When you do things right…

One of my favorite lines from Futurama is when the universe says “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.” History is full of such quotes, another being Lao Tzu’s “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

I wish I could say I achieve that goal all the time, but most of the time it is easier to just give instructions. When I am able, I like to apply a variant which is to find ways for people to want to do things. Sure I can tell them to do it, but the quality of work is better when they want to do it.

Rory Sutherland has a great example of this in his book Alchemy. He discusses in the eighteenth century, Fredrick the Great wanted Prussian peasants to grow and eat potatoes. The reasoning was there would be less risk to the food supply with an alternate source of carbohydrates. No amount of coercion could achieve this goal, the people didn’t want to eat something that grew below ground.

Finally, the monarch gave up on that approach and planted a royal potato patch and declared potatoes a royal vegetable that could only be eaten by royals or with royal permission. Soon people stole these royal potatoes (loosely ‘guarded’) and began to cultivate them.

Clever? Sure. Manipulative? A bit, but french fries are delicious, no?