23 May 2017 | The first question comes at the beginning of “Scaling Up Excellence” is how to define an excellence or where to start? One needs to be patient until Chapter Three where Sutton & Rao give the answer.
The nineteenth-century American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The ancestor of every action is a thought ,” while his contemporary, British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli quipped, “Thought is the child of action.”
The question of whether beliefs are largely the causes or consequences of behavior has key implications for scaling up change. Many studies show, as Emerson would have it, that first altering people’s beliefs via persuasive and emotionally charged slogans, stories, and arguments induces behavior change.
Other studies, as Disraeli contended, find it is best to start by changing behavior no matter what people believe. In other words, what they do shapes their thoughts and emotions. These studies show that regardless of initial convictions, when people are enticed to behave in concert with some belief (for example, by arguing a point of view they don’t believe or volunteering to eat a food they dislike), they often change beliefs to match their behavior to avoid seeing themselves—and being seen by others— as hypocrites.
Given this controversy, where is the best place to start a scaling effort? Our research suggests that the answer is anyplace you can. While arguments will persist over whether it is most effective or logical to first change beliefs or behavior, the two strategies are mutually reinforcing. So, as a practical matter, you can stoke the scaling engine by targeting beliefs, behavior, or both at once. The key is creating and fueling a virtuous circle.