Book Review-Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen

Every brand has a story, but does every brand tell a story? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Not every brand has a coherent enough message that it does tell a story. That’s what Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen is out to fix. The interesting thing about the work is that, when you’ve seen the root works it’s drawn from, there’s a sense of familiarity and clarity that makes you wonder what level of detail is right.

Hero’s Journey

Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey is a classic framework that’s been used for movies and stories. In A Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell explains that every civilization with stories have a commonality. These stories all follow a predictable 12-step pattern. I was first exposed to the idea by Nancy Dwarte in her book Resonate. Her explanation wasn’t perfect, but it was a great launching point. When asking my good friend Heather Newman for additional resources, she suggested that I look at StoryBrand as a possible source. While I don’t believe that Building a StoryBrand is the best framework for building a hero’s journey, it’s a simplified model that can make sense as a starting point.

It was in my review of Story Genius that I first wrote about the journey and the criticisms that it’s too formulaic. However, in the context of marketing like Building a StoryBrand talks about or, more broadly, for corporate communicators trying to encourage change, I think that the framework is helpful. Without a framework, it’s hard for someone who isn’t a professional to get started. The journey is sort of a paint-by-numbers deal: you know the basics of what goes where, and you use what little – or great – skill you have to paint those colors in.

Who’s the Hero

It was in a darkened room at a comedy club when I first heard that you should never be the hero of your own story. Early on in our training, we were taught that the audience should see you as relatable and not better than them. That meant we had to be careful to tell stories in the third person if we were really a hero. (See I Am a Comedian for more about my comedy training.) Donald Miller makes a similar statement about your organization’s brand. The hero of the brand’s story isn’t the organization. The hero is the customer.

If your organization isn’t the hero, then what is the organization’s role? The organization’s role is that of the mentor. Your organization is the helper who enables the hero to be great.

Clear not Complete

Many organizations develop solutions that are complete and therefore complex. Their products have the greatest features – but those features aren’t what people buy. They buy clarity. They buy what they understand. They buy a solution they feel they can sink their teeth into. When designing a StoryBrand, the goal isn’t to check every box and enable every feature. The goal is to make your brand understandable, so that people will feel okay buying it.

Clarity can come through a clear message about who your customers are, what they’re facing, and what you do to help. It can come from speaking in a language that they understand.

The Internal External Split

Embedded into the hero’s journey is the split between the outside environment, circumstances, and behaviors when compared to the inner thinking world of the hero and those around him. There’s a natural tendency for organizations to sell their products and services on the features that will drive external rewards. However, the actual reason that people buy is to address their internal needs.

Campbell makes the point that each hero struggles with their being up to the task. Every hero doubts that they’re the right one to accomplish the mission. It’s the meeting with the mentor (one of Campbell’s 12 stages) where the hero realizes that they are the one. They are intended to accomplish this mission.

Discovering internal needs isn’t easy. Clayton Christensen in Competing Against Luck (and many of his other works) describes the process of figuring out how to optimize products as the process of figuring out what job consumers are “hiring” a product or service to do. The famous example is the milkshake being hired as a treat for children in the late afternoons and a treat for adults in the morning. During the morning commute, consumers want the milkshake to last. As a treat for children at night, the goal is the opposite – to make it possible for kids to eat it quicker so the parents can move on with their evenings. It’s one product with two different jobs to be done – or two different stories using the same actors.

Caring, The Challenge, and Getting Married

Graeme Newell and Stan Phelps in Red Goldfish speak about how consumers are changing their buying habits, and they’re looking for more responsible organizations. They make it clear that you need to communicate the good work you’re doing in a way that employees and customers can resonate with. Miller makes the point that you must tell people you care – or they won’t know. I’m not convinced this is the case, but it’s never a bad policy to share that you care about someone.

The problem is that even if you care about them, there’s no impetus to action. They need a trigger, a challenge, a push into the world of resolving their challenges. They need to have that moment of conviction when they decide they need to address the challenges.

However, the challenge has to be such that it seems more like asking the customer out on a date – a chance to get to know one another – rather than a marriage. Too often, the calls to action and requests an organization makes are too large too quickly. They tend to scare prospects off more than draw them in.

Being Scared is the Salt

Salt is an interesting ingredient. The right amount is imperceptible. Having too much salt in food will taste bad. However, a lack of any salt will feel off. Many recipes don’t work without a pinch of salt. The use of fear – or the prospect’s perception of fear – as a part of your pitch is important, but, just like salt, too much fear can create problems and prevent forward motion. The goal in your messaging is to explain what they’ll miss out on without your solution and what the risks are and prepare them to be able to say yes – without pushing so hard that they’re turned off.

Fear can be paralyzing, or it can be motivating. The big difference between the two is that paralyzing fear is generally too much fear.

Transforming or Being Transformed

StoryBrand proposes that everyone wants to transform. I’d argue this is incorrect. What’s correct is that everyone wishes they would transform or be in the process of transforming. I’d also argue that the true sentiment is they would like to see that they’ve been transformed and that it’s in the past. Learning you have done the transformation is more powerful than any recognition you might see.

Not all writers enjoy writing – but most enjoy having written. Being done with something offers the sense of completion – and accomplishment. Done well, the process of writing can be frustrating, difficult, and seemingly endless. Managing Transitions explains that we want to have the results of the change – but we don’t necessarily want the change process itself.

We want to have a clearer message that will resonate better with our audience, but we don’t necessarily enjoy the process. However, the process of Building a StoryBrand leads to having a clearer message, and that can be worth it.

Book Review-Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain

I think, therefore I am. Reason never had a stronger advocate than Descartes. However, Descartes encapsulated all that is human into our rational thought, and in doing so separated the inseparable connection between reason and emotion – at least, that’s Antonio Damasio’s argument in Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. Damasio’s in good company. How Emotions Are Made and The Tell-Tale Brain both agree that the relationship between emotions and reason is complex. Daniel Kahneman expresses a similar sentiment in Thinking, Fast and Slow when he explains that our automatic processing (System 1) can mislead our rational thinking brain (System 2).

Friends or Foes

At the heart of Damasio’s argument is the belief that emotions can be helpful to rational behavior – that without the capacity for emotions, rational thought is robbed of its power and drive. Through the study of patients with neurological trauma in various regions of their brain and using neural imaging (mostly fMRI), his research led him to a hypothesis of somatic markers that inform the reasoning process.

The reasoning is basically that the primary emotions we feel shape the way we reason our way through problems.

Mind and Body

There’s a reasonable case to be made that what we attribute to our brains occurs more broadly in our bodies. Our hearts and our digestive systems both have substantial neurons. There’s direct imaging to couple patterns of activation in our brains to various emotional states and thinking patterns. However, that imaging doesn’t preclude activation in other parts of our body.

Given the electrochemical nature of the signaling the brain uses – and the apparent ability for the heart to reject that signaling – it’s not hard to believe that sometimes our bodies have a mind of their own.

Similarly, learning from the experience with those suffering from phantom limb syndrome and the treatments that rely on creating a visualization of the amputated arm, it’s a reasonable hypothesis that our brains rely on the constant signaling from our bodies to shape their processing. When robbed of this data, they sometimes end up in altered states. It seems like the body is our ground state – our frame of reference – for our thinking, and without it, we’re not in our right minds.

Hardware and Software

One of the tragedies of our modern society is that we vilify those with psychological issues. Those people for whom we cannot find biological defect are considered diabolical. Those with observable physical issues due to disease or trauma are somehow not considered accountable for their actions like those with mental illnesses are.

It seems as if we’ve developed the attitude that hardware (physical) issues are not the responsibility of the person but somehow software (psychological) issues are their responsibility. While this makes little sense, the prejudice exists and creates guilt and shame for those who are suffering.

Tabulae Rasae

The truth is that we’re not a blank slate when we’re born, nor are we fully written. (See The Blank Slate and No Two Alike for more on this line of thinking.) We’re born with enough preprogrammed in so that we can survive and a set of genetic factors that move us towards some ways of growth, but we’re substantially formed by the environment that we’re raised in. Adverse childhood experiences have a substantial impact on our adult lives. (See How Children Succeed for more.) Our adult diseases can even come from fetal origins. (See Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers for more.)

If Damasio is correct, then the pages are rewritten as our body changes, and our emotions are formed from the signals our bodies are sending us. If he’s right, then that is truly Descartes’ Error.

Book Review-Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade

What can you do to make people more likely to accept your proposals? That’s the key question Robert Cialdini answers in Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. He’s the same author who wrote the classic book Influence. His point is that the most successful sales professionals aren’t persuading in their actual ask. They’re preparing the person to be more receptive before they make the ask.

Trust

Influence has very little to say about trust. Pre-Suasion acknowledges the power of trust to shape the receptivity of someone – both positively and negatively. If you’re interested in trust, see my post Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy, Revisited. If I have one criticism of Cialdini’s work, it’s the limited weight he assigns to the role of trust in a situation – and the ability that we can signal others to trust us.

The homage he did pay to the topic was in the form of a story: a sales professional asked a couple if he could be allowed to let himself out, get something from his car, and let himself back in. This fairly innocuous request – they were, after all, home and had met him – subtly changed him to be the kind of person they’d let walk into their home. This was a nudge that made the difference in at least some people, as his sales performance demonstrated.

Closing Windows

Cialdini believes that many of the tactics he describes in Pre-Suasion have a limited lifespan. The techniques open a limited time when a person can expect a biased response. Contrast this with Influence, where he explains six factors that have a much longer lifespan of usefulness. The impact of being allowed to walk in their home may last for the current visit – when he walked in unescorted – but sometime later, that effect may have been completely wiped out.

