Want to change something?
Instead shift your energies to focus on how you can help.
Seriously. Stop judging, start helping.
Make the change that you want to see more attractive, easier, better paid, simpler … make it the best choice.
You can criticise people for their choices, but it is more likely to cause the other party to defend their position, entrench their views and be resistant to change.
It doesn’t matter what the change is. Put your pride aside. Assign resources into making the change you want to see the best option. This is NOT the same as making the original option less attractive, which is the strategy taken by benefit cuts for example. Making the shift attractive means understanding the real-world blockers to the choice and implementing positive actions to remove these. Over the longer term you can shift resources but don’t do this at the start – it simply alienates the people you want to engage with.
So how can this work in the real world?
The baby box is given free to parents of newborns in Finland provides a brilliant example of this strategy in action. Instead of lecturing new parents, criticising them for what they should or shouldn’t do, it offered help. It shifted from telling to helping. It made this help unconditional. It didn’t mandate it. It didn’t attach conditions. It didn’t lecture. It offered practical help. And it worked. Finland now has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world.
So how could this thinking be applied to our current problems?
Example 1 – Obesity
Forget trying to mandate against unhealthy choices. Instead shift energies to positive changes. No VAT on bikes, investment in safe cycle routes. What about safe, secure FREE lockup areas at all public facilities. Make gyms and healthy food cheaper. Free gym places? Free healthy food at school to help develop a change a nations taste buds? What about investment in sports facilities that are affordable to families? Over time, you could increase taxes to fund more changes, but NEVER at the start. Start with the positive first.
Example 2 – Studying science at school (and beyond)
As with obesity, it is hard to know where to start – not because it is hard, but because there are so many potential areas to improve. Start by paying science teachers more. Recruit the best – invest in new labs at schools, provide resources for more engaging lessons focused on hands-on learning. Get rid of the whiteboard and replace these with living learning spaces that put the children’s experience at the centre of your strategy. Provide free science holiday camps so the resources stay utilised. Make university places for science courses free. Provide tax breaks for science graduates who work in a science discipline for 5, 10, 20 years after graduating.
Example 3 – Traffic congestion
The simplest to fix. Invest in public transport and remote working. Stop messing about with high speed broadband installation and devote serious resources to this to make things happen quickly. Public transport doesn’t need to be just affordable, it needs to be clearly the best financial option. That means a big differential between alternatives. So prices need to fall. On rail they need to drop massively. All of this costs money of course, but having snarled roads at rush hour all over the country is sheer stupidity. It is the best example you could find of a system not working. It isn’t a quick fix, but you could make a difference in months.
Can you see the pattern?
Focus on the positive.
Make the shift attractive. Invest your time in the change you want to see, rather than than putting efforts into things that you want to stop. When you shift your thinking to the positive, your problem is not knowing what to do, it is knowing which to do first.
How do you know which one to do?
You try it.
Pilot, trial it, but DO IT.
Be methodical, use research methods, but start and keep going. Adapt, evolve and learn, but don’t make failure an option. Stay positive and refine what works.
Whatever you may hear on TV or in the media, the primary blocker to these happening though is not money or funding. It is political pride and a focus on short termism.
The examples so far have focused on public policy, but they equally apply to any change. From getting your children to read or swim (incentivise the change and make it attractive to them), to increasing productivity in the workplace (provide great spaces and good tools, trust people and stop micro-managing).
And one final tip.
The results of the Finnish study took a generation to fully appreciate. Changing life choices takes time. Changing any behaviour is a challenge, but not impossible.
Complaining though … you can do that for as long as you want. It doesn’t work.