Simon Duffy

Thoughts, Bemusements & Arguments

Simon Duffy

Thoughts, Bemusements & Arguments


Three (or Four) Kinds of People

This story reveals a theme which runs through moral philosophy. Are we motivated to act rightly because of duty itself or because of external influence or fear?

Three officials were assigned to guard the king’s treasures. They proved to be corrupt, and dividing the valuables, ran away. One thought better of it, and returned of his own accord. The second was persuaded by a friend to return. The third witnessed the execution of an embezzler and returned out of fear. The first was restored to the king’s confidence; the second received a less responsible post, the third was appointed executioner of the embezzlers:“There are three kinds of people in the world who act like these three officials with respect to the fulfillment of God’s injunctions" explained the Pulnoer.

An Hasidic Tale

In my own work I find the similar fourfold distinction useful - not for analysing moral behaviour - but in terms of attitude to change:

  1. Motivation by belief - to have a vision of the possible and faith in the unseen - these are the natural innovators
  2. Motivation by status - to seek evidence  and stay close to authority - these are the followers of fashion, the makers of movements
  3. Motivation by price - to look for the consequent value of the innovation: it makes life easier, cheaper, more fun - these are the utilitarians who wait for trends to be set and for prices to drop
  4. Motivation by fear - to know the negative value of the innovation: to fear the loss, the change and the unknown - these are the sceptics
Notice that each of us takes a different attitude to change in different aspects of our life. Nobody is an innovator in every walk of life. Notice also that each attitude has a positive purpose and that the tensions between these perspectives are legitimate.

So if you value an innovation remember that the other person, who does not seem to understand the value of the innovation, is not being purposefully stupid or wicked. Instead they are either:

  • Worrying that there is not enough evidence - What would it look like if they backed something that proved false?
  • Worrying that there is not enough value yet - Is it the right time to invest in this? What will my return be?
  • Worrying that they will lose something else they value -  Doesn't this threaten me?
For social innovators it is important to respect these fears - knowing that you cannot resolve them at once.

You also need to develop strategies that:

  • Increase data and improve understanding of the value of the innovation
  • Reduce the price, increase simplicity and ease of application of the innovation
  • Design the innovation so that it is sustainable and respectful of other values and approaches

Perhaps most importantly, if you have a vision of how things could be better, you will need to find ways of sharing your vision. Most powerfully this is achieved by making your vision real - even if it's just in some small way.