Life includes a great deal of struggle and suffering. But what if I told you there is opportunity for hope? What if I told you that you could improve your life, and the life of your family, and make things better in your community?
If you’re not interested in doing this, then you should accept you have no cause to complain. If you are unwilling to make the necessary changes and take the actions to make life more bearable, then that’s a conscious choice that you’re making. But stop pointing an accusing finger at others and realise your own lack of effort contributes to the problems you complain about.
It’s difficult to deal with the human condition; our vulnerability in a world that often seems possessed with negativity and malevolence.
This negativity starts with the tyranny of the culture and society we live in. Value hierarchies become power grabs that benefit the few, rather than value structures that serve the masses. Some people benefit, not because they provide more value, but because they wield more power. The old way of doing things holds back new ways of doing things.
The negative aspects of nature include all of its destructive elements. We’re talking about things like the aging process, illness and disease, natural disasters and the inevitability of our own deaths. All these things are out to get us and our loved ones. Loss is part of life, some people experience greater losses than others, but we all experience loss at some point in our lives. At the end of it all, we know we must face our own mortality.
If all this wasn’t enough, we also face the cruelty of human nature. We see it in the actions of others and see the potential in ourselves.
So it’s understandable that against all this potential for suffering the predicament for human beings is a difficult one. We must find something that counteracts this negativity and makes the suffering worth enduring.
The way to do this is find meaning in life, something of a hero’s journey that offsets life’s tragic circumstances.
First, we must recognise that society, nature and human nature each have their positive aspects that offset their negatives.
Culture and society is a protector that shields us from nature and the darker side of human nature. Most of the time we interact with others free of fear that they are going to attack us, take our possessions and make our lives a living hell. Society does this by socialising people, teaching what is expected of them in a civilised society. Sure, there are some that break the rules, but imagine what the world would be like if chaos reigned. We take this aspect of society for granted, but realise it’s not a certainty, it’s a privilege that we enjoy because of the sacrifices of those generations that have gone before us.
The push and pull of liberal and conservative traits holds hierarchies in unstable equilibrium and it needs both to maintain the tension in which hierarchies function best. The conservatives maintain the necessary hierarchies, the liberals hold them to account by standing up for those souls that accumulate at the bottom. Hierarchies tend towards tyranny if left unchecked, so we require liberals, hierarchies are necessary and so we require conservatives. If you think the answer is to tear all hierarchies down, you don’t understand their function nearly well enough. Hierarchies give something for people to aspire to, they focus productivity and they work as long as they remain fair. We must all fight for equality of opportunity, social mobility, and ensure we remove tyrannical power from the game.
Nature is not just a threat to life, it is a life giver. It is the creator of all the beauty that surrounds us. We take much of this beauty for granted, but it only requires us to open our eyes to see the majesty that nature has gifted us.
Now let’s consider the positive aspects of human nature. Sure, there is much evil in the world. Those who would rather destroy, than build, those that spread hate rather than love. These people get most of the attention from media, but fortunately they are in the minority.
The other side of human nature is the capacity for love and connection, for innovation and selflessness. There is much of this positivity out there if we look for it. Many of the things we get enjoyment from comes from human endeavour and ingenuity. Again we take these things for granted, but it is truly amazing that these things are so routine and stable, that we can take them for granted. Water flows when we turn the tap on, electricity is available at the click of a switch. We have heating, shelter, food, the internet, the power of functionality in the phones that consume much of our lives. We have cars and roads to help you get to places, and planes to fly to far-off lands for a few hundred pounds. Wow.
So life is not all about suffering, there is much to be grateful for. Everything contributes to the rich tapestry of life and makes it so interesting.
But it’s important to find meaning in life, something to aim for and aspire towards, a sense of direction.
You don’t have to come up with the next big invention to make a difference in the world. You can work small, but work at beautifying it to the best of your ability. Jordan Peterson posits it starts by “tidying your room”. By making the space you inhabit the best it can be, you improve your house, by improving your house, you improve the street, by improving the street you improve your community. And if everyone did this…wow.
Growing up, I remember the little old ladies sweeping the pavement outside their front door. Just this simple act of sweeping the pavement would make me think how this little old lady was contributing to keeping her space neat and tidy, and how it demonstrated her pride in where she lived, and I thought I should do the same. It rubbed off on me, and I’m sure it had some impact on others who witnessed her doing the same thing over the years.
I see many people complaining about where they live, but I wonder what they do (apart from complaining) to actively make things better.
Communities are made up of people, not inanimate objects. People can make the most dismal places feel like a nice place to live. The tenement block becomes a depressing place because the community lets it become one, the people that live there allow it to become so.
I like the example used by Jordan Peterson in many of his talks about finding meaning in the smallest endeavours. He talks about running a modest café and it being a microcosm of communal activity, a place for neighbours to meet and congregate. A place where people rest before they go and do their important work. A place to nurture and educate their employees to be better and find pride in their self-sufficiency. This isn’t just about talking up a menial job, it’s about recognising the contribution it makes to the people who benefit from it.
