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ALL ABOARD

- 07 Jul 2015
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It’s going to be a funky train ride to the city.

Clickety-click on this short video. Watch the subtle dynamics unfold when the man in black cranks up his soundbox and invites his fellow train commuters to dance in the aisle with him.

The choice of music sure helps. It begins with I Got You (I Feel Good), one of the early funk hits of James Brown, the godfather of soul music. That 1965 single was his biggest commercial success. Then it slides into Rapper’s Delight, the original bubbly dance tune that elevated hip-hip off the streets of New York and into the 1979 song charts. That was a hit for The Sugarhill Gang.

The initial response of the train passengers is tentative – a few hands start clapping, some feet get tapping – but, one by one, people join in and the ride builds into a groovy, unforgettable trip to the city. The joy is infectious.

But the trip can also be seen as an allegory for organisational change, as people get on board and start moving to a new beat.

The guy in the formal suit and bow tie is the initiator, the brave visionary. He could end up looking isolated and a little foolish, or he could be a leader – if others are ready to follow.

The next phase is critical. The woman in a floral top, one of the original clappers, stands up to dance. Then the bloke in a purple singlet joins in. Finally, the woman in a grey dress can hold back no longer; she literally springs to her feet and joins the groove.

These are the early adapters, the ones with the most influence on their fellow commuters. They are signalling, by voice and body language, to all around them that this is fun, get on board.

The final phase is when most commuters are participating, either on their feet and dancing, or still seated but radiating smiles of delight. The gathering momentum is reinforced by those getting on at the next stop. They instantly join the groove or, at least, are happy to go with the funky flow.

This is only a simple allegory, but the psychology underlying organisational change has been analysed. Do you want to get on board?

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