As a follow-up to my previous piece on the various motivations for change in an organization, let’s reflect on another critical prerequisite for fostering change in an organization. The authors of Switch rightly identify that it is vitally important to understand ourselves as human beings, specifically in terms of how we interact with situations in which we have the choice to change our path or remain in our comfortable groove. They provide a model of understanding the person as a moral agent capable of making decisions within normal human cognitive constraints.
The first component of the model is the elephant, which represents our passion and drive, the emotional push to take action and overcome our inertia so that we can move down a different path. Without the strength of the emotional push, we can easily languish in our current problems without ever bothering to change them, driving up our stress levels and driving down our passion as we find the situation increasingly hopeless. With the strength of that emotional push alone, we can often move down the path only to encounter more of the same problems; by itself, the elephant tires quickly and may wander into more problems.
The second component of the model is needed to assist the first; the rider of the elephant represents our perception and reason, the intellectual capacity to engage in analysis and synthesis so that we can choose a path down which to move. Without the rider’s ability to define the obstacles in our way and the planning methodology needed to provide direction to the elephant, the elephant gets stuck and becomes unproductive, sometimes even dangerous. The rider needs the elephant as well; our intellects are often unproductive when they perform lots of analysis and spend hours dwelling on a problem without ever moving toward a solution.
The third component of the model is needed to assist both the first and second; neither the rider or the elephant can move quickly toward change without a well-shaped path. The path represents the course of action we take, the processes by which we navigate the landscape of our problems and the habits we develop to help us in getting around, over, or through the obstacles in our way. Without the rider, the elephant will have trouble staying on the well-shaped path as it seeks emotional gratification in other directions. Without the emotional push of the elephant, the rider goes nowhere on the path; the rider just stays put while dwelling on the obstacles and problems in the landscape.
While these are simplistic images that do not fully reflect the complexity of our existence as human persons or even the richness of our complex minds, they do provide an easy way to begin understanding ourselves as agents of change so that we can begin to see how change can happen and how we might find a path toward the change we seek.
In future posts, I will examine in more detail how this model can help us not only in understand ourselves as agents of change, but also how this model can be useful in what the authors of Switch describe as directing the rider, motivating the elephant, and shaping the path.