Friday, February 8, 2013

Mine! All MINE!

I am precioussssss

Do you want a healthier economy? Want to sell your product? Want more equal rights? Getting large groups of people to take action is a messaging problem. How can we best motivate people to take action? It turns out that calls to collective action are not the best. It turns out people respond better to selfishness motivation.

John F. Kennedy's inaugural address got the messaging wrong when he said “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.” His desire may have been to do good.  The cry for self sacrificing service was not the best way to deliver the idea. We citizens do not react well to calls to actions for the society at our own expense.

To act together we must be motivated alone. We get more done for the group when given messages of self interest. This paradox is at the heart of our political debate between social responsibility and individual freedom. A new approach to motivation may contain solutions to our most difficult societal problem. Individuals acting freely do best for the group.

Bad messaging?
A new study shows that individual people acting in self interest are more effective at positive social change. Scientists at Stanford have done a series of experiments showing interesting results. Appeals to care, act, and think for a group sap motivation. The studies also show that when people emphasize their independence to be free in their actions they will be more motivated to do good for the group.

United States culture is a reflection of all of us as a group. Often the message from society to individuals is that we should act as a group. Messages like “Everyone should go do <fill-in-the-blank>” act as de-motivators to action and get less done.

A series of experiments were conducted trying to figure out what inspired people to work the hardest at solutions. It focused on the relationship between self action and group action. One experiment tested the persistence of people while another tested to see how motivation effected actions.

The first test examined how long people would persist at a physical challenge when they were thinking about independence versus interdependence. Those who thought about independence (self) worked at the challenging task longer. When primed to think about interdependence, the subjects gave up on the task sooner. Thinking in terms of self interest makes us work harder.

Good messaging!
Another test was designed to have people describe how descriptions of future actions affected their desire to complete the action. In this experiment, when the future tasks involved working together, understanding, and adapting to a group, subjects predicted they would work at it less. When told that the future effort would emphasize self discipline, being unique, and understanding their own viewpoints better, subjects predicted they would work harder. Thinking in terms of self interest makes us more motivated.

The study is about desire, not goals. The suggestion is that if we want effective change in behaviors we need to motivate the individual as a free actor. It is better to appeal to individual effort and self interest to cause changes in how people act.

If we desire to have a better world through politics, business, and morality then we must call on individuals to seek self-interest. Cultural inspirations to better 'me' work better than calls to better 'us'. Call each and every person to action, each to themselves. Mahatma Gandhi got the messaging right when he said Be the change that you wish to see in the world.

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