Saturday, October 27, 2007

Go on a Carbon Diet: What the World Can Learn from Weight Watchers

Whatever else it is, Weight Watchers is fundamentally in the behaviour change business. It is a business that has been working for 40 years and they say they have changed the lifestyles of millions of people around the world. Now there are Weight Watchers meetings from Brazil to South Africa. And even where there are not formal meetings, there are Weight Watcher Meet-ups, like all over Mexico. This is becoming a global phenomenon all about reducing consumption and adopting a healthy lifestyle which is about more fun (activities) and less stuff (fuel).

Weight Watchers has come a long way in how it tries to get people to change their lifestyles, and how it supports them on this journey (and support is the operative word). They don't say "You need to stop consuming so much -It's really bad for you. Here are a few tips, now get on with it." They promote a programme that is individualised and incremental. But it wasn't always that way.

In the 1970s being on Weight Watchers was a hardship. There were very strictly regulated menus, few options (either on the programme or on the market), you had to weigh out everything on scales and keep strict track of sizes, portions, etc. Much of the time (although they said this should not be the case) the dieter was hungry. Dieting was equated with deprivation. It was all you could do to stick to the programme. And although the social incentive system was already in place - you got rewards for increments, group meeting were lively and supportive, there was weekly monitoring and evaluation - the effort it took to keep track of your consumption patterns would not easily translate over into a lifestyle change. To make matters worse, everyone's goal was standardised -your goal weight was calculated as though every person of the same height and gender should ultimately weigh the same thing. There was not much flexibility for the diversity (like metabolism, age, build, genetics) that exists in our human population.

Today, Weight Watchers has learned a lot about what it takes to help people make these changes more permanently, to have fun and feel good in the process, without the feeling of deprivation and hardship. The new programme is much more participant driven. There are lots of well-developed options throughout the programme (one option is a No Count option, that helps educate people to accurately estimate consumption - and it still works) and more fundamentally each person's goal is calculated individually. The support side of Weight Watchers is still excellent and has been further enhanced through various Web 2.0 social networking tools. Here are some features of Weight Watchers today that reflects their learning about what works :

  • People who are trying to reduce their consumption commit themselves to go to weekly meetings to join a community of others who are doing the same, there is a leader who gives ideas, tips and new information, and people share in conversation what they are learning in their effort to change their lifestyle. People help each other to achieve their goals. (Today there is also an online option, with vast internet interactive capabilities and communities.) Weight Watchers research shows that people who go to the meetings and interact with others are much more likely to succede than those who try to go it alone;

  • Each person has their own goal which is calculated by WW, and based on the results of a self-assessment. There is a weekly check-in and monitoring of progress to reach this goal. The goal and actual number is confidential to the member and the leader, but the rate of change is shared and celebrated, or advice given on how to do better next time;

  • Reaching the goal is not presented as something you do must achieve quickly through heroic effort. In fact, slow and steady is the recommendation, with just a small reduction per week considered to be optimal. The premise is when change is made slowly then it is more likely to stick. Once you reach it, there is another whole programme devoted to maintenance.

  • There is a culture of "You can do it" and the literature and language is all about Success Stories; the leaders are former WW participants, and everyone administering the programme is someone who has successfully gone through the experience and changed their behaviour permanently.

  • No one speaks of deprivation, as that is not thought to be motivational. And there is nothing anymore that you cannot consume; however it is about quantities, and trade-offs. If you want your chocolate cake, be prepared to make a choice about other things for the rest of the day/week. People are in control of their experience, and they still have an overall end-goal in mind, and a set amount of caloric energy that they know they can consume each week that will help them reach it. Weight Watchers insists that people consume their allowance each week, if people try to speed up the process then the feeling of deprivation might result in quitting or splurge.

Now if you thought of people's carbon diet, how would this translate? Aren't we trying to do the same thing? Help people who overconsume energy calories to reduce and maintain this? And to want to do it and potentially have some fun doing it? What can we learn from Weight Watchers? So many of our communications about reducing energy consumption is about Save the Planet, and guilt for overconsuming, and giving up luxuries that we cannot always imagine giving up. I think that messaging works for some people. At the same time there can be more than one way to engage what is an incredibly diverse global community, with different goals, aspirations, needs, motivations, abilities. Might such a programme, a Carbon Diet, be another way to help change behaviours permanently? I took a paragraph off the Weight Watchers website and adapted it - I think it just about works for me...

Who We Are- Our Philosophy

Energy Watchers has always believed that energy reduction is just one part of long-term sustainable management. A healthy body and earth results from a healthy lifestyle - which means mental, emotional and physical health. Energy Watchers does not tell you what you can or can't consume. We provide information, knowledge, tools and motivation to help you make the decisions that are right for you about energy needs and use. We help you to make healthy energy consumption decisions, and we encourage you to enjoy yourself by becoming more active.

To provide motivation, mutual support, encouragement and instruction from our leaders, Energy Watchers organizes group meetings around the world. Meetings members often become meetings leaders and receptionists, sharing the story of their personal success on our Carbon Diet with others. At Energy Watchers, carbon management is a partnership that combines our knowledge with your efforts. And trust us, your efforts will pay off! We help you on your journey by:

1) Helping you make the positive changes required to reduce energy;
2) Guiding you to make positive behavioral changes in your life;
3) Inspiring you with our belief in your power to succeed; and
4) Motivating you every step of the way.

Anyone want to join me on a Carbon Diet?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Embedding New Ideas in the Workplace - Carbon Care and Home Work

It is not always easy to get new ideas and practice embedded into an established work environment. How can we use existing "energy" flows to promote new ideas as well, and in the process help us change the current system?

