What junk food can teach you about organizational change

Jeff Cole

The battle cry of dieters everywhere is "you are what you eat." But when it comes to organizational change and leadership "you are what you think," says columnist Jeff Cole.

Decades ago, famous motivational speaker Earl Nightingale wrote a fascinating book called The Strangest Secret in which he tells us "we become what we think about most."

That's an interesting thought to ponder.

Here’s a quote from an unrelated anonymous source: "As a person thinks so shall they behave."

Underlying both of these quotes is a simple concept: our thoughts drive our behaviors.

What does this mean to us? If it’s Saturday morning, you get out of bed and your first thought is "What cartoons are on today?" that will drive a certain behavior. If you ask a higher quality of question such as "What’s the best use of my time this morning?" or "What needs to be done around the house?" or "How can I surprise and delight my spouse today?" you may find yourself having a higher quality day.

You are what you think most often about

Tony Robbins has described thinking as the process of asking ourselves questions and answering them. The quality of our lives is directly correlated to the quality of questions we ask ourselves. Much like there is junk food very handy at every corner that does nothing nutritionally for your body but tastes good, there are "junk" questions out there that may easily pop into one’s mind.

The thing is – we get to control what we think about! Just because junk food is placed in front of you, it does not mean you automatically eat it – we each have a choice. If a junk question automatically enters your mind you need not mindlessly act on it like one of Pavlov’s dogs. Step one is to recognize it and step two is to replace it with a higher quality of thought.

Let’s say it’s a special occasion and your spouse is due home at 7:00 pm (on their usual bowling night) to have a special dinner you prepared. Seven comes and goes – no spouse. You may immediately wonder "Why are they blowing this off?" and get angry. Alternatively, you may think "Were they in an accident?" and get worried. Stephen Covey advised us to "Seek first to understand before being understood." All this person knows for certain is that the spouse is not present at the agreed-to time. Anything beyond that is a mental production completely written, produced, and directed in one’s own mind.

What does this have to do with organizational change? As you announce your change, you may want to anticipate the full spectrum of questions people may ask themselves about this change. This might range from "Who does this guy think he is?" or "What are they taking away from me this time?" to "How can I help make this happen?"

Help people focus on asking healthier questions about the change. One tactic is a FAQ page where you can diffuse some of the negative thinking by asking and answering some of the "elephant in the room" questions many change agents try to avoid. Help frame up a positive "What’s in it for Me?" perspective that can counteract some of the junk questions flying through the collective unconscious.

We can also use this in our daily lives. The first thought to enter our heads is not necessarily the best thought we might have! Happy thinking!