As a result, it’s not just the fact that you were able to execute a move to shift someone’s perception but that these were timed so they could be effective at the time of the ask.

The Future Vision

The actions we’re asking for won’t happen unless we can create a compelling vision for the end state. We can’t expect we’re going to get anyone to move if they don’t know where the destination is – and how we intend to help them get there. Few people would start down the road without knowing where they’re going, yet when we try to persuade people, we often fail to help them see the vision we have and why it’s desirable for them.

Hope, as C.R. Snyder says in The Psychology of Hope, is made up of willpower and waypower. Willpower is the desire to see the vision of the future come to fruition. Waypower is learning what steps can be used to help us get there. In casting our vision for people and asking them to join us on the journey, we must ensure that we share both the destination and we must help them understand how they’re going to get there.

Identifying with the Change

If you really want someone to take action, make some aspect of your ask seem like it’s the kind of thing that people like them say yes to – even if you had to ask for smaller commitments to get them to focus on this aspect of their identity. If they’re civic-minded – due to identifying as that after an earlier, smaller ask – they’re more likely to respond when asked to do something civic-minded, if the ask is framed in a civic framework rather than a more generic framework.

Sometimes all it takes to create the connection is a question. You can ask someone if they believe they are some desirable trait – for instance, adventurous. Most people, when asked if they’re likely to have a desirable trait, will say yes. Once they have identified with the desirable trait, they’ll feel compelled to behave in a way that’s consistent with their newfound identity in the trait. If you ask someone if they’re adventurous, they’re likely to say yes, and if they do, they’re more likely to be willing to take a risk to fill out a survey, participate in an interview, and so on.

Desirable Difficulty

In training and development circles, there’s an awareness that the difficulty level for effective learning is a narrow band. It needs to be significantly challenging enough that people feel they’ve conquered the learning but not too challenging. It can’t be too easy, because people will feel as if it’s beneath them. The same is true of people and their ability to engage in the information. Dr. Erikson used to wait for times when a truck was struggling to climb the hill outside his office and would then lower his voice. This forced the person in his office to lean in and listen a bit more intently, subconsciously cueing them that they should pay more attention to what is being said.

When we cause people to listen a bit more intently, they’re naturally inclined to pay more attention to what they’ve heard.

Unconscious Awareness

Numerous studies have affirmed our ability to be influenced by things – without us being consciously aware of them. We can be influenced by a word or an image even when we don’t believe we are. The study of judges’ responses to parole hearings – where they would grant more releases in the morning and right after lunch rather than either late in the morning (before lunch) or at the end of the day – proves that we can be influenced by things (like hunger) even when we’re not conscious of it.

Sometimes, the ads we see are shaped to fly under our conscious radar but leave a sticky residue on our subconscious to pull us back to a website that we visited. The ads may seem repetitive to the trained observer and the creator of the ad; however, it may fly under the radar to the point where it creates an affinity, even if it’s not conscious.

One-Way Bias

Another way that marketers bias our opinions is by asking about our opinion of their products – and only their products. The detailed evaluation of a product – without considering competitive offerings – tends to improve our perception of the product and not the rest of the market. Perhaps in our need to be heard and understood, we value those people – and, by extension, products – that are interested in what we have to say.

The Face of Blame

We tend to assign accountability to people – and more specifically to the people we see. If we see people, we assume that they’re causal to whatever is happening. The president is assumed to have the impact on the economy, but most economists agree that the factors that lead to economic stability, growth, or decline take place well before the current president is elected. If you’re going to be interviewed as a witness to any sort of crime, you may want to think about positioning of the video recorder. When we see people speaking about something, we believe them to be causal to the situation, so a friendly chat as a witness may move you into the suspect category if you’re being filmed and others are going to watch it. In that case, you want to make sure that you’re not the only one on camera – looking straight or nearly straight into it.

In fact, if you happen to be convinced or coerced into signing a confession – even if you renounce the confession later – you’ve got an 81% likelihood of being convicted, even if the confession is false (that is, if you’re really innocent).

Message Timing

It’s believed that sex sells – and it’s certainly true that sometimes it does – but not always. If someone was in the market for a relationship, they spent more time looking at images of attractive people. However, for those who weren’t in the market for a relationship, they spent no additional time looking at the images of the attractive people. The message is that maybe that wandering eye is a sign that they’re trying to keep their options open or they’re looking to “upgrade.”

There’s more to it than that. Sometimes you want to sell being a part of a crowd. It’s about belonging and being a part of something. Other times, you want to sell to the message that you’ll be able to distance yourself from the crowd. It turns out that, when you’re watching something frightening, advertisements about belonging work better than those that have you stepping out from the crowd. Conversely, if you’re watching something that’s romantic, messages of separating yourself from the pack work better. (This is perhaps to give you that added edge in your own romantic endeavors.)

Mimicry

Have you ever found yourself in a conversation with someone and realized that you were drifting your language towards theirs? Maybe it was the words they were using or just the inflection of their voice. Perhaps it was the southern drawl when you’re down south. This natural tendency to mimic other humans is built in – and it’s powerful. Waitresses who more closely matched the speaking style of the diners got larger tips. Even Larry King and his guests would align to each other’s messages. If the person was higher in stature than Larry, he’d adapt his speaking. If they were lower, they’d often adapt their speaking to match his.

Mimicry works throughout the animal kingdom. The more we feel like we belong, the more that we feel comfortable. (See The Deep Water of Affinity Groups for more.)

Blurring of Identities

There’s a fallacy about ourselves. We believe that we’ve always been the way we are today. We accept changes begrudgingly. We look back at our previous pictures and recordings of ourselves and wonder how that person could be us. There’s a sort of tension between the acknowledgement that the picture was us and the simultaneous belief that we’ve always been the way we are now. We believe our identities are fixed points instead of the relatively fluid and floating things that they are. Kurt Lewin described behavior as a function of environment and person. While he didn’t note that the person is constantly changing, he did acknowledge that our behavior is not completely dependent upon ourselves. Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

The fluidity of our identity can be exploited to create the illusion of greater capabilities and a deeper connection. When we work closely with someone, there’s a temporary merging or comingling of identities. We tend to attribute more than 100% of the benefits to ourselves and the other person, because, at some level, we’re not completely distinct any longer.

Distracting Environment

If I wanted you to accept my assertions here without question, I’d deliver this to you while you’re distracted. I’d put you on a bus. I’d have you in a noisy environment where concentration is required. The cognitive capacity to question what your hearing is a secondary step – not a primary one. In distracted situations, people will often accept what they’re hearing as fact, even if it is absurd on its face. That’s the trick sometimes used by marketers who are trying to get you to make a quick decision – and by social engineers hoping to get one past you.

If you want to figure out how to avoid the traps that are laid out for you, maybe you should do a bit of pre-reading of Pre-Suasion.

Book Review-Influence: Science and Practice

What makes us do something? Why do we decide to buy (and use) toothpaste A vs. toothpaste B? These questions start us down the path of wondering how we might get others to choose the choice we would like rather than the choice they’d make naturally. Whether we have a product to sell or a mission to help humanity, we want to know how to get more people to choose the way we believe they should. It all comes down to Influence: Science and Practice. It comes down to how we can use our influence effectively.

Weapons of Mass Influence

Robert Cialdini explains the weapons of influence one by one through the book. Each chapter takes on a different aspect of our psychology, which influencers leverage to achieve their goals. The list is:

  • Reciprocation – If you do something for me, I’ll do something for you.
  • Commitment Consistency – Once I’ve made a small commitment, I’m likely to remain consistent.
  • Social Proof – If someone else says it’s OK, I’ll likely take their word for it – even if I don’t know them.
  • Liking – I’m more likely to do something if I like you.
  • Authority – I’ll likely defer if I think that you have authority.
  • Scarcity – I’m more apt to want something if I feel like it has limited availability.

Foundations of Influence

Before exploring the factors of influence, it’s important to recognize a truth about why they work. We’ll buy an item that’s more expensive – because it’s more expensive – and that clearly makes no sense. We’ll take the word of a stranger about which products are better even if we might walk to the other side of the street if they were walking towards us. Why would we take the word of someone we don’t know? The answer is we have to.

I don’t mean that we “have to” in the sense that someone is holding a gun to our heads and making us. I mean it in the sense that we’ve got a limited amount of coping skills to deal with the onslaught of information and decisions we each face every day, and we must find some shortcuts to deal with it. The Organized Mind explains how we’re overwhelmed by the information we’re getting today and how it is orders of magnitude more than the amount of information our grandparents needed to take in.

The problem is that we’re trying to optimize, use heuristics (shortcuts), and generally operate in a world that is beyond our evolutionary capacity. The result is a set of systemic errors. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for some of them.) We’re not operating rationally all the time, because we can’t afford to. It’s too slow, too glucose-intensive, and too taxing in general.

Occasionally, the heuristics we’ve devised for dealing with the world fail us. Sometimes, those failures are engineered by the influencers.

Choices and Changes

This isn’t my first foray into reading about influencing and changing. Change or Die, Influencer, The Paradox of Choice, Nudge, Switch, Redirect, Split-Second Persuasion,
Change Anything, and other books have addressed how we change behaviors. The fundamental premises in each of these works are the same. We’re faced with too many choices. We can make small changes that make a big difference – but those small changes need to be converted into systems and habits to be effective in the long term.

Influence is primarily concerned with the immediate change and how to get the ball rolling more than how to sustain that change. (In addition to some of the above books, The Power of Habit speaks to sustaining change.)

