On Motivation and Influence or Be Nice to the Loner Kid Lest He Destroy Your Reputation

Author: Gab Goldenberg

Frozen Motivation (Ice Cream)What follows is a letter I wrote late one night out of anger, frustration, depression, pain and a desire to get my feelings off my chest so that I could finally fall asleep. I’ll be using it to illustrate and explain the two most important elements of human behaviour: motivation and influence.
The former is the explanation as to why someone behaves a certain way, and the latter explains how to affect the former. If you enjoy this post, be sure to get my RSS feed as there’s lots more where this came from.

Frozen Motivation courtesy of Robbystyle.

To give you some background on the letter, I was bullied pretty badly in grade school. The kid to whose parents I had addressed this letter had once been my best friend, years earlier. They’d moved away, then returned, which explains some of the references to returning to the school.

The only friend I had in grade school was this incredibly nice, compassionate and smart guy named Ofir. He ignored the fact that I was unpopular and stuck with me, even nominating me – to my great and pleasant shock – for class president in grade 6 (needless to say, I lost miserably to a popular kid). Nowadays, Ofir is an excellent all-around athlete who recently won the Quebec provincial football championship with his team, the Vanier Cheetahs. Here’s a highlight reel of his kicking for you coaches – definitely a hardworking athlete you’ll want to recruit and give a scholarship to ;).

Anyways, here’s the letter, verbatim except for the fact that I changed the names for legal reasons. Bare in mind, those of you who would comment on the grammar, that it was written by a 12 year old, or thereabouts.

“Dear Mr & and Mrs X,”Hello, it’s your son’s ‘friend’ Gab.

“I’m writing you concerning your son’s change to this school. He does not deserve this school. This school is for losers like me, isn’t that right Kev? Over the past 2 year’s [sic] since your return from Florida, your son (and others)* have been despicable to me. Earlier this year, I gave up hope for the situation and left. However before that, something very significant concerning your son & [sic] me happened. In grades 5 & [sic] 6 even though Kev treated me poorly I kept hope for our friendship. Soon though, in grade 6, someone told me [that] you had gotten me invited to your son’s b-day [sic]. I did not believe it. Earlier this year, at the time of your son’s bar [sic, Bar-Mitzvah], that thought came back to me. I gathered all my courage and confronted your son with what I heard. He confirmed [that it was true]. Even if it was not true, He [sic] was too dumb a f*** to deny it. I still doubt that it was not true. I’m not lying.

“So please keep your son in the school for popular other mean kid’s name kids. Tell him he does not need to act like we are friends. I just do not want to see his face.

Gabriel Goldenberg

“P.S. I do not want apologies. Just do not bring your son/slimeball to my school.”

Let’s ignore the petty insults and cut to the chase. Why did I just share that intensely personal episode? What was my motivation?

I shared it because that anecdote illustrates the symbiotic relationship between motivation and influence. The influencing of another person can only occur where there is a motivation that is being spoken to. (Note: The target of the attempted influence need not be aware of the motivation beforehand, if the influencer can communicate the motivational idea to his/her target.) I also shared it, on a more personal level, because if you/your children have a tendency to bully/intimidate/”kid”/make fun of others, you should think twice because those people could destroy your reputation one day. Imagine if I used my bully’s real name – I could rank this without breaking a sweat and give him considerable reputation management problems.

If you understand and harness these two forces (motivation and influence), then your site will convert, you will win your election, avoid losing your best employees, become a thought-leader and you’ll have power beyond what the worst tyrants of all time ever dreamed of. Shits ‘n giggles, what?

Since psychology was created, one of the most interesting things to psychologists has always been motivation. Varying explanations were proposed, such as the instincts theory (whatever we do is because some inner instinct compelled us to it, as I understand it; kind of deterministic, if you think about it) and Freud’s famous id/ego/superego theory (I’m a great example of the superego part, at least ;) ).

The most accurate explanation to date is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow suggested that human beings feel five types of needs, and that for a person to feel a need higher up in the hierarchy, the lower-level needs had to be satisfied. It’s like building a pyramid: you can’t create a third floor if you haven’t set blocks in place for the first and second floors.Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: Lowest is Physiological, then Safety, then Love and Belonging, then Need to Know and Understand, then Esteem, then Self-Actualization and finally Transcendance

Left: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs courtesy of Pictopedia. Right: 7 level version of the hierarchy of needs courtesy of Mark K Kaser.

Let’s illustrate with some examples from real life.

1. Influence derived from Physiological Needs and Safety Needs

Dictators work off physiological needs, as by controlling rationing of food, electricity and other essential amenities (OK, you could live without electricity, but you’d be pretty miserable … believe me, I’ve done it when the Ice Storm hit Quebec 10 years ago). That’s how North Korea’s Kim Jong Il does it.

