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Carol Kinsey GomanIn San Francisco, on the corner of Powell and Market, I once watched street performers entertain tourists waiting for the cable car to arrive and depart. My favourite “act” was two fully-dressed men who spray-painted themselves gold and silver. Posing like statues, they would kneel on the sidewalk facing each other with their elbows resting on a low platform and hands clasped in a traditional arm-wrestling position.

In front of the man painted gold, there was a gold hat. In front of the silver man, a silver box. They both stayed absolutely motionless until someone in the crowd put a coin or a bill in one of the receptacles. When money was dropped into the gold hat, the gilded man inched his arm forward – gaining a slight advantage in the “arm-wrestling” pantomime. Then they would hold the new position and wait. When money went into the silver box, the silver man would make his move.

All this was done in total silence. Neither man looked at nor spoke to the audience. They didn’t ask for money, and there was no sign instructing people about the procedure for or the result of making a contribution – yet, because they were involved in the experience, the audience understood almost immediately what they were supposed to do.

But what has this got to do with managing change?


There is a section of the brain known as Broca’s Area, which is a sort of filter for sensory input, sifting through everything we see and hear and read to separate the useful, the pertinent, and the unusual from the rest of what we can call background noise. In other words, Broca’s Area looks at all input and lets pass what is familiar and commonplace, but stops to examine what is novel or surprising. When something is described as having arrested our attention, the phrase is more than apt: some piece of input or information has in fact been detained for questioning.

Have you noticed that it is getting increasingly difficult to get people’s attention when you are announcing an organizational change? Maybe that is because change has become such a common occurrence that speaking about it has become part of the corporate background noise. It simply slides right through the Broca’s Area.

As a leader of change, if you want to grab someone’s attention, you may have to move from speeches and announcements to creating an experience (a product fair, a panel of customers, a “secret shopper” visit to a competitor, etc.) in which people learn for themselves that which you would have told them.

Carol Kinsey Goman, PhD, is an executive coach, consultant, and international keynote speaker at corporate, government, and association events. She is also the author of STAND OUT: How to Build Your Leadership Presence.

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