The Story Behind The Story

We’re living in interesting times. First Brexit, then Covid, and, recently, some sort of armageddon with shortages everywhere you look. It feels like the start of one of those disaster movies where people start fighting over the last gallon of fuel at the petrol station.

But enough of me trying to cheer you up.

Seeing people stockpile loo rolls and queuing around the block for fuel got me thinking about psychological phenomenons and how domino effects occur, no matter how seemingly illogical at face value.

The fact is, no matter how selfish and silly you think other people are being, you no doubt started the week worrying yourself about where the dial sat on your petrol gauge. It’s natural. As intelligent as we think we are, we’re also very primitive, with a brain that just loves playing tricks on us.

It Really Works

In 1799, an English physician called John Haygarth started querying a popular, but expensive, medical treatment of the time. “Perkins Tractors” were metal pointers that could supposedly draw out diseases.

So, he set out to debunk them, comparing the results from a dummy wooden version he had made against a set of “active” metal tractors. He then published his findings.

The wooden pointers proved to be just as useful as the expensive metal ones and showed “to a degree which has never been suspected, what powerful influence upon diseases is produced by mere imagination”. **

This was the first recorded demonstration of the placebo effect.

If That’s What You Want

Self-fulfiling prophecies come at it from a different angle. By believing something about a projected future (not real, by the way, imagined), we often alter our behaviour towards that outcome. Through our actions or inaction, we could consciously or unconsciously make something happen to some degree, simply from building on suggestions.

Having once studied hypnotherapy for a couple of years, and the linguistics behind it, I’ve seen first-hand how change can happen through suggestion. It’s amazing how often good marketing campaigns use the same language patterns.

Choice and Belief

The interesting thing about these phenomena is that we are still making a choice. We can choose to believe whichever story we decide. It’s why Psychics still have a job and Social Media companies make billions.

And, as Mark Twain said, it’s why truth facts never get in the way of a good story.

In the same way that history has become just a bunch of tales, myths and fables, so marketing is littered with stories – stories that people choose to tell, and stories that people choose to believe.

Which begs the question, what are the stories you believe? The ones about your own business, and the ones you believe about others. And, how could you adapt them for better outcomes?

Morning Glory

Here’s my working week so far in terms of stand-out stories:

  • Someone telling me that “all accountants are crooks”.
  • Being told that marketers are just failed salespeople.
  • Someone telling me they are far too busy to complete a simple task, but I can’t work out what they are doing.
  • Being told that three days to answer an email is a “slight delay”.
  • Someone telling me how their business is unique and works in a way no other competitor does (an accountant).

Each of these examples is someone simply trying control their world. But in doing so – especially with generalisation – they are closing a door to new ideas.

Stifle Or Unleash

Many people place the blame on circumstance or some external factor for the outcomes they get. In fact, in recent years it seems to be encouraged in the mainstream media. But, they’re missing the point. There is always a choice at some level.

  • The choice to objectively challenge yourself and your beliefs from every angle.
  • The choice not to generalise about ‘everything’ and ‘everyone’. ​
  • The language you choose to use (including your internal dialogue).
  • The choice to turn off the news and social media channels. ​
  • The choice to listen to what your clients (and suppliers) have to say about you objectively, ready to understand that their idea of you is actually the projection you are giving, even if it doesn’t align with your own internal idea.

Imagined Outcomes

Next time you are pitching, or driving a campaign, or simply living your life, think about outcomes and choices. Take responsibility and be flexible in your thinking. Challenge yourself and your ‘model of the world’.

Accept that people (you included) can sometimes get carried along in the mass-flow of information, however you judge a situation.

And, if you are not getting the outcome you are aiming for, then maybe it’s you who needs to adapt.

** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placebo_in_history#Placebo_effect