Archives For Change

Neal Martin explains why it is do difficult to make changes if you attempt to do so based solely on your conscious or rational mind. He also explains that we need to have our subconscious and conscious minds working together if we want to be successful in changing behavior. It is crucial for us to understand that habits are not cyclical but are springs and once loaded can work for or against us.

Habit Spring

If we want to change behavior we must disrupt old habits while we create new ones. To disrupt old habits:

  • Don’t load the spring
  • Eliminate the cue
  • Reframe the feedback

To create new habits:

  • Translate goal into behavior
  • Establish a clear context
  • Develop a reliable cue
  • Create a powerful reinforcement
  • Repeat until it feels normal

If we consider how difficult it can be to change personal behaviors perhaps we can appreciate how difficult it can be to change behavior in organizations. These principles can be applied to organizations and through models like the Influencer and 4DX we can disrupt old organization habits with new ones. Not an easy task because “People who like this stuff…like this stuff” but it can be done.


DEWEY Rob the future 1024


Without being crystal clear about the results you wish to achieve and being zealous about measuring them you will not be able to identify the vital behaviors that are crucial to your change initiative. To be successful you must avoid three common mistakes:

  1. Fuzzy, un-compelling goals – the lack of clarity or a vague sense of what you want to achieve (Help students be successful…, Build the team…)
  2. Infrequent or no measure – if you don’t measure your progress you will not know if you are making any.
  3. Bad measures – measuring the wrong thing.

Focused and Measurable Goals

This is the point where where a lack of clarity will hinder your entire initiative. You must focus on measurable results you want to improve. Consider the following:

“I’d love to loose weight” vs.
“I need to eat fewer calories than I burn” vs.
“I will loose 40 pounds and 20% body fat by September 1 of this year”.

The final statement, loosing “40 pounds and 20% body fat” by a certain date is clear, measurable and timely. Deadlines are another measure that contribute to success by helping to create a sense of urgency. A clearly defined goal with specific deadlines, milestones, or points of achievement can be measured and it also helps us measure the right things.

In our weight loss example stepping on the scale on a regular (daily) basis will let you know how well you are moving toward your goal. Weighing yourself daily is also one of a few vital behaviors that can lead to the results you want.

What are Vital Behaviors

Vital behaviors are repeatable high-leverage actions performed crucial moments that will lead to the results you want.

For example the following are very simple behaviors performed at crucial moments that can prevent serious problems.

  • A health care provider washes their hands upon entering a patients room.
  • A food preparation worker washes their hands after visiting the restroom and/or prior to handling food.
  • Sneezing or coughing into one’s elbow.
  • Washing hands often during cold and flu season.

This list affirms that vital behaviours are often obvious and underused. It is a mistake to underestimate or ignore these obvious vital behaviors. Several years ago, a doctor failed to wash his hands prior to the examination of the treatment of a planters wart on my foot and passed on a staff infection that almost caused the loss of my foot.  My eldest son is zealous about washing his hands during cold and flu season and he is seldom sick. The power of using vital behaviors is that you only have to use one or two and you can influence significant change.

Additional Examples of Vital Behaviors

Vital Behavior Examples

How to Find Vital Behaviors?

The influencer authors point to the following four vital behavior search strategies:

  1. Notice the Obvious – recognize behaviors that are obvious but underused.
  2. Look for Crucial Moments – time when behavior puts success at risk.
  3. Learn from Positive Deviants – look to those who live in the same world but produce positive results.
  4. Spot Culture Busters – behaviors that reverse stubborn cultural norms.

The One or Must action

Perhaps one the most effective ways to help identify a vital behavior is look at a Crucial Moment and ask –

If you could do only one thing what is that one action that you must do that would change everything and give you the result you desire?

It is important to remember that you are looking for the fewest behaviors or even that one thing that will lead to change. It is also important to recognize that not all behaviors are vital and there is a tendency to confuse behaviors with process, workflows or tasks. Depending on the context a process can include multiple steps and many behaviors. You are looking for that crucial moment, that one thing, that vital behavior.

If we go back to our example of loosing weight. Conventional wisdom dictates that you need to eat fewer calories then you burn. So eating less and exercising more would be the logical behaviors to change. But these are not focused enough and don’t really get at the key vital behavior that will bring about the weight loss.

Planning out meals the day before, keeping a food log, or simply writing down everything that you eats are examples of vital behaviors that will lead to eating less. Similarly, driving to the gym, getting on your treadmill/bike/trainer, or putting on your running gear are the vital behaviors that will lead to exercising more.

