Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The See-saw Principle

The See-Saw Principle is how I look at facilitating change, whether it’s a personal conversation or a business meeting of some kind. Folks of a certain age remember see-saws or teeter-totters, as they were sometimes called, in playgrounds. I think they have largely disappeared because there was such great potential for injury – a simple board balanced across a fulcrum – usually a long bar with a series of teeter-totters mounted. Kids would sit on either side, roughly balancing each other, and push with legs, to see-saw up and down. Jumping off suddenly was the potential for injury – dropping your partner suddenly onto the ground with a bone-jarring thud!

The See-Saw Principle is simple, based on that image of the balancing lever, tilting up and down:

1. A see-saw balanced evenly takes very little pressure to start it tipping.

2. Too much pressure makes the board slam into the ground and rebound up, smacking you in the chops on the way to the opposite tilt.

To explain how this works in facilitating change, just imagine a faculty or staff meeting where no strong opinions either way have been voiced. A small comment will likely be enough to begin tipping the see-saw one way. It also means that it’s better not to speak too often or too much at length. Your comments will have much more effect if you are rarely heard from, and succinct when you speak.

The second corollary means that either lobbying too hard, or too “big” a person speaking for a change may have the opposite result – the see-saw will bounce off the ground, smack you in the chops on its way to the opposite position!

Words to live by. Image courtesy of

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