Most of the time, people don’t really want to change the way they do things.

Even if a new approach could yield superior results, status quo bias wields a powerful influence on all of us.

The best leaders are skilled at creating a kind of constructive discontent which yanks others out of their complacency, and creates an urgency to act.

In this post, you will learn five key principles to promote progress and change among those who like doing things as they have always been done.

These principles are gleaned from five key resources, and are demonstrated through a story about a hut maker who revolutionised hut building in his village. The five principles within this parable will help you become more influential in instigating change in others, and supporting the effort and action required to sustain it.

Building Buy In: The Parable of Harry & The Huts

1. Understand Them

Everyone has a set of priorities and these govern how they filter their world. Take the time to discover and communicate in relation to others top priority (Telos) and you will gain their attention.

Harry was a villager in Ancient times; he had just come back from a long journey east. There he had learned from the great tribes of the sea a far superior method for making huts.

Upon his return, he noticed how ugly the huts in his village are in comparison, and how dangerous and inefficient it is to build them. Harry was determined to teach his neighbor Fred the new and improved hut making method, and gradually improve the whole village.

Last time he came back from a trip and tried to teach Fred how to hunt better, he simply shrugged his shoulders with a glazed look on his face. He clearly did not appreciate how superior Harry’s new approach was.

Harry tried and tried to persuade him to learn but eventually his persistence began to annoy Fred. Not wanting to test the relationship in case Fred got violent (as many villagers tended to) Harry decided to drop it.

This time, Harry decided to take a special interest in Fred and observe his behaviour closely.

As he did so he noticed that Fred tended to talk a lot about his family, he went to great lengths to make sure they are always safe and provided for. He also noticed that Fred’s oldest son was nearly old enough to begin his initiation into adulthood.

One day he asked Fred what he planned to teach the boy first. ‘How to build of course!’ Fred replied gruffly, without turning around.

2. Make Them Feel Safe

Our brains are wired to be on the look out for differences (which are perceived unconsciously as threats), emphasising similarities & common ground opens people up to you and your message.  

‘A wise choice’ replied Harry. ‘I plan to do the same with my boy, a man must learn how to use his hands so that he can care and provide for his family’.

Fred turned around to face him now, nodding vigorously in agreement. ‘And what would you say a good father should teach his son to build first?’ asked Harry.

‘A hut replied Fred excitedly, what good is a man who cannot put a roof over the heads of his family?’

‘Agreed my friend, a man who cannot shelter those he loves will find it hard to attract a mate’ Harry said, mirroring his enthusiasm. ‘And what sort of hut do you plan to teach him to build?’ he asked.

Fred looked confused; ‘the same type of hut everyone in the village builds of course, isn’t that the only type of hut there is?’

3. Entertain Them

Mirror neurons in the brain have evolved to allow humans to simulate experience (the key to learning), telling stories allows people to feel the emotions associated with an experience. The emotion centres of the brain control decision making and therefore heavily influence a persons actions.

Harry smiled and replied ‘until recently I believed the same thing, but on my travels, I learned otherwise’.

He noticed Fred looking on intently and continued, ‘Would you like to hear about how a great tribal elder of the East taught me how to build safer, sturdier and more beautiful huts? These huts were the most beautiful I have seen, and I noticed the men in this village who built them boasted the most attractive mates’.

Fred nodded excitedly, ‘of course, my boy would be the toast of the town if he was the first young man to build one of these huts! Please tell me about your experiences!’.

Harry told Fred of his experiences with the tribal elder who generously passed on his knowledge over the course of a six-month apprenticeship. Fred laughed as Harry recounted him how terrible his first attempts were and how the locals pitied him. Fred listened as he described the new luxuries that a family can experience within these new huts and how they seemed happier than those in any other village.

Suddenly Fred looked at his hut and back at Harry ‘would you teach me Harry?’ he pleaded.

4. Educate Them

Cultivate a culture of conscious practice, break it down for people and keep it simple, give small chunks of (the right) information and facilitate fast and targeted feedback.

To Fred’s delight Harry agreed, though he warned Fred; ‘the first hut will take some time’. The elder had explained to Harry the best way to teach someone is to first model the correct techniques, and then describe the process to the learner. Then support them as they practised themselves.

Harry explained that he would build his own hut first as the Model, and describe to Fred how to undertake each part of the process before allowing Fred to imitate his process.

Over the course of the next 6 months, Harry replicated the three-part apprenticeship process taught to him by the old tribal elder:

  • He taught Fred only the parts allowing the whole to gradually reveal itself over time.
  • He taught using concise, vivid descriptions that made it clear what to do, not what not to do.
  • Once he was satisfied his student understood, he allowed Fred to go to work on applying what he had learned.

Before Harry agreed to teach Fred, he made sure Fred agreed to first apply any feedback he received before reflecting on it. He had learned from the wise old elder that discussing the merits of advice given is essentially a waste of time. This is because the merits of advice can only be accurately assessed once applied.

As Harry looked over at Fred’s work, he gave clear and concise feedback that Fred accepted and applied immediately. Harry was surprised how quickly he could teach complex ideas as a result of not having to discuss every piece of advice given.

Harry, like his teacher before him was a stickler for detail. So he insisted Fred master each part of the process before he taught him the next part.

This frustrated Fred a little in the beginning, but because he received clear and concise feedback at regular intervals progress became evident more quickly. The momentum led to confidence and soon he began to trust the process.

5. Encourage Them

Feedback that draws attention to the process encourages people to seek challenge and growth in their pursuits, whilst drawing attention to the outcome creates anxiety and destroys confidence.

When Harry was completing his own apprenticeship, he asked the wise old elder how the whole village learned to be so good at building these huts.

The elder chuckled. ‘They always learn the right way which is as I have taught you, and they are trained to appreciate the process as opposed to the end result. Valuing the process makes the task enjoyable and encourages mastery, which is why the huts in our village continue to evolve and improve while those of most other villages stay the same’.

Harry took this to heart, so whenever he complimented Fred, he made sure to emphasise the process and the effort Fred had displayed. As a result, Fred began to take immense pride in his work and his appetite for learning and improvement became insatiable.

Soon Fred was truly inspired by building better huts.

One day, Fred invited Harry over for to enjoy dinner with his family in his newly finished hut. He was proud of his creation and the life he could now provide for his family.

Harry was impressed at the quality of his craftsmanship and the home was indeed beautiful. ‘Congratulations!’ he said to Fred, ‘your home is beautiful and your family must be so proud of your efforts and the time you took to master your craft for their benefit’.

Years later, Harry and Fred were sitting on the front porch of Harry’s home. From their view on the hill they see a village that was now the envy of all others surrounding it. Many people came to live and work there since the living standards the villagers enjoy is unparalleled.

Fred pointed out the beautiful cityscape and said to Harry ‘none of this would never had happened had you not taught us to build better huts. Thank you’.

Moral Of The Story

Instigating change in the way people do things is hard, but it doesn’t have to be impossible.

Practice and apply these five principles to get it done.

  1. Understand them: Frame change in their values to get their attention.
  2. Make them feel safe: Build liking and trust by emphasizing similarities.
  3. Entertain them: Keep them engaged, and bypass defences by telling stories.
  4. Educate them: Break it down, and speed up feedback loops to build momentum and belief.
  5. Encourage them: Create a mastery mindset by recognising and emphasising effort over outcome.