“You are a product of your environment. So choose the environment that will best develop you toward your objective. Analyze your life in terms of its environment. Are the things around you helping you toward success – or are they holding you back?”
W. Clement Stone
“I don’t want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me.”
Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson; The Departed)
“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Your behavior is automatically influenced by other people.
In the 1960’s, Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram developed an intimidating shock generator, with shock levels starting at 30 volts and increasing in 15-volt increments all the way up to 450 volts. The many switches were labeled with terms including “slight shock,” “moderate shock” and “danger: severe shock.” The final two switches were labeled simply with an ominous “XXX.”
Offering $4.50 in compensation, Milgram recruited 40 people for an experiment that involved the shock generator. Each participant took the role of a “teacher” who would then deliver a shock to the “student” every time an incorrect answer was given to a question. While the participant believed that he was delivering real shocks to the student, the student was actually a planted subject who was simply pretending to be shocked.
As the experiment progressed, the teacher would hear the student plead to be released or complain about a heart condition. Once the 300-volt level had been reached, the student banged on the wall and demanded to be released. Eventually, the student became completely silent and refused to answer any more questions. When this happened, a professionally dressed experimenter would instruct the teacher to treat the student’s silence as an incorrect response and increase the voltage. The experimenter would influence motivation by issuing one of the following four commands:
1. Please continue.
2. The experiment requires that you continue.
3. It is absolutely essential that you continue.
4. You have no other choice, you must go on.
How far do you think that most participants were willing to go? A poll at Yale University predicted that no more than 3 out of 100 participants would increase the voltage to lethal levels. In reality, 65% of the participants in Milgram’s experiment delivered the maximum shock. The following video shows the experiment being repeated with similar results (notice the 19 year old biology student’s obedience 1.5 minutes into the video):
The above study crisply displays how external and internal influences can manipulate your behavior. Your external influences consist of your environment while your internal influences consist of your reactions to your environment and your inner voice. Understanding these influences is critical to increasing self awareness and maintaining control of your actions. Here are 5 ways you might be being manipulated right now:
Authority is often used to generate influence through manipulation, rather than through conscious free will. In his book, Influence: The Power Of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini discusses several studies that display the dramatic power of authority. The first study involves actors pretending to be doctors; the actors used hospital telephones to call nurses and then demanded that the nurses change their patients’ prescriptions to unauthorized, excessive dosages. It was strictly against hospital policy for nurses to take orders from doctors by the phone, yet 95% of the nurses proceeded to change their patients’ prescriptions (until being stopped by a secret observer). 95%!
Another study involving a man wearing a T-shirt and jeans and a second man wearing a 3-piece suit showed that pedestrians were nearly 4 times more likely to J-walk across the street before the signal changed when the man wearing the suit crossed first than when the man wearing the T-shirt crossed first. A similar experiment involving a man driving a luxury car, such as a Cadillac or an Audi, and a second man driving an economy car, showed that 50% of the drivers would not honk at the man in the luxury car if he remained parked at a green stoplight. Conversely, nearly 100% of the drivers behind the man in the economy car honked their horns and two rammed into his bumper.
Limited time offer. Card members only. Platinum status. Exclusivity incites an intense “must have” pull in many people. This is because exclusivity is tied to scarcity. Objects that are presented as exclusive tap into people’s fear of loss. The very fact that you might be missing out on something, even if that something is useless to you, makes you want it.
People want what they can’t have and will give away enormous amounts of time and money to have it. Several studies have shown that merely raising the price of a product to make it seem more exclusive will influence more people buy it. My favorite example of this involves the invention of chicken hotdogs. Chicken hotdogs are cheaper to make than pork hotdogs, so the owner of the first chicken hotdog company sold them at half the price of pork hotdogs. The result: nobody bought chicken hotdogs.
Then the owner had a wild idea. He doubled the price of the chicken hotdogs. Almost immediately, his dogs started flying off grocery store shelves. Profits skyrocketed and chicken hotdogs became one of the best selling items that year. Why did this happen? Consumers reported that they believed the chicken hotdogs were healthier and harder to manufacture. They weren’t. Simply raising the price made it seem like the chicken dogs were more valuable and thus, more exclusive.
MySpace’s Tom has lost a lot of friends in the last 10 years. In 2012, the average person spent 15-30 minutes a day on Facebook. Currently, one in four of all webpage views occur through the social networking site. One in four. How did Facebook become so popular? Facebook crushed its competition simply by applying the law of exclusivity. When Facebook first launched, only college students with a registered college email address (ending in .edu) could access the site. Unlike MySpace, Facebook made it easy to find your friends and give them exclusive access to your profile. And finally, Facebook allowed you to announce exclusive romantic relationships on your profile.
