Book Review-The Hidden Persuaders

I can remember as a child sending off a letter about an idea that I thought was powerful. It came from a story I ran across about a movie theatre that ran subliminal advertising for their concession stand. The idea was that the advertising was conveyed in a single frame. It was too short to be perceived by the audience consciously but apparently was quite effective at selling popcorn. I found a reference to this movie theatre popcorn situation in The Hidden Persuaders. Though Vance Packard, the author, treats the recollection with skepticism, I wondered as a child how this could be used for good – rather than commerce.

I don’t remember who the letter was sent to, but, being a kid, I assume I wrote the President of the United States. The idea was to leverage subliminal messaging in prisons to attempt to adjust criminal behavior. An answer came back, I think from the Department of Corrections, that the FCC had issued a rule banning the use of subliminal advertising, and that was that for me.

However, after picking up Influence and Pre-Suasion, I wanted to go back and dig into the stories about how advertisers in the 1950s and 1960s started paying attention to psychology and how they could manipulate people in ways that weren’t expected. What I found in The Hidden Persuaders was strangely familiar and foreign at the same time.

What We’re Sold

We are, in many ways, a consumerism-based society in the United States. We as a people follow fashions, replace our cars every few years, and practice retail therapy when we’re feeling down. (Retail therapy is buying something to feel better.)

The overwhelming array of choices we face has transformed, from awe at what is available to us now that only royalty would have been able to afford a few centuries ago to a sense of entitlement that we must have all these things. However, at the heart of this isn’t the item itself: it’s how it makes us feel. We feel like “I deserve this” or “I’ve earned this.” The “this” we’re referring to is the feeling of beauty, freedom, status, or any of the other desirables that we want to believe we are – but don’t always feel like we are.

An interesting dynamic to this is that we buy things expecting they’ll make us feel better about ourselves; however, they don’t. We expect that a new car will refresh our vitality, but it doesn’t. We want to impress others by wearing a status symbol and are disappointed when our friends and peers purchased the same thing. How are we supposed to demonstrate our superiority if we’re constantly being copied – and are copying others?

Saying and Doing

We are willing to go to remarkable lengths to do what we say we’re going to do and maintain our public image. When people are looking, we will bend our preferences to support the identity that we believe other people expect of us, as we learned in Pre-Suasion. However, we feel no compunction to behave consistently with our answers if we don’t expect that people are looking.

Marketers have long known that people will answer one way and then behave in a totally different way. You ask them to commit to a course of action, but if they don’t feel they’re being watched when it comes time to take that action, their previous answer will likely not have much impact on their behavior. We want to be seen as rational, reliable, intelligent, and consistent people, when that’s rarely the way we are. We store up our reliability for those times when we believe we’re being watched. Even then, we often behave in ways that aren’t objectively rational.

I’m the Most Important Topic to Me

Nothing appeals more to someone than themselves. It’s not exactly new news – it wasn’t even new news when The Hidden Persuaders was first published – but it is profound. We spend time trying to get people to be interested in something else – or someone else like ourselves – but we fail to recognize that, at the end of the day, what everyone is most interested in is themselves. While this news may seem like bad news to those who want to motivate us, nothing could be further from the truth.

Knowing that everyone cares about themselves, including how they feel about themselves and how they’re perceived, there’s a lot of room to help people feel good about themselves. Makeup can make you look beautiful. It’s not creating a beautiful appearance, it’s changing the person’s perception of themselves as more beautiful. A powerful car can make a man feel more vitality.

While when stated directly, it may seem far-fetched for someone to believe that a product can make them stronger or more beautiful in an intrinsic sort of way. But this is exactly the way we’re sold to every day. Having the latest phone doesn’t appreciably change the features for most folks, but it sends a signal about the kind of person you are – and if you’re that kind of person, you deserve a phone.

Avenues for Expression

We use the things we own as proxies for who we are. Are we dog owners? Are we townhome kinds of folks? The things we have shape how others perceive us – or, perhaps more accurately, how we project what we want others to see. Once an object has been imbued with meaning, the meaning tends to stick. This is how brands work. They associate a characteristic or a feeling to a product, and then the product is sold based on the characteristic.

