Changing the world with Heat AND Light

A balanced approach to social change

On a recent MindGym webinar on The Future of Inclusion, I had a big a-ha moment, when they introduced their model of persuasion for changing behavior based on the work of Prof. Dolly Chugh.

Chugh’s model defines two approaches for pursuing social change: light and heat.  

Pursuing change through light-based means, puts the comfort of the target audience as a high priority. It aims to meet people where they are, recognizing that making people too uncomfortable will cause them to resist your message. It takes the time to educate, using factual, descriptive language, and a framing that focuses on our shared humanity. 

Pursuing change through heat-based means is specifically designed to make the target audience uncomfortable and to force acknowledgment of the problems and the need for change. It confronts the issue straight on, recognizing the subtlety may lead to a complacent response. It uses more emotive, visceral language and doesn’t shy from actions like protest and civil disobedience. 

One of Chugh’s most important insights from her research was that:

When historians study social-justice movements, they find that movements that only have heat or only have light tend to not make as much progress. Successful movements have both a more moderate and a more radical flank, if you will.

When I reflected on my own change strategy through this lens I noticed that I’m leaning more heavily towards the light-based approach. This also explained why I viewed heat-based strategies as less effective and, in some cases, moving us backward, even when we were all striving for the same social outcome. 

Shifting my perspective from looking at those strategies as an either-or choice to a both-and polarity, allowed me to recognize the importance of a combined strategy: too much light and not enough heat leads to complacency. Too much heat and not enough light leads to backlash and resistance. Effective social change requires a healthy mix of both. 

Changing the world with Heat AND Light

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