Susceptibility

One of the challenges with these aspects of influence is that once you know them you’ll still be susceptible to them. There are many examples of how, though professionals believed they wouldn’t be influenced by the factors listed here, their records consistently reflected a pattern of influence they weren’t aware of. These influencing factors have a pull on all of us – whether we’re aware of them or not. Cialdini admits that he himself is still susceptible to them despite dedicating so much of his time on the study of the factors.

Reciprocation

You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours. Quid pro quo. The rule of reciprocity is so woven into culture that there are dozens of sayings that reflect the fundamental meaning. Jonathan Haidt explains in The Righteous Mind that our willingness to support one another has led to our biological success. Robert Axelrod’s modeling supports The Evolution of Cooperation – with reciprocation at its base. So, conceptually, the idea may not need much support, but the degree to which it can drive people is often underestimated.

Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, and one of the key supporters after the disaster was the Netherlands, who felt they were repaying a debt they owed. In 1953, New Orleans had sent help to rebuild the Dutch water management system that was devastated during a driving storm. They couldn’t help but find a way to support the city that had come to their aid decades before the tragedy.

The power of reciprocation is held in the nature of our society and our desire to avoid being perceived as a moocher, ingrate, or freeloader. Despite the concerns of psychologists who have observed social loafing – letting others carry the load, if they don’t think that they’ll get caught – most of the time people feel indebted to their societies. (See The Blank Slate, Group Genius, and Collaborative Intelligence for more.)

One of the ways that reciprocation is used as a tool for influence has to do with the fact that our brains don’t make the distinction between the actions we’ve asked for and those that are volunteered. If someone gives us a gift, we feel obliged to respond in kind – even if we didn’t feel any desire to give them a gift. Because we don’t want to stay in a state of obligation, we’ll often quickly respond to whatever was given to us.

One of the other odd – but powerful – aspects of reciprocation is in the introduction of a concession or a retreat. If you ask someone for a big favor, you’re quite likely to be turned down. If you ask them for a second, smaller favor, you’re more likely to get a yes – after you’ve been turned down for the big ask. The smaller ask seems like a concession on your part, and the other party feels obligated to make a concession as well.

In our political history, the Watergate scandal makes little sense. Bugging the Democratic party headquarters wasn’t necessary, legal, or even sensible. However, to the president and his advisors, the author of the plan had already asked for and been denied two much larger – and more ludicrous – options. The remaining option of bugging the offices seemed reasonable by comparison.

Commitment Consistency

Our self-identity is fiercely guarded by our egos. Our egos have a wide array of resources that they can deploy to protect themselves. (See Change or Die for more.) Our egos equally capable of deploying resources to ensure that we behave in ways that appear internally consistent. The mental mechanisms at work are remarkably resilient and powerful.

Make a small commitment, and you’re more likely to make a larger commitment. If you agree to put a small sign of your civic-mindedness in your window, and then someone comes weeks later and asks you to put a huge sign in your yard – you’re more likely to agree. It seems you’ve decided that you’re the kind of person who is civic-minded and once that is done larger requests to do your civic duty don’t meet with much resistance. It’s as if the brain says, we’ve already decided this so there is no need to do any deep thinking about it. (See What Got You Here Won’t Get You There for 99% is a bitch, 100% is a breeze.)

The labeling effect is well known. If you accept a label as a kind of person, your behaviors will become consistent with the way you expect those labeled that way to behave. There are good sides to this in terms of labeling people as honorable and reasonable people and negative sides in terms of labeling people as delinquents.

The behavior can become somewhat odd, however, when it feels like, in the future, we’ll see an argument against what we want to identify ourselves as. Let’s say you attend a sales session for a product that is thoroughly debunked while you’re sitting there. One might rationally expect that no one would sign up given the idea was debunked. However, sales might increase, because the people present wish to stay consistent with their previous commitment – to listen to the pitch – and the awareness that, if they didn’t make the commitment now, they might never. This scenario also involved a deep desire to solve a problem that the solution promised but for which there were no other ready answers – but the possibility that someone would sign up for something that they intellectually knew wouldn’t work is spooky. (It speaks to the power of emotions – see The Happiness Hypothesis for a model of the relationship between emotions and rationality.)

Speaking of spooky impacts is the degree to which the person has sacrificed – submitted to difficulty or pain – is the degree they’ll defend their decisions and commitments. College fraternity hazing has a long history of condemnation, but those who have gone through it – the current members – hold on to it as a rite of passage. It’s a part of why they feel so strongly that their group is THE group.

Influencers engineer small commitments to lead to slightly larger commitments to even larger commitments. They create progressively more pain and therefore more commitment with sometimes disastrous consequences. Consider The People’s Temple and Jim Jones’ instruction to drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. At the outset, this seems like an impossible thing. However, through progressively more costly commitments, Jones managed to develop a degree of influence that amounted to control. Jim Jones moved the group to Guyana, which isolated the group to any influence except Jones’ and simultaneously required a higher degree of commitment.

Social Proof

Being your own person is exhausting. You have so many decisions to make. It’s so much easier to take other people’s lead. It’s easier to see that others are successful than imitate them. You don’t have to worry about failure – after all, if it doesn’t work, you can blame them. A very small percentage of the world are innovators. (Everett Rogers in Diffusion of Innovations pegs it at about 3.5%.) Why would you want to do the hard work of being an innovator if you can take other people’s word for it?

Our world today is filled with obvious – and obscured – social proof. When you’re deciding between products on an online store, you’ll use the reviews of people you don’t know to help you narrow down your decisions and make better choices about which book to read or which product to buy. More obscurely, the motivational speakers you believe are successful are standing next to mansions, expensive cars, fancy boats, or other indicators that they can splurge, because they have the wealth that indicates they’re successful. Few people can look beyond these tricks to see the substance of what the person is selling. It’s too easy to use the background to determine if they’re successful or not.

As a humorous aside, with the video studio we have here, I can make it appear like we’re anywhere on the planet. I can make it look like I’ve got a garage filled with exotic cars, and we’re off sailing the Caribbean or the Mediterranean every week. What we see as social proof is often an illusion. Several speakers and motivational figures have been shown to rent the cars and boats as props for their work – the work of influencing us.

Liking

Our ability to like someone either because of their purported affinity for us or because of their apparent similarity to us is a powerful draw. We’ll often do things for people we like that we wouldn’t do for others. Liking is reciprocal. We tend to like people who like us. Further, we tend to like people who we believe “belong” to a group we belong to. (See The Deep Water of Affinity Groups for more.)

Influencers will subtly indicate that they like you – and that they’re like you – to try to get you to like them and accept their influence.

Authority

Perhaps the most powerful example of the power of authority – or perceived authority – to influence us is Stanley Milgram’s famous experiments on obedience to authority, in which he asked volunteers to issue what they believed to be potentially fatal electric shocks to other volunteers. (There were no real shocks, and the person who they believed they were shocking was an accomplice/colleague of Milgram’s.) The result was that most people would issue the shocks if asked by someone of perceived authority. (See The Lucifer Effect and Moral Disengagement for more on this and obedience to authority in general.)

The interesting aspect of Milgram’s experiment that isn’t often reported is that, when it was run a second time in an office building instead of on Yale’s prestigious campus, the element of authority was weakened, and so were the results.

Influencers try to surround themselves with markers that make them seem more authoritative than they are.

Scarcity

Throughout most of human history, scarcity was the reality of the world. There was rarely enough to go around, so when something was available to you, you tried to grab it. Even if you didn’t need it yourself, you could use it to trade for the things you needed later. Scarcity conveys power and status. It’s the challenge of luxury brands. They sell on their exclusive nature and that not everyone can have what they’re offering. This necessarily limits their options for expanding their markets. If the market is expanded too far, it’s no longer exclusive, and the core market is no longer interested.

Since the industrial age and the continued greater prosperity of the human race, the degree to which things are truly exclusive is shrinking, but that doesn’t stop people by being impacted by scarcity in subtle ways.

Consider the winery that declared, due to a fixed production capacity, they couldn’t sell more than six bottles of wine to a single customer. Instead of selling an average of less than two bottles per customer, their sales jumped to almost four bottles of wine per customer. The perception of scarcity was enough to drive greater purchasing power without any change in the product or packaging.

Offers are “limited time.” Products are “limited edition.” Sometimes, the limited time is the time that the promotion will be effective, and limited edition is for as long as people keep buying it. At some level, everything is a limited edition – nothing lasts forever.

In an odd turn, though people will report a product more desirable if it’s scarce, they will not rate it as objectively better. They want it more – but they don’t like it more.

Influencers try to create scarcity in the mind of the consumer by these “limited” offers and through concerns about the demand being overwhelming. How many times have you seen an advertisement with “only a few seats left” – only to realize that they’ve only got 49 out of the 50 seats in the room available?

The Limits of Influence

On the one hand, the power of influence is limited. You can’t always get someone to do what you want. On the other hand, the power of influence is unlimited. Skillfully conducted, you can achieve powerful control of people. Most of the time people, don’t realize that they’re being influenced, and that’s the way that the influencers want it. Though it doesn’t completely ruin influence when you see it, the effect is much less powerful. But that’s Influence: Science and Practice… influencing people without them realizing.