Nowhere is this truer than in the American love affair with cars. There are truck people, SUV people, minivan people, sports car people, sedan people, and other variants too numerous to mention. When you hear about the kind of car they own, most people begin to form images in their heads of the kinds of people we’re talking about. Truck people are rough and tumble. Minivan people have a lot of kids to be transported to soccer games – too many to fit in an SUV. Sports car people are wild and adventurous; sedan people are refined and reserved.

The truth is that the automobile industry reinforces these images. It tries to convince us that, if we just bought their car, we’d regain some aspect of our lives that we’ve lost (or never had). The innovation of the hard top is one of those success stories.

The Wife and the Mistress

Dr. Dichter, one of the key players in the act of peering into our minds to sell us merchandise, says that men settle down with a practical, down-to-earth, and safe person. The wife, in his analogy, is a sedan. He continues, however, that in his perspective, a man never forgets his desire for youthful passion. Convertibles were this image of vitality, excitement, and passion. He considered the convertible the mistress. Convertibles were, at the time, canvas, because of the need to fold.

The introduction of the hard top, he argued, would be like the best of both worlds: the perceived safety and stability of a sedan and the excitement and toplessness of the convertible. Thus, a single car could help a consumer fulfill two aspects they have of themselves. They wouldn’t need to deny a part of themselves when they’re buying a car – or in their lives.

Kaleidoscope

Masters of the marketing game find ways to leverage these different aspects of products in a way that allows a product to be seen differently by different audiences. Younger adults see smoking as a way for them to look older, while older adults seek it to regain their youth. Both groups see the same set of products, but they see different facets of the products in ways that drive their interest.

The different perspectives for different audiences may be difficult to master and ever-changing, but, done well, it can be a powerful way to drive demand for your product.

Bad Looks

Of course, where there is a positive side, there is also the potential for a negative side. When you attempt to introduce an aspect of a product, it can conflict with core messaging or reason why people buy your product, as Jell-O found out. Jell-O is a convenient, inexpensive desert. It’s the kind of thing that you can do and not worry about it too much.

When Jell-O started running ads with these impressive, multi-color, molded creations, sales dropped. It turns out that people didn’t want to compete with what they were seeing in the ads. They wanted to be able to do something simple, and the beautiful creations interfered with that.

When we’re motivating people with features, we must expect that we may accidentally trigger a response we don’t want.

Higher Prices and More Sales

Traditional thinking is that higher prices result in less sales; however, the reverse is often true. As Predictably Irrational exposes, people use price as a signal for quality. If it’s low-priced, it must be junk. Thus, if the prices are high, it must be good. Whether it’s black pearls, turquoise, or anything else that people don’t know about, they’ll use price as a proxy for goodness.

Related to this is the awareness that people make decisions about how well they’re going to treat themselves, particularly with things that have no fixed price, like art or jewelry. The result is they go looking for something that matches the range they have set out to spend on themselves. Then they buy something in that range – or generally slightly above it.

Price should be about the exchange of money and should be logical, but it’s not. It operates in a different world of feelings and perspectives.

Frozen Panic

Another, unfortunate, thing that can be triggered in us irrational humans is being overwhelmed by panic. There is a state we can enter where we don’t feel like we know what to do. We’re overwhelmed, and we can’t process anything. It can be that we’ve got sensory overload (see The Signal and the Noise for more). It may also be that, in our quick assessment of whatever is going on, we’ve decided there’s nothing we can do. (See Emotion and Adaptation.) Said differently, we may have rapidly lost hope that there’s a way out of the situation. (See The Psychology of Hope.) Irrespective of the cause, the result is the same. The result is that we’ll do nothing. That’s why it’s important when communicating with the market that you don’t create panic, because the result is generally a lack of action.

Hopefully, you’ll decide that it’s time to look behind the curtain and find out more about The Hidden Persuaders.

