Why don't they change: What would make me behave like that?

· April 7, 2015

I’m starting to realize that the biggest advantage I, personally, will get from my three years in Indonesia is a lot of experience in change management, under some extreme conditions. As I’ve blogged about, twice, I am now in a culture where questioning is not done. It’s not encourage, not praised, not sought for etc. You simply don’t do it.

Again please don’t read that as I think that they are stupid or ignorant - it’s just their culture. There’s a lot of strange things going on in our culture too. Just step outside your own box and you’ll see it.

In fact; that’s what this post is about; stepping out of my box. A simple question that I’ve found very valuable for me to understand “them”.

Getting to the point

First let’s get back to my intro a bit. I think that everything I’ve seen here in Indonesia that puzzled me can be found in some regard in Sweden where I usally work. But here it’s more extreme.

  • Here we might say ‘Please don’t question the process’ whereas in Sweden this is hinted and implied, wrapped in smooth formulations.
  • Here we don’t question decisions from “senior” people. In Sweden we do… but maybe not so that they hear it. Or in ways that still not challenge them to much. Or in some places we do… knowing that it will be ignored
  • Here we follow the procedure as it’s written without asking a single question. In Sweden we “do as we always have done - it’s easier”
  • Here we do things knowing that it’s stupid “because it says so”. In Sweden we do things knowing it’s stupid “because otherwise it will just take a lot of time”

And so on. Of course I can only speak for Swedes and the few, of a the many many Indonesian people I’ve interacted with. But I think you can find things in your culture that fits into these examples.

The point is; cultural differences is present everywhere. In some places / organizations / countries they are easier to spot than in others. But they are there.

Back to the point

Ok, one day when I was particularly confused about “them” not doing what I wanted, I went for a walk. I think in this case I could not get “them” to see the benefits of having a clear goal or vision for their work. To me that’s a no-brainer; without a goal - how do you know where you’re going? But I just could not get the answers I wanted out of them. (hmmm… whose answers did I want here… #antoherPost)

As I was walking I remembered a great question from Dan North:

What has to be true for them to behave like this?

Sadly, this time I was stumped. The cultural differences was too big. I couldn’t understand what had to be true for them.

The point

So I tried this instead:

What would they have to say to me that would make me behave like they are now?

Their reactions:

  • arms crossed
  • looking grumpy
  • saying Yes - doing No
  • looking “Yeah, you keep talking… we’ll do it our own ways”
  • Utterly surprised and chocked; “How can you even say things like that? Is that safe?”

What would make me do things like that? Maybe if they said “You need to smoke a pack of cigarettes per day - then your effectiveness will be awesome” or “Waterfall projects! That’s proven greatly effective! Here is why” or “Use stones and a hammer to write your emails”…

I’ve found that I can use whatever stupid example I could come up with, just to make me “feel” like they feel.

Then I ask myself;

What would someone have to say to me in order to for me to move closer to that "stupid thing"?

Now, here’s where it get interesting. If someone told me that “smoking is better”; what do they have to do for me to “get” that? Is it better? Who would I know / can I tell?


I’ve found this reasoning very helpful for me to come up with alternative ways to formulate my goal. Sometimes step away from “my” goal and let them come up with “their” goal instead. Generally I find it very refreshing (read: a little painful) to shift perspective like this.

Try it in your culture if you want to. If you dare it will open new thoughts to you. Promise.

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