You Are Here: The Intersection of Stasis and Change

September 8, 2016 Heather Hurst

Last month on the Workfront blog, we talked about change: why it’s inevitable and important, how to manage it, what to expect along the way.

This month, we’re talking about the current state of work: where things stand now, how we got here, and what that means for our future goals.  

These topics may seem like opposites at first glance—tips for managing change vs. insights into current work status. But embracing and understanding both is essential to being an effective marketer.

If you don’t know where you are now, how do you know what changes you need to make to get to your desired destination? The most detailed map in the world is useless if you don’t know where you are in relation to that map. Our upcoming State of Work 2016 report, to be released later this month, will serve as that essential “You Are Here” sticker.

Transcending the Status Quo

Even when you know where you stand, and you have an idea of where you want to go, it can be difficult to create enough momentum to budge your organization out of the status quo.

Why is this? Why are some companies so slow to make even the most obvious and essential changes?

In a recent article for MarTech Advisor, Workfront CMO Joe Staples offered ten reasons individuals and companies fail to embrace tech advances that would clearly serve them better than what they’re doing now.

The most interesting reason Staples cited was the “threshold” theory, as outlined in a recent podcast from author Malcolm Gladwell. Staples writes:

“Your threshold is the number of people who have to do something before you’ll join in. People with a low threshold aren’t constrained by what people think; they don’t mind being the first to try something new and different. People with a high threshold need to see enough of their peers adopting the technology before they’ll consider it themselves.”

Understanding The Granny Shot

According to Gladwell
, threshold is the reason that no one in the NBA will shoot a foul shot underhanded (aka “the granny shot”), even though it has proven to be more effective. One of the greatest foul shooters of all time, Ricky Berry, shot exclusively underhanded from the foul line, and his career average was around 94%. (For comparison, this generation’s greatest basketball player, Lebron James, has a career free-throw average of 74%.)

Berry tried coaching other shooters to adopt the technique. The legendary Wilt Chamberlain shot as low as 40% from the foul line during some seasons. When Berry convinced him to shoot underhanded for the 1961-62 season, Chamberlain’s percentage topped 60%. In fact, during the historic game that saw Chamberlain personally score 100 points in a single game, he shot 87.5% from the foul line—underhanded. But he stopped shooting that way, even though it more than doubled his success rate, because he didn’t want to feel like a “sissy.” His threshold was too high.

What’s Your Threshold?

Why am I sharing so many basketball stats in a marketing article? Because understanding your personal or organizational threshold level can help you make sense of why you might resist certain changes, even if you know they’ll be better for you over the long term.

Staples cited this test in his MarTech Advisor piece:

“Even though cabs cost more, they’re dirtier, and the drivers are worse, how long did it take you to be willing to try Uber? Or have you still not tried the service yet? The answer may have something to do with your own internal threshold.”

Are you prone to being a trailblazer who’s willing to champion radical change—and you don’t care what people think of you along the way? Or are you a person who carefully weighs options, waits out new trends, and watches for your fellow marketers to adopt the latest tech gadget or software before you’ll dip a toe in the water?

There are advantages to both high and low thresholds, depending on the situation you’re in. High threshold individuals are among the last people in the rioting crowd to pick up a rock and throw it—if they ever do. But again, knowing where you are on that map (“Your threshold is here”) can offer insight into why you or your team continues on paths you should have abandoned long ago, or why you fail to adopt certain changes that would be in your company’s best interests.

Your Turn

Threshold is just one of many factors, of course, that can contribute to inaction and lack of inertia. Staples has nine more where that came from. See which of them sound most familiar to you, then make a plan to enact a long-overdue change at your organization. These 34 change management tips are a great place to start.


About the Author

Heather Hurst

Heather has enjoyed playing the game of marketing for the past 15 years, at the agency and corporate level, in both B2C and B2B companies. She's run PR campaigns that took her from the MTV Beach House to NASDAQ and many media outlets and content channels in between. She is currently the Corporate Marketing Director at Workfront.

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