You can also work on people’s security needs. Want to meet your needs for food and drink, and not have your roof torched in the evening? Better keep quiet about that beating you saw in the sidestreet last week. Or about the mafia style kneecap blowouts.

Truth be told, these tactics often do work. Most dictators hold onto power largely as a function of their repressive tactics. The problem with messing around with people’s physiological and safety needs is that it doesn’t tend to earn you many friends. For every dictator using these tactics, there are 1000 people planning to slit their throats, and hundreds of thousands more who would be grateful to them for succeeding. And for every dictator that succeeds with this, there’s 10,000 who made one enemy too many on their way to the top and got killed along the way. It’s a high-risk method.

The flip side of that is that even if you do meet some people’s physiological and safety needs, in a positive (think UN handouts) or negative (Saddam etc.) way, you still won’t have happy people. So even if Kim Jong Il managed to feed every person in his country, chances are they’d still want to leave. We complain about a brain drain here in Canada, but we should count ourselves luckily because the fact of the matter is that most Canucks are happy to stick around and see themselves living here in the future.

2. Motivation based on Love and Belonging

I was just reading a book called The 100 Unbreakable Rules of Business Success. Rule 37 is the Rule of Power. The author, Brian Tracy, defines Power as the “ability to influence the allocation of resources.”He’s applying the notion of power to businesses, hence the allocation reference. You’ll notice however that the bottom line message is that power is influence.

Tracy goes on to write the following brilliant, very insightful explanation as to where this influence is derived from: “Ultimately, true and lasting power in an organization comes from the consent of the followers.” Permission marketing anyone?

The context of the followers reference is that the Rule of Power is in the book’s section on leadership. What matters to us, however, is the relation to motivation. Influence is granted to others by the influencee’s consent, and that consent is much more likely to be granted when the influencee feels that a genuine relationship exists between them and the influencer. They see that they are respected, loved, befriended, possibly sexually intimate etc.

Imagine that a soccer player on a team is jeered by a rowdy fan in the stands for hogging the ball. In all likelihood, the tone of the comment and the absence of any pre-existing relationship between him and the fan means that the message will be ignored as one more taunt by a jealous opponent, challenger etc.

Peace Love Unity and RespectNow suppose that the player’s teammates, whom he interacts with on a daily basis and goes out with during holidays, suggest in a discrete way (to avoid embarrassment) that the player should look for his teammates more. There is a relationship of mutual trust and respect, and the player may be ostracized if he continues to hog the ball. In all likelihood, the player will take note of his teammates’ suggestion and practice having his head up for teammates to pass the ball to. He desires continued acceptance as part of the group, and therefore willingly submits to their influence.

Picture of various motivational/influential considerations courtesy of grantlairdjr.

Peer pressure works on people’s desire for belonging. And it can be used for good, as with the soccer player example.

Another example, which was discussed in my intellectual property class with Prof Gold, is the case of students sharing notes and/or summaries. One of the essential motivating factors for people to share notes is the desire to encourage others to reciprocate if/when they should need it (which goes back to Cialdini). Word gets around about people who don’t share, and there are sanctions imposed by the group of students who do share (such as exclusion, and refusal to share).

When social media experts highlight tactics such as commenting, social submitting/voting/bookmarking, sending [non-self-promotional] tips etc., they are highlighting relationship building – a means to influence based on the desire for belonging/love. This also relates to respect, in that the building such relationships is largely motivated by a desire for influence. (You social media mavens and players reading this please share your thoughts on this in the comments. Do you agree/disagree? Why?

3. Respect (of others and self-respect) as a Motivator

Anybody who has ever felt that they had something to prove will certainly understand my meaning here. Having the respect and esteem of your peers is something that nearly everyone desires. The reason I’m so excited about speaking at SMX is that it’s great for my reputation and serves as social proof. It says that my peers in the search marketing industry recognize me as contributing something noteworthy to the conversation.

Picture courtesy of Soooosh.

Again, this is tightly related to the concept of peer pressure. Some people cave in to peer pressure, to do drugs for instance, in order to get the respect of certain peers. As a peer of mine in high school once said, sarcastically and very self-consciously, “Come on, all the cool kids are doing it!”Respect

When a person buys a Lamborghini, they aren’t buying a car, nor even a sports car. They’re buying a promise of recognition at their favourite place to cruise for women or car afficionado community. Jaguars and BMWs are sold on the premise that owning one will gain the owner respect as a succesful businessman at the country club. Status symbols aren’t sold on features, comfort or any of the other buzzwords that ad creatives likely to feature. Those are just the excuses provided to purchasers to rationalize the purchase to themselves. Status symbols are sold on respect. That’s why they’re called “status” symbols ;).

