Books
  • 13th August 2019
  • 5 minute(s) read

Dr Susan Weinschenk – How To Get People To Do Stuff {Book Review}

It does not matter what your profession is; we are all in the business of getting people to do stuff.  Whether you are a painter who wants to get people to watch your art, or an entrepreneur who wants people to use their product, or a teacher who wants to get their students to learn (or to shut up), the key to success is to understand the human psychology behind motivation.

In addition to the pleasure of reading and reviewing Dr Weinschenk’s book,  I also had the privilege of interviewing her personally for The Psychology Podcast.  If you have not already heard it, go and check out our conversation now.

30 Second- Summary

Dr Susan Weinschenk identified seven basic drivers of human motivation that make us want to do things, and much to my delight she had already summarised them on her website.

The Need To Belong

Have you ever felt left out?  Not part of a group you wanted to be part of.  It probably made you feel sad, depressed, or angry, or all of the above.  We are ultimately social animals, and our desire to connect with others is a strong, innate drive.  We are not meant to live alone, and we will work hard to be socially accepted.  We need to feel that we have a place in the world where we belong.

You can use the need to belong, and the longing for connectedness, to get people to do stuff.

For example:

  • If you use nouns when making a request, rather than verbs – for example: “Be a donor” versus “Donate now” –  it results in more people taking action. That is because nouns invoke group identity.
  • People are more likely to comply with a request if they trust you.
  • The best way to get others to trust you is first to show that you trust them.

Habits

It might surprise you to learn how much of everything we do in a typical day; we do out of habit without even thinking about it.  We do not even remember how those habits got formed.

We hear so much about how it takes months to create a new habit.  How could that be when we seem to have created hundreds of them easily without even realising it?  It turns out that it is actually very easy to create a new habit, or even to change an existing one if you understand the science behind habit formation.  You can use the science of habits to help other people create or change habits, so you can get them to do stuff.  Here is a little bit of information about the science of habits:

  • The easiest way to create a new habit is to anchor it to an existing habit.
  • If you use anchoring, you can get people to create a new habit in less than a week.
  • An important part of getting someone to create a new habit is to break things into really small steps.

The Power Of Stories

What kind of person are you?  Are you someone who helps those in need?  Do you keep up with the latest trends and fashions?  Are you a family person who spends time and energy nurturing family relationships?

We all have self-personas.  We tell ourselves, and other people, stories about who we are, and why we do what we do.  Some of our self-personas and our stories are conscious, but others are largely unconscious.

If you understand these self-personas, then you can communicate in a way that matches those self-stories and thereby get people to do stuff.  For example:

  • If you can get people to take one small action that is in conflict with one of their self-personas, that one small step can eventually lead to big behaviour changes.
  • You can prompt someone to change their own story by having other people share their stories. If someone hears the right story, you can get people to change their own self-stories in as little as 30 minutes, and that one change can alter their behaviour for a lifetime.
  • Writing something down (in longhand, not typing) activates certain parts of the brain, and makes it more likely that people will commit to what they wrote.

Carrots And Sticks

Have you ever been to a casino?  Think about this: you spend a lot of time and energy trying to get people to do stuff; you may even offer rewards or pay people to do stuff, and yet a casino gets people to pay them!

Casinos understand the science of reward and reinforcement.  Here are just a few things the science of reward and reinforcement tells us about how to get people to do stuff:

  • If you want consistent behaviour, do not reward people every time they do something, just some of the time.
  • People are more motivated to reach a goal, the closer they get to it.
  • Let us say you own a coffee shop and give people a stamp for each cup of coffee they buy. After ten stamps, they get free coffee.  Did you know that as soon as they get that free coffee, their coffee buying and drinking behaviour will slow down for a while?
  • When you punish someone, it only works for a little while. Giving rewards is more effective than punishment.

Instincts

Imagine you are driving down the road, and there is an accident ahead.  You tell yourself not to slow down and look, and yet you feel the irresistible urge to do exactly that.

Being fascinated by danger is one of our basic instincts.  Instincts are strong and largely unconscious.  They affect our behaviour.  Sometimes, you can get people to do stuff just by tapping into these instincts.  For example:

  • People are more motivated by fear of losing than the possibility of gaining something.
  • We are basically all “control freaks”—the desire to control starts as young as four months old.
  • When people are sad or scared, they will want familiar. If they are happy and comfortable, they will crave something new.

The Desire For Mastery

Even stronger than giving an external reward is the desire for mastery.  People are very motivated to learn and master skills and knowledge.

