Incentives: The Most Powerful Force In The World

This post is by Collab Fund from Collab Fund

By age 35, Akinola Bolaji had already spent two decades scamming people online, posing as an American fisherman to con vulnerable widows into sending him money.

The New York Times asked the Nigerian how he felt about causing so much harm to innocent people. He replied:

“Definitely there is always conscience. But poverty will not make you feel the pain.”

Scamming people is easier to justify in your head when you’re starving.

It’s an extreme example of something everyone – you, me, everyone – is susceptible to and more influenced by than we want to admit: Incentives are the most powerful force in the world and can get people to justify or defend almost anything.

When you understand how powerful incentives can be, you stop being surprised when the world lurches from one absurdity to the next. If I asked, “How many people in the world are truly crazy?” I might say, I don’t know, 3%-5%. But if I asked, “How many people in the world would be willing to do something crazy if their incentives were right?” I’d say, oh, easily 50% or more.

No matter how much information and context you have, nothing is more persuasive than what you desperately want or need to be true. And as Daniel Kahneman once wrote, “It is easier to recognize other people’s mistakes than our own.” What makes incentives powerful is now just how they influence other people’s decisions, but how blind we can be to how they impact our (Read more…)