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Let's talk about 'adoption creep'

In my workshops on new ways of working, I recently experimented with an activity that has yielded surprisingly positive results. I was curious to see where a discussion on the volume of change we adopt would take us, and I soon discovered it was worth repeating. And so, I started to name this rate of adoption of new practices in our personal and professional lives ‘adoption creep’.

Here’s how it goes…

In the session, we typically talk about buzz words around new and agile ways of working, the pace of change and then I open the activity, with this question:

What are you doing or using now, either in your personal or professional life, that you weren’t using or doing 10-15 years ago?

And you can’t imagine your life without it now?

The participants write one idea per post-it note so we can see the full scope of adoption and sort their suggestions into themes later.

Aligned with the principles of positive psychology, by asking to identify an integral part of our lives, we shift the focus to what’s made a positive impact. It forces us to reflect on our capacity to adopt and adapt. If we can absorb so much ‘creep’, surely we can take on more obvious bursts of change?

Overall, by opening a meaningful conversation on how we adopt so much, with little or no resistance, reminds us how adaptive we really are.

The themes

Over a few sessions, key themes emerged and are captured in this image. I’m sure this list isn’t exhaustive so I’m keen to hear of others!

While we know that adoption is not created equal, with the early adopters, the laggards and the ‘in-betweeners’, we’re able to get a picture of the enormity of the change that has landed our way. You only need to watch an episode or two of the recent ABC program - Back in Time for Dinner - hosted by Annabel Crabb, to be impressed by the social change and new practices we now take for granted.

Lessons from this activity

Lesson 1: We underestimate our capacity for change / our own change fitness

One comment from a participant who said, ‘Wow, we really underrate ourselves as change agents, don’t we?’ really packed a punch with the group.

An awareness of the volume and scope of ‘adoption creep’ gives us confidence that we are extremely adaptive and resilient, given the right circumstances. With that confidence in our capacity, we can explore firstly, what creates those conditions for receptiveness, and secondly, how can we create the same conditions for workplace change?

Lesson 2: It springboards co-creation

By asking employees how they have responded to incremental change in the past, helps them understand how and why they adopt easily. This opens a conversation about what will help them adopt workplace change; and how they can co-create a positive experience.

It engages them in what success looks like, giving them a positive view of the new world. The key benefit for change practitioners is that we gain insights into what a desired future state looks like from a user’s perspective.

It opens the question - how can we help you adopt change easily at work? It’s happening all the time - we can do this together. This approach legitimises a discussion about what they think, how they feel and can anchor it to the positive adoption narrative that is taking place largely in their personal lives.

Lesson 3: Helps reframe our language

We know that small shifts in the words we use when we talk about change can make a big difference. One example of this is when we reframe the language around resistance.

This activity reminds us that resistance isn’t necessarily a default response to change. Starting with the notion that change brings a range of responses, including positive outcomes, helps us plan for deep engagement, through co-creation and collaboration. If we uncover resistance as part of this conversation, we discover it as an outcome rather than an up-front assumption.

And in that discovery, we can also ‘unpack’ the emotional response and reason for that resistance.

Interestingly, the words ‘resistance’ and ‘fatigue’ rarely crop up. The focus is on positive language such as ‘change fitness’, ‘resilience’, ‘adaptive’ and ‘response’.

Overall, it’s insightful for the participants (and me, as a facilitator) to do a ‘stock take’ of the volume of change we’ve absorbed in both our personal and professional lives in less than one generation. It’s time to celebrate our innate capacity for change resilience and ‘adoption creep’.

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