Customers are people. Users, choosers, and influencers are people. Channel partners are people. People create things for other people to use in exchange for money. Understanding what motivates people can help us to overcome hurdles to effective creativity and innovation.

Customers are people. Users, choosers, and influencers are people. Channel partners are people. People create things for other people to use in exchange for money. Understanding people may be escaping the attention of business leaders, and this lack of understanding is one of the main hurdles to effective creativity and innovation.

Peter Drucker wrote that any internal focus of a business is a cost, and external focus is the source of gain. While the operations of a business are certainly complex and necessary, it seems that most business effort continues to be internally focused rather than externally focused on customers and potential customers. It is understanding the outside human factors that will lead an organization to more successful, long term growth and increased profitability.

Understanding the motivations of people outside of the organization is difficult and complicated. Social psychologists have been intently studying how people function and what motivates us to do the things we do for many years. An excellent book by Professor Robert Cialdini of Arizona State University entitled, Influence: Science and Practice sheds some interesting light on actions people take automatically due to a number of complex social, cultural and emotional drivers. People in the creation business must account for these social drivers to ensure the success of their efforts.

Dr. Cialdini defined six key principles that determine human social behavior, and that much of human behavior is automatic based on these ingrained behaviors. These principles include: reciprocity consistency, social proof, liking, authority and scarcity. Many of these social drivers have been used in sophisticated ways over the past decades to manipulate buying behavior. As consumers, we can use these principles to avoid being taken advantage of and manipulated, and as business people to create more relevant, ethical, and useful offerings to our customers and partners.

Human behavior developed over time based on our need for survival. As humans departed from Africa on the journey around the world, survival has depended on our ability to co-exist in a group, and for mutual support. As a result, many of our behaviors are deeply rooted in our psyche, rules, and rituals.

Reciprocity: The first principle is that people will try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided to us. Simply think about how you feel when going to dinner at a friends’ home, feeling the need to both bring a gift and to return your host’s generosity. People also have a deep seeded desire to reciprocate when someone concedes something to us, in either a negotiation or by offering favors.

Commitment and consistency: A second principle is that once we make a choice or take a stand, we will encounter personal and inter-personal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. This is a very powerful human need. When people make a public statement, or put something in writing, we will go to great lengths to maintain a consistent image to others. This makes it very hard for people to change their opinions once they have been made public.

Social proof: One of the strongest principles is that the greater the number of people who find any idea correct, the more a given individual will perceive the idea to be correct. This force can be very problematic if the larger group accepts an incorrect answer or position, and the tidal wave of social pressure overcomes anyone pushing against the status quo. Social proof provides stability in times of uncertainty. Most human beings do not feel comfortable in uncertain or ambiguous situations. We seek similarity to show us what we perceive to be the correct course of action.

Liking: We prefer to say yes to those we know and like. How many times do you say “yes” to someone that you don’t like? As a result, people work very hard at getting other people to like us. At a base level, people will like someone who is physically attractive, and we also find attractive people to be more persuasive. Advertising has relied on this principle for decades. We also seek out other people who are similar to us. We feel more comfortable and trusting, and tend to group with others who have similar backgrounds, experiences, families, education, sports teams, hobbies, etc. We also begin to like one another more as we increase the level of contact and familiarity. Humans are very susceptible to compliments. Even though we may tell ourselves that we recognize when we are being complimented for someone else’s gain, it is still very difficult to avoid this attraction. Research has also proven that people who are actually in conflict with one another, and have deeply oppositional positions can actually be induced to co-operate through the imposition of common goals. Working together on a common goal is so basic to human behavior that we find it very hard to resist.

Authority: There is a deeply held sense of obedience to authority. Research has proven that people have an extreme willingness to go to almost any lengths on the command of authority. After every corporate scandal or ethnic atrocity, the question is always asked, “How could they do that?” The answer lies in a deeply held human need to obey authority.

Scarcity: Finally, we have a strong emotional feeling that items or opportunities are more valuable when they are less available. Ivy League colleges have learned this lesson to their advantage quite awhile ago. Companies use this principle to attract potential employees by making it very hard to gain employment with their firm. Premium goods companies know this and are able to charge hefty price increases. What is really important to note from the research is that people are more motivated to avoid loss much more than for potential gains. Marketers continually try to show that their offerings will make the buyer’s life better, but human nature often resists this message. We simply fear loss much more than we desire gain. People are most vulnerable to scarcity when we compete for an item. We get very emotional about possessing the scarce item, not in actually using it. We don’t get any more joy from using a scarce item, but rather from the fact that we possess it and others do not. People at auctions desperately seek to make the winning bid. CEO’s can overpay for an acquisition. You may pay more for your purchase on eBay as well.


To create more effective systems, environments, communication and experiences it is vital to understand and build social human elements into our efforts. Without them the result is lack of adoption. So the next time you hear someone ask, “Why aren’t we resonating with the client/partner/employee?” simply look to basic human nature for the insights which were missed in developing and launching your new innovation.