Inspired by Self-Efficacy

Scott Kronick

The intent behind the Monday Morning Mojo is to share inspiring, apolitical stories that rarely get covered amidst much of the worrying news dominating the airwaves. It is also a continuation of a weekly forum, the Monday Morning Mail, I shared with my staff in my previous capacity.

I can’t send this week’s Monday Morning Mojo without making reference to the troubling news we are witnessing now in Israel. There are no words to express how devastating and worrying this is on so many fronts. I always looked for baby steps of positivity in Middle East developments, but that has been washed away. It’s hard to find any rays of hope.

This week’s Mojo is about self-efficacy, a concept introduced by my former boss, who is now Founder and President of the Ogilvy Center for Behavioral Science. He spoke to my University of Southern California class about his latest work decoding why people behave the way they do. Before the Israel tragedy, I asked him about the challenges we face in US House of Representatives, and he replied this goes much beyond behavioral science. I am sure the same is true about what happened this weekend in Israel.  I hope to someday report on some self-efficacy baby steps in Israel back to normalcy, but it is very hard to imagine that today.

Chris’s lessons follow.

The Message Is The Medium

Among the many topics we discussed with Chris in my class, I asked him why such things as climate messaging so often misses the mark. He commented that so much of this communication is grounded in crises we face in the distant future, and this just doesn’t resonate with people who need to do something now and see the results. Rather, if the messaging centered around small steps people could do to improve their surroundings and immediately see the results, the chance for success, experts argue, would be much greater. This is a psychological phenomenon called self-efficacy.

Self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance results, and it relates to the confidence in one’s ability to exert control over their own motivation, behavior, and social environment. Chris points to research that shows there is a struggle between attention-getting alarming tactics and making people feel they can make a difference as individuals. Basically, the more you scare them the less they participate. So, communicating smaller, practical things people can do works better than horrifying them. He calls this the tug-of-war between salience and self-efficacy.

Fixing Boston’s Potholes

We tend to think that improving an organization’s reputation must be a big, ambitious campaign. But Chris used the example of an APP that exists in Boston allowing citizens to report potholes on the streets. Citizens can report seeing potholes in the city by uploading a photo with a location. Then the municipal government dispatches a repair crew, fixes the hole, and uploads that to the app. This quick, responsive action actually helped improve the overall reputation score for the local government.

Club America?

Chris’ visit was particularly relevant given the government shenanigans happening last week in the United States. While the implications of what is happening in the US House of Representatives is beyond behavioral science, Chris shared a view of the communications challenges the government faces. Given there is such a lack of trust in government, Chris offered this view: “What would happen is someone came out and said, ‘for a modest annual fee you can join Club America, and by doing so you can get all of your city’s roads paved, you can get your medical care subsidized, schools will be free, we will clean up your garbage, we will look after your safety, fire, help with your retirement, and much, more more. Would you join?’” Chris commented the language and policies around taxes have become so convoluted, no one recognizes the benefits such tax payments bring, which in a way is the “Club America membership fee.”

This example was simple, but very clear, which is one aspect of the behavioral science lessons Chris unearths.

I have written about Chris before. He is one colleague I have learned a ton from, and I look for ways to continue to engage with him because he is so insightful.

AI and Behavioral Science

I asked Chris about Artificial Intelligence’s impact on behavioral science, and he directed to this paper I am sharing below.

AI and Messaging Harvard Business Review

Rules, Tools, Schools and Fools

To get a sense of his brilliance, I am sharing this short video from a conference he moderated called the Global Security Forum held in Qatar in 2019. He summed up the two-day conference with a lesson with four takeaways: Rules, Tools, Schools and Fools. Given what we experienced last week in the United States, his lessons are most salient.  If you have a moment, take a look at this six-minute lesson he shared at the conclusion of this conference.

My special thanks to Chris for his continuous education.  I know my colleagues at Ogilvy in Asia loved learning from Chris, and these are the  types of lessons they appreciated most.  I thought it would be worthy of a larger audience. I also hope you will join me in praying for a quick resolution to the crisis we are witnessing in Israel at the time of this publishing.

I hope you have a better week ahead than what we experienced this weekend,  and thanks for being part of this community.

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9 months ago

Thanks, Scott! The frameworks in Chris’ HBR article are extremely thought-provoking. Fluency in those behavioral science concepts would be such a powerful tool navigating every day life!

Joyce Beach
Joyce Beach
9 months ago

It’s always been a huge confidence builder to start a project and know I can see it through to completion. Silly as it is, I love the sweet surge of accomplishment just making my bed. I’m working on the cosmetic editing of my first novel. Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, getting it ready for the universe, far surpasses the making my bed surge. Yet, I recognize accomplishment whether it’s my bed or my book is a confidence builder that can’t be beaten.
Thanks for your sharing your deep concern about Israel’s tragic loss. A horrific crime has been committed. I can’t wrap my head around what Hamas has done.

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