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-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.

Book Review-Change Management: The People Side of Change

As hard as it is to hear, the easy part of change management is the technical part. It’s something that I learned over a decade ago, as we were called in to implement new technology. We found that, though the solutions were technically beautiful, organizations weren’t getting the right value out of the change. That’s where Change Management: The People Side of Change comes in. It’s Prosci’s CEO Jeffrey Hiatt’s guide for managing the people side of change in the organization.

Change Tenets

Jeffrey Hiatt and Timothy Creasey start by reviewing three tenets about change:

  1. We change for a reason
  2. Organizational change requires individual change
  3. Organizational outcomes are the collective result of individual change

On the surface, these may seem like simple precepts. However, all too often, I find that organizations ignore these realities. They forget to explain the reasons for the change – in a way that employees can understand and agree. They fail to equip individual employees with the tools that they need to change themselves. They wonder why they aren’t seeing the value in the proposed change when it hasn’t happened because the individuals in the organization never made the changes they need to make.

Consider, for a moment, Fredrick LeLoux’s book, Reinventing Organizations, which describes different operating levels for different organizations, from the most authoritarian to the most mutually collaborative and empowered. The changes required of the individuals to work in these different environments is striking. Learning to be effective in the kind of organization you’re in can be challenging, and that’s without any change. Changing – particularly attempting to change operating levels – is fraught with personal changes that can be difficult to make.

ADKAR

Prosci’s trademark model for change is ADKAR: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement. I’ve written about this before in my post on Successful Technology Change and ADKAR, so I won’t repeat more details about the model here. It’s a reasonable approach to managing change even if it doesn’t have all the answers.

Seven Concepts

There are, they believe, seven important change concepts:

  • Senders and Receivers – What senders communicate, and receivers hear are different.
  • Resistance and Comfort – We all want to stay the same because it is comfortable; resistance is everybody trying to keep their comfort.
  • Authority for Change – Appropriate executive or management support is essential for change success.
  • Value Systems – Organizations are no longer command and control, and we must help employees understand why the change is necessary.
  • Incremental vs. Radical Change – Incremental change is smaller and therefore requires less change management.
  • The Right Answer Is Not Enough – The right answer doesn’t matter if employees can’t be bought into the change.
  • Change is a Process – Change isn’t an event or a thing but a process that happens over time.

Over and Under

It’s possible for change management initiatives of any type to fail in two ways: by paying too little attention to the people or by kowtowing to the people and never accomplishing the mission. The goal of change management should be to recognize people and their need to change without forgetting the fact that the change needs to happen – even if that means changing some of the people in the organization.

Every organization faces change. Change Management may be a way that you can navigate that change more successfully.

Book Review-Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Terri and I give a talk on conflict de-escalation and resolution with great regularity. One part of that talk is about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and specifically the introversion-extroversion scale. I – from the front of the room – ask the audience to predict whether I’m an introvert or an extrovert. Rarely do I hear introvert. In this context, it makes sense; but in the context of reading a book and writing a review each week, it doesn’t. As an introvert who lives in an extroverted world, I felt like I needed to read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. In part, I needed to understand the world and how extroversion was valued, but I also needed to understand myself and how I could maintain this disconnect between a speaking personality and a reflective one.

Being Sensitive

Being a sensitive person isn’t said as if it were a strength or virtue. It’s said with an air of disdain for the fact that you can’t adapt to the world more easily. It’s said as an accusation of a character flaw rather than the positive capability that it can be. This is at the root of the conversation between introverts and extroverts, because our degree of sensitivity has a high correlation to our introversion – or lack of it.

It seems the answer to why we’re introverted vs. extroverted may lie in our desires to regulate the amount of stimulation that we’re getting. Introverted folks tend to be more sensitive and therefore use quiet, isolation, and reflection to regulate their stimulation to a comfortable level. Extroverts, conversely, tend to be less sensitive and therefore need more excitement and interaction to reach their ideal levels of stimulation.

