Once upon a time there was a petrified forest.
A petrified forest is made up of really old plants that have fossilized.
Turned to stone.
Put a whole bunch of these old, fossilized plants together, and you’ve got a petrified forest.
There’s a national park in the United States.
You can go and check it out if you want.
Many people do.
But they had a problem.
A lot of the petrified wood was loose. Just laying around on the ground.
And people would look around, make sure nobody was looking, and pick up a piece.
Quite a lot of people did, in fact.
So the national park service had a problem.
Since the place was so big, they couldn’t really hire a bunch of petrified cops to make sure people don’t take anything.
That would be REALLY expensive.
So they decided to use a public education campaign.
They figured that if they let everybody know that people were stealing, the “stealers” would know that everybody else knew, and they wouldn’t steal.
So they put up signs (cheaper than hiring cops, right?) that said:
“Did you know that over ten percent of visitors of the petrified forest take home illegal souvenirs?”
The idea was people would be shocked, and voluntarily look out for the dastardly folks who were doing all the evil stealing.
Only it had the opposite effect.
As it turns out, PLENTY of people were thinking, “Hmm, I’d love to take a piece of this home, but I don’t want to get in trouble.”
Then they saw the sign, saying that ten percent of people steal souvenirs.
And that make it MORE likely they would steal something themselves.
It gave them SOCIAL PROOF.
The people would look around, not see anybody else stealing, and think, “If I steal this, I might be the only one, I’d better not.”
But they would still want to take a piece home.
Then they’d see the sign and think, “Wow, if ten percent of people are stealing, I may as well steal too!”
The geniuses who designed and put up the sign couldn’t understand why the signs INCREASED the amount of theft.
Until they hired a marketing genius (a real genius) who explained it to them.
All they had to do was to flip the numbers.
And do so in a general way.
“Most people want to steal but decide not to. What will you do?”
It made them feel like they were going to be in the evil minority if they picked up a piece.
This is what happens when you understand these ancient triggers that motivate us on deep levels.
You can speak the language of unconscious persuasion.
And get people to do whatever you want.