We recently had a competition with a neighbouring institution, a large international conservation NGO, to reduce our institutional carbon emissions from transportation over a week as a part of a national awareness raising campaign. Our internal Green Team did the math and calculated how much carbon we all emit from our weekly commute to work, the other organization did the same. Then for a designated week, we did everything we could to reduce this. People carpooled, they took the train or bus, they rode their bikes, they walked. We did very well, but sadly we did not win the competition this time, although we really wanted to win.

If we do it again next year I have an idea how we might win. I wrote a post a few months back on technology enhanced mobility in the workplace of the future. I think it would be a great thing to experiment with for many of the reasons that are discussed in that post, however, there seems to be no immediately compelling reason to try it out. Maybe this is one that connects the existing interest of the institution to cut carbon and to win this competition in the future, with an interest to explore new ways of working. We could test it out first with a few "Work At Home" days where everyone possible works from home, to get used to this new work modality, and then we could launch a "Work At Home Week" that would coincide with this competition. If we did that, we could explore a more flexible work environment, get our technology tools in place to support it, and win that carbon emissions competition! (unless of course someone from WWF also reads this post...)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Can You Compare Great Speakers to Great Criminals?

About twenty minutes ago I was driving to work when out of the bushes and into the middle of the road jumped two Swiss Policemen in bullet proof vests, they practically stopped my car with their bare hands. They wanted my permit and papers NOW. My hands were shaking, and I couldn't think while I fumbled around to find my documents. Geez, I couldn't even speak and as far as I could tell I hadn't done anything wrong (I was even driving 10 km UNDER the speed limit at that point).

The night before last I was standing in Nestle's HQ in front of 25 corporate leaders there for a workshop of a network we are coordinating. For the first 5 minutes, a similar thing occurred, a blast of nerves and a random connection between my brain, speech and hands. We were prepared, everyone was there, and the environment was fantastic, no clues there.

It strikes me that good speakers and perhaps good criminals have this figured out. What kind of mind exercises can you do before you go to face great authority to avoid momentary multi-sensory collapse? It doesn't happen to me very often any more, I think my estimation of authority is changing as I get older, but when it does it is memorable and certainly something to work on.

It turned out to be a random police check (with lots of NYPD Blue drama added in), and the Nestle event smoothed out a few minutes later, but for that initial "Oh no!" send in your tips!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Walking Around with Nothing in Your Head: Getting Things Done

This was the goal set forth by David Allen at his seminar in London last Friday, addressing the 120 knowledge workers in the room (from IT companies, banks, company HR departments, and so on - mostly men, by the way) - how can you get all your tasks and projects out of your head and into a trusted system, and walk around with nothing in your head. He described this state as "Mind like water" (and showed us some martial arts moves to demonstrate his point) where you are able to make a perfectly appropriate response to and engagement with what is present.

Several things surprised me about the day long seminar on Getting Things Done (or GTD as the adherents call it). First was how incredibly popular it is among the private sector, especially in IT companies. I knew that David Allen was a consultant to many silicon valley enterprises, but I had no idea that Belgian companies would have GTD support staff, and software engineers worldwide were developing GTD compliant add-ons to various office packages. There are bloggers devoted to making GTD work, even Microsoft Office 2007 has functions that were designed to work with GTD organizing systems. Who would have known?

The second, related thing that surprised me was how completely absorbed the audience was. This was a full day, 8 hour seminar with a packed ballroom, and David Allen spoke for the whole time. There was very limited interactivity (he said at one point, "I don't do interactive stuff, this seminar is basically me talking to you." (only slightly paraphrased)) And the audience was rapt, the questions were incredibly detailed, "what is the average time to spend on your weekly review?" And this predominantly male, corporate British audience didn't even flinch when he stated that appropriately managing your commitments frees up attention for higher-level thinking and creativity and opens up psychic space.

The final thing that surprised me is how excited I got about this approach. I have already used it for about a year, and I learned many new ways to make it more efficient. Many of the tips and tools are very familiar, but the way to put them together, from the "runway" or day-today tasks to those which sit at the visionary "50,000 feet" level, this method aims to take in it all, organize it, and engage with it when the time is right - not all the time- so that most of the time you can walk around with absolutely nothing on your mind - open and ready for that next great idea.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Zero Your In-Box? You Never Thought it Was Possible!

I can't believe it, but I have ZERO messages in my in-box right now. Not only do I have zero messages in my personal email account, but I also have zero in my work email. On Sunday I had hundreds and hundreds in each. Now I have zero -what's the secret? Watch this fascinating google video and see...

This is a video of a 58 minute presentation (including Q&A) called In-box Zero by productivity guru Merlin Mann that he gave at the Google HQ in July. I watched it, I tried it, and I now feel completely different about email. It no longer rules (me). Mann's advice is based on David Allen's method and book called, "Getting Things Done" (or GTD for short). It seems that Allen's method has been heartily embraced by IT companies where knowledge workers, who are supposed to be creating new and innovative things, are apt to get swamped by endless everyday email and tasks. His method is about getting your to-do list out of your head, or your email in-box, and into a system that works to organize and manage it for higher productivity.

I have now read the book (bought the label maker), watched the video, implemented the systems now both at home and at work for both email and paper-based tasks. I am surprised to say that it works (you need to keep your maintenance up), and it is refreshing not to see those piles of paper on the desk, or hundreds of emails. I'm sure there are still plenty of tips that passed me by the first time. By sheer luck, I have a free pass to a David Allen full-day seminar in London tomorrow and will get to hear more about the method right from Allen himself. I will blog my learning when I get back.

What am I going to do with all that spare time if I ever do get completely organized?