Activation: from intention to action

Updated: May 4, 2020


Everyone wants something more or different from life, maybe they want to be more qualified, fitter, wealthier, thinner, more successful or financially free. People have dreams and ambitions, goals and wishes. For most people, life might bring them a degree of movement in the direction of their hopes but for many, it won’t.

The Multiplex team is fascinated by this, by the difference between what people intend to do, and what they actually end up achieving.

Let’s take a look at these six birds, sitting together on a telephone wire.

They’re happy together, and for a while, there’s no rush to fly away or to find food, nor to make nests nor feed baby birds.

After a while though, some of them get restless, then four birds decide to fly away. How many are left?

6 – there are 6 birds left!

There’s a difference between deciding to fly away, and the action of leaving. The birds like us, are often held back from living their intended lives by a thousand reasons that act to keep them where they are.

This model guides how we support people activating through coaching and other programmes. It’s about helping someone or a team of people to access and create a different future.

Sometimes it’s a simple thing, when you take one step and a new future opens up. For instance, if you say hello to that new person in your work team, maybe she’ll smile at you and a conversation will start; maybe the conversation could lead to a date and then… who knows?

Change is often like this, a simple new behaviour can unlock a chain of actions that can change your life.

Our model is for activating more difficult change. It’s about how we support people to activate new possibilities for themselves and the people around them when their challenge is complex.

· For example becoming a leader when you feel like an unworthy impostor is tough!

· Losing weight is never just about eating less or moving more if you’ve been large all your life, it’s a really difficult thing to do;

· Becoming an entrepreneur when you crave security and structure is never about doing an online course!

Complex activation needs a different approach.

In our work we’ve understood that two underlying realities are at play when we support complex behaviour change:

First there’s a false sense that all we need when we want to make a change is willpower and the determination to “just do it!”. This might sometimes work with simple changes but it consistently does not work with complex challenges needing time and involving other people or the development of new personal identities.

Secondly there’s the difficult-to-accept reality that the environment is more powerful and influential in creating sustainable change than individual ability. Great leaders emerge when the time is right, or when the environment is right to support their vision and then they set about creating structure for their “greatness” to be felt.

We’ve worked with this idea of activation for a few years now and it’s based on our gestalt [pronounced: ɡəˈʃtalt] approach to change as well as a systemic view on how people and teams can find or create support in their environments.

There are four important aspects of successful change activation, they’re all tied together and they all need to be developed. Once they’re working at full power they become indistinguishable, all working to support the person.

Some of you might know what this is…

It’s a Mark IX Spitfire from the 1940’s and I’m going to use its propeller as a metaphor for our activation model.

Activation begins with a simple, well understood question relating to the idea… “what we are trying to do differently from the past?”

We’re looking for a question to unlock the power of the Spitfire!

For our Spitfire, the question is straightforward… “how do we move this aircraft speedily through the air? We can add some detail… “using our strong engine, we need something that creates low pressure in front of the airplane so the plane gets sucked along at high speed and reliably”

The activation question is our starting point but it often takes real work to define it. For instance, “I want to own a Ferrari” might be the young professional’s starting statement but after time with an activation coach his question could become “How can I be significant?” Or “How can I become a financial pillar for my family?”

Once we’ve defined an activation question that identifies what we are trying to do differently from the past, we start to develop each of the four blades of our activation model’s propeller.

Blade 1: Awareness

Our first focus as activation coaches is to slow the person down and encourage them to hold back from leaping to premature action. Everything we’ve discovered shows that unprepared action leads to poor results and over time, poor results end up teaching us that we’re no good at changing. Awareness is not simply preparation work in activation – it is a leading driver of change and as we encourage the “changer” to become more and more aware of her question, her resources, her habits, her environment and so on, she draws closer and closer to the movement that signals activation.

Blade 2: Values and identity

We can’t become what we don’t have the potential to be. The more we try to become something we are not, the more stuck we will become.

When someone wants to activate change, the role of the activation coach is to help them become aware of what that desired identity might mean for them.

The senior manager who wants to become CEO spends time with his activation coach and realises that his need to lead the business is less important, and a distraction from his bigger need, to lead his wife and grown children through the final season of her illness and her foreseeable loss to cancer.

Sometimes one activation question hides another, one that is closer in values and identity to who the person really is, or wants to be.

Values and identity are the bedrock of what people are and what they stand on each day. The activation process helps people remember their bedrock in vivid and precious detail.

Blade 3: Trigger

During the process of activation people become more aware of the triggers that are around them. Those opportunities that might otherwise be ignored but in the context of activation become opportunities to move forward.

Perhaps you want to feel better about yourself physically? Maybe your activation question is about one day being a nimble and playful grandparent and you are enjoying the process of drawing that possibility into awareness. One day your friend says she has joined a park-run club, she says how wonderful it’s been for her and that she would love to share it with you. She asks you to come along with her on Saturday morning, “no pressure, just come along and let’s walk or run five kilometres with some really nice people!”

There’s the trigger. Maybe you vaguely remember seeing a poster about the club some time before, but you weren’t primed to act. Now, your awareness, your friendship, and the simplicity of getting moving urges you to go along on Saturday morning.

Blade 4: Firm ground

Activation requires firm ground, context and structure. It’s impossible to get an MBA without going to business school! Business schools provide a structure and ultimately, a certificate!

Eating more healthily is difficult if you live with your family or friends who drink beer and eat ice-cream at every meal!

An important part of the activation process is to look carefully at the structures in your life that support your unhelpful habits, and then identify your current or future helpful habits.

Firm ground can support you when will-power lets you down.

Once you’ve engaged your awareness, you’ve made sure your values and identity are aligned, you’ve started scanning for triggers to support your change and you’re building supportive firm-ground habits, you have fired up your activation propeller!

And when the propeller starts to turn, each blade merges into each other, they become one thrusting mechanism of activation.

Activation is a full contact sport, underlying it is a hunger for change and for new experience. As activation coaches we know that while everyone has the inherent capacity (and often even the desire) to learn and change, not everyone will.

This activation works and we’ve proven it. But it is a mechanism for supporting movement, it must be driven by an engine and that engine is you.

Your hunger, frustration, desire for something new; your courage and willingness to risk… these can ignite your engine and become your ongoing drivers. Awareness and the other blades will help you activate, but you need to bring your engine (even if it’s a bit rusty or out of tune) to the process

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