A culture of Life jackets

August 27th, 2015


life jacket

I was fortunate to be on holiday abroad over the summer and one of the places we stayed at involved a 45 minute boat ride to get there. The boat held about 50 people, had open sides and sat quite low in the water as we journeyed up a series of creeks in the rain forest to our lodge. We came from a wide mix of European countries, the USA and Canada and were all ages, shapes and sizes!

By the time we started on our first journey, we had all put on life-jackets and on every subsequent boat journey, everyone did the same, yet we were never asked to do so and there were no signs anywhere telling us to.

I was intrigued by what had gone on; it was a hot day and they weren’t particularly comfortable (or attractive!) and I saw other similar boats passing where passengers hadn’t put them on. So what had happened?

As we got on the boat, there was a life-jacket on the back of each seat. At first many people ignored them, sat down and settled down for the journey. Then the captain and crew members all put their jackets on as they chatted to passengers at the front of the boat and these passengers started to put theirs on and some of the kids got a helping hand from the crew. Gradually more and more passengers put their jackets on until there were only a few left not wearing them and as we were about to set off, they put theirs on too. From then on, every time we got in a boat, everyone donned their jackets pretty much straightaway. The pattern had been set.

4 things struck me about how it had happened:

Firstly – ‘walk the talk’, ‘be the change you want to see’, ‘Do as I do, not as I say’ – whatever the phrase is that captures it, the power of setting an example through your behaviour was definitely highly effective here. Remember – no signs, banners, instructions were used, just key people, who everyone could see, doing what was expected of everyone.

Secondly, they made it our choice and easy to do – no instruction to rebel against, no reliance on anyone else to make it happen – just the jackets neatly on the backs of our seats, not hidden away or waiting to be handed out. We could put them on – or not – when we wanted.

Which is where the third point comes home – peer pressure. With the majority of the passengers neatly trussed up in their dinky jackets it wasn’t long before the stragglers got on side and made it a full house.

And finally – the power of a pattern set. Every subsequent journey followed the same pattern, needing no reinforcement or sanctions; the pattern was already set as ‘this is the way we do things around here’.

So maybe the next time you want to change behaviour in your organisation, rather than spending ages getting the ideal communications strategy in place for it or worrying over how to launch it, focus the spotlight on a few key people exemplify what’s needed, make it easy for others to choose to do the same and let peer pressure do the rest.


Happy Holidays!



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