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Looking for the 15%

Time is deceptive. We can move along from day to day, thinking that everything is the same as usual. Then we can look at a particular system or behavior to recall that it didn’t used to be this way and ask ourselves “how and when did that happen?” There are so many situations to choose from as evidence.

North Americans know, for example, that the banking industry has completely changed over a relatively short period of time. It wasn’t long ago, in relation to the long history of banking, that we would regularly visit a bank to fill out a little slip of paper, request a transaction to have it completed by a teller who would update our bankbook accordingly. Running out of cash on a weekend was problematic because it was necessary to wait until the next banking day to make a withdrawal from your account. It all seems so incredibly archaic to us now.

Our “new” approach to banking started with banking machines. But we didn’t simply wake up one day to find banking machines everywhere. They were introduced rather slowly at first to test customer reaction. Of course it is easy now, in the hindsight of time, to fully appreciate the freedom and flexibility that came from having access to 24 hour banking. But it wasn’t always this way.

I can recall, when banking machines were first introduced way back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, that it took some time for customers to appreciate their real value. Many people said that they didn’t want to lose the personalization of the customer to teller relationship.

Transaction fees for banking machine use clouded the issue of convenience. There was a fear of the technology. “What if my Personal Identification Number (PIN) is stolen” or “how can I trust the machine to actually give me my cash” were common reactions. So, after banking machines were introduced, it took a bit of time for their use to fully catch on. The banks continued to offer wide access to tellers until eventually, over time, the majority of customers decided themselves to make the personal change to use banking machines.

Nonetheless, even now, I know of some people that refused to make the switch. They continue to go to a bank teller once a week or so to make a withdrawal and manage their personal finances the same way that they have done their entire lives. This is their prerogative. But we also know that the rest of the banking world has moved on. In fact, the use of cash itself is now quickly becoming obsolete, with on-line banking and debit cards taking over the use of cash completely.

Several posts ago I referenced a TED talk bySimon Sinek who reminded us that 15% of the general population are innovators and early adapters. These are the people who understand and are invigorated by new concepts. These were the people who first chose to use bank machines when they were introduced, before the tipping point was reached and virtually everybody else agreed to change their personal behaviour because it became evidently safe and advantageous to do so.

We could react to all of this by simply suggesting that the banking industry was, and continues to be motivated by profit. But this misses the point. What would have happened if banking machines, and now on-line banking, had never been introduced? Would the banking industry have survived the inevitable demand from its customers to access a more flexible means to banking? I doubt it. And of course the same principle applies to public institutions, public policy and social norms.

As evidence of this, think for a moment about how the health costs associated with smoking and second hand smoke have led the relentless push for a change in societal norms and policy to dissuade the practice of public smoking. Anyone born before the 1970’s can probably recall that smoking used to be a commonly accepted practice in movie theatres, offices, restaurants, stores, etc. We can look back in amazement on how times have changed and wonder how we ever existed as our former selves. How strange it would be to suddenly go back in time and see so many people smoking everywhere. But this significant change in societal practice happened and now we don’t give it a second thought. But the tipping point in getting this change in behavior began with the 15% who understood and were motivated by the need for change.

There is no denying the human condition to resist change. Most people who have quit smoking will confirm that the physical side effects of nicotine withdrawal are only a small part of the process. The deeper challenge involves changing the personal behaviour that is associated with the activity of smoking such as having a cigarette with the morning coffee, after a meal, on a designated break or two at work, while speaking on the phone etc. But it begins and ends with a strong will to succeed, sometimes pushed forward or substantiated by the influence of others.

Obviously, we haven’t yet reached the tipping point of the 15% to move public education forward to the 21st century. By and large, education is still a 20th century institution. It is therefore a natural reaction for many people to question “the why”, despite all of the evidence available, because of the discomfort associated with changing behaviour and belief structures; fear of the unknown.

On the other hand, we know that the 15% is out there. These are the people who understand the opportunity before us to address this issue in a positive way to support the future and growth of public education. These are the people that are already sufficiently motivated by “the why” to move on to “the what” and “the how”.

Are you a part of the 15%?

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