Ideas Need People to Happen

Bright ideas are an essential part of adaptation and change; but failing to think empathetically through how and by whom the ideas will be implemented, and what personal impact of the ideas will have on all concerned, is almost guaranteed to produce problems.
It’s hardly a new concept, but sometimes it needs to be said: the inspiration behind change may be how it all (anything) starts, but if the people involved don’t buy in, it won’t happen as it was supposed to.
I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot, as I observe the many changes currently taking shape at national and local level. The ‘people’ bit is so obvious, that surely it must be the first consideration when the bright ideas folk get together to decide what’s to happen. But often it’s not.
Human beings, not ‘agents’
Say, for the sake of argument, that the local authorities decide to take forward an environmental, health or housing proposal. Firstly, there will be discussion amongst a small group of officials or other movers and shakers, then there will be a public phase where posters or leaflets are put about inviting involvement, and perhaps modifications to the plans are made; and then there will be the implementation.
But by the time implementation arrives the ideas will have taken on a life of their own. Many folk will have no idea why the proposals arose in the first place, and all they will see are problems – some of these identified at the consultation stage, and some of them more directly about the personal issues which have since arisen. And, more often than not, some of these problems will affect those, theoretically the agents of change, who are supposed to be taking the idea forward.
Unexplained actions and unanticipated consequences
The classic of course is, as part of the process, to threaten the employment or other security / safety of those who will have to effect or experience the change. It might be supposed that this will have been considered, but often it appears not to have been.
Rearguard action is almost guaranteed if jobs, homes or other deeply familiar / personal experience is under threat; and whilst compliance may be possible if enough cash or other incentive is on the table, many of those who are least receptive may also be least well informed… or else they do understand very well, but feel they have no stakehold in what’s happening. This is the recipe for a pretty rough ride all round.
Change is never easy, but I often think it would be easier – and probably more accurately focused – if those who produce the ideas could empathise more with those who will encounter, or will have to deliver, the consequences. Empathy is not the same as sympathy, it’s just a way of imagining how others may perceive or feel about something, and then managing that well for everyone.
There are very few areas of human activity where empathy or emotional intelligence, properly used, will not help things along. It’s a shame, therefore, that more emphasis isn’t put on this important aspect of human experience right from the first glimmer of any significant people-involved idea. The development of empathy as a professional skill is much undervalued.

Posted on December 14, 2005, in Politics, Policies And Process, The Journal. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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