Reports in the weekend’s newspapers about the recent study by Maryanne Garry and Robert Michael of Victoria University of Wellington, along with Irving Kirsch of Harvard Medical School caught my eye.*

They write about the links between ‘suggestion, cognition, and behaviour’ or in other words how what is suggested to us, whether deliberate or non-deliberate, influences our thoughts and expectations, and impacts the outcome of how we behave in a given situation. We have long known that deliberate suggestion can have this affect and it is well demonstrated through measurable and observable improvements in health or behaviour not attributable to medication, known as the ‘placebo effect’.

And in business, the Hawthorne studies (1924) demonstrated how productivity increased in a group of workers that were being observed and monitored to determine the relationship between light and output. While the results of the study itself in relation to light and productivity were inconclusive, other key findings led to better understanding of work groups, employee motivation and productivity.

The most significant finding was that productivity had increased largely because the employees were being monitored for the study. It was the non-deliberate suggestion that as participants in the study the workers were ‘special’, which led to their increased performance.

How often have you heard that saying you will ‘try to do’ something already sets you up for failure because you have accepted the possibility that it might not work, otherwise you would have said ‘I will do’ that thing?


So Garry, Michael and Kirsch explore how our anticipation of a specific outcome influences our thoughts and behaviours that in turn help to bring that outcome to fruition.

Once you set the expectation of success or failure that is what generally happens. The defeatist attitudes, the excuses we give ourselves, these can all contribute to an unsuccessful outcome.

But what about the sportsman with the ‘lucky pants’, or essential rituals before competing? We all know it isn’t the ‘lucky pants’ or ritual itself which brings success. It is the related suggestion of a positive outcome, that sets an expectancy and in turn influences their behaviour and performance.

So let’s try some positive thinking ourselves in our own businesses. There is no room for ‘trying’ and ‘hoping’ something will work. Set a positive expectation, and take steps to ensure a successful outcome.

* “Suggestion, Cognition and Behaviour”, Marryanne Garry, Robert Michael, Irving Kirsh, Association for Psychological Science, June 2012.