Cognician co-founder Patrick Kayton discusses our unique approach to behavior change. And how it can improve your change initiatives.


Since 1999 we have built experiences that get people to think and act differently in a short space of time. Over the years we have discovered certain catalysts that have a disproportionate impact on changing mindsets and behaviors in organizations. We’ve come to refer to these approaches and their results as activation. 

Activation, like innovation, is both a process and an outcome. The process of innovation changes systems and products with the intention of creating something new. Something better than what came before. Whether it’s purer water, a smarter iPhone, or disease-resistant tomatoes. But whatever the case, the object of innovation is "things". By contrast, activation focuses on people. And its outcome could be more effective leaders, more creative contract lawyers, or more engaged healthcare professionals.

As a process, activation draws on a range of methods to influence the thinking, emotions, and actions of people. As an outcome, it delivers an audience that is capable of more than what they were before. This is because they are motivated, inspired, and enabled to behave in ways that help organizations get to where they need to go.

Until recently, we had written relatively little about our activation methods. They guided our work, and they were brought to life on the Cognician platform. But over the past few months we have combed through hundreds of programs to pick out the most impactful tactics we have used to activate behaviors. And we have grouped these tactics into eight catalysts for activation. These catalysts are design principles for activation, which we have found have an outsize impact on the hearts, minds, and habits of people. They are:

  • Meaning – People are more likely to get behind a change they find meaningful. 
  • Guidance – The odds of people acting in line with your intentions go up when you give them a Goldilocks level of guidance. 
  • Contribution – People are intrinsically motivated when invited to contribute to a change.
  • Actions – Actions, not information, get people to change. 
  • Commitment – Making a commitment increases the probability that a person will follow through on their actions.
  • Connection – Change is given a boost by enabling people to connect. 
  • Reflection – Any action turns into a valuable learning experience when people are guided to reflect. 
  • Insights – Change at scale is turbo-charged when reflections are captured and shared as insights.

Over the past few years, we’ve noticed that the language we’ve been using around activation has taken hold at our clients. Our stakeholders are realizing that bringing their people along for the ride in large-scale transformations requires more than a communication campaign or a training program. They’re starting to talk about activation instead. Probably because they know that continual, accelerating change cannot be achieved by change management as usual. It requires a method that respects people as individuals who have:

  • Unique knowledge and perspectives, which can obstruct or support a change. 
  • Deep emotions that can either power a transformation or resist it. And …  
  • The capacity to act together in groups that can either hold a company back or catapult it into the future.

To make it easier to use the language of activation, we are creating three new practical products. The first is a card deck of Activation Tactics. The second is an ebook: The A–Z of Activation. And the third is a book, Activation, which will dive deeper into our activation design principles.

Starting today, and over the next few months, we will be posting about the Activation Tactics on social media. Our hope is that you will use these cards, catalysts, and tactics to improve the success of your change initiatives. Here’s how they work …

Each card includes:

  1. A catalyst, which is the card’s category 
  2. A title, which is the activation tactic
  3. A story to bring the tactic to life
  4. Guidance for what you can do in your change program to apply the activation tactic
  5. A question, which you can ask, to apply the tactic to your change program

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Perhaps you’ll use them as a conversation starter during a change team meeting. Or maybe you’ll collect them to inspire you while you’re thinking of ways to hold the attention, fire the emotions, and shape the habits of your colleagues. But it’s more likely that you’ll use them in ways we don’t expect, and that’s fantastic. 

We would also love to hear your thoughts. So as we post about them, please share what comes to mind. You may have a story you’d like to share about how you’ve applied a similar approach. Or you may have questions about the tactic, or about a similar challenge you’re facing. Please don’t hold back. We’d love to hear how you think these ideas might be useful. 

You can access a digital download of the full deck here.