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Why matters

Progressive Froage Editor Lynn Jaynes Published on 28 September 2017

Why is it a farmer can run a $300,000 harvester but can’t turn on a dishwasher? Why is it parents and kids can work nine months on a 4-H steer project day after day, but after six hours in the hot sun during the quality show at the county fair nobody cares who wins anymore?

They just want it to be over. Why would President Trump send tweets at late hours of the night? I may never get all of my “why” questions answered, probably because I don’t know which “why” questions are worth answering. Simon Sinek has a theory about that.

In Sinek’s book Start with Why, he suggests there are only two ways to influence human behavior: You can manipulate it, or you can inspire it. Let’s start with manipulation.

Two ways to manipulate (or influence behavior) involve carrots and sticks. The carrot method: If you get your homework done, you can watch an hour of TV. If you get the hay raked this season with the rake you have, I’ll buy a new one next year.

Retailers do this all the time with coupons or buy nine oil changes and get the 10th one free or products with lifetime guarantees. Price drops are another form – as in, I’ll sell you hay $10 per ton under the market rate. In fact, drop your prices low enough, and you’ll outsell everyone. (You won’t make a profit, but you’ll sell.)

Sinek claims incentives erode profit margins, and your product then becomes just another commodity in the pricing game. Are you sure you want to go down that road?

Then there’s the stick method: fear and peer pressure. “The surgeon general says this product may cause cancer; you may lose your left frontal lobe and your little finger on the right hand at the second knuckle,” or retailers might say, “This deal will only last until midnight.”

And more subtle still is Sam Elliot’s voiceover implying you’re not a cowboy unless you drive a three-quarter-ton diesel pickup with a fifth-wheel ball and an NRA sticker in the back window. Don’t think for a minute peer pressure is limited to teenagers.

While fear, like the carrot, may work in the short run, fear’s reach is limited. You may be able to get the behavior desired through intimidation of a child, for instance, but the minute that kid is 18 years old and out of the house, your intimidation loses power. And unless you’re connected to the Mafia, with its expendable manpower, it’s hard to sustain.

Manipulation happens in the neocortex of your brain. This is where “higher levels” of thinking happen – analyses, data computation and comparison, pros and cons type of thinking and “What’s the best deal?”

There is another area of the brain, however, that actually proves to be the tipping point for sustainable behavioral influence and decision-making. It’s the limbic system, where emotion resides. Because I said “emotion,” some of you are immediately uncomfortable.

There’s a reason for that: Language doesn’t exist in the limbic system. We have trouble expressing emotions well. We end up feebly saying, “Well, it just felt right,” or “My gut tells me ….” Because we can’t explain emotion well, we downplay its role in decision-making. However, research says it’s exactly this part of our brain that makes long-term decisions.

Why should you care? In essence, it’s not the product that matters in the long run as to whether someone will continue to do business with you. I’ll say that again: It’s not the product that matters – with this caveat: at least not as much as the “why.”

Put into context, your hay (or beef, seed, milk or whatever your “what” is) may be exactly the same as another, but people will do business with you instead of another (whose product may be cheaper) if they connect with your “why” – as in, why you are in business. So contends the author.

If that’s true, then – what is your why? Beyond “I have hay [or silage or pasture] for sale” to pay the bank note off because daddy wants a new baler, why should someone do business with you over another? Your integrity? Your honesty? Your motivation? Maybe you better figure that out – because it could be the emotional tipping point that would inspire people to choose doing business with you.  end mark

(And if you’re waiting for me to answer the question I started with – why a farmer can run a $300,000 harvester but can’t turn on a dishwasher – you’re out of luck. I wish I knew.)

Lynn Jaynes
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