Book Review-How We Know What Isn’t So: Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life

It’s what we know that ain’t so that gets us in trouble. Whether you prefer that Artemus Ward quote from To Kill a Mockingbird or you attribute the saying to Mark Twain, the sentiment is the same. Knowing something rarely gets us in trouble. Thinking that we know something we don’t can have bad to tragic consequences. Understanding how our thinking goes wrong is at the heart of How We Know What Isn’t So: Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life. Thomas Gilovich’s work has come up in several places in my reading. He’s always associated with outlandish claims, like 94% of college professors felt like they were better than their average peer or 70% of high school students thought their leadership was above average. So, reading his work was a walk through the crazy path of how we see ourselves and how we tend to see ourselves in distorted ways.

Believing What We Want – Until We Can’t

The funny thing is that, unbounded by reality, we’ll believe some crazy things. Without measurement, we can believe we’re the best physician, architect, developer, or whatever career we’re in. Without some specific, tangible, and irreputable evidence, our ego can make up any story it likes. We’ll emphasize the characteristics we’re good at and ignore the ones we don’t feel like we excel at. We’ll use whatever reference point makes us feel better about ourselves. “At least I’m not as bad as they are” is a common internal monologue. (See Superforecasting for more about the importance of preselecting measures.)

In the land of beliefs, we fall victim to numerous cognitive biases and errors. The fundamental attribution error causes us to simultaneously judge others more harshly and to explain away our failures based on circumstances. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on fundamental attribution error.) We can make up our minds – and be completely incorrect. Incognito exposes some of the ways we fool ourselves with some simple and effective optical illusions.

The truth is that we will believe what we want to believe – about ourselves and others – until there is some sort of inescapable truth that forces us to acknowledge that our beliefs were wrong. Even then, we’re likely to minimize them, as explained in Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me). We are amazed by the wives who report that they trusted their husbands only to realize after the fact that their blind trust was misplaced. They had all the reasons to suspect there was a problem, but they refused to see it – with disastrous consequences. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy, Revisited and its references for a detailed conversation about trust.)

Benevolent Dolphins

Sometimes the problems of our rationality are driven by the biased way that we receive information. If someone is led back to shore by a dolphin, we have evidence that dolphins are benevolent. However, if a set of dolphins were to lead someone out to their death, they won’t be alive to report about it, and therefore the information we get is biased. This is just one way that our rationality about things can be skewed or distorted. We also are more strongly aware of things that happen than things that don’t.

I have a weird dream and it seems oddly like a premonition. I know that dreams are most frequently recombinations of the things I experienced in a day and the brain’s natural systems working to impose order and sense on my world. But suppose in my dream there’s a helicopter crash. The next day, the news reports that there was one – and it causes me to remember the dream. If there’s no crash, I don’t remember the dream, thus I don’t consider it a failed premonition. So even just due to the vagaries of my memory, I can manufacture a higher perceived rate of success and start to believe in my premonition capabilities.

I suppose that this might explain why more people believe in extrasensory perception (ESP) than believe in evolution – they get positive hits for the random premonition and few memories of failures. There aren’t many opportunities to see evolution in our daily lives.

Similarly, the ability for astrologers to make seemingly accurate predictions has led to 20 times more astrologers than astronomers. (See the Forer effect in Superforecasting for more about the perception of accuracy in astrology.)

Molehills and Mountains

We tend to believe that things come from other things that are the same relative size. While we can accept that an oak tree grows from an acorn, we generally expect that something large came from something large. (See Bohm’s On Dialogue for more about acorns being the aperture through which the oak tree comes.) Judith Rich Harris explains in No Two Alike how even small differences in twins may get amplified over time. These small differences become large differences in the way that two cars heading off in slightly different directions can end up a long way apart if they travel long enough.

That’s what happens with self-fulfilling prophecies. They create their big effects by subtly shaping the results bit by bit. Say that you believe a child is good at math, so you encourage or praise them just a bit more. Over time, these small biases add up to a very large difference. Self-fulfilling prophecies can’t start from nothing. There must always be some kernel of truth, something to get the process rolling. Once the process has started, it will start to reinforce itself.

As a result, when we emphasize molehills, they become mountains. Instead of them staying small or getting smaller, they get larger as we continue to create more and more bias towards them being bigger, annoying, or challenging. Consider a married couple; the wife becomes progressively more frustrated at her husband for not refilling ice cube trays. In the grand scheme of their lives together, is filling or not filling ice cube trays important? Probably not, but many arguments have started over sillier things – like which way the toilet paper roll should be placed on the holder.

Everybody Wins

I’m willing to make a bet with odds that aren’t quite one-to-one that your favorite candidate will win the next presidential debate – at least in your mind. That’s what researchers found when they asked who won after several of the presidential debates. The actual performance of the candidates didn’t matter. What mattered was whom someone supported before the debate started. Two rational people (if we want to call people rational) listen to the same arguments and come up with opposite points of view on the same events by the nature of their beliefs. They feel like their favorite candidate nailed key issues. The opponent revealed the weaknesses of their positions.

This is sort of the way that gamblers rewire their brains to think about losses as “near wins.” There’s always a reason. They could have drawn another card, or someone else could have done things differently. While they may accept their wins, they’re not good at counting their losses with equal weight.

Listening to the Opposition

While it’s commonly believed that we fail to listen to opposing points of view, that’s not always true. Often, we will listen to the opposing point of view more carefully than we listen to the points of view that support our position. The opposing points of view are scrutinized more carefully. We’re looking for flaws in the arguments. We’re looking for something that just isn’t right. When we find it, we latch on to it like it’s the only thing that matters – though, in truth, it may not matter at all.

We treat our desired conclusions differently than we treat those conclusions we oppose. For our desired conclusions, we ask ourselves “Can I believe this?” and for those we oppose, the question is “Must I believe this?” The standard of evidence is much, much higher for those things that you must believe. So, while it may appear that we don’t look at opposing points of view – and that is sometimes true – the truth is that we often pursue them with greater fervor looking for reasons to justify why we don’t have to believe them.

Hand Me Down Stories

So much of what we know about the world today isn’t through direct experience. What we know of the world today is shaped by the experience of others. As stories are retold, the evidence that isn’t consistent with the theme is removed or neglected. We do this in our own minds to produce the consistency that we desire. (See The Tell-Tale Brain and Incognito for more.) The more powerful version is what happens when others recount a story for us.

Take for example some of the experiments we’ve heard about. There’s The Marshmallow Test, which was supposed to predict future success through the skill of delayed gratification. That’s likely true – but what most people don’t recognize is that marshmallows were only one of the sugary treats used to entice the children. Nor is it generally recognized that the recognition of the results wasn’t originally planned.

There’s been a great deal of discussion about Milgram’s experiments on obedience to authority and the willingness of a person to subject another to what was perceived as a potentially fatal shock. What’s not often recognized is that, when the experiments were run in a place that wasn’t Yale’s main campus with all its trappings of authority but instead in an office complex off the main campus, the results couldn’t be replicated.

Take the Stanford Prison Experiment. Phillip Zimbardo’s famous experiment is supposed to show how the setup of prisons inherently lead to inhumane treatment. He’s personally made a career out of this experiment and the conclusions. However, many people are questioning how well controlled the experiment was. If the “guards” were coached to be cruel, or the reports about the “inmates” were not factual it makes the whole thing fall apart. (For more on the experiment, see The Lucifer Effect, and for more about the criticisms, see “The Lifespan of a Lie.”)

That brings us to the more obscure but formative story of Little Albert which shaped the profession. In 1920, John Watson and Rosalie Raynor wrote an article “Conditioned emotional reactions” in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. The research was widely quoted in psychology textbooks – and attributed conclusions and outcomes of the experiment that aren’t supported by the research. However, the problem is that most authors of the textbooks didn’t read the original research: they relied on someone else’s work, and they further summarized and simplified it. (If you’re interested, a separate recounting of this research is available in “Studies in Infant Psychology.”)

The result of the way we acquire information today is that we often reach the wrong conclusions, because essential details and limitations of the rules have been removed. (This is one of the reasons why I’m so particular about reading source materials when I can find them – and why I go out of my way to find them.)

Improvements in Longevity

Medical science is amazing. Our estimated lifespan is now roughly double what it was 50 years ago. Paired together, these statements make it appear that our improvements in medicine are responsible for our increase in life expectancy. However, that’s not the case. Most of the increase in life expectancy is the result of sewage disposal, water purification, pasteurization of milk, and improved diet. Our chances of surviving childhood are now much greater – admittedly in part due to the advance of vaccines – and someone who would have died as a child but instead lives changes life expectancy dramatically.

What we believe about the change in life expectancy – that it’s been a slow climb as we allow people to individually get older than they used to – isn’t correct. Nor is our assessment of the reasoning for those increases. For all the great things that medical science has done, it pales in comparison to the advances we’ve made in systemically providing isolation from the factors that would kill us in childhood.

Blaming the Victim

Faith healers may be your only option when traditional medicine gives up. However, these faith healers come at a cost – and it is more than the money they charge. They often transfer the blame for their failure to you or to your god. The advent of statistical measures in healthcare has improved delivery. Non-traditional healers may stand up to statistical validation – or they may not. We don’t know, because there’s been very little study of these types of healing scenarios. However, what we do know is that there is a propensity of faith healers to explain their failures away either as a lack of faith on the part of the patient or as God’s will being against it.

The first is a direct blame of the victim of the illness. If they just had more faith, they could have been healed. The second is a more indirect blaming of the victim. In the conception that God wants ill for you only when you’ve done something wrong, you land at either approach, costing you belief in yourself.

Converting the Improbable to the Inevitable

Statistics don’t come easy for humans. While we develop rules of thumb based on our experiences, when it comes to a hard understanding of the facts, we fail to recognize how even the improbable becomes inevitable given enough time. Though flipping a coin in the air and getting 100 heads is highly improbable, if you have enough people tossing coins for enough time, it’s certain to happen.