The taxi driver is not just a taxi-driver, he/she is an important part of the economy, who serves to help people get to where they need to go. Without him/her many people would suffer greatly. They would be isolated, unable to get to important appointments, unable to get to the shop, unable to get home safely from a night out etc.
You have more power than you think, so make a positive contribution, no matter how small it is. A kind word can improve someone’s day, take a few minutes to speak to a neighbour, you might be the only person they get to talk to today. You probably know how upsetting it can be if someone says something mean to you, it can stay with you and really put a dampener on your day. You might know the frustration of letting someone out of a junction, when driving, and not having them acknowledge your kindness.
Little things make a big difference. Find meaning in these simple gestures and acts, and find meaning by pursuing a meaningful goal, regardless of how small a contribution you initially think it makes.
One way of increasing the likelihood you’ll take some desired action, is the ability to look at a goal, plan or task in a different, more inspiring way.
If it doesn’t provide a big enough reason for you to take action, you most certainly won’t take it.
Human beings get stuck in persistent patterns of thinking that frame the subjects of those thoughts in a certain way, and moving beyond these frames of reference can be very difficult if left unchallenged.
For individuals, such thoughts often centre around self-doubt. Self talk may go along the lines of “I can’t do [blank]”,” I don’t have the necessary experience, skill-set, knowledge, resources, etc”.
Businesses can also display this negative thinking; “we can’t compete with [blank]”, “we can’t compete on price” etc.
So what is the consequence of thinking like this? Well, we don’t take action, we don’t even try it, we just talk ourselves out of it and move on.
Maybe this is the right thing to do, maybe thinking abstractly against it is better than ploughing time, effort and resources into a doomed endeavour, maybe, but maybe not.
If we’re not careful, this way of thinking becomes a coping strategy that lets us off the hook and allows us to not take action in an act of self preservation. They become coping excuses.
A more productive way of thinking about it may be in asking “what if”. What if we did this, and what is the possible upside?
“What if” is a creative question. It opens up possibilities, rather than shutting them down. What if we could reframe the way we think about our weaknesses, and recast them as strengths?
In 1962 advertising executive Paula Green came up with a now famous slogan for Avis car rentals, that took advantage of their weaker market position in relation to Hertz, repositioning it from a weakness into a strength. The slogan “we try harder” let prospective customers know Avis would be more attentive to their needs than Hertz would be.
Stella Artois did something similar with their “reassuringly expensive” advertising campaign in 2004.
It’s all about finding a more empowering story that reframes your perceived weakness into strengths, for your own benefit, and also from a marketing point of view.
Here are a few examples:
Smaller size; being smaller allows you to be more nimble and adaptable than big players
Less experienced; don’t have as much skin in the game, nothing to lose by doing things differently and disrupting the status quo
Less prestigious location; can provide better value for money because not paying as much in rental costs.
Are you working in a so-called “dull industry” like insurance, software development, car servicing and the likes? If so, you’ll know it’s difficult to create marketing that is engaging.
These industries aren’t exactly high octane fuelled or sexy, but they are necessary for many individuals and businesses.
So how can you effectively market these services and stand out from the competition, so you’re not seen as another commodity provider?
It’s all about providing something that surprises and delights prospects and customers, over and above what they would normally expect from you.
This could include helping customers discover something that provides value for them. For example, a few years ago a friend of mine, who worked at a car service centre, told me I didn’t have to take my new car to the dealership to have it serviced, in order to maintain the warrantee, and that I could take it anywhere as long as the official parts were used. Now I didn’t know this was possible at the time, and I actually ended up using the company he worked at to do my next car service, at a big discount. However, I wondered why they didn’t make more of a song and dance about this situation in their marketing material.
So education is one way of surprising and delighting customers, giving them a free taster is another. If you’ve ever visited your local Costco, you’ll have probably seen them giving out free food tasters. This is great for introducing customers to something they haven’t tried before, and everyone loves to get free stuff. You can also do this remotely, through free trials (great for software) or posting out free samples (merchandisers used to do this quite often).
You can also help prospective customers reframe their perceptions of a service, product, or industry, by offering it differently. For example, maybe provide life insurance that pays back a bonus if not used within a given timeframe. This would shift the perception of life insurance as being a necessary cost, which doesn’t provide any direct benefit to the person paying for the policy, into something that could be considered an investment.
The point is to try to look at your business offerings and figure out ways of giving your customers something that is relevant which will surprise and delight them.
People are curious and like to learn and experience “different” and “new”. Do this on a regular basis and do it well. Delight them and they will more likely come back again and again.
Stop EXPECTING – nobody owes you anything. Be grateful for the time, interest, and generosity of other people. You have no entitlement to anything in life, everything is a gift.
If you’ve been born into a loving family, count yourself lucky, many don’t enjoy that privilege. It’s not like you did anything to deserve it, you were and are just really lucky that circumstances fell in your favour.
If you were born with good health – physical and psychological – you were and are just lucky, many people aren’t blessed in that way.
Be grateful for every day you’re above ground and in the company of people who choose to spend their precious time with you.
Even if you’re not born into a loving family, or you don’t have good mental or physical health, look for the things you can be grateful for. Do you have sight, hearing, are you able form and maintain relationships with other people, are there things you can do that others can’t? Are you free of pain, at least some of the time? Do you have anyone who cares about you?
