Leaders increase effectiveness by changing things up

posted in: Communication 2

I’ve been reading about the Adaptation Principle. This can take on many forms depending on the venue (it’s very popular in exercise physiology), but in organizations it goes something like this:

When we get used to things, we don’t notice them as much. We also don’t think about their meaning.


When I was a band director, I had more success teaching clarinet players than tuba players. Why? The clarinet was one of my worst instruments – and I was a tuba major! But – when teaching clarinet, I had to think about it more – step by step. Playing tuba was comfortable and automatic.

I was talking to a sales manager today who pointed out the same thing in sales — if a sales person comes from the world of, say, restaurants, they’ll be more comfortable selling to restauranteurs. BUT – they grow more from selling to convenience stores, or nursing homes, because they have to think more.  Selling to restaurants was comfortable and automatic.

A teacher who ends every instruction to their class with “mmm-kay?” doesn’t really get a meaningful response after the hundredth time.  Comfortable and automatic.

A cashier who ends every single transaction with “have a nice day” might just start to get monotonous with it after a while.  Comfortable and automatic.   Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

So what to do? What action to take?

What can you do to grab attention from others? What “catch phrase” or routine do you find your people making jokes about? (I’m not referring to rituals — that’s a different matter.) Mix up your language. Instead of “mmmmkay?”, try “how about THAT!?” or “How does that tickle ya?”

What can you do to avoid getting bored yourself, with your own routine? What’s your “clarinet” or your “nursing home”? Get out of that comfort zone and grow.

What’s comfortable and automatic for you?  Consider ditching it.

Keep moving, keep challenging yourself to do new things, and keep using new words to catch the attention of others. Bonus points if you make them smile…

2 Responses

  1. Ben Matthews
    | Reply

    Thanks for ensuring that a “ritual” (e.g. traditions at work, class, etc.) aren’t the same as “things we just do.” Taking steps out of the CZ to make the CZ bigger is important. At the same time, it’s important to retain what’s comfortable for our “customers”. They need it and respond to it — and often expect it.

    • alanfeirer
      | Reply

      Yes! Making things comfortable for others is an important habit of servant leadership; it helps enable connection. Another important habit is to make things LESS comfortable for your own self — leaders must expand their CZ. By doing so, we’re modeling the value of such a habit to the folks we serve.

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