Leverage Scarcity for Success

Several years ago I met an extraordinary gentleman during a seminar I was presenting in Columbus, Ohio. We continue to be friends to this day. But equally as important, he has become a much respected colleague.

Brian Ahearn is a certified trainer for the Principles of Persuasion by Dr. Robert Cialdini. The basis for the last two, the next two, and today’s Rule for Success is from these principles. Each principle has been scientifically proven and researched extensively. When I asked Brian if he would write on one of the principles, he said to me, “Anthony, over the years you’ve done a lot for me, it would be my pleasure”, reciprocity in action (not to mention I’m a likable guy – another principle).

To learn more about Brian and the Principles of Persuasion, I invite you to subscribe to Brian’s Blog, Influence People, Helping you to hear yes. Learn the science of influence and hear yes more often.

When he’s not being extraordinary – he’s awesome. I’m sure you will enjoy Brian’s article.

Anthony Tormey Founder & CEO Leader Development Institute


Thomas Sowell, an economist and author said:

“The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it.”

In psychology the principle of scarcity alerts us to the reality that people generally want things more when they believe they’re rare or diminishing. It’s amazing how this changes the behavior of people. For example, I’ll bet there have been times you’ve made a conscious decision to get to a store before a sale ended. You didn’t want to lose the opportunity to possibly get a great deal. If the sale didn’t have an end date you might have waited a lot longer.

As someone looking to succeed much of your success depends on getting others to do what you want. When it comes to motivating behavior using scarcity it’s good to know this rule of thumb: people feel pain of loss more than the joy of gaining the same thing. In fact, psychological studies show people feel the pain of loss 2-2.5 times more than the joy they’d get gaining the same thing.

Here’s an example. Suppose you find a $100 bill today. You’ll feel really good. Let’s assume you stick it in your pocket, then, sometime later in the day, you tell someone about your good fortune. As you relate the story you reach for the $100 bill in your pocket to show it off only to realize it’s gone! I’ll bet the intensity of how you feel at that moment is much greater than the joy you felt earlier. At the end of the day you’re no worse off – you didn’t start with $100 in your pocket and you didn’t end with $100 – and you feel bad!

How do you ethically leverage this? Simple, next time you realize someone can gain by doing what you ask, think of a way to reframe that into loss. Let’s say an employee of yours needs to do three things to earn a sizable bonus. You could say, “Remember, if you do A, B and C, you’ll have a great shot at that bonus,” will not be as effective as saying, “Remember, if you don’t accomplish A, B and C, you won’t have any chance at earning the bonus.”

Don’t get me wrong – talking about what someone might gain is motivating, however studies conducted by social psychologists clearly show talking about what someone stands to lose will motivate more people to take action. The avoidance of pain outweighs the desire for pleasure.

As a person looking to succeed professionally and personally you want to make sure the communication you use is the most effective possible, don’t you? By not going with rigorously tested methods of communication you’ll only hurt your chance for success and you don’t want that, do you?

As Anthony would say, “When you’re not being extraordinary, be awesome instead.”


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