Workforce Development

The Half-Life of Enthusiasm

31 December 2012 | Team EACPDS


As we visit companies performing assessments and providing consulting services, we commonly experience some level of resistance to change.  That is to be expected.  First it is well understood that change is difficult to embrace.   Moreover, we are often working with active or former engineers for whom skepticism is a recognized strength.  And although there is often a shared perception among our clients’ employees that things need to change, there is usually significantly differing perceptions on the specifics of what must change and how it should change.
It is interesting to us that when we encounter similar individuals in other environments there is a distinct shift in their receptiveness to change.  One other environment is at seminar events that EAC sponsors a dozen or so times per year.  At the seminars, we are consistently engaged by thoughtful product development leaders and contributors who are looking to discover insights that can be used to improve their systems.

A part of the cause of this change is clearly that the work environment is consumed by practicality, while the seminar environment balances both theory and practice; good theory is after all the basis for good practice.  The engagement with theory creates an openness to learn, and an attendant openness to change.

Our hypothesis is that within the political structure of their own companies, individuals invest a significant amount of their energies defensively blocking efforts to create change until they can be sure that the proposed change is not ‘yet another dunderheaded idea that will actually make things worse’.  In the seminars’ external, neutral environment they are free to drop their committed defensiveness and to engage with less defensive positioning and more open-mindedness.  We should add that our seminar events are presented as learning events and not selling events in an attempt to create an environment that supports open-mindedness.

In our internal discussions on this idea, a collaborator shared the story of his experience with counseling.  After his divorce, he participated in a group therapy with a dozen other men who were all still married but having severe problems in their relationship with their spouses.  Our colleague was attending group therapy to work through the similar issues that led to the dissolution of his marriage.  Every week, he said, he would leave the session and spend the next day reflecting on the discussions and shared insights.  His twelve fellow group members would return to their difficult environments of a hostile relationship and relapse into habitual behaviors.  After a short period of time, feeling he had worked through his issues, our colleague made his goodbyes and graduated from the therapy sessions.  As he left, he felt that none of the other individuals had made any significant progress towards a better way of managing their situations.

In reflecting on this, we become concerned that the enthusiasm and commitment to improvement that we see at the end of our seminar events dissipates quickly when the attendees return to their less neutral environments.   To help extend the half-life of the positive bias carried out of our seminars, we are exploring additional services that can provide a buffer for post-seminar improvement advocates.  We have discussed delivering more seminars directly within companies rather than in public venues, to create an internal network of mutually supportive thinkers.  We have discussed organizing peer learning and discussion groups in our served regions where individuals from different companies can serve as an advisory board to one another.  As we explore our role in extending the half-life of enthusiasm and commitment, we would love to hear from you on how you think we could better serve this market need.