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?