This website covers knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

Homo Imitans - The art of social infection

HomoimitansI received a review copy of Leandro Herrero's Homo Imitans: The Art of Social Infection: Viral Change in Action.  This is another installment in his series on the Viral Change concept. At heart, it is a unabashed call to people responsible for creating change to stop the stand-and-deliver mode of operation and look to creating the key underlying behaviors that are the desired result.

To create change we have to move people to a new way of acting with each other (behaviors).  The concept behind Viral Change is to make those behaviors infection: spread, copy, reinforce, and spread more.

The title comes from the wide body of research that shows how people learn by imitating one another.  In particular, it is behaviors that are imitated through an organization or community.  There have been a variety of studies that show people with good and bad health behaviors tend to mimic each other.  And the same can be found in organization.  When people model desired behaviors, these get reinforced by the people around - especially when that reinforcement is in the form of explicit thanks and organizational story telling.  Those same good behaviors vanish when they are ignored or opposing behaviors are rewarded.  Classic example: asking people to be collaborative (whatever that means) but rewarding people for individual / heroic efforts.

The book and writing are in Herrero's usual casual and comfortable style.  I thought it was more discursive than previous books - more information to set the stage and describe why he suggests that Viral Change should be done in this way.  That is neither bad nor good, just different and noticeable to me, having read the previous installments and expecting faster-to-consume segments.

As is typical in my reading, I draw connections to many other things.  There were elements of the idea of tribes in that people use behaviors and other norms to reinforce tribes.  This can be both good and bad.  Viral Change is looking for those behaviors that create the desired outcome.

I could see thinking about child-rearing: one of the refrains is that children need consistent direction from their parents.  Having direction that is unclear is very confusing to children.  It's confusing to adults as well.  Create clear behavioral direction and link that to your reinforcement mechanisms.

Herrero brings in the ideas of push and pull, which naturally makes me think of the Theory of Constraints work I have been doing.  I also think of the recent books by Hagel, Pull, and Denning, Radical Management, which both look at creating pull within organizations to move the organization in new directions.  Connected to this thought of pull, I latched onto Herrero's discussion of "what gets attention, get multiplied" when thinking about creating visual status boards for project teams.  When they can't see what is going on, it is difficult for them to know where to focus.  But when things are visual, the teams can have a different conversation about the status of their work.  Herrero mostly focuses on using stories to help spread the word and reinforce, but I think visuals can be quite powerful as well.

An important element of the methodology behind Viral Change is exploiting the network of people in the organization (or society).  And that then reminds me of many of the social network analysis thinkers, Anklam's Net Work in particular, as Herrero makes many references to the simple fact that work gets done through the network, rather than via the hierarchy.  (Yes, I know a hierarchy is a form of network.)

Having just finished the book, it was top of mind in the SIKM Boston meeting this morning.  The topics in the book seemed particularly relevant to our conversation.  The idea of you-will-do-this dictates came up over and over again. (They don't work, except in extreme cases.) I also liked hearing about "centers of excellence" that seem to get ignored or left behind.  This relates to some of the topics Herrero discussed in relation to moving the change from something simple and small to something that becomes viral.  It has to grow from a small cluster to more and more of those clusters.  Not one-to-one-to-one (Chinese whispers), but one to many to many to many.

There are many little tidbit winners throughout the book.  Too many to catalog.  I suggest you pick up a copy, if the above has been intriguing.

Respect your environment

Expand the duration - with task switching