One man’s meat is another man’s poison

Something that works for you might not work for me.

Let me give you a couple of examples to make my point.

In August 1830, Victor Hugo was facing an impossible deadline. Twelve months earlier he had made an agreement with his publisher to have finished a new book titled, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Instead of writing the book, Hugo spent the next year doing anything else but. His publisher, frustrated by the lack of progress, responded by telling Hugo he had to finish the book by February 1831 – less than six months away.

To try and get the book finished Hugo developed a unique strategy. He collected all of his clothes and locked them away. He was left with nothing to wear except a large shawl. Hugo was no longer tempted to leave the house and get distracted. Staying inside and writing was his only option. 

The strategy worked. Hugo remained in his study each day and wrote furiously during the fall and winter of 1830. The Hunchback of Notre Dame was published two weeks early on January 14, 1831.

Here’s a story of someone else trying the same strategy with a somewhat different outcome.

On the 19th of February, 1982 Sharon Osbourne, wife and manager of legendary rock bad boy Ozzy Osbourne, was in San Antonio, Texas trying to do all she could to save Ozzy from himself. Sharon had to leave Ozzy alone for an evening and to stop him going out drinking while she was out she decided to hide all his clothes.

Ever the creative one, Ozzy just went out wearing one of Sharon’s dresses instead. As you could imagine the night didn’t end well with Ozzy getting drunk and being arrested for public urination (on the cenotaph of the Alamo of all places) and banned from San Antonio for the next 10 years.

There are no strategies for changing behaviours which work for everyone. Hiding your clothes might just help you to write a 20th Century classic novel or it might get you locked up, drunk wearing a dress.

As an individual, we must find the things that work for us. Yes, it’s great learning about what other people do to lose weight, exercise more, be more productive etc. etc. but that doesn’t mean those things will be the difference for us. They key is to experiment and take the things that work for you, and discard the bits that don’t.

As someone leading change in the workplace, the key is to ensure you create a number of different behaviour change strategies so as to increase your chances of success. These should include different communication messages, as well as mechanisms to appeal to different people in different ways.

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