The Politics of Onions

OnionsThere’s an interesting dynamic taking place in India right now.  It’s a lesson about creating political change, but it also offers a great insight into how to be more effective as a leader and/or a  marketer.

Indian politicians have been battling one another as to how to reverse the country’s declining economy, but no consensus has been reached.  (Sound familiar?)  However, the weakened economy has taken an interesting twist.  It’s driven the price of onions up dramatically – nearly 5-fold in a month!

While this may not seem like a major event to many of us, in India, it’s catastrophic.  Indian families of all social strata eat onions in or with just about every meal.  An increasing portion of the population cannot afford to buy onions, and therein lies the interesting dynamic.

As we all know, politicians tend to argue for solutions which favor their own agenda or the agenda of their party.  But a groundswell of public protest and discontent is about to change all that.  It will change the politics because unhappy constituents tend not to re-elect politicians.  Appreciating the impact of this dynamic can give us an insight into how to be more effective in our leadership and in our marketing.

If you want to motivate people to take action, you must address something that matters to them.  Whether we’re talking about politicians, members of our team, or potential customers, people tend to act in their self-interest.  When it comes to leadership, if you want to motivate people to take action, you must appeal to something that matters to them.  Setting goals does not motivate most people.  Yes, some love the challenge , but many are not motivated by goals.  And, as you’ve probably observed, most people aren’t motivated by more money, either.

Study after study has demonstrated that more money is pretty low on the list of things that are important to people.  Instead, people appreciate things like getting respect, having autonomy, gaining recognition, appreciation, having a purpose, and/or taking pride in their work.

When it comes to marketing, that old acronym comes to mind – WIIFM – “What’s in it for me?”  Prospects are mot moved to action by logic – they are moved to action by emotion.  In your marketing, if you can appeal to what matters to them (the benefits) rather than how great you and your products are (the features), you’ll have far more success getting people to take action.

Whether it’s politics, leadership or marketing, if you want people to act on your behalf, you must give them what they want – what matters to them.

By the way…

If you'd like help evaluating or implementing any of these concepts, please give us a call. We specialize in uncovering blind spots and developing strategies. 503-928-7685


  1. says

    Michael: WIIFM is a term that applies to leadership as well as sales. True motivation comes from within a person and they tend to follow or to buy when they feel motivated by their emotional connection as a reason to decide. Your story on India is an interesting example of the meaning of WIIFM.

  2. says

    I think this philosophy also applies to personal goals. If we cannot get ourselves to want our goal more than we want the status quo–we do not take action.

  3. Gracie Mak says

    Dear Michael,
    Thanks for the good reminder…WIIFM!
    I totally agree people don’t care until they know you genuinely care about them. I have many clients turned to friends cos I never sold them what I have to sell but only what they need.
    And now that I work mainly with volunteers…what goals?

  4. Syed Saeed Alam says

    Dear Michael Beck

    I found your above article very much informative and interesting. It depicts the true picture of current prevailing environment.

    “When we think about how people work, the naive intuition we have is that people are like rats in a maze,” says behavioral economist Dan Ariel. “We really have this incredibly simplistic view of why people work and what the labor market looks like.”

    Dan Ariely: What makes us feel good about our work? When you look carefully at the way people work, he says, you find out there’s a lot more at play—and a lot more at stake—than money. In his talk, Ariely provides evidence that we are also driven by meaningful work, by others’ acknowledgement and by the amount of effort we’ve put in: the harder the task is, the prouder we are.

    During the Industrial Revolution, Ariely points out, Adam Smith’s efficiency-oriented, assembly-line approach made sense. But it doesn’t work as well in today’s knowledge economy. Instead, Ariely upholds Karl Marx’s concept that we care much more about a product if we’ve participated from start to finish rather than producing a single part over and over. In other words, in the knowledge economy, efficiency is no longer more important than meaning.
    “When we think about labor, we usually think about motivation and payment as the same thing, but the reality is that we should probably add all kinds of things to it: meaning, creation, challenges, ownership, identity, pride, etc.,” Ariely explains.
    To hear more on Ariely’s thoughts about what makes people more productive – and happier. Below, a look at some of Ariely’s studies, as well as a few from other researchers, with interesting implications for what makes us feel good about our work.

    1. Seeing the fruits of our labor may make us more productive
    2. The less appreciated we feel our work is, the more money we want to do it

    3. The harder a project is, the prouder we feel of it
    4. Knowing that our work helps others may increase our unconscious motivation
    5. The promise of helping others makes us more likely to follow rules
    6. Positive reinforcement about our abilities may increase performance
    7. Images that trigger positive emotions may actually help us focus
    Best regards
    Alam, Syed Saeed

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