“You can’t make footprints in the sands of time if you’re sitting on your butt. And who wants to make buttprints in the sands of time?”*

Human beings are caught between two conflicting drives. On the one hand we endeavour to maintain some sort of status quo. We like to think that tomorrow will be somewhat like today. A steady state of continuity provides us with comfort and a sense of dependability. It’s reassuring to have a basis of stability and security; to know that our loved ones will be there tomorrow; that we will have a job; that we will be in good health and so on. Conversely, when we are in a state of little or no change we get bored. If we are not growing in some sense, be it intellectually, spiritually, economically or otherwise, we start looking around for something new.

What would you do if you knew you could not fail?

Given a sufficiently juicy carrot, or a big enough stick, everybody will be motivated to move. So the short answer to getting what you want is to increase the carrot-level or the stick-level. We are genetically programmed as human beings to avoid pain and seek pleasure. However, it is exactly these two dichotomous phenomena that cause so much psychological torment.

Change always involves some level of risk and discomfort. The trade-off is between the discomfort of the status quo and the potential discomfort of the change. So…

Change Momentum = (stick + carrot) – (risk + fear)

I use the words stick and carrot here not in the behaviourist school sense of rewards and punishments but as deeper feelings of joy or discomfort. The famous results of Ivan Pavlov’s dog/food/bell experiments were extrapolated to human beings in the 1930’s. The theory being that you can reward or admonish someone for a particular behaviour in order to stimulate a change. Get the dog to associate the ringing of the bell with food and it will salivate at the sound of the bell. Applying this logic to human beings is too simplistic and is now recognised as a fallacy.

Reward and punishment may lead to short-term results, but they do not work in the longer term. The deeper the sense of stick and carrot, the greater the motivation will be to sustain the change. The answer to the ‘why’ question is far more powerful than the stick or carrot of an economic reward.

Although I have never put it to the test, there is an unlikely but popular anecdote that a frog placed in a pan of hot water will immediately jump out to save itself. In contrast, a frog placed in cool water that is being heated slowly will stay put as the temperature rises a degree at a time until the beast perishes. With each incremental rise in temperature the frog thinks: so far, so good. People behave in the same way. We become so used to a particular level of pain that the incentive to move towards a new state of pleasure has to be considerable to get us to change.

Start with the why, with the purpose, the mission, the raison d’être and the rest will follow.

He who has a why…can bear almost any how. Friedrich Nietzsche

Get agile…get moving…today…leave some footprints in the sands of time..


Chris Martlew’s new book, Changing the Mind of the Organization – Building Agile Teams, is available for pre-order at amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, bol.com and other good bookstores.

*Quote from Bob Moawad, an amazing educator and founder of the Edge Learning Institute.

Photo credit: ATOS International via Flickr