Changing the Light Bulb (Issue 889)

In which we are reminded that, on average, most humans WOULD prefer to change rather than suffer.

One of my favorite psychologist jokes: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is: “Two, but the light bulb really has to want to change.”

So, how do we get the light bulbs in our sales lives to want to change, to be open to new solutions? How do we get people to move when they are, nominally, content with the status quo?

There are two fundamentally different schools of thought and our choice of strategy depends on who we’re dealing with.

 “Administer some pain,” would growl one of my gravelly voiced early mentors.

On average, when people are comfortable with their lives, the status quo, they seek to avoid loss or the risks inherent in change… yet they respond vigorously when survival requires them to fight. If you remember the story of the musical, The Music Man, this was Professor Harold Hill’s strategy to sell band uniforms and instruments to the citizens of River City, Iowa.

The song. “You’ve Got Trouble”, is a brilliant demonstration of the technique. If you remember the story of the musical, The Music Man, this was Professor Harold Hill’s strategy to sell band uniforms and instruments to the citizens of River City, Iowa. The song. “You’ve Got Trouble”, is a brilliant demonstration of the technique.

It begins, “Well, either you’re closing your eyes to a situation you do not wish to acknowledge or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated by the presence of a pool table in your community. Ya got trouble, my friend, right here, I say, trouble right here in River City.”

Hill “administers pain” by portraying to the River City-zens’ the impending degradation of their children, stirring the River City townspeople to feel, emotionally, the unwanted consequences of continuing status quo – the pool table.

The second approach is: “Paint a vision of a bright future and then help people see themselves there”.

If we’re sitting with representatives of that smaller slice of the population who are visionary, who “run toward…” visions and possibilities rather than “sprinting away…” from risk, discomfort, or upset, we’d do better to paint a picture of a bright future and their shining role in that bright future. From the musical, Barnum, for example, the song “Out There” concludes: “Somewhere out there just out of sight, in that world that’s shining with light, ain’t each man alive got the right, once in his life, to forget the past? Once in his life to behold at last, with his own two eyes, what lies out there?

It just depends who we’re dealing with.

Nick Miller is President of Clarity Advantage based in Concord, MA. He assists banks and credit unions to generate more and more profitable relationships, faster, with business clients, their owners, and their employees. Additional articles on Clarity’s web site.

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