Find Pygmalions

How do you make your customers more successful?

There’s a piece of positive psychology that, partly because it predates the 20th Century, the cynics in us should leave alone. Also, it’s true. Also, it’s good for business to be aware of it. 

It goes something like this: your beliefs about the people you teach with will always influence their behavior – both negatively and positively according to whether your beliefs about their potential are positive or negative. Not might influence their behavior. Always. 


Like The Force in the Joseph Campbell-universe of George Lucas, this dynamic has a dark side and a light side, each with their own protagonists. 

On the positive side, you have the Pygmalion effect, which was popularized by the US-American educator Rosenthal. It’s related to the placebo effect and the general principle of positive feedback loops, but it has to do specifically with what a teach/authority/expert believes about the people she’s teaching. When she believes her clients capable of learning and excelling, they are more likely to do so.

The Golem effect is the opposite. It’s what happens when you are worried, to the point of neurotic certainty, that your creation will turn into a malevolent monster, as described entertainingly in the only Chabon book I was able to finish, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. (Golems are made from clay, per Jewish legend). I’m pretty certain this happens in schools all over the world when teachers come from more privileged demographic backgrounds than students.


Educational psychologists love to scope the Golem vs Pygmalion framework down to how teachers in traditional educations systems affect young minds. 

But I have seen a new business idea make an adult mind young. Age-based differences in mental plasticity are greatly exaggerated, as established by Anders Ericcson in Peak: The New Science of Expertise

There’s another problem with the classroom teacher-student model. It’s for everyone, since the US and most modern democracies have universal education, as explicitly stipulated by Karl Marx.

But your business isn’t for everyone.


My experience in writing copy for myself and for clients was that both of us had to believe it 100% or it didn’t work.

Let’s assume you already believe your product is great. Fine but that’s not the point. You have to find a way to be certain that your customers have positive potential. 

Here’s the question – can you find and connect with people who, you are certain, have the potential to get better at something, make more money at something, etc., after they use your products and services? These are your pygmalions. They won’t just benefit from your product; they’ll benefit from your belief in them as they experience your product.

Another way to think about this group – who are they not? Who are your golems? Who are the people who, no matter how great your product or service is, it won’t help them?

My best,