Testing your Vital Behaviors

Behaviors are actions not results or qualities. You can test whether you identified vital behaviors by asking:

  1. Can you go and “do it”?
  2. Do these actions stop self-defeating and escalating behaviors?
  3. Do these actions start a reaction that leads to good results?
  4. What particular value is being lived?

Also keep in mind that there is also a tendency to confuse goals or outcomes with behaviors, especially if your goal or outcomes are action oriented. If it isn’t actionable, it isn’t a behavior. If you can’t go and “do it”, it’s not a behavior.


Patterson, K., & Grenny, J. (2013). Influencer: The new science of leading change, Second Edition. McGraw-Hill Education.

Meier, J. D. (n.d.). Vital Behaviors [Blog]. Retrieved from


How to Get Clarity

November 19, 2015 — Leave a comment


There’s no such thing as “rebranding.” Your brand’s meaning is either clear or it’s fuzzy. And if it’s fuzzy, changing the look won’t help.

Source: Simon Sinek

Sinek uses the brand example to make this point but I think that this is so true with all of our communication. Repackaging or dressing up a poor message does little to offer clarity.

Clarity comes from concise editing.


A colleague recently sent out a link to a short blog post in which Scott Mcleod, a highly regarded thought leader in Educational Technology pointed to the following challenge:

It is time for instructors to move from simple questions like, “Do you use technology in the classroom?” to the more complex, “For what purpose, and with what learning theories, should I engage digitally-enhanced pedagogies?…”

This quote is part of the conclusion of Adam Copeland’s article Teaching Digital Wisdom in Hybrid Pedagogy which I have been pondering over the past weekend. Copeland argues that we need to move away from the unnecessary debate of for or against technology in the classroom and onto the more important questions of how we can use technology to enhance learning. He offers the following four digital practices as pillars or a starting point:

  • forming collaborative relationships with peers,
  • preparing for citizenship,
  • encountering difference and disagreement, and
  • welcoming complexity.

Copeland’s article is very well written, cites some wonderful resources and challenges us to move away from easy answers that we fall into when we debate whether or not to use technology in our learning environments. But moving away from easy answers is a lot of work and even though Copeland offered a sound rational argument for doing so I didn’t find any inspiration or an emotional appeal in the article that motivated me to go out and start this hard work.

I have been striving to find ways to share my passion for using technology to enhance learning for the past couple of decades and have finally learned that while a rational argument is a necessary component for change it unfortunately is not enough. This type of change requires an appeal to the heart and I have learned through years of trial and error that the head won’t go where the heart hasn’t been (read my post for a full explanation). Even though Copeland’s article appealed to my head I had a nagging angst that while I could have my students read the article I doubted that many would find it moving enough to make a difference. If you really want to move people to action there has to be a heart felt reason why we need to move away from easy questions and answers.

Fortunately chance favors the connected mind (Steven Johnson’s label for digital serendipity) and I came across Nigel Coutts’ wonderful post Lessons from a Hole in the Bucket. Coutts uses the song ‘There’s a Hole in the Bucket’ sung by Harry Belafonte & Odetta to share the story of Liza and Henry as they deal with a bucket with a hole in it. Coutts characterizes Liza as a teacher and Henry as the student and offers the following summary of Henry’s learning experience:

Rapidly a pattern of interactions emerges and this reveals much about Henry’s disposition towards learning. Time and time again Henry confronts a challenge, the initial discovery of the hole, the straw that is too long, the knife that is blunt, the sharpening stone that is dry and at each turn his response is a cry for help. ‘But Liza, there’s a hole in the bucket’. At each challenge Liza responds to Henry in the same manner providing him with a prompt that guides him directly to the solution. ‘Then fix it Dear Henry’, ‘Then sharpen it Dear Henry’.

Coutts suggests that Henry has developed no critical thinking skills because Liza provides Henry a quick answer rather than prompting Henry to solve his own problem. He goes on to argue that this is a classic example of learned helplessness and he offers a contrasting story of how another student with a well-developed disposition towards learning and a broader set of thinking skills positively deals with a hole in the bucket.

While the song and Coutts’ explanation begin to move us emotionally his conclusion is where he hits us hard with the challenging question:

Are we going to prepare a class full of Henrys?

Coutts conclusion is a series of questions where he challenges all teachers to do a better job and provide a better start than Henry was provided. No one wants to be responsible for a single Henry nor a class full of Henrys.

It is this emotional appeal combined with the rational pillars that Copeland has outlined that can make a difference. If we really want to be successful in leading this type of change we need to heed the advice of Harvard change guru John Kotter and “Win over the hearts and Minds”.