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You walk into a dark room and switch on the light. Nothing happens.
You try flipping the switch again.
“Maybe it’ll work this time!” It doesn’t.
What do you do? You change the lightbulb of course! Now, when you flip the switch again… instant light! You achieved your goal.
This simple dilemma illustrates major points about influencing change.
Let’s break it down:
- You can’t just focus on the goal. Wishing the light will come on doesn’t make it happen.
- You have to focus on changing behaviours. You must change a specific behaviour to get a change in result. Continually flipping the switch won’t help if the bulb is burned out. You have to replace the bulb.
- Some behaviours have exponentially more impact than others. Most often when a light stops working, the problem is the lightbulb. We know the best chance of getting light in the room is to change the bulb. Simple solutions can dramatically change our results.
Small Changes Make Big Impacts
The best influencers focus on changing the “lightbulbs” — the behaviours that have a disproportionate influence.
These are VITAL behaviours. If you want your results to change, you have to change the behaviours that have the most leverage in accomplishing your goal.
Here’s how three major influencers used this concept to make major impacts.
Mimi is in charge of Delancey Street felons and drug addicts. She faces the challenge of changing many behaviours in the people she tries to help.
But she knew that if she addressed 20 behaviours at once, she would have no impact. Her strategy would be diluted and lost.
She learned there was something most felons struggled with when they came in the door — the code of the street.
When they start rehab, they follow the two rules of the street:
- Look out only for yourself.
- Don’t rat out anybody.
Mimi eventually discovered if they could change those two behaviours, they could change most anything else.
Now, when anyone comes into her community, she immediately makes them responsible for someone else’s success. Within a week of being there, they’re already charge of training another new person and teaching them a trade (like how to set a table at a restaurant). Then, instead of asking “How are you doing?,” people ask, “How is your crew doing?” They’re not just looking out for themselves anymore — they’re responsible for other people’s success too.
She also demands that people speak to each other directly when they encounter broken rules, aggressive behaviour, or another problem.
As she helps others change these vital behaviours, their results change. Helping people learn to look out for others and speak up when they see problems drastically impacts her ability to influence.
Dr. Wiwat Rajanapithayakorn
When Dr. Wiwat first embarked on battling AIDS in Thailand, there were a lot of potential behaviours he could focus on. But he found a statistic that helped him identify a vital behaviour that would make a big difference in the spreading of the disease.
The numbers revealed that 97% of HIV cases were transmitted through heterosexual contact with sex workers. He realised that getting sex workers to use condoms would make a huge impact in the spread of AIDS.
Dr. Howard Markman
As he worked with people trying to maintain relationships, he examined all different kinds of behaviours. He found that relational breakdowns are not related to how few interests the couples share or how many differences exist in their family backgrounds. The issue lies in how they argue during disagreements.
When couples communicate with disrespect, cutting remarks, refusal to listen, or withdrawing, their outlook is grim. But, if they can start a conversation by establishing mutual purpose and respect, they have a promising future. The vital behaviour of how to communicate during disagreements makes a huge impact on results.
Focusing on vital behaviours makes a big difference — in everything from criminal rehabilitation to AIDS to marriage counselling to health care to human resources.
What are the key behaviours are having a disproportionate impact on your success?