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Weekly 3: Revealing the role of status

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Summary Comparing ourselves to others drives much of our thinking and behavior -- often more than we
 

Idea Journal Weekly 3

August 16 · Issue #152 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary
Comparing ourselves to others drives much of our thinking and behavior – often more than we’d like to admit. Here are a few ways to reveal the role of status, and use it to your advantage.
(~3 min read)

#1. Most people want to increase their status if given the choice
Author and researcher Josh Kaufman writes in his book The Personal MBA that when a person is given a choice between different alternatives, they will most likely choose the option with the highest perceived status. 
High status generally means being associated with people and organizations that we think are exclusive, important, influential, or some other widely desired quality.
As Kaufman points out, this has important implications if you’re selling a product or service: 
“When you make an offer to a new prospect, they will automatically and unconsciously examine how your offer will influence their social status.”
Kaufman suggests that consciously building social signals into your offer is an effective way to increase its appeal to your target market.
For example, people want to signal to others that they’re attractive, confident, intelligent, interesting, and wealthy.
How can you help them do that?
#2. We measure status not only by what we have, but also by how we interact with others
Marketing guru and public intellectual Seth Godin writes in his book This is Marketing that there is a schism in our culture based on how we measure status.
There are two sides that tell themselves different stories about status: 
  1. Those who measure status through domination (“who eats first”).
  2. Those who measure status through affiliation (“who sits closest to the emperor”).
This is what domination sounds like: 
  • This is mine, not yours
  • Who has more power?
  • I did this myself.
  • My side dominating your side means I don’t have to be in charge, as long as my leader is winning.
And here’s what affiliation sounds like: 
  • Who knows you?
  • What is your circle like?
  • Have you made things better?
  • Can’t we all get along?
As Godin puts it: “Seeing the difference unlocks an understanding of our world, our political landscape, and how your customers might see things.”
Which narrative resonates with your audience?
Godin illustrates the difference using two figures from popular culture. 
Every search for the “nicest guy in Hollywood” brings up a picture of Tom Hanks. And every search on “The Godfather” gives you a picture of the fictional character Don Corleone. 
Tom Hanks cares about affiliation, and Don Corleone prioritizes domination.
#3. But focusing too much on status is a trap
Researchers Lauren McCann and Gabriel Weinberg write in their book Super Thinking that the concept of an arms race can help you avoid the trap of unproductive status-seeking. 
As McCann and Weinberg point out, an arms race is a “race between two or more countries to accumulate weapons for a potential armed conflict.”
But you can use the concept to understand any type of escalating competition. 
For example, many people go into debt trying to keep up with their social circles (or social circles they aspire to be in) by buying bigger houses, designer clothes, and fancier cars. 
This dynamic is the basis of the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses,” which comes from the name of a comic strip that followed the McGinis family. The McGinis family was obsessed with matching the lifestyle of their neighbors the Joneses.
These are all examples of arms races over status. 
But there are at least two problems with arms races: 
  1. There’s usually no clear end to the race.
  2. All sides in the race burn through resources that could have been better spent elsewhere.
Avoiding arms races as an individual means not getting sucked into keeping up with the Joneses. Instead of using your income on unfulfilling status symbols, spend it on things that make you fulfilled. Maybe that’s taking a class or going on a family vacation.
As an organization, avoiding an arms race means differentiating yourself from your competition, instead of pursuing a one-upmanship strategy over deals or features. One way to do this is by focusing on improving and communicating your organization’s unique value proposition.
Quote of the week
“We inevitably feel the need for status and recognition, so let’s not deny it. Instead, let’s cultivate such status and recognition through our excellent work.”
- Author Robert Green in his book The Laws of Human Nature
Other Weekly 3 issues about understanding people's motivations
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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