30 April 2007

Sense of Identity or Consequences?

The difference between an act of prostitution and an act of love can't be distinguished by mere observation.

In their book Made to Stick, Dan and Chip Heath discuss the difference between motivation by consequence and identity. The state of Texas, faced with the problem of litter, figured out that 18 to 30 year-old, truck driving males were the largest offenders. The folks tasked with reducing litter nicknamed this target market "Bubba." It was obvious that Hooty the Owl or a weeping Indian wouldn't convince Bubba to stop littering. It turns out, not even a $500 fine for littering had much impact. What finally helped reduce litter by a stunning 80% was an ad campaign that showed role models (like athletes and musicians Bubba would look up to) admonishing people, "Don't Mess With Texas."

The consequences of a fine did less to change behavior than an appeal to Bubba's sense of identity, an appeal to patriotism. The Heaths go further and offer an example of firemen who were offended at the thought that they'd need prizes to induce them to attend a course that would help them to save lives. "We're firemen. Saving lives is what we do."

In this we perhaps have one of the more challenging dimensions of leadership: creating a sense of identity to which one can appeal to encourage behavior change. Leaders who know how to appeal to our better self can create so much more than those who only know how to punish our lesser selves.

9 comments:

exskindiver said...

self-efficacy is needed in order to exact behavior change. Clear rules, providing the opportunity for development, and modeling the desired behavior are ways of improving self-efficacy. To be effective though, leaders must gain the trust, admiration, and respect from their followers.
hhmmm. Somehow the words trust, admiration, respect and politician do not seem to belong together.

Vladimir Dzhuvinov said...

Speaking of this approach, a group of pop stars here in Bulgaria want to promote safer driving through a series of concerts.

But why don't we also have a look at the broader political situation in the world today?

Do we have an "example state" that stands for peace and fair multilateral relations?

I think a lot of tension and terrorism around the world today is caused by the US and allied powers trying to act as the world's policemen. I hope the next US president and the new generation of politicians understand that.

ThomasLB said...

The wealthy and powerful- it's the same thing- only want drones who dutifully crank out the profits for them. I think we've got exactly the kind of world the Dicks and Georges of the world want.

Ron Davison said...

xSD,
man oh man. I find myself unable to respond for a few days and I'm innundated with thought-provoking comments.
You're basically saying that change has to come from the educated or aware individual? I guess I'd agree with that. And these people have to trust their leaders to align with their enlightened self-interest. Or maybe I'm projecting, but it feels like agreement to me.

Ron Davison said...

Vladimir,
thanks for the visit.
It's not clear to me anyone could safely drive through a concert, but maybe I'm reading that wrong? :)
The consequence of using consequences to manipulate behavior can, indeed, be more of the very behavior that America is trying to eliminate. I don't think it's a stretch to say that Bush's actions to eliminate terrorists have helped to create more terrorists.

Ron Davison said...

Thomas,
I think it's hard for even the most able and powerful among us to truly get that another 6 billion souls are wandering the planet with their own motivations and ideals. It is easier to dismiss that sense of identity and resort instead to the simple carrot and stick.

Chrlane said...

And you know what they can do with that carrot, Ron.

Ron Davison said...

Chrlane,
I think they tend to use the carrot as a stick.

Chrlane said...

Thank-you for the details. I feel so much better informed now.