudes towards blogs, wikis, etc. This is really asking them to change their beliefs about these tools. What if, instead of trying to talk people into seeing value, we simply said, "There may be no value in these at all for you. But can you take a week to be open to using this tool, can you act as though there is value for 7 days? Just an experiment of immersing yourself in this world. If at the end of the 7 days, you still see no value, then it's back to your previous life." What if we could get people to "fake it" long enough for them to see how their outer changes are impacting their inner attitudes? That could create some really great changes.

Where else can this apply in our lives? How can we use outer changes to affect our inner thoughts? Is this something you've tried yourself? How has it worked?


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Interesting to read this just at the same moment that I saw this tweet: from Hazel Blears - UK Government Cabinet Minister who has been experimenting with Twitter for 7 days...

Michelle - At my college, the challenge is to persuade instructors to adapt Web 2.0 tools in their classes, and to trust the efficacy and integrity of those tools as part of the educational process. Faculty put up barriers as their established ways of teaching (and jobs!) are perceived to be threatened. Hence their mistrust, despite the obvious demand by students for more online classes that would incorporate those tools.

What my experience has been is that using seminars and workshops to introduce and demonstrate the tools doesn't result in adoption by faculty. A state-wide survey in Washington showed some interesting results that support that observation.

A majority of faculty who described themselves as comfortable with technology cited learning on their own and from informal conversations with colleagues as how they learned new technology. On the other hand, a majority of faculty who described themselves as NOT comfortable with technology cited workshops and seminars as their primary source!

I like your idea of encouraging experimentation.


As I reflected on this possibility of acting differently first, it occurred to me that it would work when the change was mostly action-oriented. We're adaptable creatures when using new tools, toys and technologies. However, if the challenge has a big cognitive dimension (decision making, prioritizing, making tradeoffs, planning an approach, etc), we will hesitate to begin with acting different because we're foreseeing the complex cognitive part ahead. Perhaps that explains why those "comfortable with technology" that Andy described benefit from relying informally on colleagues. They reduce their personal challenge to the action component and rely on the colleague for thinking through all the uncertainties, options and tradeoffs. That may also explain why the others want to begin with formal training, to "get their head around" the complexity of what needs to be considered first. So we can "just do it" or "fake it until we make it" if it's something different to do, but need more preparation if it's nuanced, tricky or multi-faceted.

Andy--interesting that it's the informal conversations and sharing that lead to greater adoption of social media. That actually ties in with the very nature of the media in the first place. In other words, it's not surprising that tools that foster informal conversations, sharing of recommendations and information, etc. would be more likely to be adopted when these are the "real-life" strategies used to encourage them. Using workshops and lectures is, in a way, antithetical to the values of social media, and therefore intuitively seems less likely to work.

Tom, I think you make a good point about it being easier to adopt new behaviors when the dimension you're dealing with is something action-oriented like learning to use new tools. Although it's easier to "fake it till you make it" with learning a new tool, I do believe that the same strategy can be used for more cognitive, complex skills, too.

Using social media as an example, learning the technologies of these tools is one thing. Learning the more complex strategies of how to fit them into a knowledge management/learning strategy, how to have conversations, etc. are very cognitive kinds of skills. I think, though, that you still can't really learn them and the new attitudes involved until you are practicing the behaviors themselves. Same thing with something like problem-solving--I don't necessarily have to get the big picture. I could start by practicing certain problem-solving behaviors like asking the right questions, etc.

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