If Learning Was Water

February 2, 2016 — Leave a comment

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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 http://sourcesofinsight.com/vital-behaviors/

What is Innovation?

January 27, 2016 — Leave a comment