Focus On Growing The Positive, Not Reducing The Negative

At a conference this past week, dozens of mobile personal hotspots were interfering with the event’s wifi connection.

The organisers repeatedly asked attendees to close their mobile internet connections. By the end of the third day, they had just about reached enough people for most people to get wifi.

When you highlight the number of people doing something bad, you’re giving the perpetrators safety in numbers. You’re creating a sense of majority among them – perhaps even a connection among them. You’re also telling everyone they too can do something bad without much personal consequence.

Far better to focus on the people doing something good. Don’t focus on the 1% of people doing something bad, focus on the 99% of people doing something good. I’d highlight the rising number of people who aren’t using personal hotspots. Create the sense that momentum is on the side of the good, not the bad. Get people onboard in celebrating the number gradually reaching 100% – give the minority fewer places to hide – and let them easily jump to the winning side.

I wonder how different the conversation about trolling would be if we focused on the 99.99% of people who don’t troll. Who are civil, pleasant, and supportive of one another. I wonder what would happen if we focused on growing the positives number instead of reducing the negative.


  1. Bo McGuffee says:

    It’s a bit of a tangent, but this sounds a lot like another interest of mine, which is modern, science-based dog training. In short, the idea is to reward and reinforce the behaviors you want, and ignore and don’t reinforce the behaviors you don’t.

    I have two dogs. I wanted to have them sit at the door before exiting. So, when I called them to the inside back door, I would ask them to sit. Loki is pretty good at this, so he would typically respond quickly enough. Lugh, however, was a prancer. In response, I would say to Loki, “Yes” and give him a treat. Lugh would then look at me as if to say “where’s mine?” At that point, I would ask him to sit, which he would do. I would tell him “good boy” to let him know he did the right thing, but withhold the treat. Then I would go to the outer back door, call them over, and ask them to sit. Their butts would generally hit the floor at the same time. “Yes,” treats for both, and exit. Today, they are both quite good at sitting before we leave.

    Modern, science-based dog training (aka, “positive training”) is basically cognitive behavioralism for dogs. Any attention given to unwanted behavior actually reinforces and fuels it. For some strange reason, I haven’t really thought about this with regards to community. This article is a good reminder to me that I need to start doing that. Thanks.

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