Culture of Character

My family connections run back to Chautauqua, New York, where a religious training center was started that eventually radiated out speakers to lecture on literature, science, and, of course, religion. It was the late 1800s, and it was a time when there was a “culture of character.” What you did in private was more important than the impression you made in public.

The character of a person was the very fabric of the nation, as people didn’t aspire to be famous but instead devoted themselves to being defined by their actions. It was a time of rural ruggedness and of hearty work to keep the hearth warm. There wasn’t time for such luxuries as caring what other people thought of you. You spent your time fighting off the wilderness and providing for your family.

Culture of Personality

At the heart of the transition from culture to personality was a young man named Dale Carnegie, or at least that is what he changed his name to. His parents expected him to become a teacher or a preacher. They didn’t anticipate that he would descend into the role of a salesperson. They thought this was beneath the moral fiber of the child they raised. But the times had changed. By the early 1900s, more people were living in cities, the threat of death was further from people’s minds, and there was a need for people who could sell.

The transformation had started, and Carnegie was at the center of it. Instead of honor and reputation, people were valuing charisma and enthusiasm. We had transitioned from interested in how we behaved in private to how we behaved – or at least were perceived – in public.

Take Me to Church

The evangelical movement may be losing steam. John Dickerson’s book, The Great Evangelical Recession, cites data that indicates that fewer people are going to church. More people are describing themselves as spiritual but not religious. However, the rise of evangelical churches transformed the church experience. Churches today are becoming more show and involvement with fewer opportunities for contemplation and reflection. We’re entertained by feature soloists and engaged in group community through singing.

For me, it barely registers. I recognize that it’s a show – perhaps the right show and a necessary one, but a show nonetheless. For someone who has already learned how to adapt to the needs of a world that is more extroverted, this seems like a little thing; but to those who are desperately seeking refuge from the storm that we call life, it can be easy to see how one more adaptation may be too many.

Patience

One thing that I’ve learned not to pray for is patience – because God doesn’t give it to you, he teaches you patience. Patience is an underrated virtue that somehow got lost in our rush to the velocity of our new world. Einstein was patient and persistent. So was Edison and his thousand attempts to make a lightbulb. However, in today’s world, we rarely reward those who toil in obscurity. The culture of personality doesn’t value patience like the culture of character did.

Introverts are, on average, more patient. They’ll stick with it a little longer. They’ll have a bit more grit (see Grit). Their internal interests drive them towards figuring out how things work, and once they’ve figured out how things work, they can create unique solutions to problems that others can’t find.

Stretch Our Strengths

Introverts can often adapt to the world around them, finding ways to fit in, but it has a cost. It’s possible to be in a situation more suited for an extrovert as an introvert. It’s not that it’s not possible – as the introduction to this review indicated. The tricky part is that introverts can only do this for so long. They’re putting on a show, and the show has a cost.

First, when the introvert’s internal resources are depleted (see Willpower), they won’t be up for an extroverted experience. Second, they’ll need recovery time. Terri and I, though rarely lacking in a conversation, will find that, post-presentation, we often sit in near silence so that we can both recover. (She’s an introvert, too – just not as strongly as I am.)

We know that, in many ways, we have a natural “set point” that we seek. We can, with conscious effort, reach to heights of extroversion – but not when we’re exhausted. Fitting into an extroverted world requires willpower – and that isn’t always available. Experts believe that we can stretch into uncomfortable areas – but only so far. Like a rubber band, we’ll keep coming back to the place that is more natural to us.

Introversion Is Not a Disease

Ultimately, introverts need to learn to accept the values of their nature. It’s introverts that allow us as a civilization to accomplish great things. Our extrovert friends and relatives need to accept us for who we are and recognize our values. That isn’t to say that there isn’t value in the gregarious. Rather, it’s valuable, just not essential. Love is essential. Gregariousness is optional.

If you’re an introvert, get some Quiet – and take your power.

