Your Audience Is A Tribe Not A Persona. Your Idea is Dead Without Tribal Buy In.
Organizational or social change of any kind is hard and our attempts at it fail often. From the marketplace to the classroom to the board room to the global economy we all have reasonable ideas of where we are and where we ought to be and the gap in between, what is broken and how it can be fixed. And yet change is hard. The literature of how to cause change on scales ranging from the individual to the global are deep and plentiful. And yet, somehow, change is hard. On the global scale the futurists write about the coming change as if its inevitable and guaranteed, but we know this is a myth. We know that social change and new ways of operating must be consciously designed, it must come from us.
For most of history and in particular our modern industrial capitalistic world change has been commanded from above. The simplistic, useful metaphor would be of a blueprint of some form being sprinkled from corporate above with the implicit understanding of a threat if the new way is not implemented. In spite of this overhanging threat, change in all its forms remains elusive. Something is not working and it is deeper and more layered than we would like to believe.
Social change cannot be done instantaneously no matter how urgent. There is a process of acceptance that all change must go through to gain a foothold into the operating system of the organizational reality. Ultimately a change that is not accepted by the majority of the concerned parties will not survive. The new way must be approved by the stakeholders in the long run. This is not an obvious statement about the need for consensus. Rather this is saying that the sustainability of the change does not lie in the power of the authority. It is created and forged by the majority of the tribe. If we understand this critical piece we can learn how to make it work in our favor. Majority consensus is not instantaneous it takes time to congeal. It must be allowed to form and cannot be mandated.
Lets explore the process of how consensus spreads and how we can use this model for spreading new ideas and change in our organizations. What we must learn is that the acceptance and shouldering of the change is not done by the ones selling it. It is done in the minds of the ones who will have to accept the change. It is done in the mind of the tribe. The first logic gate that must be passed is mainly binary. Is this change not dangerous for me and my tribe and good for us in some way? This is quickly and almost unconsciously calculated. It’s almost redundant to say that that the idea in question must contain a positive appeal in some sense. This may sound obvious but we must recognize the importance of providing the opportunity for consensus to form. Real change cannot be done without the consent (in some form) of the ones we are selling the idea or change to. Somehow as we have learned to manage organizations we have forgotten to recognize the importance and power of buy in. Us humans are social emotional and reasonable animals and we use all of these capabilities to decide to buy in or not. For years we have focused on only one of these in the attempt to sell ideas. We believed that if we can rationally demonstrate the merit and worth of the idea then we could gain buy in. Pitch decks of all forms are full of benefits in an attempt to gain buy in via reasoning . Eventually some of us have recognized the importance of emotional buy in and we have began implementing story design into our presentations. But we have failed to utilize the last of these capacities. The role of others in our ongoing choice to buy into and sustain the new way, the new direction.
If we can begin to design ways for tribes of consensus to form we can begin to take advantage of powerful ways of implementing change in the long term.
Lets explore what this form of tribal consensus can look like and how it might work. After we create a pitch of any form we need to create a space where those who agree with the pitch can gather, be aware of one another and communicate with one another. It is also critical that those exploring the idea be aware of this group and its strength or lack thereof. This can look like an online forum of sorts designed to allow community to form organically from the idea. This emergent community does a few powerful and highly impactful things.
1. It provides a way for the new adherents to know that they are not alone in their interest and agreeableness in this idea. See Michael Suk-Young Chwe book Rational Ritual for more on this idea.
2. It provides a way for the new adherents to connect with the other adherents and work collaboratively on continuing to spread the idea. As social creatures we buy from those we trust. If the ones who buy in are empowered to then sell in a none sleazy way that can be much more powerful than pushing media on our own. This is the real function and power of gathering. All powerful religions and groups understand the need for gathering. Beyond being able to communicate top down it more importantly provides a way for those gathered to connect with one another and establish for themselves the knowledge that there are others that are adherents to this idea that they believe in.
3. It provides a way to improve the idea. By having a space for a tribe to gather to be,discuss, and act on any form of media it allows it to become alive and contain the potential for iteration. If every form of media came attached with a space for connection and collaboration of those interested this would empower anyone to continue the work that began in the first iteration.
This model is an initial portrait of how we can begin to shift away from content as a consumable and how it can be viewed as a living evolving entity that can live on in perpetuity if given the chance. These memes can now compete in the market place of ideas and gain strength as they gain adherents. Each visitor is no longer merely a visitor they are an empowered evangelists of the idea being sold. As we continue to explore the library of all possible forms of all things this process will allow us to experiment and test all forms of ideas and identify the ones that we ought to keep.