I recently attended my first hackfest, which began with a basic tutorial on how to create a Facebook application by Momentus Media, a small shop in SVT’s co-working space in San Francisco that builds apps that garner millions of users. One of Chris Turitzin’s tips about what makes an app go viral is if it gives the user a chance to say something about themselves (a tip SocialEdge clearly understands, as I sit here writing about what I think) and make themselves look interesting, cool, and/or attractive. Not confined to birds, preening is a pretty universal desire. It’s fun!

Impact management appears to run counter to this natural, joyful impulse. It asks us to take the time and effort to find out what other people think of our work. It innately asks us to be open to the possibility that maybe they aren’t so impressed. Maybe our work is dull, not terribly useful, or off target when compared to that of others. Worse still, maybe we will find out that it is harmful. Maybe we’ll have to change; maybe we won’t change and then we’ll be knowingly doing bad work…; or maybe we won’t be able to change, and then what?

For all these reasons, when we have more power than our potential critic, it is quite easy to avoid seeking or listening to their feedback. We can accomplish what we want to whether people dislike our performance or not, because we have control– whether in the form of money, authority, or connections (and in some cases because the police do our bidding).  It’s so much easier and more convenient not to pay attention to those affected by our actions. In our own way, at least some of the time, in some relationship whether professional or personal, I suspect all of us are Mini Mubaraks, ignoring, denying or even suppressing our critics even if some corner of our mind suspects that one day we will have to face the music. It is true that the longer we avoid asking, the greater the chance there is a real problem that will be addressed one way or another.

But I say that impact management only appears to run counter to our instinct to improve our desirability to others. Because the greatest wisdom of impact management is that those around us can actually make us both feel good while helping us each do better.

This takes a certain proactive technique. But I argue that we are born knowing this technique.

Grooming is quite possibly our oldest habit. It is to care for, to clean, and to prepare the other. Picture two gorillas, one sorting carefully through the other’s coat. Note the glossy gaze of contentment in the groom-ee’s eyes.

Doing it well takes time. Some groomers might be rougher than others, but the act of doing it at all implies that the groomer means to help, and cares if it’s too rough. Grooming is a great gesture of friendly support.

Plus, “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” unlike the cynical phrase implying corruption, is literally what happens when animals groom each other– they take turns finding each other’s bugs and working out each other’s knots, to help each one become healthier, more comfortable, less stressed, and indeed more attractive.

We have long ago gotten ourselves out of the habit of helping each other by patiently searching out each other’s "bugs." And I’m not necessarily suggesting we rush to the office tomorrow and start examining our office mate’s mane. However, I am saying that we need not be afraid of asking people to tell us how they see our work and what in their eyes might be worth looking at more closely. If we get into the habit of asking a bunch of our stakeholder in good faith, and they all see the situation in a similar way, then they will have taught us something valuable. And it is likely that they will feel helpful and therefore good, as well as closer to us or more loyal to us, because we valued their opinion enough to ask.

The fact is, we’re hard wired to help each other, because not only do our endorphins start flowing from the connection, but we know that we will be helped in return. 

(And ultimately, we’ll be more attractive.)

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