Changing Minds: How Hard Is It?

All leadership comes down to this: changing people’s behavior.” – Alan Deutschman in Fast Company, “Change or Die”, May 2005

Changing the behavior of people is the most important challenge for leaders of businesses trying to compete in unpredictable environments.

According to John Kotter, Harvard Business School professor, “The central
issue is never strategy, structure, culture, or systems. The core of the matter
is always about changing the behavior of people.

What works? And why is change so incredibly difficult for people? A recent Fast Company article entitled, “Change or Die” (May 2005), reveals that when faced with a health crisis such as heart disease only 1 person in 9 sustains the necessary, life-style changes required for living longer.

Minds are hard to change. Yet so many aspects of our lives are directed toward doing just that. We face a supplier who needs to respond more quickly, or a subordinate who needs to do a task differently. We clearly see the need for others to change their minds and act differently.

What is it about how our brains are wired that resists change so tenaciously?
Kegan and Lahey in their book How the Way We Talk Can Change the Way We Work (2001) describe the process of resistance and the natural tendency of the body and mind to go back to what it is used to doing (a process called homeostasis).

In this new century with increasing knowledge about the brain, has cognitive
neuroscience discovered clues to what is required to help people change their
way of thinking in order to change their behaviors? Howard Gardner, a life-long researcher and expert on the mind, thinks so:

Of all of the species on earth, we human beings are the ones who specialize in voluntary mind change: we change the minds of others, we change our own minds. We have even crafted various technologies that allow us to extend the sweep of mind change: powerful mechanical artifacts like writing implements, televisions, and computers…In the coming decade, mind changing will continue and, in all probability, accelerate.” states Professor Gardner, in Changing Minds, 2004.

What do we need to understand about the mind so that we can better understand the process of changing the mind of others, and indeed, what happens when we try to change our own mind and sustain new behaviors?

The full, 2000-word article discusses the following concepts:

7 Levers to Change a Mind:




   Representational Redescriptions

   Resources and Rewards

   Real World Events


5 Keys to Changing Minds in an Organization:

   1. The Power of Stories

   2. The Power of Variety

   3. The Power of Resistance

   4. Appealing to the Emotions

   5. The Power of Ongoing Communication & Support

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