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The Culture Code

Blog: BPM Insights - Rob Berg

I recently read with interest a new book, The Culture Code, by Clotaire Rapaille. Dr. Rapaille, a cultural anthropolgist, is at least partly responsible for several major marketing breakthroughs, helping to rejuvenate struggling product lines with innovative marketing angles. His approach to discovering the tastes of a particular market segment is most unusual. Rather than utilizing the typical “focus group” approach – where samples of prospective consumers review and opine on their experiences with or impressions of a particular product – Rapaille applies some real science. He uses “triune brain theory” – where study participants are led through three one-hour sessions, each dealing with a different “third” of the brain. The first session deals with purely logical impressions, and thus involves the cerebral cortex. Impressions on this level are generally practical, though, according to Dr. Rapaille, not by themselves good predictors of a product’s success. The next hour-long session deals with the emotions attached to the product or service, involving the brain’s limbic system. Impressions using techniques to access this part of the brain are apparently poor predictors as well. Rather, it’s the third part of the brain, the “reptilian” brain, that governs instincts imprinted (usually) at a very young age and provides what Rapaille terms the “code” for a particular product or service. Uncover that code and – voila! – you have the key to marketing a product or service. One example given was the marketing of Jeep in America. Working with a study group, his discovered the “code” for Jeep to Americans was “horse” – as there was a strong instinctive association between Jeeps and riding free in the West. One small modification to the Jeep – changing the square headlights to round (since horses have round eyes) – and product sales soared. Sounds crazy. But 50 of the Fortune 100 rely heavily on this man (and pay him handsomely) to help them to identify the “hot buttons” that drive sales. So, you must be thinking, what does this executive coaching from Engaged Change Solutions have to do with business process management?

Rapaille’s approach is simply a sophisticated change management technique. When dealing with consumer products, by unlocking the “code,” product modifications can be made to reflect that code and, more often than not, product sales respond favorably; consumers react (i.e., change their behavior) by purchasing the product. Similarly, since it’s incumbent upon anyone undertaking a BPM initiative to foster change among those who are asked to participate, uncovering the key to their baser motivations – the “code” for “selling” a particular change initiative – should prove useful. Why? Years-long work habits (read: imprints) often have to be undone. New technologies have to be mastered. Roles are frequently re-assigned and responsibilities shift as policies have to be re-written to reflect the new approach to work. The central challenge is selling the idea to those who must embrace the new way.

Applying Rapaille’s logic (and experience), one would do well to try to discover the “code” that amplifies process participants’ enthusiasm for embracing change. Traditional approaches to change management range from enticement (“if you do this you’ll be rewarded”) to threat (“if you don’t do this you’ll be fired”). The “three brain” approach of Dr. Rapaille provides a subtlety that eliminates the need to continually escalate change efforts and obviates the need for finesse in understanding those things that truly motivate a workforce.

Where to begin? The logical (“we’ll save money using this approach and you’ll get a bigger bonus”) and emotional arguments (“I know you’re good enough to do this and it’ll be a real feather in your cap when you get it done”) are typical but do often seem to fall short. Perhaps adding a third component, an instinctive one (promoting survival, freedom, connectedness, significance, etc.) is what will ultimately provide the key to consistently successful change initiatives.

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