An Easter Franchising Tip from Einstein

My mum likes to worry. The other night she was in the back of the car telling us how worried she had been over the past few weeks, but how relieved she was that everything ended up okay. My wife gently asked, “So what’s the lesson in that?” Mum paused for a few seconds and replied thoughtfully, “Well, I guess if you worry enough, everything works out.” I’m not sure if she was serious or just teasing but we both laughed out loud.

Have you noticed that once someone gets an idea in their head about the way the world works, they seem to only notice the things that prove their theory? Psychologists call this “cognitive dissonance”. It works like this. We all like to think of ourselves as smart, reasonable people. When faced with information that makes us look bad or contradicts what we believe to be true (our cognitions), we ignore it or rationalise the facts to suit our position. For instance, people who steal will often justify their actions by demonising the person or business they stole from.

The Self-Serving Bias

This aspect of human psychology is also known as “the self-serving bias” and it’s a regular feature of the franchising landscape. For instance when things are going well for the franchisee, it’s because of their hard work, creativity and superior business acumen. But when things are not going well it’s usually the franchisor’s fault. If you are a franchisor you may be smiling. But how often have you taken the credit when your franchisees’ sales are up, boasting about the strength of your marketing or your business model? But when sales are down, do you consider it might be a good time to review your model or the quality of your support? If we’re honest you probably more likely grumble that franchisees are not trying hard enough to drive their sales!

I raise this issue of the self-serving bias because, with the review of the Australian Franchising Code of Conduct, I have noticed a resurgence of activity by certain people and groups who believe franchisees need to be protected from “greedy, opportunistic, bullying franchisors”. Of course the media loves this dramatic angle and often feeds the bias. Sometimes this prejudice has been born out of an unfortunate situation where people have lost money, status or influence and are looking for someone to blame. Sometimes it is fuelled by political self-interest or limelight seeking. Either way, once someone has an idea in their head that they are right and good, while others are bad and wrong, they are likely to stop listening to evidence to the contrary.

It’s hard not to jump to the defensive

Keeping an open mind and listening, really listening, to others who see things differently to us is hard because it goes against our instincts, and sometimes our self-interest. It’s why human history is filled with the sort of bigotry and prejudice that makes us wince when we look back with the wisdom of hindsight. It takes courage and intelligence to have strong views and to be prepared to modify these in the face of new information.

This is where Einstein comes in. He said, “The world as we see it is only the world as we see it. Others may see it differently”. What I find powerful about this statement is, when we realise this, and are prepared to open our minds to other possibilities, we give others permission to do the same. Most of us will have felt at one time or another that we’ve been unfairly judged by the prejudice of others. At these times it’s hard not to jump to the defensive. Taking Einstein’s point further, if we’re able to stop, take a deep breath, and consider why they think this way, new possibilities sometimes emerge.

I hope you have a safe and peaceful Easter.

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