How many people would need to be in a group to have a 50-50 chance for two of them to share the same day of the year as their birthday? It turns out that with a group of 23, there are 253 different pairs – so a better than even chance someone in the group would share a birthday. Of course, this mathematical fact doesn’t feel right to our brains.

It also doesn’t feel right that we know things that aren’t so – and, as Mark Twain said, that’s what gets us in trouble. If you want to avoid trouble, How We Know What Isn’t So is worth the trouble to read.

Book Review-Split-Second Persuasion: The Ancient Art and Science of Changing Minds

You’ve only got an instant, and you’ve got to make the sale. Whether it’s literally selling to someone or selling the big idea – or even your potential as a romantic suitor – Split-Second Persuasion: The Ancient Art and Science of Changing Minds is designed to help give you the tools you need to make it happen.

The secrets to making the split-second persuasion are diverse and subtle. They’re the actions that masters of persuasion use but go unnoticed, like a magician’s sleight-of-hand: they’re in plain sight and most of us don’t know when they’re used on us.

Key Stimulus

Some things are hardwired into us. They’re instinctual. They’re the things that we do without thinking or having ever learned. Birds avoid other predatory birds by their shape. A tell-tale signature of dots on a beak or a specific sound can engage feeding or nurturing instincts in birds. (See The Tell-Tale Brain for more about these key stimuli.) Other animals have key stimulus that they recognize and respond to.

In general, techniques for persuasion are built on top of these ancient and unseen forces that cause us to act without thinking.

Diffusing Conflict

In Play, there’s a scenario with a bear and a dog. They play, because the dog signaled “play” by bowing down on its front paws and wagging its tail. The bear could have ripped the dog apart, but knowing the signal was play, opted for that instead. The ways we diffuse conflict can follow similar ingrained patterns.

Marcus worked at a job center where conflict was common but never seemed to have any problems. His simple recipe for avoiding conflict involved two ingredients. First, he sat on his hands – thereby asserting submission. Second, he sat slightly lower, further signaling that the client with whom he was working was more dominant. As far as could be determined, just these two aspects allowed him to diffuse conflict in a conflict-infused situation.

Perceived Control

Woven throughout our psyche is the desire to believe we have control. Whether you’re focused on Seligman’s classic experiments (see Flourish, The Hope Circuit, and Positive Psychotherapy for my discussions on his work) or you’re more interested in application of the principle for our desire to control, our belief in our ability to control is always there. (See also Compelled to Control.) We see our ability to control even when we don’t have it. We crave it.

It’s no surprise, then, that people react differently to the same objective circumstances (loud music) when they believe they have control of it than when they believe they don’t have control of it. We’re much happier and content when we believe we can make the change – whether we can or not.

Step, Step, Change

If you’re trying to quickly diffuse a situation, the number one approach is comedy. In Inside Jokes, it is surmised that laughter is the error detection routine of our minds. Our minds are prediction machines. They’re constantly trying to figure out where things are going, and comedy deliberately exploits this to allow people to make incorrect assumptions then at the last moment pull the rug out from under them. In comedy, it’s a step, step, change maneuver that has two comments headed in one direction and then a quick change to show that the mind of the audience was wrong. This is one of the reasons why it’s rare that a joke will seem funny the second time you hear it.

In the conflict scenario, comedy triggers the idea that the situation may not be what it seems – and therefore things should be reevaluated. Often, this reevaluation allows the people in conflict to reassess their positions – though this mostly happens unconsciously.

It’s also an opportunity for persuaders to capture the mind by deliberately causing the brain to deploy more resources to try to resolve the discrepancies.

Windows to Persuasion

Eyes are called the window to the soul. They are one of the best ways for us to understand what is going on with the other person. Another person gazing in a direction will almost always draw our eyes to the same spot. In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman describes the work of Eckard Hess, who discovered that our pupil dilation changes when we become mentally engaged. The more mentally engaged we become with a thought, the larger the dilation of the pupil – for the moment or two while the processing is happening.

Many books have discussed the importance of eye contact for a variety of reasons (see Words can Change Your Brain, A Fearless Heart, The Ethnographic Interview, and The Science of Trust for just a few). However, Split-Second Persuasion makes the point that the more dilated eyes are, the more interested we perceive the other person to be in us. (Perhaps that’s one of the reasons you can’t have a romantic dinner at a fast-food restaurant where the lighting is bright.) Because of reciprocity, we are more interested in those who are interested in us – and so we begin to develop a slight relational edge with slightly larger pupils.

Limited Attention

In instructional design, we’re aware that students have a limited capacity for conscious thought. The complexity of the thinking – their cognitive load – can’t exceed their capacity if we want learning to happen. (See Efficiency in Learning for more about cognitive load.) If we exceed cognitive load things start to get dropped. It’s this principle that can be used to persuade people to be less aware of our actions.

Consider a scenario in which two men show up at a hotel and tell the reception desk they’re here to take the presents for the bride and groom – who are having a reception in the back – to the groom’s house. They’re dressed in uniforms that make them appear to be legitimate – but, of course, the reception desk had no prior knowledge of the men nor that they’d be coming to pick up the gifts. At the same time, the desk receives a call from a guest who hadn’t checked in yet and was having trouble. Instead of checking with the bride and groom, the men are waved on. It’s hours later before the reception desk discovers the deception, as the bride and groom wonder where all the gifts from their guests have been stored.

The normal sense for verifying the men were legitimate was waived when the reception desk no longer had the capacity to process it. The guest wasn’t real. The call was timed to allow the two accomplices to gather the gifts and leave without deeper skepticism.

Belonging

In The Deep Water of Affinity Groups, I explained how groups work and how we elevate those who belong to a group that we belong to – whatever the group is. Inherent in this elevation of affinity is our need for belonging. Our need for belonging even drove the subjects in Solomon Asch’s experiments on line length to mis-perceive something obvious – which line was the same length as another. (See Nudge for more on Asch’s experiment.)

Our dominance on this planet required our ability to work together – to belong to a group – and that has left us with a strong need for belonging. (See The Organized Mind and The Righteous Mind for more.)

Concessions and Reciprocity

Reciprocity is a powerful force. If we do something for someone else, they are more inclined to do something for us. The funny thing is, the thing we do for the other person need not be anything large. It just needs to be perceived as something. (See The Evolution of Cooperation for more about how we might have evolved for cooperation – and tit-for-tat.)

One interesting application of this rule is in providing some sort of a concession. Consider a big request – which is denied – that is followed with a much smaller request. For most, but not all, the response is to accept the smaller request. Artful persuaders make a large request that they anticipate will be denied and follow it with a much smaller request, which, through reciprocity and anchoring, is more likely to be accepted.

Reciprocity kicks in when the person believes we’ve done a good deed for them by letting them off the hook for the big ask so quickly. Anchoring makes the smaller request look even smaller than it really is. As a result, concessions often seem much larger than they are – and that helps them get accepted.

Easy Commitments, Hard Obligations

“Can I call you back in two weeks to see how you like it?” asks the person over the phone. In their pause, you murmur a “yea, um, sure.” The result is that you’re more likely to answer the phone in two weeks when they call – whether or not you paid any attention to the rest of the call. Even weak commitments have a strong pull on us as we try to behave in ways that are consistent with our word.

The persuasive trick is to gain explicit permission or acceptance at one point and then later follow up on that permission. Once someone has given their permission for a follow up phone call, you’re in. Of course, at the time, agreeing to answer a question or two at some point in the future seems easy enough.

Majority and Minority

In groups, the majority and minority influence outcomes – but in different ways. First, there’s the polarization effect. Low-discrimination groups tend to become less discriminatory over time – but unfortunately, high-discrimination groups tend to become more discriminatory over time. The group itself becomes more biased toward whatever direction it was already leaning.

However, the way that majority and minority opinions work in groups is different. As seen in Asch’s experiments, there’s a strong draw towards conformity and the desire to answer in a way that’s like others. The minority, however, fights through reshaping the conversation. (See The Marketing of Evil for more about how the minority reshapes the thinking about a topic.)

Synchronicity

Groups of people that perform rituals rhythmically together tend to be more cohesive than groups that don’t perform rhythmically together. It’s an odd discovery that may explain the rise of music and rituals of societies. It can be that they’re tapping into tools that help us work together more closely.

Persistence

One of the things that troubled the world was how Hitler could convince soldiers to help him commit the attempted genocide of the Jewish people. Moral Disengagement explains how Jews were dehumanized through persistent communication. Through repeated propaganda, it was possible to separate the Jewish people from the brotherhood of humanity in the minds of loyal Germans. This was, of course, an unspeakably evil thing. However, it is a reminder of how powerful repeating a message can be.

It wasn’t that the Germans started out thinking of their Jewish friends and colleagues as sub-human. It’s only through constant bombardment did their beliefs slowly start to shift in this direction. This shift allowed the parties involved to accept their part in the slaughter of millions of people.

Another demonstration of the power of a persistent message came from Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. Jones’ constant communications allowed him to be perceived as a god. As a result, he had the power to persuade 900 followers to drink poisoned Kool-Aid, thereby killing themselves and their children.

A Little Bit of Spice

Dutton believes there are five axis to push persuasion:

  • Simplicity – Whatever it is, it must be perceived as simple.
  • Perceived self-interest – It must be perceived to be in the recipient’s best interest.
  • Incongruity – It must have an element of incongruence with previous expectations.
  • Confidence – The persuasion must be delivered with confidence.
  • Empathy – The persuasion must appear to come from a place of deep empathy with the person being persuaded.