It’s okay to Feel sorry for yourself sometimes, you should face your negative emotions, but don’t let them consume you, because it doesn’t help you to make things better. Prolonged negative reminiscing will only poison your mind and body.
Be grateful for even the smallest blessings. When you change how you think about the world, the world changes.
It’s important to understand that your attention and perceptions are goal dependant. When you task yourself with finding the great things in life, the world lays itself out around that goal. Your perceptions are motivated to help you attain whatever goal you set your sights on. Here’s a little game to illustrate how that plays out.
So you can pick the goal of playing victim and wallow in self-pity or you can empower yourself with the goal of finding light in the darkness, using gratitude, the choice is yours.
We can probably all agree that being able to get results and achieve success is no bad thing, after all we are exploratory creatures. We aren’t designed to rest on our laurels and be satisfied with what we have. We always want to have more and to be better. We can try to fight our nature, but it’s a constant battle to engage in.
It’s also important to be grateful for the things we have, and to enjoy the fruits of our labour and the rewards of our love, otherwise, what’s the point.
But forward momentum is part of our genetic makeup, and it’s easier to face that truth than deny it.
We currently find ourselves stuck at point A, when we want to get to point B.
Point B is the promised land. It’s the place we aspire to be, if only we could get there. There may well be many smaller intermediary goals that point towards the end destination, and like dominos we need to line them up so each can help knock down the next.
Having a goal gives us a sense of direction, otherwise we are aimless, like a rudderless boat drifting wherever the current takes us. Goals allow us to take strategic action.
The consequences of not moving forward towards goals, towards point B, can be hard to stomach. The initial frustration is later replaced by regret and both these negative emotions drain self-esteem. A disaffected person can easily become embittered and take a destructive path which aims to tear things down rather than contribute to make things better.
We can all have more by being more. To have more than you’ve got, you’ve got to be more than you are, according to self-development guru, Jim Rohn.
Most things in life are unknown to us in any meaningful way. We know just enough about things to get through our daily routines, but meaning is condensed into abstract representations which allow us to manage our interactions with them, but little more.
This condensing of meaning lightens cognitive load, and allows us to focus attention on more important things, usually in pursuit of our goals. Everything is an aid, an obstruction or irrelevant in pursuit of whatever we’re busy aiming for.
For example, if we’re driving down to the supermarket in a bit of a hurry because it’s about to close, every red light, or motorist is an obstruction acting to block our goal.
Everything that’s irrelevant to our goal is ignored or filtered out, most of the time. It doesn’t affect us and our current endeavour so we need not pay any attention to it.
The same is true with regard to the attainment of knowledge, we are motivated to learn things that interest or concern us, but everything else is ignored or filtered out of our conscious attention.
As a consequence of our limited knowledge, most things are unknown. We may know things on a superficial level, especially if we are curious, or as a result our life experiences, but there is always much more to learn, then we could ever know.
The unknown can be a scary place, it’s full of potential, made up of good and bad. The unknown is full of opportunities and possibility as well as risks and dangers. We’ll come back to the unknown shortly.
Learning new things involves finding accurate information, and as most information is not acquired from personal first-hand experience, we must find it from other reliable sources.
However, this is easier said than done, although we have more access to information than ever before, there is so much more misleading and incorrect information that has to be sorted through, to find the golden nuggets that will actually help us.
It’s all about learning what we need to move from point A to point B, and this can take a great deal of time and dedication to do. We have to do our research, find the nuggets of information we can use, put that into practice and learn through the experience of doing. It’s a process of learning, trying and failing (if we must), there isn’t really any other way to do it. Try to get better at filtering out the things that will cause you to fail, but don’t fear failure, just make sure you learn from it, and try to ensure it doesn’t put you out of the game completely.
Coming back to the unknown, any kind of meaningful change requires reaching into the unknown as we search for answers to help us move forward. If you’re not taking the actions you know you should be taking, then something is preventing you.
Fear is usually the most frequent reason people don’t chase down their goals. Fear of failure, of discomfort, of uncertainty, of embarrassment if things don’t work out as planned. Fear is even more persuasive if you lack confidence in your ability to do what’s required, or in case you find yourself out of your depth.
The unknown carries within it the monster of all monsters. It is a category of threat that holds all possible fears. But we also realise that the unknown is made up of all potential: all risks and dangers, but also all opportunities and possibilities.
The self-preservation instinct is often our guide within the unknown domain. It’s the biological reflex which causes us to freeze, take flight or fight. It’s easy to fall foul of this initial gut-reaction, which has little interest in anything other than protecting us from pain or suffering. If all you do is listen to your survival instinct, you’re certain to remain stuck at point A.
It’s useful to understand that motivation has two opposing forces: Blocking motivations like fear, but also supporting motivations that help propel us forward towards our goals.
With a shift in perspective, you can make use of the fear impulse to move you forward. Use the fear of regret to propel you towards your goals. Imagine looking back at your life as an old man or woman, having not pursued your goals or dreams. How would you feel about living a life only half lived? Regret can be a positive emotion if you harness it to support your progress.
