When Selfish, Scared and Stupid Are Good

Dan Gregroy And Kieran Flanagan Foresight Leave a Comment

Ever wondered why those New Year’s business resolutions are so hard to achieve? It’s time to change your perspective.

It’s often said that “change is as good as a holiday.” Yeah right! Just try putting “change” in an employee’s remuneration package in place of their annual leave entitlements and see how that works for you!

Changes, even those that are positive and move us in the direction of our goals and achieving those all-important New Year’s resolutions, are always challenging.

So why is it that we find change confronting at a very basic and visceral level, and more importantly, how can this understanding help us be more successful in navigating change and achieving success?

Our mistrust of change is hardly surprising given that throughout human evolution, change has rarely signaled a positive outcome. Foreign visitors rarely showed up with good intentions. Changes in our environment often made our food and water sources less reliable. Meanwhile, personal changes, like the mole that seems to be bigger than it was last year or the rash that just won’t go away, have seldom heralded good times ahead.

And yet, we rarely think of our goals and New Year’s business resolutions as the kinds of change that might threaten or even trip us up. After all, they’re what we really want, aren’t they?

This is because there is a fundamental disconnect between the logical and even the emotional parts of our brain and our primary decision-making faculty, which is far more base. It turns out that our survival brain still calls dibs on our decision-making.

Our survival brain is driven by three primary factors:

  • The need to protect self and self interest
  • The need to mitigate risk
  • A bias toward the simplest, easiest and most obvious solution to our problems

In other words, we are all Selfish, Scared & Stupid. This of course sounds nothing like a compliment, but it is these three drives that sit at the root of our survival and dominance as a species.

And yet, the fear of not looking good and a natural desire to hope for the best make us disown these very human attributes and paint a façade on reality.

It’s far more socially acceptable, for instance, to portray oneself as generous, bold and terribly complicated, but when push comes to shove, you fit your oxygen mask first whilst flying, you still look both ways before you cross the street, and hey, taking short-cut is just another way of saying efficiency drive, right?

It is also far more preferable to think of our people, our team, our community as being the rare few good guys, the men and women who punch above their weight, who are curiously honest and almost Calvinist in their work ethic.

But in rough terms, half of the human population is below average – below average intelligence, below average competence in their work, below average creativity and below average when it comes to people skills. But rather than trying to change who they are, we need to learn to work with them.

If we want to make change stick, to make our resolutions more than just pie in the sky dreams and to positively influence our people, our customers and the broader community, we need to #ThinkSelfish #ThinkScared and #ThinkStupid.

Thinking Selfish is really a matter of coming from a position of WIIFT? (What’s in it for them?) But of course, we’re all selfish, so our default position is to focus on what’s in it for us. This goes far beyond command and control, or even an inspiring WHY, it’s about developing a capacity for human insight that allows you to frame your arguments in terms of their WHY.

Thinking Scared is simply understanding that fear drives all of our decision-making – it might be the fear of taking action or the fear of not taking action. These twin forces govern us, but they can also be marshaled and used as tools of positive motivation – the fear of missing out is perhaps the most potent sales tool ever developed, “Hurry… last days!!!”

Thinking Stupid is isn’t really an oxymoron; rather it speaks to our bias for a simple, easy solution. However, it is also important to understand that just as we make preferred behavior more obvious (like the big red “STOP” buttons on heavy machinery), we also need to consider how to make less preferred behaviors more difficult.

In the end, it is human nature to resist change, but this same nature can be used as a tool to drive the results we want if they are well understood.

Rather than fighting against human nature and trying to dictate change, we need to align desired changes with the things that pull our strings.

Dan Gregroy And Kieran Flanagan

Dan Gregroy And Kieran Flanagan

Dan Gregory & Kieran Flanagan are behavioral researchers and strategists, specializing in behaviors and belief systems – what drives, motivates and influences us. They have won business awards around the world for Innovation, Creativity and Return on Investment working with such organizations as Coca-Cola, Unilever, News Corp and the United Nations in Singapore. They are passionate advocates for the commercial power of creativity and a return to more human engagement, cultures and leadership. Published by WILEY, Dan and Kieran’s new book Selfish, Scared & Stupid is available from in paperback RRP $22.95 from www.selfishscaredandstupid.com.
Dan Gregroy And Kieran Flanagan

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