I was listening to an excellent Tony Robbins and Gary Vaynerchuck podcast on the way into work this morning during which they shared some great ideas and offered advice in respect of good practice for entrepreneurs/business leaders regarding business, wealth, strategy and psychology.
As some of you may already know, Tony Robbins is a big advocate of ‘priming’. His view is that our thoughts don’t actually belong to us; they arise because we’ve been ‘primed’ to think in a certain way. Priming occurs when we are exposed to something, often a word, an image or an idea that influences our behaviour later on without us being aware of that guiding influence. Any Derren Brown fans among you will be aware of just how powerful these influences can be and particularly when they are frequently reinforced.
During the podcast Tony refers to a renowned Yale study that took place back in 2008, a study which highlights the impact of priming. The study went something like this… Researchers asked participants to come to the lab to answer a short questionnaire – however, the participants weren’t aware that the experiment had already started before they even entered the room.
Each participant was joined by a research assistant whilst taking the lift up to the appropriate floor. The research assistant had her hands full and at one point she asked the participant to hold a cup of coffee while she wrote his or her name down.
Half the participants held a hot cup of coffee, and the other half held an iced coffee.
When the participants got to the lab, they were asked to rate the stranger’s personality — whether they were generous, caring, good-natured, or otherwise warm.
The results: The participants who held the warm coffee said that the individual had a warmer personality. The participants who held the iced coffee said that the individual had a colder personality. The authors concluded that holding a warm object leads people to regard others more fondly.
I’ve experienced this phenomenon myself during an unconscious bias workshop I attended a couple of years ago. Participants were placed into 3 separate groups and then each group was handed an image of a car for them to review and discuss. The first group was given an expensive car, the second group were given a mid-range priced car and the remaining group were given an inexpensive car. Later on that morning each participant was asked how much they’d be prepared to pay for a reasonable bottle of wine. The results were incredible, the first group gave an average price of £17.00, the second group £9.00 and the final group £6.00. We had been unconsciously primed or some might say ‘programmed’ earlier in the session – scary stuff!
Having been reminded of all this on the way into work this morning it got me thinking about how powerful this knowledge can be when working with organisational culture. Once we know that people are subconsciously primed by words, images and ideas we can then start to think about the kind of influences people are exposed to in our organisational environment. We may wish to examine how we may be subconsciously priming our people and then decide whether it is helpful or unhelpful in terms of taking us closer or further away from the desired culture and behaviours we are actively trying to encourage within our organisations.
Something to ponder over your coffee perhaps…