Monday, June 21, 2010

Science of Sabha: Motivate the Elephant

When doing sabha review or preview we have been struck by how many times we get frustrated. It would seem to us that people really do understand what it takes to make a good presentation (practice and preparation being two of the keys) yet they simply do not do this. Our conclusion was that people are simply lazy - they know what to do just do not want to do it. During review we give explicit, concrete ideas in a friendly way yet those ideas do not stick. Slackers.

The Heath brothers change this question to ask how much of the elephant are we motivating.
When Rider and Elephant disagree about which way to move, you've got a problem. The Rider can get his way temporarily—he can tug on the reins hard enough to get the Elephant to submit. (Anytime you use willpower you're doing exactly that.) But the Rider can't win a tug-of-war with a huge animal for long. He simply gets exhausted.

To see this point more clearly, consider the behavior of some college students who participated in a study about "food perception" (or so they were told). They reported to the lab a bit hungry; they'd been asked not to eat for at least three hours beforehand. They were led to a room that smelled amazing— the researchers had just baked chocolate-chip cookies. On a table in the center of the room were two bowls. One held a sampling of chocolates, along with the warm, fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies they'd smelled. The other bowl held a bunch of radishes.
The researchers had prepped a cover story: We've selected chocolates and radishes because they have highly distinctive tastes. Tomorrow, we'll contact you and ask about your memory of the taste sensations you experienced while eating them.
Half the participants were asked to eat two or three cookies and some chocolate candies, but no radishes. The other half were asked to eat at least two or three radishes, but no cookies. While they ate, the researchers left the room, intending, rather sadistically, to induce temptation: They wanted those poor radish-eaters to sit there, alone, nibbling on rabbit food, glancing enviously at the fresh-baked cookies. (It probably goes without saying that the cookie-eaters experienced no great struggle in resisting the radishes.) Despite the temptation, all participants ate what they were asked to eat, and none of the radish-eaters snuck a cookie. That's willpower at work. At that point, the "taste study" was officially over, and another group of researchers entered with a second, supposedly unrelated study: We're trying to find who's better at solving problems, college students or high school students. This framing was intended to get the college students to puff out their chests and take the forthcoming task seriously.

The college students were presented with a series of puzzles that required them to trace a complicated geometric shape without retracing any lines and without lifting their pencils from the paper. They were given multiple sheets of paper so they could try over and over. In reality, the puzzles were designed to be unsolvable. The researchers wanted to see how long the college students would persist in a difficult, frustrating task before they finally gave up.

The "untempted" students, who had not had to resist eating the chocolate-chip cookies, spent 19 minutes on the task, making 34 well-intentioned attempts to solve the problem.

The radish-eaters were less persistent. They gave up after only 8 minutes—less than half the time spent by the cookie-eaters—and they managed only 19 solution attempts. Why did they quit so easily?

The answer may surprise you: They ran out of self-control. In studies like this one, psychologists have discovered that self-control is an exhaustible resource. It's like doing bench presses at the gym. The first one is easy, when your muscles are fresh. But with each additional repetition, your muscles get more exhausted, until you can't lift the bar again. The radish-eaters had drained their self-control by resisting the cookies. So when their Elephants, inevitably, started complaining about the puzzle task—it's too hard, it's no fun, we're no good at this—their Riders didn't have enough strength to yank on the reins for more than 8 minutes. Meanwhile, the cookie-eaters had a fresh, untaxed Rider, who fought off the Elephant for 19 minutes. Self-control is an exhaustible resource. This is a crucial realization, because when we talk about "self-control," we don't mean the narrow sense of the word, as in the willpower needed to fight vice (smokes, cookies, alcohol). We're talking about a broader kind of self-supervision. Think of the way your mind works when you're giving negative feedback to an employee, or assembling a new bookshelf, or learning a new dance. You are careful and deliberate with your words or movements. It feels like there's a supervisor on duty. That's self-control, too.

Contrast that with all the situations in which your behavior doesn't feel "supervised"—for instance, the sensation while you're driving that you can't remember the last few miles of road, or the easy, unthinking way you take a shower or make your morning coffee. Much of our daily behavior, in fact, is more automatic than supervised, and that's a good thing because the supervised behavior is the hard stuff. It's draining.

Dozens of studies have demonstrated the exhausting nature of self-supervision. For instance, people who were asked to make tricky choices and trade-offs—such as setting up a wedding registry or ordering a new computer—were worse at focusing and solving problems than others who hadn't made the tough choices. In one study, some people were asked to restrain their emotions while watching a sad movie about sick animals. Afterward, they exhibited less physical endurance than others who'd let the tears flow freely. The research shows that we burn up self-control in a wide variety of situations: managing the impression we're making on others; coping with fears; controlling our spending; trying to focus on simple instructions such as "Don't think of a white bear"; and many, many others.

Here's why this matters for change: When people try to change things, they're usually tinkering with behaviors that have become automatic, and changing those behaviors requires careful supervision by the Rider. The bigger the change you're suggesting, the more it will sap people's self-control.

And when people exhaust their self-control, what they're exhausting are the mental muscles needed to think creatively, to focus, to inhibit their impulses, and to persist in the face of frustration or failure. In other words, they're exhausting precisely the mental muscles needed to make a big change.

So when you hear people say that change is hard because people are lazy or resistant, that's just flat wrong. In fact, the opposite is true: Change is hard because people wear themselves out. And that's the second surprise about change: What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.
Now this is an interesting idea. What if Reader Man simply used all his self control to sit through sabha or get his homework done. No amount clear concise feedback will help, since his rider already knows what to do. So how do you motivate Reader Man's elephant. In our case most of the sabha consisted of high school kids we opted for an incentive program that would get the elephant excited. We initiated a point system. At the end of each quarter the person with the most point got to choose the an event for the entire mandal (paintball, rafting, etc.). They did not have to plan or organize simply say we should do this and the Sanchalaks made it happen. To date this has made the most impact since people are excited about the reward and thus are emotionally linked to do something their rider already knows that they need to do. Any other ideas? Let us know.

No comments:

Post a Comment