If you’re anxious about doing something you need to do, you instinctively know that you’re lacking in some department. You have a realisation at some level that you need to learn or acquire something that you don’t currently possess. Carl Jung once said, “That which we need the most will be found where we least want to look”.
Finding inspiration within your belief system will sustain your journey towards your goals.
We weave beliefs into stories that we tell ourselves, and which subsequently guide our behaviours and actions. If your story isn’t serving you, change it for a more inspiring story.
The move from point A (where you are now) to point B (where you want to be), is a journey, a journey of transformation. It’s like any story you’ve read in a book or watched on a screen.
You are the hero of your own story, of your own journey. Like all the great fictional heroes, you have something you need to learn in order to make yourself a better version of who you currently are. You have to find the courage to face your fears and still move forward. Solve your own problems, face your own demons, and you will be stronger for it.
Pick a goal and plot a path forward that inspires and excites you, focus on that path, learn what needs to be learned so you improve as you journey forward. Embrace the challenges and solve the problems that block your path. Each win gives you the ammunition to fight the next battle, all the while you get stronger and more competent to deal with ever bigger problems. If you can pick a goal that also solves other people’s problems, you’re probably onto a winner.
If you’ve ever watched a political debate between a Liberal and a Conservative, you’ll know there isn’t much love lost between them.
You can see this in the US where the Democrats and Republicans tear chunks out of one another.
It is also evident here in the UK, between the Conservative and Labour parties.
The conflict rages between politicians on political stages and programmes, as well as between supporters on social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter.
These interactions are littered with point scoring and one-upmanship; the highlighting of examples of the other side’s failings, taken from a very narrow, self-serving perspective, designed to prove their point of view and enhance their own argument.
Here’s an example to illustrate the point…
Just a quick reference to the backstory for this example.
Leigh is an old mining town, which is located between Manchester and Liverpool
Leigh has always had a Labour MP, it was considered a Labour safe seat due to its historical mining and working class roots.
Recently a Conservative won the seat for the very first time, to the dismay of many of the labour supporting locals.
The local Tory MP voted to end school meal subsidies during the lastest half term holiday, something that went against footballer Marcus Rashford’s public campaign to make funds available for the most needy.
Many of the local people, particularly labour voters were in uproar on social media about The Tory MP’s vote.
Many of the posts on local Facebook groups raged about the nasty Tory, who was typically displaying a lack of empathy for children in need.
This directly plays into the long standing narrative that Conservatives don’t care for working class people, only for their posh, rich buddies who run businesses, and hold wealth and power.
A critical thinker would probably ask why a Conservative MP would take such a stand, knowing that many of his constituents would be up in arms about it.
Subsequently the MP’s decision for voting as he did was found to be because of funding constraints and the fact that other more targeted provisions had been made through local authorities and welfare payments to look after children and families in hardship. The Tory government had extended free school meals during the Easter holidays and again for the Summer holidays after pressure from Rachford’s campaign, but decided to draw the line for half-term holidays. This is against a background of needing to borrow £372bn to cover spending, in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, to date, according to the Office of Budget Responsibility.
The arguments on social media seemed to play out like this;
Labour- Tory’s being cruel to kids
Conservatives – not bottomless money pit, parents shouldn’t have kids if they can’t afford to pay for them
Labour- loss of jobs caused by covid19 and government handling of it to blame, not those parents who are struggling
Conservative – government have done the best they can in such brutal unforeseen circumstances. They have given massive support to people during the pandemic.
Labour- point out all the failings and wasted spending on track and trace etc, and point out the government could have done even more. Many stating Labour would have done better (no way of knowing this)
Conservatives – don’t think Labour would have done any better and may have done much worse under a Jeremy Corbyn led government (no way of knowing this)
Descends into insults and slanging matches
I don’t want to get into the rights and wrongs of this argument, I just want to use it to illustrate how the opposing views can play out.
The two sides are often talking past one another, with no point of connection.
I’ve tried to play devil’s advocate with both sides and a reasoned debate is just not possible most of the time. Exchanges nearly always descend into argument and name calling. This is also evident whenever you see politicians and/or supporters come together.
This isn’t anything new either, back in a 1968 debate between conservative thinker William F. Buckley Jr and liberal writer Gore Vidal, members of opposing intellectual elites, who had hoped to have a civilised political discussion, soon descended into name-calling and resulted in them suing each other for defamation.
The reason for such differences in opinion is because of the underlying belief systems each of the sides holds.
Conservatives and Liberals think completely differently. They perceive differently and interpret information and news differently.
When you consider that such differences have, throughout history, resulted in many thousands, even millions of deaths, you may and indeed should have cause for concern. If you think such comments are overblown, read a few political history books and see for yourself.
Liberals to the Left
Liberals lean towards the socialist side of the political spectrum. Both the Labour party, here in UK, and the Democrats in the US are positioned on the left. The further left a person is, the more they value big government running key services like education, health (NHS in UK), water, energy, transport, infrastructure building etc.
The government is the expected to redistribute wealth through taxes, taking from the more well-off members of society and giving to the disadvantaged and vulnerable in an attempt to even things up.
