The tyranny of the social self

In our Mindpark book-club we still read Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann, and recently we went thru the part where the book talks about “the tyranny of the remembering self“. This is a very interesting concept, that says that we as humans do a lot of things not because we want to do it, but because we like to remember that we have done it. This leads to both good and bad effects in our daily life.

One of the examples from the book is:
If you ask people that they would be able to go on a vacation whereever they want in the world, but afterwards all pictures or films they had taken would be destroyed, and they would take a pill that makes them forget the entire vacation, what would they spend on that vacation? It turns out most would not go at all, some not even if they where payed for it. An interesting visualization of the concept, that we do things not because we enjoy every moment of them, but because we want to enjoy remembering we did them. Which explains a lot of the decisions we make that can seem ‘illogical’.

Is social a deeper reason?
However, when I thought about it more, and paired it to my own experience of what drives me, I realized that maybe it is not a tyranny of the remembering self – it might rather be a tyranny of the social self. Kahnemann suggests we do most things because our remembering self gets to decide, rather then our experiencing self. But maybe it is rather our social self that decides – we want to tell others that we have done what we do.
Others could be either just a partner or close friend, as well as everybody – but I think in the age of the internet and social media, it shows that we do things because we want to be able to tell about it, and not just ‘for ourselves’. Of course, this also requires us to remember it. But I think the social aspect might be “deeper” reason behind it, then just the remembering aspect.

It might be that I am wrong, or it might that when Kahnemann played with the idea of the remembering self we just where not as surrounded by social-proof and sharing as we are now – but I think the recent years have revealed more insights into what really drives us humans. And one them might be this – that we do things not because we want to them, but because we like to tell others that we have done them.

I know that that often is the case for me at least, I am honest towards my own feelings and motivations.

How to improve business: looking at competitors

Today we had one of our Mindpark Bookcircle meetings, talking about the book we are currently reading, Thinking Fast and Slow. During a discussion about what to apply from the book to businesses, a good insight came to light, regarding what we called ‘competition neglect’

The theory behind competition neglect is that as businessmen, we are very bad at actually looking at our competitors and what they are doing. Even if that would seem like common sense to keep up with your competitors and draw lessons from their actions, in reality most entrepreneurs and businessmen are really bad at doing this. All of us participating at the meeting agreed to this – we do not look at competitors, or if we do, then we focus on things they do badly.

How come?

Here are some insights from the discussion:

  • Do due inflated self-importance, a feature even stronger in many entrepreneurs, we do like to believe that we are better then others. Maybe not the best, but certainly above par, better then most
  • Looking at competition seriously endangers our own self-image, as it might show that we are not as good as we think we are. This is emotionally extremely tough and therefor we find excuses and avoid doing it
  • This effect is even stronger the fewer competitors you have. The reasoning is this: if I have many competitors, then I can easily find many whom I think are not as good as myself, and therefor easily make myself believe that I am in the top bracket, above par. However, if I only have a handful of competitors, then even realizing that just one is better then I am dangerously threatens my self-image, as the risk of not being in the top bracket gets very big
  • Interesting enough, we have no problems looking at competitors when starting up a business. However, as soon as we are on our way, we like to compare us to the competitors the way we knew them when we did the research, and turn a blind eye to the fact that they might evolve and improve there business a long the way

All of these where very interesting insights.

Solutions for fighting competition neglect

We realized that in larger companies and corporation, competition neglect might be smaller. Both because the business is not as founder-centric as in smaller businesses and start-ups, as well as having employees with the task of keeping an eye on what competitors do.

For small businesses we realized there was an interesting solution to this problem. The best one is not, surprisingly, to force the founders to look more at competitors, as the self-delusion is actually good for the company. A founder of a company is one of it’s most critical sales persons, and thinking you are better then most competitors improves confidence in sales and self-promotion, which both are critical for a business to succeed.

Instead, the solution might be to give the task of monitoring competitors to one of the board members. This person does not need the illusionized grandness because sales is not their biggest focus, and he / she is senior enough to be listened to by the board, in contrast if an employee would be given the task of keeping track of competitors.