To change what people do, you first have to change how they think. But change is like a trapeze. People don’t let go of the old bar until there’s a new one within reach. The problem isn’t getting them to learn something new, it’s getting them to unlearn something they already know. 

This shift in thinking, or mindshift, can be achieved in three steps:  

1. Get people to see that the rope is fraying: their current way of thinking is ineffective.

2. Get them to see the new bar: a better way of thinking about their situation.

3. Help them move to the new bar: let go of the old thinking and adopt the new mindset.

When trying to shift thinking, most of us tend to focus on the second step to persuade people why our way of thinking (or product or company) is is better than others. But we find that most people on the trapeze get stuck when it comes to the first or third. They can be convinced your solution is better, but they don’t think they have the problem or aren’t ready to make the jump.

Steve Jobs


Steve Jobs was a master of mindshift. He understood that his products were so innovative that people didn’t have a way of thinking about them. When he introduced a new product, he didn’t focus on the features and benefits. Instead, he gave people a new way to think about the technology. By selling a new mental model, he sold a new solution.   

We can see this in the first Macintosh commercial from Apple and its famous 1984 “Big Brother” theme. Jobs shifted people’s thinking about computers from what it could do for you, to what it said about you. By buying a Macintosh, you were saying something about yourself: that you didn’t conform and could “think different.”  

Jobs showed us that the rope was fraying (the existing model of computing was turning us into automatons), that there was a new bar (a truly personal computer) and that it was within reach (easy to use and better designed).

A decade later, in 1997, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone. He began his talk by saying that Apple would be introducing three new products: a touch iPod, a mobile phone and an Internet communicator. Then he showed how the three products were actually one device: the iPhone.  

To drive the point home,  he presented a picture of how other companies might have combined these three devices into one—a sharp contrast to Apple’s sleek and elegant product.

In his announcement, Jobs attended carefully to his audience’s existing mental models. If he had just said “Introducing the iPhone!” and showed the product, they wouldn’t have known what to make of it. So he moved them carefully from the old bar to the new one, and made sure to show how the existing bar was now obsolete.

The “horseless carriage”

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Jobs’ technique had actually been applied nearly a century earlier. When motor cars first came into being around 1900, people had no frame of reference. So they became known as horseless carriages. They were like a horse-drawn carriage, but without a horse. In the picture below, you can also see that they were steered not with a wheel, but with something like a boat tiller.

As humans, we see the new through the lens of the old. If you have a novel solution, you need to give people a way to make the bridge from the old to the new. Give them a way to have one hand on the old bar and one hand on the new before you ask them to let go of the trapeze.

Exercise: Creating a mindshift

Think about all the elements of your narrative and the nature of your product or service. Where does it require your audience to shift their thinking? Keep in mind that the more you feel your product is original and distinctive, the more work you will have to do in shifting their thinking. 

First, identify where people tend to get stuck in the narrative. Do they not see the problem?  Not see the solution? Or not feel that the solution is achievable? Work on shoring up the weak spots.

Second, see where you can build your own “horseless carriage” to get them from the old to the new. For practice, start observing these bridging concepts in today’s digital transformation. Note that we are now adopting “driverless cars,” “digital wallets,” “3D printing,” “machine learning” and “bitcoin.” In each case, there is something familiar (cars, wallets, printing) modified to be something unfamiliar.

Up Next:


Next we will look at how to write up the narrative. In the last chapter you will get a simple test to know whether your narrative is ready for the world.

Go Deeper: 

For more on mindshifts, read "To Sell a New Product, Sell a New Way of Thinking" from Harvard Business Review.

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Banner image credit: Wikimedia Commons