4. Influence due to Self-Actualization Needs

In just about every Hollywood movie of recent memory pitting a good guy against a bad guy, there is a line to the effect that the bad guy can kill people easily whereas the good guy is always hesitant and remorseful. Why is that?

It’s because both the good guy and the bad guy are looking to “be all that they can be,” as the US army used to say. Creative activity, morality … most of the advanced thinking that we do falls into this category. Appealing to someone to solve a puzzle or a unique problem challenges them to think deeply and helps them satisfy the need for self-actualization.

In a nutshell, proposing to someone that they pursue a particular path because it is more ethical, or more creative or somehow involves one of these advanced functions, is one of the strongest arguments that can be made. Appealing to a person’s need for self-actualization makes for a compelling argument. Who would work in advertising cigarettes when they knew that cigarettes killed people?

Actually, that was a trick question. The fact of the matter is that many people have advertised cigarettes, and many still do. While many more people ban these ads and refuse the work because their need for self-actualization (here, their ethical drive), other people have taken up the torch (no pun intended). Why is that?

You’ll recall that Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a pyramid – the an upper level of blocks can’t be laid until a lower level is laid, which blocks in turn can’t be set in place until the lower level needs are satisfied etc. The people working in advertising cigarettes are likely in a situation where they can’t even think to focus on their self-actualization because their more basic needs aren’t being met. IMHO, it’s probably the “sexual intimacy” need that isn’t being met for the cigarette advertisers ;) !

Another possibility is that, like the bad guys in said Hollywood flicks, some people have an inverted sense of ethics. They see the perpetrating of some evil act as the greatest thing they can do.

Investigative journalist Stewart Bell wrote a book, The Martyr’s Oath, about the true story of a young middle class Iraqi boy who, through the 90s and onwards gets brainwashed progressively into al-Qaeda’s doctrine. He goes on to become an important terrorist. What’s notable about this is that it disproves the terrorist apologists who claim that terrorists commit their murderous acts out of desperation and because of their miserable living conditions. Heck, just consider that Osama Bin Laden is the son of a billionaire Saudi construction magnate and you’ve got all the proof you could ever need. If that weren’t enough, consider that his right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is an Egyptian doctor. Twisted, yes. Motivated by subsistence needs, no.

These people are killing not because they’re desperate, but because they’re more educated and are looking for self-actualization. The greatest thing that they can be, in their brainwashed world view, is a “martyr” who blows himself up to kill others.

The flip side of this is the story of Israeli soldier Ro’i Klein, who jumped on a grenade to save his friends. Likewise US soldier Ross McGinnis who flung himself onto a grenade to save his buddies in their armored vehicle. Those people are true martyrs, and obviously motivated by self-actualization to “be all that they could be.” (That is, lifesavers; I’m sure that had they lived, both of these two heroes would have gone on to great things.)

Whether good or bad, you need to understand that self-actualization is the most powerful motivator. When you have somebody whose other needs are being met, appealing to their need for self-actualization is the most influential, the most persuasive argument you can use.

Conclusions on Influence and Motivation

Influence can only exist where there is motivation to support it. Understanding your audience begins with assessing what their motivations are, or are likely to be. Only then can you influence them. You can also do this in reverse and start by designing your product/brand/service to appeal to a specific need that people have, and so define your audience. In any case, it’s essential to grasp Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in order to see what motivates people and thus be able to influence them.

Now that we’ve seen motivation and influence, be sure to return here (SEO ROI :p scrapers) tomorrow to learn about 2 new metrics that will affect your measurement of your social media efforts. Plus I’ll be sharing some creative ideas to get you started improving how your blog/site tallies up. Or you could take the easy way out and rather than commit to returning tomorrow, get my RSS feed to read that post when you’re ready to improve your social ninja skills. Finally, for some further reading, see what motivated Ann to blog (opens in new window).

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Comments

  1. An interesting insight. Understanding motivations i think has been the cornerstone of every product marketing strategy, the motivation for consumption .... It is all the more true for online space because it is probably the biggest super bazaar and you better understand your customer otherwise cross at the top is not far away.

    Comment by Maria Sinha - January 27, 2008 @ 1:32am
  2. Hey Maria, You're right on about understanding motivations. I'd add that the better the understanding, the greater was the success of the strategy. Not sure what you mean by cross at the top is not far away though?

