DivvyHQ Book Club – Creative Change: Why We Resist It…How We Can Embrace It

One of the biggest challenges we’ve grappled with at DivvyHQ is the reality that content marketing, as a practice, is a wholesale shift in the way companies approach marketing. Not only does content marketing require a mindset shift for corporate communications teams, but the process of creating customer-centric content and delivering it via multiple channels consistently requires many other flavors of creative change, including a strategic shift, process changes and people.

Our particular struggle, as a content marketing platform, revolves around our reliance on our customers to not only adopt our product, but to fully adopt and commit to the practice of content marketing. If they’ve ramped up several new content marketing initiatives and brought on DivvyHQ to help them manage the process, they may realize several months in that they suck at this content thing, it doesn’t seem to be working, and quit. “Well, I guess we don’t need Divvy anymore.”

Internally, we often liken this situation to someone wanting to get healthy and lose weight. You know the story… They join a nice gym. They get a few free weeks with a personal trainer. They’ve started off strong, but they’ve neglected to make some lifestyle changes (eating better, getting more sleep) and gradually fade in their commitment when results don’t come fast enough. They stop getting out of bed early to go to the gym and eventually decide to cancel their gym membership. It’s pretty obvious to point out where the failure happened. It wasn’t the gym.

Based on our reliance on our customers to commit to content marketing, we have a vested interest in doing everything we can to help customers facilitate internal change, make the commitment, and adopt a product that may smooth the waters of their transition. Many of the prospective customers who walk through our door every day are often neck deep in organizational change. In some cases, we can easily detect that their efforts to get internal commitment is on shaky ground. Their core team is on board, but the larger marketing organization is still stuck in the traditional status quo.

Seeing this scene replay over and over, I was excited when I came across Creative Change: Why We Resist It . . . How We Can Embrace It by Jennifer Mueller, a social psychologist and former professor at Wharton School of Management.

Who Should Read This Book

Let me start by saying that this book was not an easy read for me. I found it very academic and packed with research findings that left my head spinning at times. That said, the concepts of creativity, innovation and managing change are big, nuanced topics to unpack, and Mueller does a nice job of putting forth the premise that people actually both love and hate creativity in certain circumstances.

Executives

It was fascinating to hear several examples of business leaders who create wide-scale innovation programs and pride themselves on fostering innovation within their companies, but are quick to shoot down a creative idea that just has too many unknowns. Our human brain is not a fan of uncertainty, and there can be multiple layers of bias that, in some circumstances, prompt a knee-jerk reaction that shuts down an idea right out of the shoot.

Mueller talked a lot about mindset throughout the book and explained that business leaders often approach decisions with a “how/best” mindset, meaning they prioritize with accuracy and correctness. This leads to a tendency for these leaders to pass on creative ideas that have too much uncertainty, and prioritize ideas that are only incremental improvements to the existing, comfortable status quo. The scary part about this is that for many companies, both past, present and future, this mindset only sends companies into a downward spiral to irrelevance.

Mueller’s research, along with other studies cited in the book, find that truly innovative companies tend to be led by people who naturally have a “why/potential” mindset, which evokes a tolerance for creative ideas. It’s not a stretch to put such leaders as Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk in this category.

Tesla Engineer: “Hey Elon…we’re doing all this cool stuff with car batteries, right? What if we put these in homes and slap a solar roof on the house?”

Elon: “Sure, that sounds cool. Let’s do it!”

Ok, ok… Probably a stretch, but now just think about the engineers at Kodak that brought digital camera technology to their executive team. We all know how that ended up.

Bottom line, decision makers should understand the psychological forces that are at play and recognize when their own internal biases and fear of uncertainty could be severely limiting their company’s ability to evolve and be innovative. Executives should read this book.

Creatives & Innovators

On the other side of the creative coin, creatives and innovators come up with creative ideas every day. Many work in the very same companies who encourage creativity and innovation, only to have ideas shot down, one after the other. And then business leaders wonder why their rockstars leave.

Mueller stresses the importance of not only understanding the psychological barriers of decision makers that may stand in the way of implementing a creative idea, but also provides guidance on how innovators should frame and market ideas within the organization.

She introduces a variety of frameworks and best practices that can be employed when pitching creative ideas and when trying to implement new products or processes. I personally love a particular framework that Mueller created call FAB (Fit, Aha, Broaden) that is designed to help innovators sell their creative ideas internally.

  • Fit – Help others see how the creative idea will be a good fit within their current reality. When there’s a fit, people will feel safe. When there’s a mis-fit, they don’t feel safe. They feel that something is wrong.
  • Aha – When pitching ideas, it’s helpful to use an analogy (ex: my gym membership metaphor above) or some sort of comparison between two existing, well-known things. We see this all the time in the startup world. A fellow Kansas City startup called Bungii has always sold themselves as Uber for Trucks. Need to move something big, but have a small car? The Bungii app is your friend with a truck.
  • Broaden – These strategies revolve around getting people to broaden their mindsets away from the status quo, and start to want the new thing. One of the best tactics here is an exercise Mueller calls the “feedback pitch” where you present the idea in a way that facilitates a collaborative feedback session with the decision maker. With the decision maker’s involvement in working through any concerns and crafting the final solution, they ultimately have more ownership in the idea (a.k.a. “Make it their idea”).

The Most Frustrating Insight

This book is packed with intriguing insights, but the most jarring to me revolved around the difficult process of cultivating change in an organization. As much as we’d like to, you can’t strong-arm creative change in most organizations. The more you try to force creative change on people that are comfortable with the status quo, the more they may rebel and do the opposite.

People will only accept creative change when they realize that their current status quo is blocking them from achieving what they want. Something has to fail or a pain threshold has to be crossed. Mueller writes:

“People will only change if they feel something. They change when they feel embarrassed, frustrated or ashamed of the status quo. I believe that effectively pitching a creative idea, and communicating it to good effect, is every bit as complicated and difficult as generating a terrific invention.”

Putting This Into Practice

When it comes to cultivating change at the organizational level, this book did provide my team with several strategies for helping our customers introduce a better approach, cultivate change and facilitate adoption of content marketing best practices, processes and tools. Perhaps it can help you and your leadership do the same.

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