Social Proof

In today’s world, the idea of social proof is important. It doesn’t matter whether the proof is a single number (or, more often, star rating) without any names attached or a review with only a first name associated with it. We believe that, if others like something, then we should too – even if the people who are the social proof are make-believe people we’ve never met.

The truth is this works because we have such limited information to process an overwhelming array of options that even a little bit of data resembling something useful is something we’re willing to latch onto and use. Social proof is our way of shortcutting the long process of detailed evaluation.

Big Covers Small

As humans, we really can’t do things at one time. We can’t multitask, and we can’t effectively observe for multiple things. What we perceive to be multitasking is rapid task switching, and research has confirmed that this makes us slower and comes with additional cognitive burden. Experiments like The Invisible Gorilla show that if we’re asked to attend to one thing – the number of passes made by people in white shirts – we’ll miss something that should obviously grab our attention – like a gorilla walking onto the court and beating his chest.

Magicians and illusionists have made a point of movements with flair to distract us from the real movement they’re doing to accomplish their illusions. In our persuasion, we find that incongruence can be a powerful way of gathering attention. When we discover incongruence, we want to investigate.

Saying Without Saying

When we say something without saying it directly, we create an inside joke. It’s an opportunity for the reader or listener to believe they’re a part of a secret club that not everyone is a part of. By alluding to – but not being specific about – something we’re talking about, we build commonality and connection where none existed. This connection, then, gives us power to persuade.

Psychopathy

Dutton makes the point that psychopathy is a continuum we’re all on. Unlike their portrayal in movies and TV crime dramas, not all psychopaths are cold-blooded killers. There are many psychopaths, and they can – and often are – valuable, productive members of society that aid in the common good of man.

However, psychopaths have one difference from the rest of society. They process emotions rather than feeling them. Said differently, they have cold emotions rather than hot emotions.

Hot and Cold Emotions

Hot emotions are the kinds of emotions that we associate with temporary insanity. There’s not much – if any – rationality to it. It’s raw, unbridled feelings, and it’s the kind of thing that persuasive people tap into. Cold emotions are calculated. They’re about the rationality of the greater good – without the entanglements of hot emotions.

Maybe you can decide that it’s time to read Split-Second Persuasion – with a bit of split-second persuasion.

Book Review-Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change

Somehow, the idea that we’re making a transition seems larger than making a change and simultaneously more concerning and more comforting. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change intentionally couples the word “transitions” to change to remind us of the personal nature of the kinds of change most of us consider. In that reminder is the reality that, to accomplish organizational change, we must change individually, and that means letting go of some of the things that have given us comfort.

Core Model

The basic structure of the Managing Transitions model is the need to let go, the neutral zone, and the new beginning. On the surface, the model doesn’t appear that interesting. However, when you apply lessons from On Death and Dying to the letting go part, the dynamics soon emerge. We far underestimate our connection with our current environment and the way it works. Instead of leaving the past in the past, When explains that we bring it with us into the present, like the unceasing number of possessions in our houses. As strange as it may seem nostalgia used to be considered a kind of psychopathy but that is no longer true.

Because we tend to blur our memories, we tend to remember the past with greater reverence and regard than it had at the time. We have become attached to the old ways – in ways that make us reluctant to change them even when it’s appropriate to make the change.

If escaping our past way of doing things by letting go isn’t enough, we don’t instantly reach the promised land of new ideas and visions, either. Instead, we must walk through the virtual desert before reaching our goals. In the neutral zone, we’re confronted by the fact that we don’t know really how to reach the new vision, and we don’t know how to behave.

The devil, they say, is in the details. While grand visions may explain how the organization will be substantially better off once we’ve arrived at the desired change, it says nothing about the day to day operation of many of the organization’s workers. They’re left on their own to find ways and approaches that are consistent with their beliefs, respectful of their past, and compatible with the future.

The neutral zone is defined by its uncertainty, indecision, and failure to understand. None of this feels good. That is why effective change walks briskly through the neutral zone and seeks to generate clarity about the changes that are the new beginning.

Once attempted and stabilized, the new beginning must be converted to habit. Once the dust has settled and the new behaviors are known, the organization must find ways to prevent small frustrations and barriers from causing people to revert to their old ways. Too often, seemingly insignificant hassles drive people back to using old, ineffective behaviors. (See Demand for more on hassle maps and the disproportionate impact small hassles has on all of us.)

Psychological Reorientation

Change is ultimately about changing the behaviors of the individuals and therefore the organization, but those change in behavior don’t come because of an objective change in environment. Those changes come from the subjective way that we (and every individual) perceive the situation. To change the behaviors for good, we must change the perception.

Our intrinsic motivation is powerful. It drives us in ways that we all-to-often fail to recognize. It is also, however, fickle and frail. As Why We Do What We Do points out, our intrinsic motivations towards something can be easily crushed by external motivation. As change agents, we must subtly shift the perception such that we view the world differently and that we feel as if we’re moving forward in our choices and in our world.

Behaviors that Need to Stop

There are many aspects of any change but perhaps the most challenging are the behaviors that need to stop. In any transition, some old behaviors will no longer be necessary. Invariably these behaviors that stop are one of the first changes in the transition – and invariably they are difficult. They require that individuals be allowed to “grieve” the loss of their familiar routine.

One might believe that it would be easy to get people to stop doing behaviors. After all, if they stop the behaviors, they’ll have more time and less work. At some point considerable effort was put into establishing the habit. It should be easy to release someone from the habit when it’s no longer needed, however, habits are quite persistent. (See The Power of Habit for more on habit forming and resilience.)

The truth is that like two pieces of wood that were nailed together, it takes force to separate them from their habits. The more effort that was put into joining the two pieces, the more challenging it will be to separate them. If you’ve ever tried to separate wood that was glued as well as fastened with screws, you undoubtedly understand.

Loss is Subjective

It’s easy to say that not doing some behavior doesn’t have a loss associated with it. It can seem, from the outside, to be a non-essential behavior, but all loss is subjective. Someone can lose their dog and be unphased, while another person is traumatized. Same circumstances but different subjective experiences. We often underestimate or fail to recognize the losses that are associated with a change.

Consider a change that reconfigures a store and causes the elimination of a mechanical horse ride. The employees may no longer need to empty pennies from the coinbox on the horse, but the horse ride may be a part of the history of the store, and its removal may represent a loss of connection to the past. To some, the store is a job. To others, it’s woven through their history, as they remember how their father or grandfather held them safely on that “noble steed” before they were able to walk on their own. It’s not possible from a distance to determine how intensely a loss will be felt.

Avoiding Other People’s Pain

There’s a reason that we tend to gloss right over loss and move on to the idea of the new vision. Loss is uncomfortable. Even if it’s not our loss. Even if we aren’t directly connected to it. Mirror neurons in our brain light up (or at least should light up) when we see someone else suffering, and therefore we feel some pain. (See How Dogs Love Us and The Tell-Tale Brain for more about mirror neurons.)

Rather than addressing the pain – or accepting it – we push to move on to get past the pain. While there’s no reason to wallow in pain, there is a reason to stand in it until it’s time to move on.

Leveraging Momentum

It’s been years since I’ve been on a schoolyard playground. However, I still remember the feeling of the monkey bars. The longer you hung, the harder it was to hold on. I remember the secret was in the swing. You had to keep the swinging back and forth going to allow you to reach out and grab the next bar. If you stopped, it was hard – if not impossible – to gain forward momentum again.

In change, we have the same thing, where we need to keep the forward momentum going. Once we’ve lost the safety of the side ladder of our past certainty, we must keep swinging from one bar to the next on our way to the other side, where we can once again stand on a solid foundation while reaching upward. Our time in the neutral zone is this: the swinging, without a solid footing to stand on. If we lose momentum or fail to keep swinging, we may find that we fall to Earth without ever reaching the other side.

Metaphors Matter

We grasp the abstract through the means of the concrete. That is, we understand patterns by associating things together and noticing their similarities and differences. (See The Art of Explanation for more.) The way we associate our current situation with a positive or a negative event can have a substantial impact on the way we feel about the event. The difference between a sinking ship and a last voyage is vast.

The difference between a parade lap and a final lap is zero feet, but they’re miles apart in motivation. The more we can associate our change with positive metaphors, the more likely we are to garner the support of everyone in the organization, and the less that it will feel like a death march. (Death March is the name of a book by Edward Yourdon, which was originally published in 1997 – before this blog was started – and refers to projects that are doomed to fail.)

Change is a Gamble

The word entrepreneur literally means “risk bearer.” While it’s typically reserved for the brave, who try to start organizations from scratch, organizations with brave leaders who are willing to try to cross the chasm from today to tomorrow through radical change are certainly bearing risk. Every change is a risky proposition in which certainty is never guaranteed.

It’s right for people to consider the possibility that the change may not be accomplished, and they may never reach the promised land from the vision. It’s disingenuous to fail to recognize the possibility that the change won’t be successful, and it’s equally necessary to stay focused on the future vision as a motivator.

Sorting the Changes

Not all the possible changes we could undertake in a change effort make sense. Sometimes, the proposals generated will even create larger problems. So, one of the key things any change manager needs to consider is how they might sort activities into categories. Bridges suggests the following:

  • Category 1: Very Important. Do these immediately.
  • Category 2: Worth doing but take time. Start planning these.
  • Category 3: Yes and no. Depending upon how these are done, they can be helpful, but the benefits are not guaranteed.
  • Category 4: Not very important. May be a waste of effort.
  • Category 5: No. These will cause larger problems or resistance.

