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‘Smoking kills’, or ‘Don’t Drink and Drive’ or ‘Get the Flu Vaccine’ are wonderful attempts to warn your fellow citizens of the high risk of a behaviour or lack of it.

Small detail, communication warnings are not great at changing behaviours. Not great does not mean useless. Nobody is saying don’t do it. It creates awareness, there is a moral obligation to warn people,  and some, perhaps many, will change.

But if this is the only thing we do, then a colossal  invasion of those warnings on screens, roads and towns would  have done the trick already. A million billboards perhaps?

The reasons why it does  not work, at a scale, are multiple.  People may not see immediate risk.  People like getting away with murder. People have their channels saturated and at the third time a ’smoking kills’ sign is in font of our eyes, our Protective Filters kick in. Zero. Nothing. I am a frequent flyer and suffer the safety instructions each time (and British Airways new safety videos are pretentious, silly and unbearable. Recently I looked in desperation to a cabin crew member. She smiled. Then, at the serving of drinks, whispered to me ‘imagine those four times a day’. OK, I am digressing. But my hypothesis is that the more frequent flyer you are, the greater safety risk your are as well, to yourself and the rest of the cabin. Still digressing)

All those push, communication efforts (‘World I’, in my book Homo Imitans and Viral Change™ programmes ) have limited power if not accompanied by a pull, magnifying effect (‘World II”) such as (a)  not many people around you smoke these days; your peers don’t  (b) most of your friends at the dinner party have arranged for transport post drinks, and (c) most of your neighbours  seem to talk about vaccines, done or not. Or equivalent. It’s social stupidity.

There is a corporate/internal communications equivalent of ‘Smoking Kills’ in our organizations. It reads or sounds like this.

Change is inevitable, get ready, we need to change.
Be customer centric
Behave like an owner, be an entrepreneur
We need to change our mindset in the company
Embrace ambiguity, be flexible|
Shorten your processes, be agile
The company needs to transform itself
We need to make hard decisions
We need a will to win
Too many meetings kill

So, yes, smoking kills.

Now you know


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  1. Scott E. Fahlman

    This reminds me of a spectacularly stupid and useless public-service campaign that I encountered a few years ago — perhaps even more useless than legally-required airline warnings.
    There was a company named (appropriately) Swisher that had the contract for cleaning many of the stand-up urinals in public restrooms in the eastern U.S. Their system involved using a little perforated rubber mat to cover the drains.
    Someone at the company had the bright idea to have “Say No To Drugs” printed on each of these mats. A well-intentioned message, but I always wondered how many people decided to alter their behavior after receiving this inspirational message from the mat they are peeing on.
    And, of course, there was no social reinforcement here. The custom in the U.S. is that you don’t talk to the guy at the next urinal. Eyes front!

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