People are different and stakeholders are people

SAY takes into account that people are different and that they see things differently. Stakeholders are treated as valuable sources of information who must be approached in a way that matches their styles and preferences. Because everyone has a different position and focusses on different things, it’s important to properly categorize stakeholder messages as well as take them seriously. SAY uses modern drives logic and latest groupthink ideas to chart stakeholder groups mental states and to differentiate facts from perceptions and opinions.

The concept of a ‘mental arena’ requires some clarification. In all complex human interactions individual drives play a role. Behaviour does not come forth from personality, but from the confrontation between what someone wants and what someone experiences in reality. Behaviour is a tool to achieve something! An individual influences his circumstances and the circumstances influence the individual. When we look at groups, group members add another factor: the other group members. Within groups there is a natural tendency to adjust to the group, this creates group culture. Individual drives, circumstances and group culture maintain a dynamic interaction and often a considerably tense interdependence, which determines the group mood or focus: what are we doing, what do we see as our goal, what issues are foremost in our minds.

SAY does not aim to create a static picture of stakeholders, rather we take human flexibility and adaptability as our basis for the SAY inventory. Who after all stays the same throughout life? It’s true for most people that a change in circumstances causes a change in behaviour, but also (in the short term) a change in preferences. This vision fits in with the theories of Maslow and Graves. After all, isn’t it Maslow’s pyramid that explains how we will change when our circumstances change?

We are all driven in our own way. There’s nothing mysterious about it. Drives are measurable. You can use them effectively to explain and predict behaviour. In the 1950’s the American psychologist, Abraham Maslow1, defined the wide variety of our needs, and that those needs vary considerably from person to person. The psychologist Graves2 succeeded in categorizing the drives and his successors Beck and Cowan3 introduced colour codes, which greatly improved communications about drives. Later, worldwide research by Harvard professors Lawrence and Nohria4 conformed the picture: in every culture we can distinguish universal human drives.

We are masters at appraising a situation and adapting our behaviour appropriately. The way we act in church will differ radically from our behaviour in the stands at a sport match or in traffic. The environment reacts immediately and negatively to someone who fails to adapt. Unadapted behaviour, however it is manifested, is not appreciated.

Recent research by Klucharev
5 into the workings of the brain during adaptation shows that it generates alarm signals when it perceives discrepancies between the individual and the group. Deep down we are herd animals (primates), biologically programmed to live and work together, resolving differences. Psychological experiments in the 1950’s showed that very little social pressure was required to enforce conformity.

It is worth mentioning two experiments in this area. Stanley Milgram famously researched what he called “obedience to authority”. Participants were urged by so-called “experts” to deliver potentially fatal electric shocks to others. 60% appeared ready to do so. Personal responsibility and moral values seemed to melt like snow in the sun.

Salomon Asch studied the effect of group pressure on judgment and opinion forming. He showed that more than three quarters of the participants gave the wrong answer to the simplest questions (“Which of these lines is the longest?”) when it matched earlier answers given by others. The individual response was secondary to the need to conform.

Both experiments show the human being to be a social creature who adapts readily to his social context, a “herd animal” who responds to the rhythm of his fellows without being aware of it. If someone laughs, we laugh with him or her.

1 Maslow, Abraham, Motivation and Personality. 1954
2 Graves, Clare W., Human Nature Prepares for a Momentous Leap, The Futurist, April 1974
3 Beck, Don and Chris Cowan, Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change. 1996
4 Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria, Driven. How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices. 2002
5 Vasily Klucharev a.o., Reinforcement Learning Signal Predicts Social Conformity Neuron, Volume 61, 2009