It’s been said that the only thing worse than not getting what you want is watching someone else get it. The pull of rivalry is something that is deeply embedded in people since birth. Watch two young siblings play together for more than 5 minutes and you’ll know what I’m talking about. Everyone has heard of sibling rivalry but few understand how powerful of a force rivalry is. Rivalry’s power is manifested by its ability to create clear contrasts between two different things, and by its relationship to exclusivity.
David would have remained a lowly shepherd boy had it not been for Goliath. When two people or objects are compared as rivals, both parties are set side-by-side and each of their distinct features become more visible. In order to raise their standing in the eyes of consumers, many small business and entrepreneurship companies will compare themselves to their biggest competitors. Merely being identified as rivals puts mismatched parties on the same playing field. On the other hand, a company may identify a mismatched competitor as a rival in order to display their shortcomings and generate influence. This is the power of contrast.
I rode motorcycles my first few years in Graduate school and whenever I decided to sell my current bike I would put out an advertisement on Craigslist. Through email, I would arrange to have several different people meet me in a safe place to look over the bike. The important part of the story is that I had them all meet me on the same day and at the same time.
The first buyer would come and start to look at the motorcycle and note its supposed deficiencies in hopes of bartering down the price. Then, a second buyer would come and I would ask him to wait while the first buyer finished looking at the bike. The first buyer would immediately become more interested. He would move closer to the bike and start intensely examining everything again while looking at the second buyer. The second buyer would stare at the bike and eventually start pacing back and forth. One guy became so agitated that he yelled out, “I want that motorcycle and will pay cash right now!” If a third buyer showed up, everyone’s head exploded. It never took me more than 30 minutes to sell a bike.
If left unguarded, your own identity can be used to manipulate you. Human beings have an incredible need to be consistent with themselves. Gandhi said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” Once a person violates this consistency, she becomes torn inwardly and begins to repair the rift by realigning her thoughts, words, and actions, or by lying to herself and others.
Understand: you will do almost anything to maintain this consistency.
A person’s internal consistency is manifested as his identity, or how he sees himself in the world. For example, when a person that doesn’t smoke is offered a cigarette, he will say, “No thanks, I’m not a smoker.” He will identify himself as a nonsmoker rather than saying, “No thanks, I don’t smoke.” Our identities are made up of things like our occupations, hobbies, political stances, religious beliefs, music tastes and eating preferences. Are you a liberal, paleo, Dead Head, corporate vice president, bhuddist skier, or a conservative, Christian, vegetarian, stoner, freelance artist Crossfitter?
The most powerful means of persuading someone in favor of a product, person, or cause, is to get him to identify with it. Once you identify with something, you’ve bought into it. This is why branding is such a big part of business and entrepreneurship development. A product’s brand provides an identity that it’s consumers can identify with. Look no further than your favorite sports team to understand the fervor, and idiocy, that can be induced by identifying yourself with a particular brand.
5. Give And Take
The next time you are at a grocery store and free food samples are being handed out, stick around for a few minutes and watch how people handle being given something for free. One of two things happens after a shopper takes a sample:
A) The shopper buys the product.
B) The shopper talks to the clerk.
Each shopper feels the need to either give the clerk money (by buying the item) or time (by engaging in a conversation) in return for the free sample. Very rarely will an adult shopper take the free sample, say nothing to the clerk, and leave.
It’s hard giving people money. Try tipping someone for an unusual reason, or try giving an acquaintance a few dollars for no reason at all. Most of the time, the other party will not accept money, even after you offer it a second or third time. In fact, you may have to put the money on a countertop or table next to him and leave in order for him to take it. This person knows that by accepting your offer he will be bound by the law of give and take.
Acceptance is the gateway to submission. If you watch others closely during these kinds of “free gift” interactions, you will see their body language betray the pull that they are feeling on the inside. At first, they will step back, put their hands in front of them, frown and shake their heads, as if they are fighting against some unseen force. Then, once they take the item, they will lean forward, relax their shoulders, and life their brows in acceptance.
All of the above techniques can be used to influence motivation positively. You can use exclusivity and rivalry to encourage others and yourself to perform better. Likewise you can utilize the rule of give and take in business and entrepreneurship to make both your life and your customers’ lives better. The key is being open about your intentions. Otherwise, you’re being manipulative.