Book Review-The HeartMath Solution: The Institute of HeartMath’s Revolutionary Program for Engaging the Power of the Heart’s Intelligence

I had heard of HeartMath from a friend of mine, Jan, but it was during one of our long, rambling (exploratory) conversations, and it didn’t register as a specific thing. I heard a sort of new-age idea that I’d expect from her and didn’t give it much thought. I know Jan navigates the world through her feelings, and while it works well for her, it’s not the way I view the world.

As I continued my research to see what other folks were saying about burnout, I found a reference to The HeartMath Solution: The Institute of HeartMath’s Revolutionary Program for Engaging the Power of the Heart’s Intelligence and decided I needed to take a deeper look. The book that referred to it was The Joy of Burnout, a book that I’m sure Jan would like, because there’s a soft edge to the framing.

What I found was a mixture of science, pseudoscience, and ungrounded ideas that, though they may work, may be more based on hope and placebo than anything real. That being said, it’s worth looking through the non-science to get to the key value that people with more analytical minds might be at first inclined to ignore.

Heart-Brain

The simple biological fact is that the heart has sufficient neural structures to be considered a brain of its own. There are enough neurons to qualify for the category. We know that the heart starts beating before the fetus’ brain is developed. We further know that sometimes the brain will communicate to the body to be on alert, and the heart will take a more gentle and relaxed view.

That’s all good, solid science. It gets tricky when we evaluate where emotions come from. There’s a lot of work to understand where emotions come from, and that effort is focused on the brain, not the heart. How Emotions are Made challenges the way others view the formation of emotions but remains firmly fixed in the development of emotions in the brain. Emotion and Adaptation is another example of research that is firmly founded on the brain being the seat of emotions. Even How Dogs Love Us uses fMRI scanning to try to decode if dogs do love us and, if so how.

It’s not that collective science can’t be wrong. If we didn’t accept that, then we’d still be trying to explain how the planets move if Earth is at the center of the Solar System. It’s that the plausibility is low that such detailed and painstaking analysis have missed things so cleanly.

Listen to Your Heart

The problem, it seems, is that people from many cultures have always associated feelings with the heart. In fact, we say “heartfelt” to indicate a trueness or depth in feelings. The ancient Egyptians used to believe the brain wasn’t useful matter and threw it away instead of preserving it. Of course, no one would dispute the fact that our rational, logical, planning, thinking comes from our brains today – but that wasn’t what was believed a few centuries ago. To get to the heart of a matter has meant to get to its core. It is woven into the very way that we communicate, and those tentacles aren’t very easy to untangle.

So, we speak of listening to our heart and what it’s telling us, but it seems to be more metaphorical than physical. Our heart is an amazing biological pump, and it has its own intelligence. But, in terms of research demonstrating that our heart is the root of our emotions, the evidence seems to be that it doesn’t.

Heart Transplant

Before the heart transplant, Bill loved walks in the woods. After, he’s more interested in the feeling of waves splashing at his feet. Those are the kind of stories you might expect if the feelings came with the heart. It’s true that there are neurological connections between the heart and brain that surgeons do not yet know how to restore, so perhaps that is the missing piece.

For that to hold true, it would mean that, after a heart transplant, the recipient should feel no emotion. They shouldn’t be able to love or to connect emotionally with another human. Both anecdotally from others and in my own experience, this just isn’t the case. The emotions don’t seem to transfer with the heart when it’s moved from one patient to another.

Does that mean that everything in The HeartMath Solution should be ignored? No, it means that, instead of looking at the material as literal truth, we should view the material as a useful tool for living a happier life.

Emotional Intelligence

The awareness and management of emotions has a profound impact on our lives. Daniel Goleman’s research in Emotional Intelligence makes that clear. Our success in life is often not about the IQ but instead about the emotional quotient. Plenty of resources today are focused on emotional intelligence and how to develop it or various aspects of it.

Whether emotions come from our heart or brain doesn’t matter. What matters is that, by learning to better control our emotions, we’ll live a happier and more productive life.

