28 Aug Why I Pledged to STOP Posting Bad News
This summer I made a personal pledge to stop posting bad news on social media. I want to tell you why and show you how making that choice matters for us as leaders.
Let’s start with why I made that pledge. This summer, I found my social media feeds on Facebook, etc. overwhelmed with bad news postings: stories about melting ice in Greenland, dire warnings about how fast climate change is accelerating, whales dying from ocean plastic, elephants going extinct, mass shootings and on it went. I then noticed that most of the comments to the postings were equally grim- those of us who were reading them were feeling even less inspired to change things for the better. So, I made a simple pledge: I would no longer post the latest bad news, instead I would only post stories about people stepping up to try to do something about the big problems we face.
Now before you tune me out, let me tell you WHY I think this will create more change and WHY this is as relevant for you in your business as in society. Let’s first do a CHANGE 101 lesson. Human beings are herd creatures for the most part. It turns out that if you tell people that other people are Stepping Up, it makes them more likely to do so themselves.
So, whether it is bad news in your business or your neighborhood, spreading bad news only makes people complacent but posting stories of people doing something good makes us feel we CAN and SHOULD do something.
Fascinating studies were done in hotels trying to get people to re-use their towels to save energy. Turns out the best way to get people to do that is to post a sign in the bathroom that says something like “80% of the people who stay in the hotel choose to re-use their towels”. The average increase in compliance was 20%! It went up another 10% when you changed it to “80% of the people who stayed in THIS room.” In other words, all the signs about the world going to hell in a hand basket didn’t motivate people, but saying other people were stepping up motivated them.
The second thing is that from a brain perspective, bad news activates the most primitive part of the human brain. I will spare you neuroscience details, but the bottom line is that when we activate fear, it provokes fight or flee. Fleeing often means trying to forget the bad news, fighting means just trying to survive.
Most of the time, when an organization is facing bad news- the last thing we want is people running around in flight or fight. We want them to be creative, to find innovative ways to make changes, and it turns out that showing people how others are doing that very thing activates creativity.
Now I can read your mind so here goes. Whether in society or business, isn’t that the equivalent of putting your head in the sand? Didn’t Jim Collins find in his book Good to Great that one of the first things you need to do if you want BIG change is to “face the brutal facts?” And he was right…BUT! Facing the brutal facts is important whether it is climate change, plastic in the ocean or a competitive business challenge requiring a shift.
But rubbing people’s noses in the brutal facts doesn’t work. I have seen so many leaders spend several years reminding their people of the harsh facts, change or die, we are on a burning platform and on it goes. And once people get it, it makes things worse. Better to focus on the Burning Ambition- here is what it looks like when we take action to change.
So now I am spreading stories of people stepping up to make things better, to do something about plastic, climate, violence and I challenge you as a leader to think about this: If you want your people to do more of anything, start telling more stories about people who ARE already stepping up to do those very things.
Maybe you will join me in this pledge and see what happens. Thank you for your support in making the world a better place.