The narrative that plays out on the left revolves around preventing the oppressing capitalists exploiting workers. Workers being the ones who create the value within industry, but who often don’t share in the financial rewards as the capitalists do, because they don’t own the means of production.
Liberals also feel passionate about reducing inequality and creating a fairer society for all.
Far left political movements such as communism have proven to be very problematic in the past becoming politically corrupt and leading to most failing spectacularly.
Let me be clear, the majority of liberals are not on the far left of the political spectrum.
Conservatives to the right
The Conservatives types tend to value personal responsibility over socialist ideas. They have a “get what you work for” attitude.
Conservatives believe that if everyone is incentivised to work harder, then everyone benefits. They want to support those who have fallen on hard times for no fault of their own, but don’t like lazy people taking a free ride.
They like the idea of functioning free markets, with less government intervention and regulation, where value drives supply and demand. This is why Conservatives prefer the privatisation of the provision of energy supply, water, transport, postal services, and infrastructure, rather than the government providing them.
Far right people profess to be more patriotic, and believe in the government prioritising its own citizens, before helping other countries. The majority of conservatives are not on the far right of the political spectrum.
You may be asking yourself at this point, where conservative and liberal values and beliefs come from. Why do some people lean towards one end of the spectrum rather than the other?
The big 5 personality test is considered the most accurate way of identifying personality and is used widely in psychology fields. It’s made up of 5 parameters, which lie on a continuum, with one extreme trait at one end, and the opposite trait at the other end. For instance, extraversion and introversion. Individuals will have traits that appear somewhere along each continuum.
The big 5 personality traits
Extraversion > introversion
Neuroticism > emotionally stable
Agreeableness > disagreeableness
Conscientiousness > disorganised
Openness to experience > closed mindedness
Research indicates that traits are 50% biologically determined, and 50% influenced by social conditioning and upbringing.
It has been well documented in political psychology that conservative types tend to be high in conscientiousness and low in openness and liberals tend to be high in openness and low in conscientiousness.
Those high in conscientiousness
Value order over disorder, so tend to be well organised
Value getting on in the world, so are productive and organised towards a goal
Safety and predictability is important – don’t welcome surprises
Opposite if low in conscientiousness
Those high in openness to experience
Value novelty, so like new things, and are innovative
Value beauty and art, so are creative and artistic
Value new and engaging experiences
Like to travel and sample new places
Opposite if low in openness
Prefer bounded spaces, so like borders and walls, so they can feel safe in their safe space
Prefer order over chaos
Prefer to make and follow procedures and processes, so they know what needs doing and can be consistent in action and outcomes
Prefer to do the things the way they have always done them
Don’t want to be constrained by borders and walls, they want to be free and unrestricted
Prefer chaos over boring and predictable order. Routine is not their thing.
Prefer to wing it, and make things up on the fly over sitting down and making a plan
Prefer open borders, safety is paranoid
Prefer to try new things, change things up
It is easy to see how these personality traits can influence political inclinations. It also highlights the difficulty of bringing the two opposing viewpoints together.
Our tendencies are largely built into our genes. It’s not easy to change who we are and what we believe.
Social conditioning is also hugely influential in what we believe and value. Social conditioning is made up of what our family and those we grow up with teach us and the stories we tell ourselves about our experiences.
Although education can improve knowledge around a particular subject or topic, it’s the core beliefs that influence the stories and narratives we emotionally invest in.
Very educated people can have completely opposing viewpoints. They know the issues in play, but choose to interpret them completely differently.
You may well ask yourself why this is?
People invest themselves, emotionally, into their core beliefs and values and often refuse to compromise on them. If you believe you’re right about something, why would you entertain changing that belief? You’re right and the other side is wrong. It’s easy to think the other side is foolish or ignorant and this comes more easily than questioning our own beliefs, but probability would suggest “they” can’t all be idiots.
The big danger in employing this approach is the risk of falling into the confirmation trap, where we look for evidence to support our beliefs and values and dismiss or ignore conflicting evidence. This is often referred to as “confirmation bias”.
Learn to apply critical thinking in such situations. Question why so many intelligent opponents think the way they do. Be curious. Listen without judgement and try to figure what is going on.
You have to be willing to let go of old beliefs in order to make room for new ones. You have to be willing to admit you were wrong so you can start being right.
Most people fall in between the polarised political positions we have discussed here. They want a fair society that works for all, that catches those who are vulnerable and in genuine need of help. People differ in how they feel this is best achieved. Make no mistake, there are also some people who are pathological; they are more concerned with making society worse rather than better.
There are two sides to human nature.
Because we are social animals who live in a social environment, our best chance to survive or even better flourish, depends on us getting on with other people.
We play the roles we’re expected to play in different social situations; a mother, a daughter, a friend, a neighbour, a work colleague, a boss, a supplier, etc.
Each role requires us to be a different version of ourselves. If we play them well, others are comfortable around us because we are predictable.
If we do random things at random times, other people will undoubtedly feel anxious around us and are less likely to interact with us.
