How to make people do things: legalists and technologists

There are two mindsets people assume when they wish to change a certain behavior, fix some human-related problem: the legalist and the technological. The legalist says:

  • we’ll institute a rule
  • if the rule isn’t obeyed, we will punish

It is assumed that people will find a way to obey the rule and change their habits. You might also see the addition of an incentive, so this becomes a punishment or reward type of thing.

On the other hand, the technologist mindset is more concerned with designing systems that cannot support a certain type of behavior. There is no punishment included; all is designed in such a way that the thing a legalist would punish – is simply impossible to do. That way, nobody does it.

The difference between these two mindsets is well illustrated in this picture:

philosophers meme

Source: The Philosopher’s Meme Facebook page

While the first two are rule-instituting (i.e. legalist), the third one is technological – it steps out of the usual discourse and solves the actual problem.

When you are trying to train a dog, you can either inflict punishment for bad behavior so that the dog stops doing it (and you even might be succesful) or you can do things in such a way that the dog cannot even begin to behave badly.

Sometimes it will be impossible to go for the technological solution because you will, for some reason, not want to change the circumstances. However, it is often just a habit of thought that prevents us from changing circumstances, instead of inflicting punishment. It is the conventional way of doing things, so everybody does it that way.

Try to see which other possibilities lie outside of rule-making, that can also solve the problem.


One thought on “How to make people do things: legalists and technologists

  1. Nicely put Dominik.
    For those looking at what this technological approach looks like when aimed at future-proofing the species, check out Buckminster Fuller’s “Critical Path”.

    If you’re a fan of the technological approach and haven’t yet Fuller, you’re in for a treat.

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