The decision to do a U-turn or not is one of the tougher decisions in life in general; it is no easier with branding. The reasons for or against a U-turn can often be complicated.

Reasons not for turning

“The lady’s not for turning” is one of the more memorable phrases in politics. It was said by Margaret Thatcher on Oct 10, 1980, which meant it was during the quite early days of her term as the UK’s first female prime minister.

It was one of those phrases that simply caught on. There is a good chance that one element which made it catch on was that it tapped into a universal cross-cultural value: consistency. As human beings, we value consistency very highly. We generally like individuals who have it and we aspire to have it in ourselves. Equally, we dislike those individuals who seem to be forever dithering and changing their minds.

We like people who are reliable and keep on in the same direction. A standard archetype for this would be of the athlete who trains and trains, and enters for a competition year after year. Yet, despite valiant attempt after valiant attempt, individuals like this find themselves never winning a medal. But they win something else which is quite a bit less tangible: admiration. People love a trier – those men and women who keep getting knocked down, but keep picking themselves up to try again.

So when Thatcher was asked by the rest of the UK government (including prominent members of her own party) to change her economic policy – as things were getting difficult with increasing economic hardships – she stubbornly refused. Many people liked her all the more for it.

This is because a good general rule in the art of persuasion and motivation is: if people have a choice of agreeing with something they are familiar with but might not be relevant, or with something they are unfamiliar with but might be relevant, they will generally go with the thing they are familiar with. That’s due to comfort factors as much as anything else. Let’s face it, most people find economics conceptually complex and hard to understand; by contrast ‘she is sticking to her guns, in the face of difficulties and criticism’ is easy to understand.

Thatcher had the added bonus of another international cultural phenomenon on her side – the one that goes: ‘times are tough, so collectively we’ve got to tighten our belts, do without, and tough it out’. It was an approach that had worked a few times for Mao Zedong only a decade or two earlier in his rise to power in a totally different situation in China with his “great leap forward” for the country.

Another example of the power of not turning comes from Napoleon Hill’s classic book on career success, Think and Grow Rich. Even though the book is almost a century old and its examples are old, the principles are timeless. One of the key principles is on decision making. One of Hill’s favourite observations is:

Successful people make up their minds quickly, and change them slowly. Unsuccessful people make up their minds slowly, and change them quickly.

In other words, a tendency not to U-turn, even if it goes to the point of stubbornness or obsessive tenacity, is a better bet for success than the U-turn. A key point of the quote has to do with what it does not say. It does not say ‘never change your mind’ or ‘never make a U-turn’. It more addresses the general human tendency to give up when things get difficult.


 

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