Positive failure: Isn’t this an oxymoron? What good can come from failing? The answer, it seems, is “a lot.”
I recently moderated a panel of nonprofit leaders titled, “So You Want To Be a Nonprofit Executive?” At one point, I asked each panelist to share a failure from which they had learned a valuable lesson. Believe it or not, they did so eagerly.
In our culture, we’ve been taught that stress is bad and we need to combat it like an enemy. We hear about all kinds of ways to “decrease our stress” as if it’s something to fear. Personally, I never wish for less stress. I aim for a greater capacity to handle stress.
The art and science of persuasion is often discussed as though changing people’s minds is about using the right arguments, the right tone of voice or the right negotiation tactic. But effective influence and persuasion isn’t just about patter, body language or other techniques, it’s also about understanding people’s motivations.
In the scrabble to explain technique, it’s easy to forget that there are certain universal goals of which, at least some of the time, we are barely aware. Influence and persuasion attempts must tap into these to really gain traction.
If you stick me in a room with at least one other person, there is a small chance that I will start talking about my latest ‘favorite’ book (or two). Earlier this week, I played golf with an old friend when I started talking about several books that I had recently read. I like sharing what I learn. After hearing me talk myself blue in the face, my buddy innocently asked, “Doug, how many books do you read in a month?” (I think the question was more of a statement, actually – “Please stop talking about books and just play golf!”)
In any event, it made me think about the time that I invest in learning and what makes me recommend a book. I want to be able to put the concepts from a book to good use in my work and/or personal life. If I take the time to read something (and scribble a set of unintelligible notes in the margins), I would like it to have a lasting, positive effect for me. The trouble, however, is that most personal and professional development books are long on theory but short on practical application. The Strengths Book, written by Alex Linley, Janet Willars, and Robert Biswas-Diener, does a masterful job of combining the latest research in positive psychology with straightforward tips that are easy to implement.
Back in the mid-1990s, I was a Training Manager for a wireless company in the Washington, DC, area. My responsibilities included facilitating a 4-week course for Customer Service reps, training Sales reps on new phone features, and running our new hire orientation. About two months into my employment with the company, I was asked to help plan and facilitate four 3-hour training sessions over the course of two days for a national retailer that was kicking off a summer sales promotion for our service.
I jumped at the opportunity to do some great work at my new company but was quickly overcome with anxiety after my first meeting with our Vice President of Retail Sales. He shared his goals, his expectations, and made it very clear that the fate of our company was held in the balance. My thoughts immediately jumped to the worst-case scenarios where I couldn’t meet his expectations.
Writing is not always easy for me. I do my best to follow the advice of Chip & Dan Heath (authors of Made to Stick – Why Some Ideas Die & Others Survive) by telling a story, giving my readers something unexpected, and keeping it simple. Even though this is a nice formula, I can struggle with any of these elements to write a post that is both compelling and practical. The one you are reading now, however, was the easiest that I have ever written…
“Things like that don’t trick me,” commented one person who participated in a research study in 2000. Another said, “I’m pretty good at knowing when I’m full.” These people were part of a study where a random group of moviegoers were given free popcorn in a medium or large-sized bucket where the goal was to test if the portion size influenced how much people ate.
The results: People with the larger buckets ate a whopping 53% more than their medium-sized counterparts. (By the way, the popcorn was ‘engineered’ to taste pretty bad. It was five days old and “squeaked” when it was eaten.) Other popcorn eating studies have been run, but the results are always the same. If you get a big container, you eat more, a lot more.
Imagine, for a second, that you are a public health expert and you are given the results of this study, except there is no mention of the bucket sizes. You only know that some people ate a lot and some ate less. You might say, “We’ve got to motivate people to eat less. Let’s create a marketing campaign that promotes healthier snacks and show the hazards of eating too much!” Not so fast…