APA CEO Dr. Norman Anderson and APA President Dr. Suzanne Bennett Johnson present a 2012 Psychologically Healthy Workplace
Award to Lena Fowler, chairwoman of the Coconino County Arizona Board of Supervisors.
But most organizations believe change is hard, said Dan
Heath, co-author of the 2010 book “Switch,” in a keynote
address at the ceremony.
Psychological research can help both organizations and
individuals change for the better, he said, citing as one example
the work of Jonathan Haidt, PhD, at the University of Virginia.
Haidt, he said, explained the difficulty of making changes by
comparing the brain to an elephant — representing the brain’s
emotional side — being ridden by a man who think he’s in
charge — representing the brain’s rational side.
When organizations want to change things, Heath said,
they typically appeal to the elephant’s rider with PowerPoints
and data. “Meanwhile, there’s an elephant in the brain of every
employee that is comfortable with the way things worked last
year,” he said.
Heath proposed a three-part alternative:
Giving the rider direction. When the rational mind
receives too much data, said Heath, it can get stuck in “analysis
paralysis.” He offered as an alternative the example of Jerry
Sternin, who was sent to Vietnam to tackle child malnutrition.
Data suggested that to solve the problem, Sternin would have to
reform the education system, ensure clean water and eliminate
poverty — all “true but useless” information, said Heath.
Instead, Sternin went to a single village, explored what mothers
of well-nourished kids were doing differently than other moms
and had them teach their peers how to do it. Instead of asking
what the problem is and how to solve it, said Heath, Sternin
asked what worked and how to clone it. Within six months,
two-thirds of the village’s children were better-nourished, and
the approach has spread worldwide.