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - January 27, 2008 @ 9:35pm
  3. :) I had different methods to fix these kind of problems. All included hands ... none included writing. Anyway ... the truth is such a letter posted on a website ... don't look good to me! (I'm a INTP Sagittarius ... my opinion is usually different from the other 99.9% of people but ... unless you're trying to impress girls ... weakness doesn't work in your favor)

    Comment by 5ubliminal - January 28, 2008 @ 12:13am
  4. 5ub, if only you knew how much I wanted to do that... No idea how to fight back then, and in any case I'd have just been ganged up on. What's INTP? Besides that, check out my friend Christine Churchill's selfmadechick.com - she has something about the power of sharing personal experiences that is an eye-opener. And IMHO, it's really phony to only talk about the good stuff like those people who love sharing their earnings reports yet are pretty thin on content otherwise. And I don't need to do that to impress girls. I have a girlfriend and am fortunate that it isn't incredibly hard for me to "get" girls; after my previous break-up, it was just a short while until I started dating my current girlfriend.

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - January 28, 2008 @ 3:42am
  5. It is phony Gab only if you assume that people are all good and will understand the deeper meanings. Truth is not like this and any act of sincerity can usually take you down in flames. Few people understand and care ... most just look for flaws to use against you. Remeber Gab : "Anything you say can and will be used against you!" INTP - search Google. It's a psychological profile. One of the "worst" :) PS: Don't talk about sexlife on blogs. Usually, those who brag about stuff, are those who need to create an image with their own words and not based on reality. It's like those who buy a lot of sheet just to show they have money and increase their value even if they will never use those stuff. It's (subliminal) psycho 101:)

    Comment by 5ubliminal - January 29, 2008 @ 5:41pm
  6. Lol you're a cynic 5ub. Have to disagree with you there (most are out to get ya; yeah, I'm sure 8-) ). Oh well. And I'm not talking about sex life. Merely making the point that the facts on the ground are that I'm reasonably succesful at attracting girls.

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - January 30, 2008 @ 2:20am
  7. Just wanted to tell you you feature a post on my site ;) PS: I'm realistic hence cynic.

    Comment by 5ubliminal - January 30, 2008 @ 3:25am
  8. Yeah I saw that. By the way, is the link here live or robots.txt ed out too? It looked OK, but I didn't look at the robots plus you could surely hide it in some other way from the SEs if you felt like.

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - January 30, 2008 @ 5:37pm
  9. Gab - as ususal you have spent a good deal of time and thought in this post, and I especially enjoyed the breakdown of Maslow - as I have come across it many times and linking it to Freud was a normal course for the par. I do wish you had linked in more information about utilising this analysis on improving results. Take for example linking Maslow to product placement - where in Maslows pyramid does your product fit? and then how would you translate this learning to target the right people? I believe a follow up post is in order.

    Comment by Rishil - February 18, 2008 @ 11:03am
  10. Rishi, that's a great question; also, thanks for leaving a URL so I know where to credit you with a link this time! Where in the pyramid does product placement fit? That depends on the product's benefits, of course. And translating the learning to target the right people ... that's an interesting idea but I'd need more detail from you to understand where you're going with that/what you mean... Thanks for encouraging a follow-up; I'll think of how to do that :)!

    Comment by Gabriel Goldenberg - February 18, 2008 @ 1:51pm
  11. Lol - that’s my play area URL - but at least I should promote something, considering how many posts I sit and read ;) As for translating the learning to target the right audience - take for instance - A simple offering - "a holiday". These exist on several of Maslow’s tiers. How (oversimplified view): Physiological – in todays world a rest. Both mental and physical are part of our basic needs. In this respect targeting relaxation holidays, but at the same time this is one of their basics, thus their spend on these would be low too. Safety – there are those look at safety first, they are inherently insecure – therefore options such as travel insurance aren’t really options but necessity for their peace of mind. Belongingness – There are those who are pack animals, they cannot and will not enjoy themselves on holiday on their own – the need to belong. 18-30’s holidays are perfect examples. Esteem – not hard this one – holidays in Paris, St Lucia, best hotels, best foods, world safari’s Cognitive – holidays for those of us who seek the meaning behind things - tours of Egypt, the Mystical East Aesthetic – love of nature – beauty – visiting barzilian forests, rice fields in China, Flower farms in Holland. Self Actualisation - these can be in two sets, the adventurists, looking to improve their oneness with nature, their surroundings, or the knowledge seekers – similar to the cognitive bunch, but more intelligent, more hands on – asking questions isn’t enough, they need answers too. Transcendence - giving up your time to teach others, to better their lives, teaching in Africa, India etc. What I do need to point out is that I am not a believer in the hierarchy of motivation – I believe in the motivators, but don’t believe that they follow through as Maslow put them forward. Different stages in people’s lives encourage them to follow different levels of needs and their surroundings are just as much to blame for their present need. So what I have done above, takes out the stage elements, but stuck to their motivations. How you would place products in each one of those stages, and how you would price them would vary. Hope I am on the right track...

    Comment by Rishil - February 18, 2008 @ 5:05pm

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