Freeze Frame

One of the techniques that HeartMath teaches is to “Freeze Frame.” There are five steps to the technique:

  1. Recognize the need for Freeze Frame because of a stressful feeling.
  2. Shift your focus away from the stressful thoughts.
  3. Recall a positive experience and re-experience it.
  4. Ask yourself what would be a better response to the situation than stress.
  5. Listen to the answer.

I intentionally edited out the heart-related focus to boil the exercise down into the key steps. This technique is sound and is like some of the techniques recommended in Hardwiring Happiness. It’s a process of stepping out of the reaction to evaluate what’s happening in the moment and choose better responses. In the middle is an attempt to re-center around a positive and presumably safe situation to try to minimize the impact of fear on the decision-making process.

The trick to the technique is being able to recognize when you need to use it in the first place.

Detachment

One of the concepts that reoccurs in my reading is detachment from outcomes. That is, we should become less concerned with the outcomes and be more focused on our behaviors. While this is easy to say, it’s not so easy to do. Buddhists believe that it is our attachment that causes our suffering in this world, and learning to become detached can help to mitigate or limit our suffering. (See The Happiness Hypothesis for more about detachment.)

The language HeartMath uses for detachment is “avoiding wasting energy.” It also includes taking a step back from the problem. Sometimes it looks like seeing yourself like an outside observer would. These are all variations on the theme of not becoming so engrossed in your experience that you forget that it’s just one experience – and one that you can’t control. (See Compelled to Control for more about our lack of control.)

Plugging the Holes

Where, in Extinguish Burnout, we speak about a bathtub, HeartMath speaks about a bucket and plugging the holes before worrying too much about how you fill the bucket. The analogy is solid. You need to find those places that are draining you– the holes – and plug them, so that you’re not pouring in when nothing will stay. The holes, for HeartMath, are small indulgences in emotions like worry, guilt, and judgement. These emotions represent small drains on our psychic energy, and, collectively, they can have a big impact on our overall well-being. (You can find more about acceptance in How to Be an Adult in Relationships – it’s the opposite of judgement.)

If you’ve seen late-night TV, you may have seen a sealant that you can spray on a screen to make it waterproof. That’s not the point. The point is that it is designed to allow you make things leak-proof again. One emotion that can help stop the leakage in your world is gratitude. That is, being grateful for what you have and where you are minimizes the ability for us to slip into negative patterns of thinking. (You can find more about gratitude in Dare to Lead.)

“If You Practice Sincerely”

Occasionally, you’ll stumble across a passage in a book that you have to read again, or you wonder if you’re reading it right. In HeartMath, one of those quotes was, “As with the other HeartMath Solution tools and techniques, if you practice sincerely, a perspective shift will naturally occur.” On the surface, the comment seems harmless enough. However, as you dig deeper, you can unravel the problem with the statement. You evaluate it from the point of view that a perspective shift may not occur – for whatever reason. The problem is, if this happens, you necessarily create a situation where the person blames themselves, because they’re not practicing sincerely.

It’s a subtle form of shame that pushes the blame from the system, approach, or technique and lays the burden on the person. It happens all the time, and it’s one of the biggest bucket holes of them all. If you would like to know more, we talk about the difference between shame and guilt in Kin-to-Kid Connection: Understanding Shame and Guilt.

Cut-Thru

Another of the techniques taught in the book is “Cut-Thru.” It’s designed to help us rewire our past memories into more positive things. (You might look at Hardwiring Happiness for an alternative viewThe process is:

  1. Be aware of our feelings.
  2. Breathe and take space.
  3. View the situation from another person’s point of view.
  4. Relax and rest in the moment.
  5. Be grateful and appreciative of the situation.
  6. Ask yourself what the best response to the situation is.

As with Freeze Frame, I’ve reworded the language a bit to minimize the specific heart-focus.

Heart of the Matter

While I disagree on some of the technical details that are presented in HeartMath, there are some very sound principles and techniques that are shared. Perhaps they’re right about the influence of electromagnetic fields emanating from our hearts, and I’m just not accepting enough of the things I can’t verify. In either case, you can read The HeartMath Solution yourself and make up your own mind.