Why Making Profit Your Goal May Be a Bad Idea

Would a new marriage have a better chance of survival if in response to the minister’s question at the altar, the bride and groom, rather than stating, “I will,” asked each other, “Will I?”

Scientific American Mind Cover A recent Scientific American Mind magazine article, “The Willpower Paradox” by Wray Herbert, describes a psychological study in which participants primed with the idea of “Will I do this task?” did significantly better at the task than participants primed with the idea of “I will do this task.”

This runs counter-intuitive to our idea of willpower. Would Barack Obama’s presidential campaign be as successful with a chant of “Will we do it?” instead of “Yes, we can!”? Would your business be more successful with an interrogative rather than a declarative mission statement?

A recently published book in the UK, Obliquity by John Kay, provides another dimension to this paradox that I believe ties into the above University of Illinois study. Kay’s foundational premise is that in order to achieve your goals, the best route is usually the indirect path.

John Stuart Mill said it this way:

“Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness… aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.”

Obliquity Book CoverAs this principle applies to business, Kay has compared two industries with different approaches, pointing out their success relative to their changes in policy. From these examples he draws this conclusion:

“While the National Parks Service had moved from a narrow, focused objective to a broader holistic view of forest management, ICI made the opposite shift – from a grand vision of the responsible application of chemistry to a narrow concentration on established, successful activities.”

You can read the entire article here to gain the full impact of this conclusion. But the point is that the broader, more open-minded approach was more successful than the narrow, more concentrated approach.

This sounds very similar to the conclusion drawn by Herbert:

“those who were asserting their willpower were in effect closing their minds and narrowing their view of their future. Those who were questioning and wondering were open-minded—and therefore willing to see new possibilities for the days ahead.”

So, how does this apply to social media marketing? Have you been determined to learn and navigate the Social Media Marketing World, but grasping the whole idea or figuring out how to really use it effectively seems just out of reach? Have you been putting off learning about it despite your determination? Does its complexity and constantly changing landscape make it a daunting task despite your exertion of willpower?

If you are finding your resolve to learn hard to keep, why not try a shift in approach? Ask yourself – “Will I learn social media marketing?” Don’t take the direct route. Consider this:

What is the key word in social media marketing?

Is it media? – This is the constantly growing and changing landscape of the internet, mobile web, smartphone apps, etc.

Is it marketing? – It would be understandable if this is your focus. After all, your business doesn’t profit if you don’t make any sales.

Is it social? – Will this be your focus? Isn’t this what it is all about? Connecting with people?

What do you think about this statement? Focus on connecting with people, then learning social media marketing will come, followed by business success and profit. Allow me to provide two more quotes to help illustrate my meaning:

“We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered it, the larger they have been.” – George Merck, former president of Merck & Co.

“A satisfying life depends above all on building good personal relationships with other people – but we entirely miss the point if we seek to develop these relationships with our personal happiness as a primary goal.” – John Kay


“The Willpower Paradox” by Wray Herbert. Scientific American Mind article.

“Interrogative Self-Talk and Intention.” Description of the “Will I? vs. “I Will”  study. PDF.

Obliquity by John Kay. Contents, Preface and Chapter 1 linked here. PDF.

“Obliquity” by John Kay. Financial Times article.


  1. Veronica James

    Hey Bryan, Thanks for the link… thoroughly enjoyed reading the post… amazingly inline with things I have been contemplating this week.

    “Focus on connecting with people, then learning social media marketing will come, followed by business success and profit.”
    “We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow.”

    Two great thoughts that sum up what true business should really be about. Forget focusing on satisfying our pockets. We will be surprised when satisfaction comes from the way people have connected with our brand and how the brand in return connects with people.

  2. Havilah

    Great post – and validates my natural modus operandi. 🙂

  3. Dennis

    It´s the same with blogs. Some people think hey let´s start a blog to earn some money with adsense.

    What they don´t realise is that they have nothing to say except for come to my blog and click the adsense banner.

    more sucsesfull are blogs that were started because of things they want to talk about. (the adsense banner comes later).



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