Herding cats and behaviour change

My focus for the last couple of weeks was a presentation – Herding cats and losing weight: How to improve learning and teaching. One description of the argument of that presentation is:

  • To improve learning and teaching within a university you have to change the conceptions (the behaviour) of the academics.
  • You don’t/can’t do that by “herding cats”, teleological, top-down approaches to change. i.e. most of what happens in universities at the moment.
  • Instead you have to do something much closer to effective approaches to losing weight. The basic point of losing weight is for people to change their behaviour so that they “eat less, move more”.

Focus on desirable futures, at the expense of the here and now

Today, via a tweet from David Gurteen which points to this blog post – “Behaviour change, revisited”. The message seems to resonate with the ideas from the presentation, particularly the following

Meanwhile, we’re so busy dreaming up desirable futures for each other, that we don’t notice all the subtle changes that are going on around us anyway. And while we craft our master strategies, we don’t even think about the little experiments we could make to nudge the system and see what happens.

The herding cats folk are so busy focused on the “desirable futures” that they forget the present, they aren’t connected with the present reality and don’t even know what small experiments might work. More on this in another post.

This idea seems to connect with a quote I used in the presentation from Mintzberg et al (2003)

To allow ourselves to be pulled by the concerns out there rather than being pushed by the concepts in here

Behavior change models

The first post above links to a broader conversation arising out of another blog post. Some interesting points in the post, and especially the comments, about change and change management.

Included in the comments is a link to this blog post talking about design thinking, social marketing and behaviour change. It includes a slideshare presentation titled Introduction to behavioural design

There are some connections here with what I’ve been thinking of. Oh, for more time.


Mintzberg, H., B. Ahlstrand, et al. (2003). Strategy Safari: A guided tour through the wilds of strategic management. New York, The Free Press.

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