Swim with the current

One of the advantages of growing up on a huge island in the South Pacific – Terra Australis – is that you learn to be a little more ocean savvy than much of the rest of the world. Swimming in the ocean is an entirely different skill to swimming in a pool.

There are two things you learn pretty quickly:

  1. If you get caught up in a rip tide – swim with the current, and
  2. Always swim next to a group of British backpackers, because while you probably can’t out swim a shark… maybe you don’t always have to…

Of course, the first point is one that we tend to struggle with, both in the water and in our daily lives. It seems counter-intuitive to swim with a current when your goal is often in another direction altogether. But this turns out to be key to our survival. We don’t tire so easily from fighting a force we’re just not strong enough to beat and using the current actually helps us swim more effectively and swiftly.

So it is with human behavior. We try to cajole ourselves into submission, berate ourselves for not being more disciplined and set up systems that drive us towards more and more unnatural behavior.

The key, of course, is to understand what currents already exist in our behavior and those of our staff and customers and work with them. Each of us is an individual and to expect homogenous behavior is to set yourself up for disappointment and ultimately to miss some of the richness of humanity.

When trying to create change, get clear about what behavioral currents you’re trying to swim against and instead, factor these into your strategy. Not a morning person? Build a strategy around evening activity. Your team isn’t collaborating well? Show them what’s in it for them as individuals – both positive and negative. Your customers are set in their ways? Demonstrate how your new offering is very much like something they’ve loved for years.

We can’t always beat the current, but used well, it can actually get us to where we want to be more quickly

DAN GREGORY & KIERAN FLANAGAN