Should you push people towards your change or wait for them to pull themselves towards the change? The answer is simple, but making it happen may be more challenging than it seems.
was the 1960s, and people were dying in automobile accidents at horrifying rates. It took the work of Ralph Nader to initiate a reform the accidents being the fault of “the idiots behind the wheel” in an industry that didn’t try to integrate safety into the design of vehicles. One of the innovations to increase safety was the introduction of safety belts. No one wanted something to constrict them or crumple their clothing, but something needed to be done.
Automobile accidents remain a top reason for death in younger adults, but we’re making progress. In 2019, about 90.7% of the miles traveled occurred with everyone in the vehicle buckled in. However, this took decades – and there’s still a nearly 10% non-compliance rate. Why?
In 49 States in the United States, you can get a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt. Only one, New Hampshire, has no seatbelt enforcement laws, but their state motto is “Live free or die,” so it sort of makes sense. The rest of the states’ laws are a patchwork of primary and secondary enforcement. Primary enforcement means you can be pulled over for lack of seatbelts, whereas secondary enforcement means they can give you that as an additional ticket if you’re already pulled over. No matter what the enforcement is, there are legal ramifications to not wearing your seatbelt, but still it happens.
Clever advertising campaigns supported seatbelt use, including the crash test dummies and newer slogans like “Click It or Ticket.” After countless millions of dollars and laws, we’re still only seeing a 90% adoption rate. Much of that is there’s no desirability to seatbelt use and only limited belief that a person will be in an auto accident – and therefore needs to use it. There may not be much we can do about seatbelt use beyond what has been done.
The Tragedy of Experience
The truth of the matter is that most people will experience millions of accident-free miles in an automobile. However, there is a lifetime 1:107 chance that you’ll die in an auto accident. Insurance companies expect that you’ll have approximately 3-4 accidents in your lifetime – not all of them serious. Despite the very real probability that you’ll have an accident, and it may be fatally serious, your experience is that driving is relatively safe (except for the idiots behind the other wheels). As a result, as Daniel Kahneman explains in Thinking, Fast and Slow, you develop an experience bias that tells you that the statistics don’t apply to you.
For our change projects, people’s experience tells them that their current behavior works – or works well enough. Their experience tells them that the tragedy or outcome you’re predicting can’t be, because it’s never been that way in the past.
Pulling People Along
The only way to break past this experience bias in most people is to create an experience that helps them to feel like things will change. Once the vision that you’re painting causes the change to be required and makes sense to them emotionally, you’ve got a chance to get them to make a change. All the logic, statistics, projections, and math in the world won’t change someone’s mind until you can inject an experience into their world that makes them believe through feeling it.