Imagine being in a restaurant with your spouse and halfway through your meal, you jump on the table and start to make a big commotion, kicking cutlery around the room. What kind of reaction do you think you’d get from your spouse, the other diners, and the restaurant management? Better still, imagine your spouse doing it to you. It would probably freak you out. Other diners would probably back off and be very negative in how they look at what you are doing. The police might be called, and you would certainly be thrown out by the owners of the restaurant.
You might not consciously realise you’re playing roles and behaving in a way that others in society find preferable and acceptable, but you are. If you do things you shouldn’t, you’re certain to get reactions from others around you, ranging from disapproving looks to arrest by the police, depending on the degree of your misconduct. As we grow up, we repeat things we are rewarded for, and stop doing thing we are punished for. This is how social conditioning works.
The other side of human nature is the dark side. This is the shadow side we avoid at all costs. It’s the side of each of us that, given the right circumstances, can make us into monsters, particularly when possessed by high levels of negative emotions such as hatred and vengefulness.
We look back in horror at things like the Nazi party’s genocide of millions of Jewish people and think this would never happen again. This occurred not because one man, Adolf Hitler was evil, but because many others played along with his mad plan, having dehumanised the Jews to such a degree they thought they deserved what they got. Germans blamed Jews for their own suffering and were sold on the story that the world would be better once the Jews had been removed. Hatred took over and resulted in men, women and children being brutally murdered.
We might prefer to think those who perpetrated such crimes were evil by nature, but many were not. They had become so consumed with hatred for an enemy they believed was bringing suffering to their own lives and those of their families and friends. Hitler played to the crowd but also fed off the crowd. It was a mutually supportive escalation of emotions that led up to the horrors that resulted in the second world war.
Having a dark side means we have to be able to control it. Virtue comes from controlling our darker impulses, not from not having them. If I am capable of being cruel or even killing another person and choose not to, then that is something of a virtue. We need to have aggression to be able to be assertive, to be competitive, otherwise others will walk all over us, but it has to be controlled aggression.
If we become tyrannical and bully others into doing what we want them to do, against their will, we will be unpopular and eventually someone will have enough of the tyranny and take us out, maybe it will take two of them to do it or three or four but eventually they will do it.
So cohesion is not a long-term solution for anyone who wants to get on in life, and have healthy relationships. Cooperation and competition is required if people are going to keep wanting to interact with you in a mutually beneficial way.
How society works
Society works by encouraging the people who live in that society to work together for the greater good of all.
Each person brings something of value to the table that others want and are willing to pay for, and an exchange of value is carried out, usually in the form of money for a service or product.
Some are better at producing this value than others. Meritocracy results in those who are better at producing value, rising to the top of a hierarchical structure (triangle shaped structure).
Those at the top earn the most money in our current system. They are incentivised to provide more value in order to get more monetary reward.
Some on the left of politics would say they exploit employees by making more money from the value they generate then they have to pay out to those employees who actually create that value. Some on the right of politics would counter that everyone, given the right skillset, can do the same, so if you don’t want to be exploited, don’t be an employee, instead be a business owner/entrepreneur.
Anyway, those that are particularly good at managing this value exchange earn more money, and rise up to the top of the value hierarchy. If they are fair, not too greedy and look after their employees (those employees get paid more), everyone is better off from the arrangement.
If equality of opportunities is fair, then everyone has a chance of joining in and the value hierarchy is effective at allowing society to function reasonably well. What happens over time is those at the top of the value hierarchy defend their dominant position by stifling competition and use their power and wealth to game the system to their advantage. The hierarchy then becomes more of a dominance hierarchy rather than a value hierarchy and eventually turns tyrannical. All value hierarchies’ become tyrannical if left unchecked.
Both liberals and conservatives have functions to perform in keeping value hierarchies honest and preventing them from turning tyrannical. Liberals are good at coming up with ideas for solutions that bring value and solve problems. Conservatives are good at following through on these ideas, building and maintaining hierarchies around these solutions. Liberals are good at calling out hierarchies that are becoming tyrannical, holding them to account and protecting those disaffected at the bottom of them.
We need conservatives to …
To make ideas reality
To organise and grow businesses – the structures, processes and procedures that make up efficient systems
But we equally need liberals to…
Come up with innovative solutions to problems
To be creative and help make and sell products/services – the creative of marketing
To hold value hierarchies to account – stop them becoming tyrannical
You can see that we need both liberal and conservative types to keep society functioning effectively. We should value both sides of the argument as crucially necessary. We should guard against any one side gaining the upper hand, because society will not function nearly as well, and the consequences could literally be nightmarish.
So next time you feel frustrated at the other side’s lack of cooperation or understanding, realise society works because each side is pushing from opposite points of view and within that tension society is kept in balance.
We discussed in a previous post, the importance of capturing attention when carrying out marketing activities. To summarise what we covered in that post…
Marketing only works if you can first capture your prospect’s attention, otherwise all your other marketing efforts go to waste. Capturing your prospect’s attention is the combination of standing out from the crowd and providing something of value in the pursuit of one of their goals.
So that’s where we’ll pick things up.
Having won ourselves a few seconds of precious attention, nothing more, we must make the best of the time we’ve got. The question is, how can we maximise the opportunity?
