Why Do People do What They do? Seven Lessons on Influence

Social societal

Say we take for granted self interest—why people do what they do is a valid question in our conversation about influence. Asking the question without attaching the part that concerns you, your product, your service, your world, will help you see their motivation more clearly.

Before you can determine what you can influence and when, it would be helpful to explore: What really affects behavior?

You've seen much of the data about people spending more time online to get things done through search, collaborate remotely, connect and share, or just research. While the fundamental question of the Web is "why wasn't I consulted?", the outcome and results you are seeking rest on the usefulness and ease-of-use of what you put out there.

Technology expands our potential, and reach.


What technology does

Yesterday I helped facilitate one of the open innovation sessions at the Health | Tech | Food event organized by Luminary Labs for Social Media Week New York. The day kicked off with some thought starters from people who explore big questions on food, technology, and health.

Most of us do spend a lot of time pushing information out. The conversation centered around how that same technology can help us solve some basic societal needs by inspiring individual action, which when seen leads to and transforms group action.

Connected has new, more expansive meaning.


First a story

In 1984, Marc Koska read an article that predicted HIV would spread via unsafe injections like a bush fire. That got his attention, and alas turned out to be an accurate prediction as well.

He confessed complete ignorance in matters of health care systems and syringes, saying that the only things he’d ever manufactured were excuses. So he set about learning. Read everything he could on the transmission of viruses like HIV. Found out how UK drug addicts used syringes. Went to Geneva to learn about public health policy, and so on.

An inexpensive, non-reusable syringe seemed to be the answer. It took him 17 years to develop and have it distributed. As he says on his site, you wouldn’t believe how many influential people he gets to hang out with these days.

Much education work still needs to be done, which is why Marc created SafePoint in 2005, and continues to build on the initial success of this initiative to reinforce that re-using any instrument that comes into contact with blood is unsafe.


Changes IRL

Which is short hand for "in real life". In a post where he asks are we fictionalizing our lives too much? Paul Isakson explores the question of whether reconnecting with cause/effects, source/resource can lead to a change in behavior:

I think a large part of the problem with obesity and several of the health issues facing the U.S. population has to do with our disconnection from our food. We don't make as much of what we eat as we used to and because of this, we don't see exactly what ingredients are going into it.

If we had to watch some of the things we eat being prepared, or even further, were given a precise recipe and told to make them as they're sold to us, I bet we'd have a lot different feeling about wanting to eat them.

I think this stuff is why there is a resurgence of interest in making things.

The modern food system wraps around personal convenience, which isolates individuals from better choices by masking or crowding out collective resources for time strapped professionals, for example.

Say a fresh food market organized to showcase foods as well as giving you simple recipes and public demonstrations on how to cook and combine ingredients. Then say you could capture by photo or short video those demos for future reference. What would happen then? 

When you design an experience that helps people do something differently and give them something to record, remember, see that is highly relevant in the context, motivation and opportunity marry. In the case of the open market, you also have inspiration derived from face to face and public interaction.

Education is part of that. Consider we are social animals and you see how it's almost impossible for someone who has learned something healthful not to share it with her family and friends to be helpful. Which in turn means they have the opportunity to influence the motivation of others.

Technology can help you make that happen.

Answering the right question means you don't need to trade convenience for health, or for the story above, an injection to treat one ill with another, more lethal one.


Lessons on influence

What does any of this teach us about influence?

If you design a system for selfish reasons, to reward individuals upon independent and not interconnected or educated action — what I call the "there's only one cookie and it must be mine" — you will have selfish behavior as a result.

Lesson #1 — there is nothing more attractive than people working on purpose

Lesson #2 — inner motivation can be inspired or magnified by good system design

Lesson #3 — helping people see the behavior or interest of others affects their choices

Lesson #4 — motivation also comes through inspiration, relevance, and education

Lesson #5 — removing obstacles encourages active participation and involvement

Lesson #6 — challenging closely held beliefs, opens up opportunity

Lesson #7 — self-interest is not the same as selfish

What kind of behavior do you want to influence?


0 responses to “Why Do People do What They do? Seven Lessons on Influence”

  1. Valeria,
    I think you did a much better job of explaining a thought I was trying to express after a mzinga webinar on “Using Social Intelligence to Help Shape Customer Relationships & Drive ROI,”. We were talking about rewards and recognition and the idea of badges or other public displays of recognition came up. I don’t have any hard facts but your comment:
    If you design a system for selfish reasons, to reward individuals upon independent and not interconnected or educated action — what I call the “there’s only one cookie and it must be mine” — you will have selfish behavior as a result.
    summed up what I think may be a problem with those types of recognition. They may work for some audience types but may be off-putting to the larger group. And as our understanding of customer insights and motivations become richer then valuing individual contribution within the context of the larger community becomes possible.
    Great post as usual. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I’m with purpose. Working in online social networks for more than ten years, I’ve seen consistent results from letting people see what other people are doing and saying, as well as building tools that allows them to get there easily.
    The SAP developer community is built on this kind of mechanism, with points accruing toward rewards for charitable organizations.

  3. Valeria, I think you hit here a crucial point(and this is not a surprise): let people see what other people are doing and they may be influenced.
    This brings the question about who the real influencers are, today. To me the answer is rather simple: we are influenced by people like us, people we trust in and not necessarily big names. And the experience we share with them is the fastest and most reliable way to influence and get influenced.

  4. Hi Valeria,
    What you are describing looks a lot like game mechanics – designing systems with epic purpose, feedback loops, rewards, challenges to take, obstacles to over come and of course – rules. It’s a theme popping up in a lot places.
    On the theme of the influencer and the myth of influencer.
    I find the “real” influencers are those least influenced by their times. The one(s) who must stubbornly arrive at their own conclusions and even then, hold them as lightly as a father holds their first child.
    The influencers of myth are more like amplifiers – who mistake their volume for their ability.
    No guessing which camp I think you fall in.
    Always nice to drop by. But sad that the recent comments were a casualty of the updated site.

  5. And also in relevant situations. I continue to be underwhelmed by the lack of interest in understanding what helps move people or touches them in positive ways that comes even from big name companies.

  6. I would love a system than lets me record conveniently what I eat in calorie count, for example. And I might share it with a friend who is interested in the same kind of information. Right now, the system is go search each ingredient on a Web site, write it down, add the counts each meal and day… technology would make that much easier for me. In turn. I would be inclined to share that with others. Now say I need to also understand and account for insulin levels, or allergens, or fats, etc… you can see how my own motivation to know that and to help others who grapple with the same issue would attract me to such a scanner/recorder.
    “The influencers of myth are more like amplifiers – who mistake their volume for their ability.” is well put.
    Sad that I might have missed any of your comments due to the switch in systems.

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