Playing the Parts

Another common oversight in the change process is failing to assign people to their new roles and define what those new roles should be doing. Certainly, there’s the origami that happens with the organizational chart and the resulting bird or animal with all the boxes in new positions, however, new positions and even titles don’t help anyone really understand the role that they need to play in the new organization.

Providing clarity that there is a role – or not – for people allows them to move on and grieve the changes. Providing clarity about what they will and won’t be doing if they’re still here allows them to grieve the loss of their familiar routines. Without the clarity about who is going to remain and what they’ll be doing, you may find that everyone is standing around waiting in fear – and that won’t keep the momentum that is needed.

Overarching Meaning

During the rough spots in our lives, those who assign meaning to their suffering are most likely to reach the other side healthy and happy. Victor Frankl’s famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, relates his experience in Nazi concentration camps, and how those who found solace in their service to their fellow man were those who survived. We don’t have to be a prisoner in a concentration camp to appreciate the fact that every one of us is looking for meaning.

Those changes that are successful create a shared narrative of meaning that the employees have together – a transformation that bonds rather than separates.

Recovering from Path Hurts

Everyone has past hurts. Some of those hurts were caused by previous changes – and some of them caused previous changes. While it’s frustrating to feel as if you’re paying for previous hurts that the employees are experiencing as a result of previous failures, it is necessary to accept that these hurts are real. If they’re bringing it up still (or again), they’ve not fully healed from those hurts.

Sometimes the hardest work of change management is to help people heal from their previous hurts and accept the scars, so they can make the decision to walk forward with the trust that things can be better this time. The best of Managing Transitions is in how we can remember the people during the change and support their continued healing and growth.

Book Review-Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction

Nearly everyone has fantasized about getting a winning lottery ticket, even if we don’t play the lottery. The number one desire for a time traveling machine may be to go into the future and get the list of lottery numbers, so we can come back and win. While these are not the kinds of approaches that are addressed in Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction (because time travel is still fictional), there are lessons to be learned and skills to be developed to allow us to more accurately predict non-random events.

Foxes and Hedgehogs

There’s an age-old debate about whether one should be focused in their knowledge becoming the penultimate expert about one thing – or whether one should become a generalist and know about multiple things. I wrote about this debate most recently in my post Should You Be the Fox or the Hedgehog? I challenged the notion that being the expert at one thing was the right answer. Other works, like Range, reached a similar conclusion that being more generally minded and flexible was a better strategy.

There is, however, embedded in this idea of being a generalist that you still develop some level of mastery, that you exceed the competence bar. Michelangelo wasn’t a mediocre sculptor or painter. He developed serial mastery. (See The Medici Effect for more on how what we now call the Renaissance man was shaped by the environment.)

Phillip Tetlock and Dan Gardner didn’t set out to answer the question about generalists or specialists. The specific goal was to find ways to improve judgement – or, said differently, predictions.

Expert Judgements and Dart-Throwing Chimpanzees

Imagine your average political pundit in one room and a dart-throwing chimpanzee in another. Put a set of possible outcomes on the wall and ask them to pick one – the pundit based on experience, knowledge, and foresight, and the chimpanzee based on dart-throwing abilities or lack thereof. The predictive capacity of both is roughly equivalent. This was the joke was made about Tetlock’s previous work trying to determine the predictive capacity of experts.

Of course, some political pundits did better than the hypothetical chimps, but not many of them. There were too few people who were able to demonstrate predictive capacity, and the degree of predictive capacity of a pundit was inversely correlated to their popularity. That is, the more likely to have a regular spot on the news, the less likely that the predictions would be newsworthy.

While this makes an interesting story, it doesn’t explain why we can’t predict, nor does it help us teach people how to predict better.

The Killer Butterfly

It was Edward Lorenz’s 1972 paper “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” that awoke the consciousness that some things are not predictable – at least not in the infinite future. The problem is that the amount of knowledge necessary to predict scales exponentially as we try to predict the far future. The weatherman may be reasonably accurate about tomorrow, but predicting what the weather will be on a given day next year – or even next month – is well beyond our capacity at the moment.

Some situations are sufficiently complex that predicting their outcome at a distance is difficult or impossible. This is beyond the “black swan” effect – that we’ve never seen it. (See The Black Swan for more.) Consider the kinds of questions that the intelligence community has to answer every day to protect our nation’s interests.

Intelligence Community

Nestled on an Army base in Maryland is the National Security Agency (NSA) main campus. Here, many agencies that make up the intelligence community regularly congregate to discuss the matters that threaten our nation’s interests. Part of their job is to identify potentially threating situations and their probabilities.

Whether it’s the probability of The Soviet Union deploying missiles to Cuba or the probability of Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction, it’s the intelligence community’s job to estimate and make recommendations based on those predictions. The problem is that the weight of the accuracy of these predictions is often measured in human lives.

The missiles were already in Cuba when we estimated they’d not be deployed and, as we found out, Iraq didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction – however, that didn’t stop the invasion and the resulting deaths of service men and women nor the disruption to a country, the ripples of which still continue.

At a logical level, it makes sense to improve predictions as much as possible, even if emotionally it’s threatening to the ego to find out that your best predictors aren’t that good. IARPA – Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity – funded a competition to assess the kinds of predictions they needed to make every day.

Measuring Predictions

Most predictions are remarkably vague. Statements like “I predict things will get better” lack both the criteria for what “better” means as well as the timeframe under which these results will appear. That’s why the questions that were framed to predictors were much more precise. What specific action will happen over exactly what timeframe? Will the ruler of Egypt be removed or replaced in the next six months? Estimate a probability that it will happen, from zero percent (not possible) to 100 percent (certain). These specific predictions could be proven successful –or unsuccessful. It’s an objective – rather than subjective – measure to hit.

With the help of a mathematician, Glenn Brier, there was a way to aggregate the results of probability-based predictions into a single score that can be used to compare the relative accuracy of various predictors over many predictions. A Brier score of zero is perfect and a score of one is the worst possible score. The goal is, of course, to get as close to zero as possible.

Good Judgement Project

What if you took a large number of volunteers who had nothing to gain from the project but a $250 gift card and asked them to make prediction after prediction about a variety of topics for which it would be impossible for them to be the expert on all of them? The answer is that some of them would do substantially better at predicting events than even seasoned predictors who had access to classified information.

This is, of course, the goal of the IARPA competition. In the short term, show how poor the predictions are, but, more importantly, learn from what others are doing right and become better.

Makeup of a Superforecaster

Of the forecasters who were exceptionally good, what characteristics could be identified? What was making the superforecasters so good? It wasn’t one single answer. There were many things it wasn’t about, including expertise. Instead, it seems as if the superforecasters were the very kind of people that Harry Truman wouldn’t have liked. He’s often quoted as having said, “Give me a one-handed economist. All my economists say ‘on one hand…’; then ‘but on the other…'” Truman’s economists were considering multiple perspectives, multiple factors, and multiple frameworks.

The superforecasters, it seems, were able to do this for the kinds of problems they were being asked to predict. They’d do the research, look at the news, and then they’d synthesize many different points of view into a single probability about how likely something was to happen. It’s like they were able to pull in a chorus of voices inside their head. (See The Difference for more about how diverse teams make better decisions.)

Working in Teams

If superforecasters were being effective on their own by bringing together a set of diverse perspectives, how then might they do in teams? As it turns out, even better. Though there’s always concern for social loafing – that is, living on the backs of others – that didn’t seem to happen much. (See The Evolution of Cooperation and Collaboration for more on social loafing.) To some extent, the idea that the Good Judgement Project (Tetlock’s project for the IARPA competition) didn’t see social loafing isn’t surprising, since most of the people participating were effectively doing it for fun not reward.

It seems that the team’s ability to gather more research and more completely flesh out paths of thought allowed the team to make better predictions, even if the team never had a chance to meet face to face. That’s great news for the kinds of remote teams we see in organizations today.

The Secret to Success

The real secret to the Good Judgement Project – and to the IARPA’s exercise – was finding a way to keep score. By addressing specific measurable predictions and avoiding the vagaries that exist in horoscopes and most television pundits’ proclamations, it was possible for everyone to see what was working and what wasn’t. It was possible to find the truth in the middle of the uncertain world we all operate in.

The Truth

So, can superforecasters predict the future? With some accuracy in the short term, yes. With accuracy in the long term, no. Where, then, does that leave us in terms of our best course of action? In short, we cannot hope to know the future. We must retain the capacities that have made us the dominant lifeform on Earth. We must ensure that we do not lose our ability to learn, grow, and adapt to the changing conditions of the future. Even Superforecasting isn’t enough to ensure future success. But it may be a start.

Book Review-Neurodharma: New Science, Ancient Wisdom, and Seven Practices of the Highest Happiness

Occasionally, I get the chance to review a book before its release. Such is the case with Rick Hanson’s Neurodharma: New Science, Ancient Wisdom, and Seven Practices of the Highest Happiness. I’ve read some of Rick Hanson’s previous works, including Hardwiring Happiness and Resilient. This book feels a bit different, however. It’s practical but also seems more connected with Hanson’s desire to contribute his unique perspectives.

The Seven Practices

The subtitle of the book indicates there are seven practices of highest happiness. They are:

  • Steadying the mind
  • Warming the heart
  • Resting in fullness
  • Being wholeness
  • Receiving nowness
  • Opening into allness
  • Finding timelessness

Hanson makes the point that his goal is not perfection in any practice. The idea is that the journey you’re on is the reward – not some mythical endpoint you may never reach.

