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Language for change - what to say to encourage innovation

Language for change - what to say to encourage innovation

Monday 18th May 2020

From discovery to delivery, identifying opportunities, sharing findings, proposing ideas and testing with users; we encounter all sorts of blockers to change. The technical revolution may have unlocked the key to new digital opportunities. Changes to service delivery models often require changes to how people interact with customers and work in general. This is a different type of change. We can control technical elements (once we've worked it out) but if we want to change hearts and minds - critical for behaviour change - we can only hope to influence them and nudge them towards the desired behaviours.

Many blockers to change can go unnoticed as they seem so 'reasonable' to us. However, if we listen carefully the language people use and their stories they can be very revealing.

"I can't" more often means I won't (and I have elaborate reasons why I won't).

Questions are sometimes a way of sharing assessments, albeit indirectly, rather than demonstrating an appetite to deepen understanding - "Do you really mean that?" rather than 'I'm not ready for that level of disruption at the moment."

"We know this already" may be a reflection of what psychologists call fixed thinking - rigid view of the world which is hard to penetrate - rather than evidence-based awareness.

We all live in stories, stories that reveal our belief systems and perspective of the world around us. It's this perception that informs the new possibilities that we can envisage. That's why the research we conduct, the insights we develop and the new stories we co-create with stakeholders need to nudge decision-makers towards a different future. The language we use, not just new customer facts, insights and stories, needs to drive engagement and action.

Here are some ideas to try from discovery to delivery


Turn assumptive solutions into strong hypothesis statements

An hypothesis is defined as a proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence. Lots of product teams, for numerous reasons, may propose features based on limited evidence. Your job as a researcher is to provide the evidence. However, easier said than done as more designers or developers grow attached to their ideas, or Project Managers are eager to successfully execute their plans, impact sometimes being an afterthought. By formulating strong hypothesis statements, rather than debating the rights or wrongs of a belief, it's easier to gain buy-in and engagement from the get-go.

Identify opportunities and formulate bets.

The hint is in the wording - a bet by implication is not a confirmed deliverable, rather, it's in the pipeline of to be decided. We identify bets as viable solutions to a given problem, but we still need to prove it. The word bet sets the expectation that we're not sure this solution is going to work yet, or even at all; we still need to prove it through research and testing and ultimately measure the outcome.

Use verbs rather than nouns.

"This design doesn't work" is fixed, it's rigid, it implies a fixed state and therefore limits possibilities. "This concept isn't working" on the other hand implies action in the moment, something that can and probably will change. When you introduce verbs, action words, the implication, albeit subtle, is that the situation is temporary - and therefore I can influence and change it. Introduce adverbs - "This isn't working yet" (or at the moment) for even more fluidity.

Keep learning to open new possibilities.

Researchers are not the beholders of an absolute truth. User personas, journeys and stories are simply another, and hopefully, a richer and more human-centred perspective. But insights without action don't deliver value. How you deliver insights, frame the perspective and engage others with learning is likely to keep them open to exploring new possibilities and ultimately result in innovation.

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