Certain situations encourage a desire for mastery, and others dampen the desire for mastery.  You can use what we know from the research on mastery to set up conditions that will encourage and stimulate the desire for mastery, and by doing so, get people to do stuff.  For example:

  • Giving people autonomy over what they are doing will stimulate them to master a skill, and will motivate them to work harder.
  • If people feel that something is difficult, they will be more motivated to do it.
  • Do not mix praise with feedback if you want to stimulate the desire for mastery. Just give objective feedback.

Tricks Of The Mind

You have probably seen visual illusions—where your eye and brain think they are seeing something different than they really are.  What you may not realise, is that there are cognitive illusions, too.  There are several biases in how we think.  Our brains are wired to jump to quick conclusions.  This is useful in reacting quickly to our environment, but sometimes these fast conclusions and decisions lead to cognitive illusions.  You can use these tricks of the mind to get people to do stuff.  For example:

  • If you mention money, then people become more independent and less willing to help others.
  • People filter out information they do not agree with, but you can get past those filters by first agreeing with them.
  • People are more likely to do something if you can get them to phrase it as a question to themselves (Will I exercise each week?) than if you get them to say a declarative statement (I will exercise each week.)

My Favourite Quote From Dr Susan Weinschenk

Many of life’s failures are men who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up…”
―  Susan M. Weinschenk, 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People

My 3 Take-Aways

Lesson 1: Make People Feel Successful

At the beginning of Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, Tom has to paint a white fence in front of his aunt’s house.  Being the cunning devil that he is, he tries to figure out how he can get somebody else to do the work for him.  When other boys come around, he depicts the activity of painting as very special, only to be completed by someone with extraordinary skills.

“I recon there ain’t one boy in a thousand, maybe two thousand, that can do it the way it’s got to be done”. 

In the end, Tom gets what he wants, and the boys paint the fence for him.

One of the things that I learned from Dr Weinschenk’s book, is that to get people to use your products, you want them to feel like they belong to an attractive group.

I still remember the feeling I had when I bought my first MacBook.  I was not only intrigued by the idea of owning a nice piece of tech, but I felt part of an innovative movement.  Just as much as I purchased a laptop, I purchased status and a slightly transformed self-image.

Dr Susan Weinschenk calls the motivational driver behind this phenomenon, “The need to belong”.

Lesson 2: Understand The Power Of Stories

Do you remember the Snickers advertisement where the bitchy guy transforms into a diva when he is hungry?

We all are schizophrenic to some degree, having multiple personas living inside our brain.  When you are with your friends at a party, you are acting differently to if you were sitting at Christmas with your family.  We all act out different roles throughout our lives, son, mother, friend, employee, citizen, team-mate, student…

One of the drivers of motivation is our tendency to act consistently with our perception of who we think we are.

If you want to get people to do something for you, you can activate one of their personas.  If you want people to donate money for a good cause, you can remind them of some of the good deeds that they have done, and speak about that they might be the kind of person who helps others.

I was once approached by a guy on the street who said: ”you look like the kind of guy who cares about his environment, do you have 2 minutes for me?”

Our interaction ended with me signing for a donation to a formula for saving bees.  He successfully guided me towards the behaviour of donating because I wanted to act accordingly with the persona of “good person” which he had activated in me.

Lesson 3: Mastery Trumps Rewards

One of the common misconceptions in our understanding of motivation is that to get people to do stuff; we MUST reward them externally.  A lot of companies seem to promote the belief that human beings are lazy by nature, and that people can only be motivated to do things by paying them.

If this were true, people would use their free time only in watching Netflix, and slurp Pina Coladas at the beach at every opportunity they get, this, somehow, does not seem to be true for everybody.

People do an insane number of things without being rewarded monetarily.  We climb mountains, learn mathematics, volunteer to help the poor, and create companies.

The idea that we are like mules, who are only motivated by carrots hanging in front of us, is outdated, and more often than not, mastery and goal attainment trump reinforcement.

The video below explains this idea perfectly:

My Opinion In One Sentence

How to Get People to Do Stuff” is a treasure trove of stories, case studies, and psychological experiments.  It is by far, the most informative book on human motivation that I have read. 

Call to Action

Here is some homework for you.

Brain Train! 

Motivation is the energy to do things.  I want you now to imagine that you have an infinite amount of motivation for the rest of the year!

Now, grab a piece of paper and write down 6 things you have always wanted to do but somehow did not.

1.______________________________________________

2.______________________________________________

3.______________________________________________

4.______________________________________________

5.______________________________________________

6.______________________________________________

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