We live in the same imaginary world

I just finished a book called "La société des affects. Pour un structuralisme des passions", by French philosopher Frédéric Lordon.

The content is focused on Spinoza's philosophy. I was struck by his assertion on free-will: "People think they are free because they are conscious of their own actions, and ignorant of the causes by which those actions are determined.

It's pretty close to what makes me believe in the power of storytelling. Stories speak directly to our emotions. And if the moral of the story taps into the right set of beliefs and habits, it is bound to make us act. We do it because we feel this is right and that it is "us". We believe in it because we belong to the kind of people that believes in it.

The book helped me understand why it is more efficient, when you want to affect a target group, to think about one specific person that you personally know, to shape the hero of your story, rather than to consider a marketing group.

I already experienced that it was easier to imagine one person's emotional response - as opposed to a marketing group who doesn't dream big, who just replicates a supposedly rational behavior.

But it doesn't mean one person cannot be representative of a whole group. Because as individuals, we are determined by the group we belong to, to act a certain way, dress a certain way, feel, judge or love a certain way. Our behavior is instinctive, almost automatic, we don't have to think much to know that, according to our group (whether social, geographical, of age, of gender), this behavior is a source of joy

We are instinctively seeking joy.

Knowing that we are not free to think our own thoughts can seem sad or even reductive, but consider this: aren't you sometimes surprised that your friends or family or colleagues love the same things as you, at the same time? I recently realized that my 2 sisters (one lives in Paris, the other one in London), my sister-in-law (who is Argentinian) and my cousin (who lives in the suburbs) had been caught up in the same frenzy of getting rid of their belongings (throwing away, giving away, selling their books, clothes, furnitures, hi-fi, tech stuff) and wanting to NOT buy anymore useless stuff. Some had read the best-selling book by Marie Kondo, some had not.  

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo (1'43")

Marie Kondo's book affected a certain group at the same time because the members of this group were ready to hear what she had to say. Bourgeois-Boheme in their 30's or 40's, who had plenty of time and enough money to enjoy buying a lot of stuff and were caught in the paradox of seeking both to build a comfortable home and save the planet. Which was a source of sadness. This book is a life-saver for this group (the children of the 60's and 70's) who comes to realize that not possessing is the best way to reach these two dreams. The sharing economy is not a rational decision for this group, it's the right emotional response to who they are.

In entrepreneurial speaking I would say, Marie Kondo's theory had the right time-to-market. If you watch the video, you'll notice she advises people to consider each item and ask themselves if they are a source of joy. That's exactly Spinoza's theory: people act because they instinctively know it will be a source of joy for them.

Understand their emotional drivers

In the end, you have two options:

  1. You want to change the way people think. First, you have to understand how the people in your target group feel today and consider the game-changing trends on your market that are shaping new behaviors. Start with a niche of enthusiastic users and anticipate a long-time effort to reach the masses.
  2. You want to address how people think right now. Once again, you have to know first their emotional drivers and how you can persuade a few power-users or influential people to affect the rest of the group. If they seem happy, the rest will want the same pill!