"A bad system will beat a good person every time."W. Edwards Deming, pioneer of continuous improvement
One of the reasons that our Inconvenient Species is so slow to respond to global warming has to do with the power of the systems we live and work within.
20th century thinking about human behaviour considered individuals as rational, consistent and relatively unchanging.
21st century thinking acknowledges that - overall - humans are heavily social creatures evolved to operate in groups.
Most of us, most of the time want to look good and not look bad - because we experience rejection in the pain centres of our brains.
(Myers-Briggs suggests at least 75% and Diffusion of Innovation suggests 85%)
This isn't just a hypothesis - it has been backed up by substantial and substantive neuropsychology research.
It also isn't "conniving" or "cowardly" - the physiology of our perception in group situations is neurologically wired to peer behaviour.
Outside of the research lab, this need further backed up by investigations into institutional abuse of children, the disabled and the elderly.
As Kate Raworth wrote recently in The Doughnut Economy, humans are more like octopus, with their behaviours and opinions changing to match their social settings.
It's not the WHOLE human race
Thanks to our neurodiversity we have a sprinkling of "under/non/anti social" individuals in our species - enough to see the world differently and design new solutions.
We have always had weirdos exploring "the whichness of the why" - from the flinty innovators who chipped the first stone spearheads to the 19th century's top-hatted balloon pioneers and to the 21st century's first biomimicry practitioners.
But while they can be world-changers, they are in the minority. Most of the people, most of the time, are heavily influenced by their immediate social contexts.
The implications for climate and environmental campaigners
Einstein is said to have defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and expecting different results".
What do you do differently when you know that the majority of the human race meets their social needs FIRST most of the time?
Create a context, not just a message
In updating his initial work on influencing, Cialdini added a 7th principle of persuasion - Unity.
What creates most influence for the most people is being a tribe member.
"Sending out a message" isn't enough.
Be careful about how you use blame and guilt
Overall, blame and guilt do great harm - they create resistance and denial in their targets as well as victim-hood in their user.
All too often, we aim them at the person in front of us - NOT the person in power.
Remeber how, in the early days of COVID-19, retail workers were attacked for situations totally outside their control?
Don't over-focus on "broad agreement"
Use the insights of Diffusion of Innovation - and especially of Crossing The Chasm
Aim to win over a powerful, innovative member of the Early Majority - then let their testimony work for you. A (gradually) increasing number of campaigners know the names "Ray Anderson" and "Interface" - but few have heard of Jim Hartzfeld.
Identify a need that is immediate and pressing. Find the most sustainable solution. Deliver your solution to that niche.
Work on the system, not the behaviours
You never change things by fighting the existing reality.- Richard Buckminster Fuller
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.
Start with the hypothesis that "the system is broken". Then you can work to understand and change the system.
Way too many environmental campaigns have been all about symptoms. It's understandable, human - and horrendously incomplete.
Yes, if someone is bleeding to death you apply a tourniquet. But then you look deeper. Bandaging a compound fracture without setting the bones and cleaning the wound is a recipe for gangrene, amputation and death.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it
Skill up in Systems Thinking and Human Behaviour - and apply them to delivering new systems that make the old ones obsolete.
Some starting points that I like are:
- Stroh's handbook Systems Thinking and Social Change
- Cialdini's Pre-Suasion on the science of influencing
- Raworth's Doughnut Economics for a discussion of 21st century system requirements