Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Kubler-Ross and Getting Ideas Accepted

When discussing new or challenging ideas, or even anything that challenges or even questions the existing schools of thought (or business process!) there is often much "push-back" with responses such as "that'll never work", "impossible" etc...sometimes even when confronted with the evidence and demonstration.

Dealing with this is often soul destroying from the innovator's perspective and getting past this is 90% of the challenge of getting new ideas and view points accepted. So having a mechanism to understand the responses would be useful. I think the Kubler-Ross model might be useful here to examine people's responses.

The model itself was developed for psychologists to understand the process of grief. While the model has sparked some controversy, this does not detract from the basic principle of the model. The model consists of five sequential stages:
  1. Denial - "we're fine", "everything works"
  2. Anger - "NO!"
  3. Bargaining - "Ok, so how do you fix this?"
  4. Depression - "Why bother...?", "Too difficult"
  5. Acceptance - "Let's do this!!!"
When applied to challenging ideas, the person rejecting those ideas has to proceed through the above stages - and the challenger has to also acknowledge this and work within this.

Let's say we have a process and metrics for some purpose - the process is complicated and dogmatic, the metrics measure some completion rate but not effort or compliance. A challenge to this might be met with the following responses:
  1. Denial - the process works! No-one has complained! We have metrics! We're CMM Level 3!
  2. Anger - Why are you complaining? We don't need to change!
  3. Bargaining - OK, we'll consider your ideas and changes but we're not promising anything. Can you come up with a project plan, budget, strategy, PowerPoints etc...?
  4. Depression - OK, there are problems, but we can't deal with them. It's too late and complex to change. Let's create a project plan, strategy and vision. How can we ever capture those metrics?
  5. Acceptance - You're right, let's run with this
Actually the last state - acceptance - probably works very well in a more agile environment, but agility requires both a deep and holistic and ultimately an approach grounded in the theory of the subject at hand. Do not underestimate getting management support either, and conversely as a manger giving real support is similarly critical.

This model must be used in an introspective and reflective manner to ensure that you as the originator and presenter of the idea do not fall into the trap of stages 1 and 2 yourself. Understanding your reactions in the above terms is very enlightening regarding your own behaviour.

If you do reach stage 3 in the discussions then this is time that you need to be absolutely sure in how your idea works, what the flaws are and how it integrates and improves what came previously. At this stage you have the chance to get everyone on board but after this however it is extremely difficult to turn people to your idea.

Stage 4 is depression all round, you will probably have accepted many changes to your idea and let go of some cherished ideas. Worse is that you've probably challenged the existing school and dogma to such a degree you are going to get a lot of "push back" on the ideas. In some respects this is where ideas do die either "naturally" or through "suicide" to use some dark terminology. To get through this stage you need to be the supporter of everyone. Indeed emphasis on the previous school of thought as being the catalyst to the newer ideas is critical to get through this; after all, wasn't it the previous systems that sparked the need for change in the first place?

Stage 5 is requires real leadership of the innovation and building of the team to carry this forward. Like it not, teamwork and ensuring that everyone, even the detractors, have a voice is critical. Sometimes your challenge might free some of the original detractors out of their earlier beliefs - this can come as quite a relief to these people and offer them badly needed, new challenges and purpose.

There are many more things one could write on this and there are many books and theories on how to manage innovation and invention elsewhere. The idea here was to relate some experiences with the Kubler-Ross model and understand things in that context, which personally I've found to be a very useful tool.

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