What You See Depends Upon Where You Look

Dec 02, 2012 No Comments by

I love pineapple upside down cake. If you’re a pineapple fan and you haven’t tried it, you need to. When it’s done right, there are few better desserts on the planet. To satisfy my sweet tooth, I plan to bake one of these beauties the next time I have a bit of time and access to my kitchen.

We typically make this dessert using our own in-house recipe, but just for kicks, this time I did a quick web search for new recipes and found some surprisingly different results based on where I looked.

The variance in these search results reminded me of a rule of thumb that Change Agents should apply as they plan for their change and as they go through the work of handling resistance, building support and promoting adoption of their change:

Change Agent Tip #57: What you see depends upon where you look.

Twenty years ago I was considered a nerd for knowing the meaning of the words “googol” and “googolplex”. Today the word “Google” is synonymous for “search”, so I started my hunt for a new cake recipe at google.com. I entered “pineapple upside down cake” and I got these results:

Not surprisingly, the top result is an advertisement, followed by three sponsored links. There’s a reason why Google is one of biggest money-making enterprises on the web. They return the results that their primary (bill-paying) customers ask them to return.  Their Accounts Receivable department would consider me a secondary customer.  After all, searching on Google is free for me.

Here’s what I got when I searched for “pineapple upside down cake” on another site I visit a lot – one of the web’s biggest retail sites, Amazon.com:

Notice how the results are completely related to selling products that could help me bake the cake, but that’s to be expected since selling things is the expressed purpose of the site.

Not to beat the point to death, but even more useless to my endeavor was this search result from global shipper UPS.com:

The point of these first three searches:

Change Agent Tip #58: Just because you can search for data in the places you are used to searching for data, doesn’t make them the right places to look.

Knowing what I know about each search engine’s motivations informs me that I need to either browse more deeply through the results, skip the source entirely or refine my search if I want to find the data I’m looking for.

Maybe I should add terms like “recipe” or “new recipes” to get more useful information…

Pinterest might be a better website for stuff like this. Take a look at the results I got with the same search for “pineapple upside down cake” on this popular social sharing site:

Yumbo! I actually got a ton of great ideas from real live people who had tried their specific recipe and wanted to tell the world how good it was. Each entry came complete with beautiful pictures of the recipe’s results, so I could decide with very little effort what looked most enticing and most useful to me.

I got hungrier with each click. There were several variations on the pineapple upside down cake theme that did not involve baking… but these distractions were easy to ignore based on the pictures.

Hmmm: I noticed that I didn’t get any sponsored links and I didn’t get any ads when I searched on Pinterest. One reason for this is because they don’t use advertising (yet) so the searcher/browser’s interests motivate Pinterest’s business model.  I felt like their primary customer.

Time will tell if the Pinterest business model will eventually make money. For now it’s safe to say they have built an incredible following very quickly by meeting the needs of their primary customers. OBTW: Check out this recent profile of Pinterest found Ben Silbermann in Fast Company magazine for more info.

Back in the Kitchen: What does my recipe search mean for Agents of Change?

It means that you have to consider where you’re looking when searching for data related to these three “pivot points” of change:

  • support for your change,
  • indications of successful change adoption
  • resistance to your change.

For Example: Imagine you’re guiding a change for 100,000 customers of the utility company. You’re introducing a newly formatted utility bill this month and you’re wondering how well it’s being received. You’ll get very different results by asking a few questions of these different stakeholders groups:

Direct Feedback – from Real Customers: You will probably gather some useful direct feedback by asking the primary customer of your new billing format to give you their gut reaction to the new layout. You might ask questions like:

  • Is it now easier to understand your bill or harder?
  • Does it give you what you need?
  • Is there anything on there that just seems to get in the way?

By asking your primary impacted stakeholders some direct questions, you’ll get feedback on all three pivot points listed above. Just be careful not to over-react to one or two irate customers if their experience is not representative of the broader audience.

Trends in the Data – from Field Representatives: Because they’re exposed to the direct feedback of many utility customers, those who answer the phone when people call in to ask questions about the new billing format will be able to offer trending information about how well the change is being accepted.

Imagine being able to know which areas of the new bill are causing the most confusion and which new features are most appreciated. The team can counter or reinforce these trends based on which responses would have the most positive impact on support, resistance or adoption.

Caveat: This category of change-related data has the built-in weakness of ignoring individual responses in favor of the bigger picture. I advise Change Agents to be careful not to let individual voices get lost in the pie charts, info graphs and blanket responses to the summarized trends!

Decisions on How to React – from Company Management: The ultimate authority for how the team will react to the individual feedback and the trends around support, adoption and resistance will come from the highest levels of the organization. Unfortunately, their view of how things are really going on the ground may be limited simply because their daily work doesn’t place them in the same circles as customers and customer-facing reps.

These stakeholders also have the key sponsorship task of ensuring that the change stays aligned with strategic goals and that appropriate resources are applied to ensure successful change implementation. (Think: “We have to get this all done, but can’t afford to make everyone happy.”)

I have also noticed that these folks are often highly-motivated for things to go well and that management styles may be overly optimistic or risk-averse, so leadership decisions need to be informed by the other two data sources.

I always advise Executive Change Agents to check their wishful or gloomy hunches against some real data from impacted customers and verified trends from Field Representatives.

Summary: Where Change Agents look for signs of resistance or support for their change or indications of successful change adoption can say a lot about how accurate the data they collect will be.

Looking for real data about change adoption or resistance by talking exclusively with company leadership is about as useful as searching UPS.com or Amazon.com for a fresh pineapple upside down cake recipe. The same can be said for spending the entire project budget trying to please one angry customer. (I once had an executive sponsor who called these folks “pickle-suckers.. but that’s a topic for another post….)

As with most things Change Agents are asked to do, the secret is balance.

Getting down in the weeds can yield great detailed data, but the urge to over-react to a few people with their hair on fire must be tempered. Gathering trends can provide useful insight as well – as long as Change Agents balance these results with the plight of individual stakeholders and the needs of the broad organization.

Helping management see the true value within each data source and prioritize resources to best meet strategic outcomes for the change is the ultimate balancing act.


Questions for Chatter:

  1. What happens if leaders choose to ignore the trends of change resistance & adoption and focus too much on a few positive or negative outlier cases from the field?
  2. What’s the opposite effect if management chooses to ignore vocal individuals and focus only on the trends?


Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Stakeholder Readiness, Team Dynamics

About the author

I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!
No Responses to “What You See Depends Upon Where You Look”

Leave a Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.