The importance of feeling in control

Anyone who works in the startup industry knows that most success comes from a combination of blood, sweat, and tears and a dollop of good luck, and when I look back at the successes I’ve been involved with luck has definitely played its part. Yet I am pretty sure that I will have more success going forward and when I say to people that I have been lucky they generally say that I deserve it. The reason is that if you work hard and think intelligently you can put yourself in situations where you are more likely to be lucky – i.e. you can make your own luck.

That’s important for me because otherwise I might as well just gamble at the casino. In other words the feeling of being at least somewhat in control of my own destiny makes me work harder.

There have also been a lot of studies which show that employees work better when they have autonomy and feel in control.

It turns out that the feeling of being in control does more than help us work better, it also helps us to be better people, or rather that feeling we don’t have control makes people downright nasty. Check out this study (it talks about free will rather than control, but they are the same thing):

Participants were told a cover story about helping the experimenter prepare food for a taste test to be taken by a stranger. They were given the results of a supposed food preference questionnaire which indicated that the stranger liked most foods but hated hot food. Participants were also given a jar of hot sauce. The critical measure was how much of the sauce they put into the taste-test food. Putting in less sauce, when they knew that the taster didn’t like hot food, meant they scored more highly for what psychologists call “prosociality”, or what everyone else calls being nice.

You’ve guessed it: Participants who had been reading about how they didn’t have any free will chose to give more hot sauce to the poor fictional taster – twice as much, in fact, as those who read sentences supporting the idea of freedom of choice and responsibility.

People with less free will are twice as likely to be mean!

I’m generally wary of being controlling and very pro giving people as much autonomy as is sensible in all walks of life – work, family and friends – but I regularly find myself making compromises and on the back of this I’m  going to look again in all areas to see if I can do better.