The Rider has many strengths - it is a thinker and a planner and a keen analyst, enabling us to plan and strategise. It’s a visionary, able to make short-term sacrifices for long-term gains (which is why it clashes with the Elephant who likes instant gratification). However, its big weakness is over-analysis, which means it gets paralysed and tired and stuck. What I found particularly interesting was as analysts, we tend to focus on the problems and the negative. In a study of 558 emotion words, psychologists found that 68% of them were negative. In wider studies, it has been found that across the board, we have a strong tendency to focus on the negative more than the positive - we remember bad events longer than good ones; we show more interest in negative stories than positive ones, we reflect more on negative events than positive ones; the list goes one. In summary, bad is stronger than good. And when it comes to tackling change, this means we tend to have a problem focus when what we need is a solution focus. When leading or managing change we need to be repeatedly asking ‘What’s working and how can we do more of it?’ and ‘what is the ratio of time I spend solving problems to the time I spend up-scaling successes’1. By finding and focusing on the bright spots - successful efforts worth emulating - you spark hope as well as illuminate the road map for action.
As well as too much choice, ambiguity or the unknown, common in engineering change, also leads to decision paralysis and anxiety, which sends our Elephant down the default path and the Rider just doesn’t have the energy to redirect. Successful change, therefore, requires a translation of ambiguity into concrete behaviours - what the Heaths call scripting the critical moves. Big problems are rarely solved by big solutions. Instead they are more often solved by a sequence of small solutions with specific, concrete, behavoural changes.
In addition, it requires a vivid picture from the near-term future of what could be possible - a destination postcard - that both show the Rider where you’re headed and show the Elephant why the journey is worth the effort. In short, what’s the end point, where am I now and how do I close the gap to get there? By identifying an end point or goal, you are using the Rider’s energy not in deciding which way to move or whether that move is worthwhile (which can end in paralysis) but in how to navigate to the pre-determined destination. By setting a goal with emotional resonance, you are harnessing the Elephant. Most importantly, by aligning the end goal with the short-term critical moves, you’re preparing the Rider with the tools to manage the Elephant successfully.