Why knowledge doesn’t change behaviour

Jerry Sternin, a pioneer in positive deviance (we’ll explore this in more detail in a future blog post), famously said, “Knowledge doesn’t change behaviour.”

I think it’s fair to say that in the agricultural world we know this to be all too true. It doesn’t matter how many times we repeat science-tested, black and white facts to consumers, at best it falls on deaf ears and at worst it doesn’t change their opinions (behaviour) at all.

Why doesn’t knowledge change behaviour?

And how can you change that?

Knowledge doesn’t change behaviour in most cases because as Chip and Dan Heath explain in their book ‘Switch’, everyone has an emotional Elephant side and a rational Rider side.

Our first instinct, in most change situations (that is, when you are trying to get someone to change their behaviour e.g.: to look upon agriculture in a more enlightened way or at least change how they approach the way they gather and assess information about the industry) is to offer up data to people’s rational Riders.

But as the brothers continue to explain, “Any successful change requires a translation of ambiguous goals into concrete behaviours. In short, to make a switch you need to script the critical moves and shape the path your Elephant and Rider should be on.

Survival Tip

You need to understand what motivates people to think and act the way they do. Then, you can take that knowledge and find the most successful way to direct them to the right path, providing ample signs and directions (i.e.: the right information, framed in the correct manner) along the way to keep them on the right path.

Furthermore, one of the easiest ways to bring about behavioural change is to speak to people’s feelings.

Our instinct is to always try and teach people something, but as Chip and Dan sum up, “When people fail to change, it’s not usually because of an understanding problem. Trying to fight inertia and indifference with analytical arguments is like tossing a fire extinguisher to someone who’s drowning: the solution doesn’t match the problem.”

If you want to dissolve resistance to and encourage engagement in your conversations, present your thoughts as clearly as possible, along a logical thought path, while simultaneously finding a way to pluck at the emotional heart strings.

Change the path and you’ll change the behaviour.

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