There’s a fascinating chapter on the pleasure center and altruism center of the brain. The pleasure center fires up when we’re, say, gambling — greed appeals to it, for example. Apparently these centers can’t both run at once, though… and the altruism center is always overridden by the pleasure center if we get conflicting input. So asking someone to help you just to be kind is far more likely to be successful than asking them to help you for money — unless you’re offering a whopping lot of money — enough to get the pleasure center charged up. However, it’s far easier to get the altruism center started in your head: all it takes is a sense of helping someone or making a positive impact.
What makes this relevant is how initial altruistic intentions can be unwittingly overridden by the pleasure center. To the pleasure center (which processes both the following), the lure of material reward, and the drive to achieve it, is like an addiction to a drug. Further, and interestingly, people are apparently not willing to work as hard under the drive of the pleasure center, as they are under the altruistic center. It’s not the reward per se, but rather the possibility of the reward ahead of time — the anticipation — that causes the addictive behavior and suppresses the altruism center. Thus without meaning to, corporations and non-profits are unwittingly offering a lesser incentive when they offer some sort of material gain in exchange for desired behavior — and in order to succeed people may unconsciously lower their standards.
I’m incredibly amused by the chapter titled ‘Dissenting Justice.’ It basically relates a bit of group dynamics: if everyone in a group is agreeing on [X], then it is incredibly difficult for the last person to disagree — even when it’s crystal clear that [X] is incorrect! Throw in even a single person who disagrees with [X], however — no matter how incompetent they may appear — and the last person somehow feels more like it is acceptable to dissent. This is important in situations such as airplane cockpits, where the captain used to be seen as a little god whom no one could contradict — and pilot error turned out to be the cause of approximately 70% of all plane disasters. Now, after group dynamics training designed specifically to encourage polite dissent, and training captains to accept it, teamwork in the cockpit is accepted as normal, and pilot error is reduced.
I am amused because this rejection of strict, top-down hierarchy, and acceptance of listening to everyone — especially the dissenting voice — is commonplace in most of the matriarchal or matrifocal societies I’m aware of. On the one hand, I’m thrilled to see irrational behavior on the part of a so-called leader thwarted by thoughtful recognition of the balancing effect of dissent. On the other, though… shouldn’t we know this already?
The authors run through the standard roles within a group, which I find fascinating — I’d figured this out myself years ago, using different words, and I’m pleased to see my observations were valid. The various roles are initiators (the person who comes up with all the exciting ideas), blockers (the person who comes up with the reasons the exciting idea won’t work), supporters (the person stepping in to side with either the initiator or the blocker), and observers (the person who remains neutral and simply comments on what’s going on). Keep in mind, however, a strong initiator can completely quell a blocker, and vice versa.
While some of these roles may sound more interesting or fun than others, all of them are important and valid for a group, making sure balance is maintained. The blocker, for example, is the voice of dissent. Dissent isn’t always nice to have around, but it is a necessary component of healthy group dynamics — which can, as the authors note, literally save lives. It’s critically important to give voice to dissenters: even if they’re wrong they add perspective, making the decision-making process more rational and less emotional. The freedom to give feedback and voice your concerns means dissenters get to speak — and means everyone will be heard.
In closing, the authors offer ways to prevent sway:
- To deal with fear of loss, make a long-term plan and stick with it — even if you suffer temporary setbacks — rather than to a short-term “band-aid” solution
“If you’re on a long trip and suffer a flat tire that puts you behind, it’s still better to stick with the itinerary and know where you’re going, than to try to make up time by making it up as you go”;
- To avoid being swept up in commitment, learn to let go of the past — what’s done is done, and it’s better to shift direction than to dig ourselves deeper into a hole:
“If I were just arriving on the scene and were given the choice to either jump into this project as it stands now or pass on it, would I choose to jump in?”;
- To avoid value attribution, “propositional thinking”: keep evaluations tentative & be comfortable with complex contradictory information; take your time, be mindful, & consider things from different angles; observe things for what they are, not just for what they appear to be; accept that initial impressions may be wrong — stick to objective data!
“If I got this as a gift, where I didn’t know the price, would I like it?” and “What does the objective data tell me?”;
- To avoid fairness ‘sway,’ when it’s personal: weigh things objectively instead of falling for emotional maneuvers or moral judgments. When others are checking you for perceived fairness: keep people involved, so they feel they are heard, and keep them apprised of the decision-making process. Finally, give voice to the dissenter.
In conclusion: good book full of nifty information; so quick to read that it’s easy to miss fascinating and valid points. Worth reading carefully to make sure I don’t miss anything, so I can apply it to my life.