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Why ‘personal thinking’ matters when it comes to user adoption

This article originally appeared on my LinkedIn profile here: Why personal thinking matters in user adoption and engagement.

If you’re unsure what ‘personal thinking’ is just sit back for a moment and allow your mind to empty (as far as it’s able to), watch the thoughts flow in and out, spot the ones that settle and hang around for while and then see what happens when something else catches your attention.

Personal thinking is something we humans are surrounded by every single minute of every single day; whether we are awake or asleep our world is full of the thoughts going through our head in a constant stream of ‘awareness’. Right now, I’m trying to work out how to construct a post that conveys the message I’m trying to get across, but my mind is also half interested in when another cup of tea might be coming my way; I’m also aware of my dog sitting in her bed on the window seat beside me, and my partner at his desk behind me. And these are the thoughts flowing through my head that I’m actually aware of.

Behind all that though is another layer of thinking that I’m barely conscious of. Because it’s so pervasive, I no longer even notice it inhabiting my thought space. These are the ‘self-talk’ thoughts, the little monkey thoughts on my shoulder that convey what I think of myself at any given moment.

By now you may be wondering what all this has to do with adoption and engagement, and on the surface it may seem not a lot; but the reality is that understanding how personal thinking works is an essential skill when it comes to working in the arena of change management.

My particular area of interest (for the time being) is adoption and engagement in Office 365. And the tech environment offers rich pickings for spotting where personal thinking interferes with the objectives organisations set themselves when rolling out new technologies.

In recent months I’ve come across lots of variations of the following:

  • I’m too old
  • I’m too young
  • I’m digitally challenged
  • I don’t understand technology
  • I’ll never get the hang of this
  • I’m not important enough
  • I’m too important
  • I ‘m not high enough in the organisation
  • I don’t have the skills
  • I was never good at school

The trouble with all these things is that they are just thoughts, but because they are part of our personal thinking landscape and are often habitual, they become real to us. We genuinely feel that these sorts of statements represent a fundamental truth about ourselves. And thus, they interfere with our ability to really engage with any change programme taking place.

And the problem for those of working in change management or user adoption and engagement is that they present a barrier that can be almost impossible to overcome. The reason for the difficulty is because for real change to take place in the way someone thinks they need to experience their own insights into the false nature of those thoughts.

To make matters worse, organisation culture can sometimes exacerbate the problems because they are set up in such a way to keep people where they are, mostly because of fear that too many people thinking too many radical thoughts might result in anarchy. So we don’t encourage our staff to have autonomy of thought and action, instead we constantly force them through the same old hoops, quashing any ideas they might have of actually introducing something new.

So how do you get over the problem of ‘personal thinking’. The trick, initially, in this world often lies in adapting marketing and sales techniques which create a strong enough motivation to overcome the thinking temporarily. As Lao Tzu is reported to have said in the Tao Te Ching, ‘the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step‘. Once someone sees that their thinking has been challenged once, it can be challenged a second time, and a third time ad infinitum.

Recently, I was working with a client in our internal coaching programme and she was telling me how digitally challenged she was. I expressed some surprise at this statement and reflected back to her some things she had said earlier in the conversation that challenged that perspective. She remained unconvinced until I asked, what turned out to be a killer question, ‘how would it be if you just let go of that thought?’. The change was almost instantaneous, the combination of question and reflecting clearly had the desired effect. Realising that her personal thinking was simply getting in the way she let it go. When I saw her a month later, she had also negotiated with her manager a change in role and grade … reflecting her new perspective of herself and her abilities.

Whilst this was a single, isolated incident, I have seen similar changes repeated in individuals and groups on a regular enough basis now to know the limiting effects our thinking has on our ability to fully engage with a change programme.

I would even go so far as to suggest that if we don’t consider this as an essential part of any user adoption and engagement programme, that it will, ultimately fail to deliver against our expectations.

(image courtesy

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