The pygmalion effect
We all want to crack the code to high performance and getting the most out of ourselves and others. The key is often in our psychology.

Every year, a couple of times a year, I get a few hundred business owners in a room, and I tell them they have 12 hours to write an e-book, five blog posts, film five videos, and then to top it all off they have to wake up at 4:30am to do it!

Sounds crazy, right?

But get this, over 90% of the room actually do it! No, I didn’t hold them at gunpoint or blackmail them. I used a simple psychological phenomenon known as the Pygmalion effect.

What is the Pygmalion effect?

As Robert Rosenthal, renowned psychologist put it “the phenomenon whereby one person’s expectation for another person’s behavior comes to serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy”.

In short, the Pygmalion effect is when you commit to something and other people place an expectation on you, follow through increases by 800%.

That’s a whopping figure!

It really all comes down to herd mentality and social pressure.

As mammals, we want to fit in and blend in with the herd.

Once upon a time, social rejection meant you didn’t have the protection of the group, so we’ve been conditioned to avoid it because we equate it with leading to death.

So if someone is telling you that they want you to do XYZ, then the pygmalion effect says that you’re actually 800% more likely to do XYZ.

Pygmalion effect definition

So, how can you use the Pygmalion effect?

When I’m at my event and want to motivate several hundred people to do something they think is basically impossible, I use the power of the Pygmalion effect.

What I do is I set a clear expectation of what needs to be done.
One e-book, five blog posts, and five videos uploaded by the next day. If they need to get up at 4:30 am, that’s what they’re gonna do.

I get everyone in the room to stand up, and repeat after me:

“My word is bond.
My bond is my truth.
This will be done.
This is done.”

And we say that with our hand on our heart, a dozen or so times.

Then I ask them to turn to the person next to them, look them in the eye and say:
“I will not let you down.”

It looks simple in writing, but you would not believe the power and energy in the room of 600 people yelling “This will be done!”

How to implement the Pygmalion effect in the workplace

I talk a lot about the importance of planning, and how in the office we break our tasks down to a weekly and daily list.

We huddle every morning in our departments and tell everyone what we did yesterday, what we’re going to today, and if things weren’t accomplished – why not?

This is how we use the Pygmalion effect in the office every single day. There is full transparency around what’s being done by who, and when.
There is the herd expectation that you do exactly what you say you will do – and there better be a pretty good reason if you don’t.

When we do our departmental planning every month, quarter, and year, every task is allocated to an owner, someone who is directly in charge of making sure that sh*t gets done.

It’s highly effective.

If we were to just say “Film podcast” and it didn’t get done, then there’s no one to take responsibility and everyone can just shrug and say “it wasn’t me.”

But if we assign that task to a person, that person gets the reward of ticking off the task, they get the praise- but they also have to explain if it doesn’t get done.

This is the Pygmalion effect in action, there’s a clear expectation by a group of people, and it increases follow-through by 800%.

Why you should use the Pygmalion Effect

You can also use the Pygmalion effect outside of the workplace in a much more subtle and gentle way.

Like if there’s a trait or behaviour you want your family/children/partner whatever to do more of, start acknowledging it more.

For example, I don’t punish my son when he lies, I reward him when he tells the truth.

This places a lot more focus and expectation on telling the truth, so those are the traits that flourish and grow.

The science behind it is that I act like he’s honest, so he becomes more honest.

It’s a wonderful use of the pygmalion effect because it uses gratitude to encourage a behaviour, rather than a typical punishment frame.

Psychology tip

Having an understanding around psychology and what motivates people, is very valuable as a leader.

It’s also really insightful in motivating yourself.

If there’s something you want to accomplish but keep flaking out on, the key might just be the Pygmalion effect.

Create that accountability, surround yourself with people who have high expectations, and watch the magic happen.


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Kerwin Rae
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