Control Influence and prediction

October 18, 2010 at 10:14 am | Posted in Out of my mind, Systems Thinking, Theory of Influence | 2 Comments

We see all around us cases where parents, teachers and managers tend to assume that they can “Control” the behavior of their children, students and employees respectively. Their actions are then guided by this assumption. If it is false, their actions would be inappropriate. Hence I would like to explore this aspect today and am eagerly waiting for your valuable inputs.

I often wonder whether it is really possible for anybody to control another individual or a group of persons. Absolute control presupposes that we precisely understand the laws governing the workings of what we are trying to control and therefore our actions will create exact repeatable results. This could be true in case of physical systems. But when we come to human beings and human organizations, it is impossible because the human systems like all living systems are autonomous. They have a mind of their own. They take their own decisions. They may or may not respond in the same way at different times even under apparently identical situations. Science has rapidly advanced and we know lot more today about how humans work than we did few centuries or even few decades ago. But human systems are too complex to be completely deterministic.

What is the way out? Does it mean that we can do nothing about it? Absolutely not; we know enough to be able to influence others. But first we have to get rid of the deeply ingrained assumption that we can control others to do what we want them to do and feel bad when they don’t. If we accept that we can only influence – not control – behavior of others, our whole attitude changes. When things don’t go as expected, we would no more feel bad and try even harder to control others. We accept that we may be unaware of certain aspects and would try to know them. We will try to understand the system better. We would take it as an exciting challenge to know more and be able to influence even more effectively. This leads to an open mind which is ready to learn from its own experiences as well as those of others.

What are the practical implications of this change of attitude? Whether at home in schools or organizations we would stop treating them as commodities to be manipulated; rather accepting them as human beings and try to know more about what they really are and what makes them tick. We would realize the importance of trying to predict more accurately the resultant behavior of their actions and keep on fine-tuning based what actually happens. Rather than being a one way street, it will become an interaction, a virtuous loop which keeps improving.

Based on your inputs, I would like to explore further in next few weeks and try to find some patterns about prediction and influence.



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  1. A good blog. I agree completely when you say that we cannot control another individual be it in thought or actions . We have a certain degree of influence over their thoughts only based on our familiarity with the individual. Actions I believe cannot be controlled at all as they are the end result of an individual thought process. Hence influence and prediction is interlinked when it comes to controlling as it is what we believe we have or can do. But certainty of actions as per our wishes of another individual will be a false assumption. Actually this uncertainty of actions is what makes life more dynamic..because if actions were predictable life would be boring

  2. I think Cialdini [1] is good on the subject of Influence. It may reveal the ways in which others try to influence us.


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