Provide something valuable
We must ensure our sales patter is interesting, in that it provides some value that the prospect wants or needs in their journey towards the attainment of one or more of their goals.
A goal could be something big, like building their own business or making the next big phone app, or something small like having a clean car, or a new set of pots and pans to cook with.
There are a couple of ways to help them move towards their goals. The first is to show them your solution and explain the benefits and features of what you offer. If they are currently in the market for it, then as long as the price is right, the value is communicated, and they have enough trust in your ability to deliver on your promise, you’ll have a decent chance of them buying. Having said that, most prospects will be wary of committing straight away, without having previously built up some trust in you, your company or brand. This is particularly true if they have never heard of you before.
There are several ways to building trust quickly. The first is to appear professional in the way you present yourself, your brand or business. You do this through your communication; such as signage, website, social media presence and literature.
The second way is to have a physical location (premises) which prospects can visit and check out. This gives the perception that you are rather more stable and dependable than if you were solely a web-based business. We’ve all experienced problems with internet only businesses who can’t be contacted easily when things go wrong.
Finally, one of the best ways of building trust quickly, particularly with regards to new prospects, is to have plenty of good, genuine customer reviews or testimonials, preferably stretching back over several years. This helps with the perception that you’ve been around a while. Good search engine rankings also help to demonstrate longevity, because they are difficult to circumvent.
Make it easy
Having minimal friction in your buying process will also give you more chance of getting a sale. The fewer hoops prospects have to jump through to buy from you, the better. This is why Amazon’s one click shopping option is so popular.
I did say there were two ways to help move prospects towards their goal, we’ve covered what to do with those looking to buy straight away, but what about those that aren’t ready yet, but who may be in the next 30 or 60 days or so.
You can focus on building your brand with these prospects, by providing free extra value in some way. If you sell pots and pans, you may offer some great recipes that make use of those pots and pans. If you’re a car valet, you may provide free branded car air fresheners, or some tips and tricks to remove stains and spills from car upholstery.
What you’re trying to do, when giving out gifts, advice, tips and tricks, is build a relationship with prospects, so they get to know, like and trust you, so that when they are ready to buy, you are in the frame to make the sale. The things you do to provide the extra value must support your core offering, the thing you’re trying to sell to them, otherwise it won’t make any sense.
With that in mind, it’s better to keep adding value over time, rather than just doing it as a one off. By keeping your brand in the forefront of your prospects’ minds you will improve your chances of getting the sale when the time comes for them to buy.
Once you’ve captured your prospect’s attention, you have to provide something of value for them. You can do this through the benefits and features of your offering.
If prospects are ready to buy straight away, make sure your sales process is as frictionless as possible.
If they aren’t ready to buy just yet, either because they don’t want your solution right now, or they don’t trust you enough; work on building your brand with them, by providing free extra value. Keep adding value until they are ready to buy.
Marketing requires you to first capture the attention of your prospects. If you’re unable to do so, you have no way of sharing your marketing message with them, and all your marketing efforts will go to waste.
Prospects are continually bombarded with information, as indeed we all are. To cope with the shear volume of incoming stimuli, choices are made, often on a subconscious level. We as humans tend to pay attention to things that are relevant to some kind of goal or pursuit we are trying to move towards. Everything else is ignored or filtered out from our conscious awareness, and may not even register with us.
To illustrate this point, check out this video.
Hopefully you now appreciate the fact that attention is limited, and goal focused. You ignored the gorilla because your attention was busy focusing on counting the passes of the ball. The goal required you to keep your eye on just the ball and ignore everything else that didn’t contribute to that.
Marketing to a captive audience
You might think it would be easier to market to a captive audience. For example let’s say you are advertising on the TV or on the radio or even in the pre-roll of a YouTube video. Your audience is already watching or listening, so they can’t escape your advert.
But ask yourself, when was the last time you really paid attention to the adverts in such situations. You either reach for your phone, to see what notifications you’ve missed, or you tune out, while thinking about something else.
Marketing on a busy platform
If your advertising on a busy platform, say social media, then engagement is much harder to achieve. You are then competing with everything else that can steal your prospect’s attention away. Let’s consider the example of running an advert on their Facebook feed.
Your marketing message will compete with status updates from your prospect’s friends and family. As well as engaging entertainment posts related to their interests. So you need to stop them scrolling past your advert, by appealing to their interests and/or goals.
Searching or not
Imagine you’re a florist, and Valentines day is just around the corner. You know that people are likely to be in the market for buying flowers, so presenting them with a unique offer, is probably going to get them to stop for a moment to check your advert out. If there is no special occasion imminent, then creating an excuse for them to surprise their partner may be required.
The fact that they are not actively searching for something to buy, makes the sale a little more difficult. They will probably just scroll straight past your advert, without giving it a second thought. So you may have to rely on eye-catching imagery to get them to stop and see what’s on show.
High quality images are more attention-getting than static text, and video is often more engaging than images. You must find a way of standing out from the other content, to catch their eye.
