“Work like there is someone working 24 hours a day to take it away from you.” – Mark Cuban. This quote has been shared frequently online recently, and for good reason. It’s great. Few quotes elicit such a visceral reaction to roll up your sleeves and work through the night. But why? Why is this quote more motivational than so many others?
Take this famous Vince Lombardi quote: “The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Work is the key to success, and hard work can help you accomplish anything.” His quote is certainly clever and inspiring, but it is not the call to arms that Cuban’s is.
To understand why Cuban beats Lombardi on the motivational ball field, you’ll need to understand why people feel about coffee mugs, specifically Cornell University coffee mugs. In a class experiment, every other student in a Cornell class was given a Cornell coffee mug. They didn’t pay for it or exchange anything for it, even temporarily (such as a safety deposit). Then they were asked how much they would sell it for. Separately, the students who were not given a mug were polled about how much they would be willing to pay for one.
What do you think happened?
- Students with mugs priced them higher
- Students with no mugs priced them higher
- Both groups priced them about equally
It turns out, students who were given mug priced them on average at $4.50 while the students without mugs priced them on average at $2.25. This is one of many repeatable experiments that demonstrate loss aversion, our strong preference for avoiding losses over realizing gains.
While the exact ratio of our preference is under debate (some evidence shows losses are twice as powerful psychologically as gains) the result is not. People fear losses more than they enjoy gains.
Cuban taps into this innate, yet irrational, fear generated deep down in the center of our brain called the amygdala, the seat of a wide variety of mostly negative emotions and behaviors. We fear Cuban taking something from us so much more than we enjoy the fruits of success with Lombardi that we will work harder to keep what we perceive we have than to gain the success that Lombardi promises.
This tenet has business application in marketing and management. You’ll want to think twice before you take something away from your customers or employees. You’ll want to frame customer choices carefully as well. Would you rather benefit from a $5 discount or avoid the pain of added $5 surcharge?
How would you utilize this idea in your business?