Overcoming the Fear of Trains: How to Use Engagement to Make Decisions

Dave MacLeod

Remember the movie Hugo? The film depicts the magical moment of people seeing a moving picture for the first time. There is a scene in the movie that shows a group of people watching “Arrival of a Train”. They duck and dive as the train arrives at the station. They feared the train was coming right through the theatre. Such is the power of a never-before-seen innovation.

This scene in the movie reminded me of the magical opportunity—and the fear—that decision-makers can experience when facing the power and accessibility of the internet. The key to calming the fear is showing people that they don’t, in fact, need to jump out of the way and that online engagement is not a speeding, out of control train about to crash through a theatre.

Using ThoughtExchange, leaders can solve all kinds of problems by accessing many minds. When done right, participants enjoy the experience and leadership gains valuable insight into those minds. No speeding trains involved.

Engagement dissonance

Who doesn’t like being part of important decisions? Especially when the process is engaging and doesn’t require hours of endless meetings or arranging for a sitter. That said, there is a fear of letting participants have the power to submit and prioritize ideas. The fear is that decisions become democratic. When leaders consider the implications of successful online engagement they envision two possibilities. They see the potential results of authentically involving their stakeholders and are also overcome with a strong desire to dive for cover. This combined feeling is called cognitive dissonance and it occurs whenever we try to hold on to two or more conflicting beliefs.

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

 Fortunately our customers do possess first-rate intelligence because they consistently feel the fear and do it anyways.

Insight that drives better decisions

To clarify this using a simple example lets imagine I have five dollars to spend. If I asked my community of stakeholders how I should spend it, I would end up with a list of ideas reflecting their priorities, wants and needs. After voting, one or two answers would rise to the top.

But what if I don’t want to spend my money on the idea everyone voted for? Maybe I don’t want to buy a decaf soy caramel macchiato, even though that was the most popular choice. Just thinking about that scenario is enough to make anyone jump out of their seat. Who drinks decaf?

What if, instead, I asked:  What do you feel my spending priorities should be right now? Where do you feel I am putting too much of my resources? What future items or activities should I be saving for? Now I have a ranked list of perspectives that shows me the group’s sense of priority, concerns and forethought. Using these insights, I can make a great decision—or, I can begin to see where my priorities are out of alignment with the group’s. Either way, I have created an avenue for dialogue and I know more about my community.

Informed decision-making

When decision-makers understand the distinction between using online engagement to make informed rather than merely democratic decisions, they generally breathe a sigh of relief and say, “Well, that actually sounds really helpful and interesting. I do want to access diversity, involve more people and understand what my community thinks about what needs to be done. That’s the point when they realize that the train of online engagement is world-changing—and it’s not going to crash through the theatre.

Asking a group to “make a decision” is terrifying. Asking a group to “contribute their unique insights to a decision-making process” is valuable, mutually beneficial and, perhaps, even essential.

About the Author

Dave MacLeod

As the CEO of ThoughtExchange, Dave provides product vision, team leadership and well-timed jokes. He has been focused on supporting his team as they continue to grow the company to help more and more organizations around the world bring people together by leading challenging conversations about things that matter.