Normally when we talk about Disease, Famine, Population Movement and Climate Change they’re more likely to be grouped under the heading “The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse” than anything to do with motivation.
We are in the future now. We have a better grasp of how things are connected, what affects us and how nested systems are made of many small parts that are driven by simple rules. The interaction between them however happens in a fluid environment with changing parameters. That creates the complexity we see.
Here’s a half truth. While we’re in the future nothing has changed. Or, as our friends at MIB say:
Population movement has always been driven by disease and famine and it has shaped the socioeconomic impact that is created by the introduction of disease as well as new skills and ideas carried by human vectors crossing the globe.
Why We Do What We Do
The motivation for anything; finding a new job, starting a new diet, looking for a life partner, leaving a geographic location always has the same root cause: anxiety and discomfort. When those two reach a point where they become unbearable we are moved to action. The pathway this action takes always leads us from a place of dissatisfaction to a place where that dissatisfaction is reduced or removed.
The principle applies equally to everything that has to do with human motivation and, in the brain, it is governed by the release of three neurochemicals (noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine) that activate the reward system.
Entrepreneurs and marketers pay attention: If you’re selling a product or offering a service and are struggling to make your marketing messages resonate with your audience the chances are that you’re focusing on what you offer and why instead of actually presenting what it solves and how easily it will do so for the person who is likely to use it.
We Respond To Our Environment
We are all biological beings. Our structure, inside and out is largely the same. That makes us susceptible to our environment. Our environment ultimately controls us. Here’s the other half of the truth I gave you in the third paragraph of this piece: While we’re in the future everything has changed.
I know it sounds a little Zen with one half of the truth countermanding the other but truly they’re both equal and therefore in stasis. For most of history changes the occurrence of any of the four things that affect us was likely to manifest itself slowly because the speed at which data flowed through the world was itself slow. For a classic example of this consider how the dreaded Black Death that killed up to 200 million people and changed European society recurred again and again from the 14th to the 17th century.
A world in which data flows slowly finds it difficult to learn and easy to forget. Our world, today, suffers from the exact same issues as the world always has suffered from; amplified perhaps a few times because we’ve failed to solve them in the past. Our technology however allows us to learn faster and forget much more slowly. This changes our ability to respond to what is threatening us.
This Changes Everything
While “history repeats itself” in the patterns of human behavior the system that constitutes that behavior is not really the same each time, nor does it take place within the context of the exact same systems of the past.
As Heraclitus said: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.” Everything around us changes us and we change everything around us. But the reason for this interaction that leads to the change we observe happens because of pressures we cannot avoid.
Large, inexorable pressures that are often hidden from us. Even epidemics that don’t directly affect us have the power to change our behavior. In turn they either increase or decrease our levels of anxiety and lead to the change in perception that creates the context which changes our decision making.
As the global economic uncertainty index rises, for example, the buying public’s purchase behavior is affected as a result. Purchase behavior is an external, observed phenomenon that reflects a much less easy-to-observe internal change.
What Can You Do?
The question here is what should you be doing as an individual and what should you be doing as an entrepreneur, marketer or PR person? We are fully in the 21st century. Work and life are no longer separate. Excuses for doing nothing are no longer adequate. You can, of course, hire analysts or do the same kind of analysis I have outlined here, yourself. Then use what you find to inform your decision making.
It’s certainly possible and you will find that the choices you make magically improve. It is, however, costly in terms of time and energy and possibly money. Unless you’re consistent applying this approach haphazardly will be of only marginal use to you.
A sense of purpose leads to values. Shared values affect behavior. Behavior creates the stream of data that creates culture. Shared values lead to behavior that has similar goals. If you’re an individual you begin to understand the value of cooperation and empathy. If you’re running a business you find yourself and your target audience on the exact same side. Understanding your potential customers then becomes easier. The customer journey is no longer a mystery and the all-important customer experience is no longer left to chance.
Who we are defines what we do and who we will become.