Sometimes folks get concerned when I talk about applying puppy-training principles to business, marketing, or productivity.
The worry goes along the lines of:
I don’t want to turn my customer into some kind of trained seal that jumps through any hoop at my command.”
There are two pieces of good news here.
- You’re a decent human being who’s not trying to control or manipulate people.
- Even if you were a supervillain who wanted to mentally enslave your audience, as marketers we honestly don’t have that kind of power.
Before we start our new series on how positive reinforcement (what trainers sometimes call R+) can help you reach your goals and do amazing things, it might be useful to do a little mythbusting about what these techniques can and can’t do.
Positive reinforcement isn’t something you do “to” someone
R+ isn’t about you imposing your will on your kids, your customers, your dog, your goldfish, or anyone else.
It’s about finding a mutually rewarding exchange of behavior.
- My puppy sits, I give her a treat
- My son does his homework without me nagging, he gets free time on his computer to code his personal projects
- You sign up for this series, I send you the ideas and strategies that I think you’ll find beneficial
- You sit down to write your blog post without procrastination, you get to take a beautiful walk to the park and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine
In the dog training world, R+ is making huge inroads into “traditional” training that was based on pain and fear. Getting any being to do your bidding in order to escape pain is coercive.
By the way, you can use R+ with yourself, too. In fact, it’s an underused — and smart — way to improve your habits.
What’s wrong with the traditional way?
If I smack my puppy when she “does something wrong,” she may learn to “do it right.” She may also learn that I’m untrustworthy. Rather than learning the behaviors that make her a good member of the household, she’s as likely to learn to misbehave behind the sofa or under the bed so she doesn’t get in trouble.
In the same way, if you call yourself a million nasty names because you procrastinated this morning, you might buckle down for awhile. You might also develop an even bigger, uglier block against working until the last possible second.
And the example I could use for customers? About the closest I can get is the relationship we have with cable providers. Getting cable service or dealing with a billing problem is often an exercise in rage, wasted time, and frustration.
So what do an increasing number of us do? Find an alternative. I’ll pay Netflix or Amazon to watch shows on demand rather than spend another hour of my life on the phone with a cable company.
And because you’re not the cable company — you probably have direct competitors, for example — you simply can’t get away with treating people poorly. It’s too easy for them to find another option.
Besides … it’s no fun to be despised. It’s much better to become a welcomed, happy partner.
Positive reinforcement changes how you see the world
A cool side benefit to using R+ is that you start to see the world very differently.
Instead of what most people do, which is scanning the world looking for problems, you start to look for the good stuff.
That’s because R+ works by reinforcing what you want to see more of — so you become more attuned to it.
- You think about how to turn challenges into games
- You think about how to deliver more value
- You think about partnerships, rather than exploitation
It’s just more fun than trying to make people do what you want … and it works about a zillion times better.
So have no fear. We’re not talking about turning anyone into a trained seal. We’ll be talking about ethical, fun, and practical ways to reach our goals while helping our audiences get there too.
Not manipulation. Not condescension. Just lots of observation, empathy, and reinforcement.
The series starts Thursday, I hope you’ll join us! If you haven’t already signed up to get the blog updates, you can drop your deets into the boxes below.
I’ll also send you a success mini-course I’ve been working on. It shares positive, enjoyable strategies to get yourself moving and keep your momentum. That’s an eight-part series that you get by email, and it includes easy (fun) homework that will help you get a handle on that Big, Exciting Project you’ve been trying to tackle.
Talk with you soon! Leave a comment below if you have any other questions about how positive reinforcement might work in a business context — I’m happy to share my ideas!