Making change is hard. Dan and Chris Heath tell the story of Dr.Don Berwick, who brought a group of hospital administrators together and told them what they already knew – that people were dying unnecessarily in hospitals.  He introduced them to a mother who spoke to the group about the death of her daughter from a botched operation.  Then, Berwick challenged the group: He told them, “we are going to save 100,000 lives in 18 months. Some is not a number, soon is not a time…”  Then, he told them six small things that would make a difference.  He talked about things like raising the bed 30% after surgery and giving the patient an antibiotic 30 minutes before surgery.  He showed them the way and invited them to join the 100,000 Lives Campaign.  Eighteen months later he convened the group of hospitals who had joined his campaign and announced that they had not saved 100,000 lives – they had in fact saved 123,000 lives!

Chip and Dan Heath offer an image that helps explain why Berwick was so successful: Everyone who goes to the circus sees the little man sitting on top of a huge elephant guiding him with a stick. But, we all know that if the elephant wanted to go in another direction, the rider would be incapable of stopping him.  The rider is like the logical, planning part of our self. The rider provides direction, goals, and strategies.  The elephant is our emotional self. He provides energy and passion.  When we are unmotivated ─or worse, angry and frustrated ─ planning and goal setting produces nothing.

Change requires the leader to direct the rider. What looks like resistance can in actuality be confusion and lack of clarity.  What Berwick did with his 100,000 lives campaign was to capture hearts and minds.  He had a mother speak emotionally about her loss.  He titled his effort The 100,000 Lives Campaign.  All heart. And, he also showed his audience how to begin.  He offered strategies, a path and a plan –with his six small things.

  • Are you the rider, just talking logic, plans and strategies?
  • Do you know how to tap into the hearts and energy of your people?

You may think you are in control, riding a top the elephant, but that elephant has power and energy behind it. When it is on the move, nothing can stop it.

Here’s something you can do to challenge your team:

At your next off-site, distribute a piece a paper with the words “My Six Small Things” at the top of page.  Challenge your team to find their ”six small things” throughout the day. At the end of the day, ask them to share the items on their list.