or Five Critical Characteristics of Innovation and Change
What can a 59 year old Swedish Folk Singer and Environmentalist teach us about conflict resolution?
If you’d like to hear it from the man himself, you can watch him deliver a TED talk here:
Alan AtKisson says there are five critical characteristics for increasing the rate at which an innovation, such as ADR or mediation, gets enthusiastically adopted by a more mainstream audience. So, how do these characteristics of change apply to the promotion of mediation?
1. Relative advantage. The innovation will spread more quickly if it’s perceived as better than the status quo.
What does this mean in relation to mediation? Well, a lot of mediation marketing tries to contrast mediation with the pain and expense of litigation. (I do this myself actually!)
Outside of litigation this doesn’t resonate well. So as advocates for mediation we must be able to position it as a better alternative to… well, doing nothing, or living in pain and conflict or with the loss of a relationship, or whatever?
2. Compatibility. In order to succeed, the innovation has to feel aligned to the existing values as well as the present needs of the audience. So, for us as conflict resolution professionals, what do we value and feel we have in common that we can communicate to clients?
What makes the relationship of solicitor and mediator more symbiotic? After all, we are both looking to resolve the matter at hand in a way that’s agreeable to the client… Perhaps we both need to do more to educate our clients about the benefits of a different approach?
3. Complexity. Early adopters aside, making things easy to understand is key to getting them to embrace the innovation and to increasing the adoption rate.
People seem to have different perceptions of what “mediation” is. When I say that’s what I do most responses talk about divorce. Sometimes we have a discourse on meditation. Groovy! : )
Anyway, maybe we need to think about the points above along with a better “elevator pitch” for the subject?
As conflict resolvers, how should we reduce the complexity factor?
In essence, we’re trying to make our clients feel better and give them their lives back. To prevent them from having their time and relationships consumed by conflict…
How do we translate that, the process involved, and the feeling of release and freedom that successful resolution brings to them?
So far, so good.
I think we could all make a stab at the above, but AtKisson goes on to add:
4. Trialability. He says it’s important for people to be able to try out the innovation in some form – like a kind of free trial. So, how do we square that with the image of the product sample lady in the supermarket?
I recently went to observe a “Mediation Theatre” event in Oxford, which was put on by some lovely people. The scenario was played beautifully, in a room in a 4 star hotel, by a number of experienced mediators to an audience of community mediators, wannabe mediators and 3 or 4 construction company people (who were the commercial targets for the process). Although it was a great exercise and very well done, I couldn’t help thinking that it would be a slow and expensive process to educate prospects like this.
Could videos do a similar job? Are the prospects interested enough to watch? (All ideas welcome, I think!)
5. Observability. You might call this “social proof” if you have read “Influence” by Robert Cialdini. (If you haven’t, then please do yourself a massive favour and pop over to Amazon or whoever and get it now.)
Anyway, the principle is familiar enough. We’re herd animals and are impressed if other people use the innovation. When we see them do that, the innovation will spread more rapidly.
Again, I think this is a difficult “countdown conundrum” for our tribe. How do we talk about cases which are by their nature fundamentally confidential? We can’t film the process for the same reason, so real observation (as opposed to a couple of trainee mediators sitting in) is also out.
What about word of mouth? Well, will our clients rush out to tell the world about the confidential agreement? Part of the appeal of that negotiated agreement may be that it addresses an embarrassing aspect of their former issue away from the publicity of an open courtroom. Do they really want to share?
Maybe it’d be easier to get associates (HR, other Directors, friends and family) to talk about it obliquely – but is that nearly as compelling, even if they would do it?
Anyway, as a certain fictional sleuth might sagely intone, this is a “three pipe problem”…
I think maybe if we mediation and conflict resolution advocates work on the first 3 of AtKisson’s characteristics of change perhaps the last two will fall into place more naturally, even if the innovation spreads at a more relaxed rate.
What do you think? I’d love to know!