We humans take notice of changes and differences. It’s hard-wired into us, at an instinctive, self-preservation level. If our ancestor didn’t pay attention to changes in their surroundings, it could have resulted in them being eaten by a predator. Our subconscious picks up on such things before we’re even consciously aware of it. And although we’re unlikely to be eaten when scrolling through our Facebook feed, our instinct still reacts as if we might.
So make sure your marketing message doesn’t blend in with all the other content. Make it stand out by contrasting in some noticeable way. Usually this needs to be done visually, because sound is often muted on social media. However, there is no one-fits-all solution available, only by testing alternatives can you see what works best for your particular situation.
So in summary, marketing only works if you can first capture your prospect’s attention, otherwise all your other marketing efforts go to waste. Capturing your prospect’s attention is the combination of standing out from the crowd and providing something of value in the pursuit of one of their goals.
Once you’ve captured your prospect’s attention, you need to deliver a message that pulls them in to your offering, so they’ll want to find out more about you and your solution.
Different situations impact the way we make decisions. To illustrate this point, if you’re trying to lose weight, you generally only have to consider your own motivations. For instance you have to work out how to reduce the desires that get in your way, like wanting to eat fatty foods.
In contrast, if you’re marketing and trying to persuade strangers to buy from you, considerations are very different. You’re not in direct control of what others do, you can only encourage and influence, and so there is an extra level of complexity to how you make your own decisions.
The Cynefin framework provides five decision-making contexts;
Simple (has recently changed to obvious),
which helps managers identify how they may perceive situations and make sense of their own and other people’s behaviour.
The Cynefin framework is based on research from systems theory, complexity theory, network theory and learning theories according to Wikipedia.
It has been used by its IBM developers in policy-making, product development, market creation, supply chain management, brand and customer relations. As well as by governments and the military along with health care research by the NHS.
If you don’t know where you are, if you feel lost, you are probably in the domain of disorder. Within the domain of disorder, there is no clarity about which of the other domains apply to your current situation.
You may experience multiple perspectives, that could all equally be valid. “Leaders may argue with one another and cacophony likely rules”, says Snowden and Boone.
To find a way out of this domain, you must break down the situation into its constituent parts and assign each to one of the other four realms.
First gather information, then identify the domain and move on.
Don’t fall into the trap of believing everything is simple and ordered, or that past success makes you invulnerable to future failure. This is a big mistake, because before you know it, the chaotic domain will drag you into a crisis.
When the s**t hits the fan and all hell breaks loose, the first response is instinctive, the freeze, flight or fight response kicks in. It’s our primordial response for self preservation.
In this domain, cause and effect is unclear, and too confusing for knowledge based responses. In fact, previous knowledge and experience is only partially useful in chaotic situations.
Remove yourself from danger, in the first instance, try to regroup and do what you can to move from the chaotic domain into the complex domain, using novel practice if you have to.
ACT really…trust your instinct….get out of the immediate danger zone
SENSE once out of the immediate danger zone, assess the situation and determine your next steps.
RESPOND take action to move your problem to another domain
In this domain, the relationship between cause and effect is only possible through retrospective analysis. It’s a case of the truth being out there somewhere. There are no right answers, as such, we can draw only instructive patterns from them. The best way to navigate in this domain is through trial and error, via experimentation.
We often have to engage in emerging practice, where the path will be created with every step taken. It’s a case of testing as you go and seeing what works and what doesn’t, and learning from your failures.
The complex domain represents the “unknown unknowns”.
I was introduced to the concept of complexity when reading “Brave new work by Aaron Dignan”, where he discusses how companies can become more “adaptive and human” by becoming more “complexity conscious.”
Let’s assume you’re a marketer who wants prospects to buy your product. What do you need to do to get them to act? You can only encourage them to buy from you if you match their buying criteria. You must present your offer in a way that compels them to make a purchase. It’s important to realise that it’s not under your complete control, as with your own actions. If they like what they see, they may buy from you, providing the price is right, they trust you and you’ve given them enough reasons to part with their hard earned money.
RESPOND take action moving the problem into the complicated domain
In the complicated domain, the relationship between cause and effect may consist of a range of right answers, rather than just one. It requires some expertise to navigate in this domain, like you would find with engineers, surgeons and lawyers. It’s the domain of known unknowns.
You’re looking for an expert to show you the best way.
You can make use of a blueprint to get from A to B.
It’s a case of 1 + 1 =2
SENSE the problem
ANALYZE the problem and roadmaps
RESPOND with a plan
In the simple/obvious domain, the relationship between cause and effect is clear cut: if you do X, you can expect Y to happen. It’s the domain of the known knowns.
Snowden and Boone (2007) offer the example of loan-payment processing. An employee identifies the problem, for example, a borrower has paid less than required, the employee categorises it, by reviewing the loan documents, and responds by following the terms of the loan.
It is the domain of the 1 way solution. A simple case of 1 + 1 = 2
SENSE the situation. Establish the facts.
CATEGORISE the situation into a known bucket
RESPOND with a well-known solution, following the rules or applying best practice.
Sometimes you can move through these domains, other times a particular decision lives in just one. The main takeaway is to understand that all problems are not equal and that different approaches are required for different situations.