The Right Frame of Mind

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

According to The Economist, Ara Norenzayan conducted experiments using what is known as the dictator game. . . .Participants receive a sum of money, (Dr. Norenzayan set it at $10) and are asked if they would like to share it with another player. In the basic version of this old game, people tend to keep most of the money for themselves. He “tweaked the game by introducing the idea of God.” Half the subjects unscrambled sentences containing religious words such as God, spirit, divine, and so forth prior to playing the dictator game. The players who were primed with so-called religious terms gave $4.22 on average, whereas other players left $1.84. (The Economist March 22, 2008.)

The Economist asked an interesting question. What if people were primed with more secular words that might have prompted them to behave in an altruistic manner? So, that got me wondering. Are there things we could do at the beginning of major changes to get people in the “right” frame-of-mind for what was to come. For instance, thinking about things like cooperation, hope, teamwork, volunteerism, and so forth.

The experiment described above only asked people to unscramble sentences. No fanfares, extolling, or preaching. So please note that I am not suggesting motivational speakers or tired old, do-it-for-the-Gipper bromides that executives tend to trot out from time to time.

The designers of FutureSearch (a change process that involves a fairly large number of people) purposely begin events the night before any “real work” takes place. They believe, as I do, that just starting the event, gets people thinking about the work at hand. So by the time the real work begins, people have already chewed on the ideas. . . . What if we added something akin to unscrambling sentences to an introductory meeting? (I am not suggesting that we actually unscramble sentences, but something that might serve the same end.) Could something this simple help get people focused on the spirit needed to support the intense work of change?