Truth

Dharma is truth. It’s not some religious epiphany or mystical art. It’s not specific to Buddhism. Other practices use different words to mean the same thing. Twelve-step programs speak about living life on life’s terms. That is recognizing and accepting the truth of the world – even if we don’t like it.

All of us are bound by the limits of our perception. We necessarily see an incomplete view of other people and the world. The quest for dharma is about broadening that perception as much as possible through study, meditation, others, etc. so that we can more accurately appreciate and respect reality.

Pain is Unavoidable, Suffering is Optional

Whether we want to accept it or not, we will all feel pain. Pain is a signal to us to do something different. Many perceive suffering and pain to be the same, but they are not. Pain is our physiological response. Suffering is our response to it. We can choose to suffer from a breakup or divorce – or we can choose to learn, adapt, and move on.

We can choose to do things that cause us physical pain, because we know that we’ll grow from them. Anyone who has exercised knows that it can be painful, but focusing on the pain only amplifies it. Focusing on the growth makes the pain fade into the background.

Learning from Experience

There’s an old myth in talent development circles. Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience has been widely misreported as the ways that people learn and what percentage of people learn those ways. (You can learn more in our whitepaper, “Measuring Learning Effectiveness.”) However, the truth is that we get to choose whether we learn or not. Experience is no guarantee that learning will occur. (For more, see The Adult Learner.) After we participate in an experience, we must integrate that experience into our world so that learning will occur. This can and should be done at a conscious level, though some degree of unconscious processing happens as our brain tries to integrate experiences itself in the form of dreams.

Unconscious Memory

We sometimes believe that we’ve forgotten things – often they’re past hurts. However, the research clearly shows that we don’t forget. The Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) study shows that long after the adverse events have happened, they play a role in adults’ lives. (See How Children Succeed for more.) Gary Klein’s work showed that we learn and know things that we often don’t realize we know. (See Sources of Power and Seeing What Others Don’t.)

Emotions

Underneath the conversation about practices and dharma is another conversation. It’s a conversation about how to learn to better deal with your emotions. I don’t mean control them, nor do I mean to say that you ignore them. Instead, the realization is that emotions are based on the environmental stressor as well as our assessment, as Lazarus explains in Emotion and Adaptation. The more we believe that the stressor won’t seriously impact our life or that we have the resources to overcome it, the less frustrated, angry, or despondent we’ll become.

The practices that Hanson recommends helps us to understand the limited impact that any one thing can have on us and develops our awareness of our inner resourcefulness to overcome whatever comes before us.

You’re Only as Sick as Your Secrets

There’s a familiar quip in twelve-step programs. You’re only as sick as your secrets. The more you hide, the sicker you become. You fear and worry that you’ll be found out, and that drives even sicker behavior – which of course needs to be hidden. The best policy is, therefore, not to keep secrets.

I know that some people must keep secrets for their jobs. However, this isn’t the same thing. What is being said both in the groups and in the book is that you shouldn’t have things you share with no one. You should share secrets appropriately. If you’re not letting anyone know about something, then it has the ability to eat you up inside.

Human Being, not Human Doing

Hanson and I are alike in at least one respect. We love doing. I personally have a hard time sitting still and just being. I’m always striving to get something done or be better. I cram things into my schedules, sometimes stacking and other times twisting things into place to make sure I get the maximum out of everything.

Certainly, there’s something to be said for productivity, but at the same time, there’s something to be said for accepting and being. (See Extreme Productivity for more on productivity and How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more about accepting.)

Self

Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river, and he’s not the same man.” That’s the reality of self. There is no single self that remains. We’re always changing, adapting, growing, and dying. The idea that we’d find a stable image of ourselves over time is fallacy. We change as the firings in our brain change. We are a self that changes.

The truth of our neurology – our Neurodharma – is that we don’t know the truth. We only know a portion of ourselves, and we only know a portion of the truth. However, in reading Neurodharma, we can learn a bit more about the truth.

Book Review-Why We Do What We Do

When a book is only available in print form like Why We Do What We Do, it will delay my ability to read it. In my conversion to reading electronically, paper got left behind, such as the case here. However, if you want to get to the root of intrinsic motivation and why people do what they do – and what we can do to encourage more of it – this is the place to start. Edward Deci is at the heart of the research on intrinsic motivation and has been the core of what other works, like Drive, have used to help everyone better understand motivation.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

It’s a spooky, weird world when it comes to motivating other people. There are their internal drives. Things like curiosity and the desire for learning seem to come inborn. On the other side, there are the external drivers. The so-called carrot and stick used to reward people for the behaviors we want and punish them for bad behaviors. It seems like it should be easy. Extrinsic motivators can get the behaviors we want, so we should use them, and everything will be fine.

The problem isn’t that extrinsic motivators – like money – don’t cause the behavior; they do. It’s like the trained seal that acts when they’ll be rewarded with a fish. The problem is that, in most cases for humans, we’re trying to build behaviors that last after the motivators are gone. We want our employees to keep working hard after the next sales promotion ends – and that doesn’t seem to happen.

Edward Deci and Richard Ryan (a colleague but not coauthor) discovered that if you used external motivation for a behavior that was previously intrinsically motivated – like playing with puzzles – you’d destroy the intrinsic motivation. Think about that for a moment. The person does the behavior you want – like studying – and you reward them to get more. You remove the external reward and you get less – or none – of the original behavior.

That’s spooky, because it means the very things we’ve been taught to motivate people may be destroying their internal motivation. So, what’s the alternative?

Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose

As Drive so aptly summarizes, if you want intrinsic motivation, the best way to get it is to provide individuals with autonomy, the ability to reach mastery, and a sense of purpose. Let’s look at these individually, because they’re so important.

Autonomy

There’s a concern that if you make people more autonomous, you’ll make them more independent and therefore less social. There are several problems with this way of thinking. First, as Brené Brown points out in The Gifts of Imperfection, the most wholehearted people and authentic people she knows are compassionate but have a clear sense of themselves. That is, the more that we understand ourselves, the more we recognize our inherent need to be connected with other human beings. We become more authentic and more real the more autonomous we become.

Autonomy is about being able to make your own decisions – and accept the benefits or consequences. Leaders still have a responsibility for establishing the destination, but it should be up to us to improvise how to get there – at least to some degree.

Mastery

Our egos are powerful things. They want to believe that we’re each better than we are, and we want to believe that we’ve mastered our chosen areas – that we’re the best. Whether that’s objectively verifiable or just wishful thinking isn’t the point. If we want to motivate people, we’ll give them ways to become masters or, at the very least, allow them to feel competent in what they’re doing.

Purpose

Those with religious beliefs see an order to the universe. Whether that’s God-ordained or through some other means, the religion offers a model by which people can make order out of their world. Even atheists often believe in fate, that is there is something happening, and things are “meant” to be. We need to find meaning in the world, and, personally, that meaning is our purpose. It’s the role we feel we are meant to fill.

Integration

Deci, on several occasions, speaks about the pull or the draw towards an integrated self-image. The desire for coherency of thought – including thoughts about ourselves – is very powerful and sometimes elusive. I’ve spoken about developing an integrated self-image repeatedly, the last time in my review of Braving the Wilderness.

I appreciate Deci’s optimism that there’s a pull drawing people into an integrated self-image, but I’m not completely convinced. I’ve seen too many people with decades of experience at life who still don’t feel integrated in their experience.

Autonomy Support

Learning how to spark intrinsic motivation and kick start it rather than replace it with external motivation is tricky. It is what Deci calls autonomous support. The tricky aspect of autonomy support is encouraging without feeling manipulative. It’s encouraging the effort and interest without concerns for the outcomes. It’s much like Carol Dweck recommends in Mindset. Encourage people to do the hard work and persist rather than praising their accomplishments.

Some aspects of autonomy support are learning how to ask the right questions, so that people become more intrinsically curious about their chosen passion. (See Motivational Interviewing for more on techniques that may be useful in the conversation.)

Different Perspectives

The biggest challenge with autonomy support isn’t the desire – or even to some extent the skill – necessary to do it. We’ve all learned how to be encouraging at some level. The challenge with autonomy support is that everyone perceives things differently. What to one person is autonomy support may feel like attempts for indirect control by another. To one person, limits placed on what they can or cannot do are helpful structure; to the other person, they’re oppressive control.

As a result, the difficult part of providing autonomy support is monitoring the results you’re getting and the ways the person is reacting to see if they’re experiencing your actions as support – or control. (For more on control, see Compelled to Control.)

Relationships

Relationships are essential for our survival. Our ability to make our own decisions doesn’t limit or mitigate our responsibility to the rest of humanity. Nor does it remove the positive results we get from healthy relationships. The trick is, of course, in the fact that relationships add the most value when they’re healthy. While healthy doesn’t have a precise definition, there have been many attempts to identify key characteristics. How to Be an Adult in Relationships emphasizes the 5 “As,” where books like Boundaries and Beyond Boundaries are, obviously, more focused on setting boundaries. The net effect of the techniques shared is that we feel safe and supported in our relationships, and we can trust the other person will be there when we need it.

Freedom

It seems odd but when we have the right supportive relationships, we experience freedom rather than control. Instead of feeling as if the other person is there to manipulate us, we experience the freedom of our own choices in the context of the supporting environment. You feel the freest to try new trapeze tricks when you know there’s a safety net below you. You’re able to be yourself, to be autonomous, when you know there are relationships there that will catch you.

In the end, that’s Why We Do What We Do.