What is the mechanism at play in the minds of the influenced?
Over the past few years, our collective culture has been plunged time and time again into shock events that take us by complete surprise – unpredictable elections, Brexit, Arab Spring. Events where some influential individual, or a small group of them, affect a large swath of people in seemingly inexplicable ways.
We’re desperate to understand influence, if for no other reason than to reduce the uncertainty in our lives. If we could see things coming, we tell ourselves, it wouldn’t be so jarring. However, one of the more interesting aspects of influence is that pundits are constantly focused on questions of process – the quiet machinations that happen behind the digital curtain – and we don’t often ask how it happens in the minds of individuals. What is the mechanism at play in the minds of the influenced?
The God Algorithm
While the name may seem provocative, religion is actually one of simplest ways to see the concept of influence in action. Look no further than the wristwear fad of the late nineties: the
timeless WWJD bracelet. While the craze could have stood on its aesthetic value alone, the interesting part of the bracelet was the behavior that coincided with it. The core purpose of the bracelet was to remind its wearer to repeat the question “What Would Jesus Do?” every time they were confronted with a difficult question.
Upon closer examination, what actually happened here was that the wearer pulled up a mental model they’d created over their lifetime for the idea of Jesus. They essentially booted up a program— run jesus.dmg— in order to apply a set of associated values, morals, and stories. A normal person is confronted with as many as 35,000 decisions a day according to some estimates, and some of those are extremely difficult. By applying a model that represents a set of ideas, we can expedite the process. How would Jesus manage the crisis at work? The misbehaving child? The annoying mother-in-law?
Like an algorithm equipped with a set of logical heuristics, the God Algorithm is an emergent property of human consciousness and imagination. It is the representation of our ability to ask how the influential figures in our lives would respond if they were presented with the same situation. It is the mind running a modelling problem, and it is relevant well beyond the confines of religion.
Beyoncé, Trump, and the God Algorithm
People often bring up the concept of role models and we see this play out in a lot of different ways. For many young women around the world, Beyoncé has become a model for independence, intelligence, character and strength. When faced with questions of how to deal with a problem in their lives – be it a problem with a cheating partner, how to manage their personal brand, or setting aspirations for success – young women can ask the question “What Would Beyoncé Do?” to get guidance from their Queen Bey model, even in a situation Beyoncé has never actually encountered.
This same behavior likely applies to some of the racially oriented situations we’re seeing across the country in middle and high schools. When young people see a powerful man like Donald Trump resorting to racially charged language when cornered or confronted, they may model that behavior as well. Influence can ‘trump’ instinct, triggering decisions that are based on a perception of what others might do to succeed over following nurtured or principled reactions.
What we see is that role models are those who young people choose to mentally model when facing some decision making situation. The mental model they use is the God Algorithm, an algorithm created from the totality of their experience with or of a person – regardless of whether this experience is real or perceived.
We constantly create mental models of influential people in our everyday lives, those who we think have credibility in a situation we’re facing. When facing a problem at work, you’ll likely tap into the God Algorithm for your boss or boss’s boss. When at the gym, you might tap into the God Algorithm of your fittest friend. In all of these cases, the behavioral responses that an individual adopts may not actually be how the influencer in question would behave when confronted with a scenario, instead it’s a person’s cognitive interpretation of it.
Context is king in the endeavor to understand how influence works. The answer can be wildly different when viewing it through the lens of an individual or the lens of an ecosystem. Viewed through the individual’s framework, the God Algorithm is how people maintain and apply the influence of others in their lives. Accordingly influence has considerable power to sway opinion, generate movement and initiate seismic change whether that be in pop culture, religion, politics and beyond. Ultimately, if you want to change the world, it starts with influencing the individual.
If you want to learn more about The God Algorithm, The Middle Class of Influence, and how to construct influential ideas – all while enjoying a lot of fun doodles – grab our book, The Dots: Deconstructing Influence for Brands and Institutions in the Modern Era. You can find it on Amazon, or at our site http://www.thedotsbook.com/.