Can I Change Your Mind?


Recently, I had a very enjoyable conversation with a group of successful, talented software leaders regarding Agile. More specifically, many of the topics shared underlying assumptions about the role of Agile to create structure in the place of chaos and align people towards a common goal.

As part of the conversation, we eventually reached a point where a question was posed (in my best paraphrase): “How can we measure a person’s effectiveness in changing people’s minds?”

I felt that all-too-familiar sense of discomfort and asked if “changing peoples’ minds” is a responsibility or requirement of a job, whether it be a change management role, team coach (e.g., a ScrumMaster), or anything in-between. Some in the group expressed the validity and importance of such a measurement; thus, I’ll explore a question within: should it be our job to change peoples’ minds?

If we make this assumption in our places of work, whether we’re directly managing people or collaborating together, the belief that someone could be judged “effective” at changing minds is a statement about the perception of human beings. In other words, if “minds changed” can be something measured, then people are not free thinkers, unique individuals, and complex creations – but rather a puzzle to solve with a “correct” solution.

As a coach, manager, product leader, or team member, if you believe your job is to change the mind of someone else, you are making a bold, highly transparent statement about how you see human beings in today’s creative industry.

Progressing along this line of thought, I’ll offer a serious risk to consider: what if we’re wrong? What if a human mind is “successfully” changed only to discover that, all along, the thing in question is wrong – or not the best option? What damage must we undo to return to a safe, adaptive environment?

I bring up this topic primarily because it is a common question posed by an assembly of people struggling with change in complex adaptive systems – a domain that Agile is prevalent in. For those who have elected to use Agile as a strategy for thought and problem solving, placing an emphasis on “changing minds” is potentially a misfire on the first Agile value, “individuals and interactions, over processes and tools”. Thinking we can (or should) change the mind of someone objectifies them as a resource or a tool; something that we can use to “do a job”.

Instead, the most basic of change management respects the feelings and needs of those changed. Rather than focus on changing minds, create the environment that makes changing minds possible – in whatever way nourishes the behaviors associated with the new “thing”. It’s less important to achieve the “thing” (i.e., fit a narrative of what you personally believe should happen), focusing instead on meaningful steps towards a new destination. It’s important to reiterate that, even if the environment changes, people will change at their own pace of self-discovery and it likely won’t be a positive linear relationship!

How do you measure the effectiveness of creating this environment? That’s a better topic for conversation, in my opinion, and one that I will need to write about soon. For now, we can start with the realization that any measurement, should one exist, will exclude the actual number of “minds changed”.

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