Incentive is King

Posted on Jun 7, 2019
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They say “Cash is King”. I think what they mean by that is that cash (money) is something that everyone can use more of, and therefore it’s something that you can use as a means of motivating or leveraging just about anyone to do what you want.

Some businesses will offer Cash Back or a Gift Card With Purchase as a way to take advantage of that idea, trying to motivate their prospect to purchase by offering cash in return for a purchase.

As a side note, I’m surprised how often that works (on me). Net net it’s a loss for me. Every time.

Every. Single. Time.

But for some reason my brain has a way of rationalizing that it’s a good decision.


I digress.


Turns out the whole thing is completely false! Cash is not actually king. Cash is just the lowest common denominator medium.

It’s actually Incentive.

This is not a groundbreaking idea in the least. I think everyone reading (all 4 of you), will agree that the only reason cash has any power is that since it’s a virtually universal need, there’s a virtually universal incentive to acquire more of it.

In fact, some of you might be slightly annoyed that I’m splitting hairs. Again. Bear with me.

Understanding that incentive is the root of motivation is one thing, but practicing that understanding is often entirely something else.

It is very rare that we mortals are actually altruistically motivated enough to take on the incentives of others. Meaning we are, rightly so, looking out for #1 the vast majority of the time.

But what we fail to notice is how often the realization of our incentive lies beyond the incentives of others.

For example (I use customer service examples a lot because they’re easy):

You call up customer service for because your order of deep fried twinky wings won’t go through, even though you know there’s enough money on the card.



You are obviously upset - twinky wings are just the greatest thing ever and you may not get them, and as far as you can tell, it’s the website’s fault. There’s nothing wrong with expecting a service provider to, you know, provide the service they’re supposed to provide.

When the customer service agent answers the phone, it is immediately apparent that this call is being fielded by an outsourced call center in a foreign country, which doesn’t exactly boost your confidence in a positive resolution to this call. You start to feel a bit desperate - you just want your twinky wings, damn it!

Enter the call rep…

I’m going to stop here, because most of us don’t. At this time, it is very easy (and extremely common) to vent all of your pent up frustration and the anxiety of not getting those precious twinky wings on this poor guy. After all, it’s his site, he works for them, and it’s his job to make it right. There is no incentive for you to treat him as anything but a combative witness, your honor!

Be that as it may, let’s just take a step back and consider something.

This guy on the other end of the line also operates on incentive. Imagine you picked up the phone and for 5 minutes straight it was like one of those cartoons where the phone is so loud the person has to hold the receiver with two hands and the noise is blowing their hair back. You know the ones.


Enter the million dollar question:

What would you be incentivized to do at that point?


Something like this, maybe?


Now imagine your job is to pick up the phone to people like that, all day, every day, for almost no money.

You have one incentive: Don't get fired.

And to not get fired, you basically just have to show up, answer the phone, and wait out the person’s emotional thunderstorm until they get tired and hang up. Can you imagine a universe where you feel incentivized to go above and beyond for any of them?

Methinks not.

Ok now let’s go back to being the twinky wing lover.

If what you actually want is twinky wings, and not the emotional release of yelling at someone for not giving them to you (which you do), then you now have a different incentive.

You now have incentive to incentivize the support rep to get you what you want. So now you have to set aside your ravenous hunger (for wings) and thirst (for vengeance) so you can discover what incentivizes him.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your perspective), incentivizing a support rep doesn’t require that much. They are treated so terribly that simple gestures of kindness and consideration go a LONG way to overcoming their incentive to not care about you and your problems and create real incentive for them to help you.

You’ve made their day better, so they become more invested in your cause.

Now, lest you forget what I mentioned earlier - this isn’t about being randomly kind to strangers and going out of your way to brighten peoples’ lives. That may or may not be a good idea in and of itself, but what I’m talking about here is has purely selfish motivations.

What I’m getting at is there’s a way to approach situations to make it easier to get what you want.

In order to get what I want, I have to incentivize those who can help me get it. And if I don’t provide proper incentive, I won’t get what I want.

Therefore, to get what I want, I have to think first of what the other person wants, and only then will I get what I want.


Or, to put it plainly, stop biting hands. Most of them feed you.


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