Adam Silver | Sharing in success

The Silver Lining | A lesson from Obama that we can use every day

· November 28, 2012, 1:16 am

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Adam Silver
The Silver Lining

No one expected President Obama to match the 2008 voter turnout in this election. Critics pointed to our struggling economy and the staleness of a re-election campaign to justify their projections.

But the Obama campaign still brought an impressive turnout. It did so by asking for help and making it easy for people to support the campaign.

When someone goes out of his or her way to help another person, he makes an action investment. He converts positive feelings toward another into support.

Like seasoned politicians, we’re constantly turning to our networks for help. We ask our professors for letters of recommendation, our roommates to edit our papers and our friends for advice on our latest startup ideas.

The key to getting people to invest in you is success. Everyone wants to be associated with success. When they invest in something that blossoms, they take a share of it.

The beauty of action investing on a small scale is that no one knows when something you invest in goes wrong. But when things go right you can say, “Hey! That was my idea!”

When someone invests in you, he or she is guaranteed to support you. This crucial factor led to Obama’s victory and helps explain the high voter turnout.

The Obama campaign secured thousands of votes by making it easy for supporters to turn positive feelings towards the president into simple actions.

This is a strategy we can all learn from. Many of us are reluctant to ask for help, but action investments dispel these doubts. Asking for small acts of support can help you achieve more.

Rather than going for the big bucks, the Obama campaign focused on soliciting small donations from a wide support base. While 25,000 donations of $2 each amounts to the same value as a handful of maximum donors, these donations translate into 25,000 votes — hardly a handful. This speaks to the crucial logic that the Obama campaign tapped into: when someone makes an action investment in a campaign, like donating, they are much more likely to vote.

A wave of small donations, therefore, has more value than a few large donations because it invites more people to get involved as action investors.

Obama also solicited action investments in other ways. On Election Day, supporters were asked to forward a “25 reasons from 25 people to vote for Obama” email list to friends. Another email asked supporters to “make three phone calls in key states.” It’s unlikely that the campaign expected a phone call or email on Election Day to change or sway a vote — they were just looking for their supporters to confirm their votes.

We should all make action investments at Penn. These small requests will allow us to tap into a whole economy of success. All you need to do is gather support on a small scale.

We’re often afraid to ask professors for a favor, but they are keen to invest in their students. When professors agree to help, give advice or write letters of recommendation, they convert whatever positive feelings they have toward you into action.

While you benefit from their investment, they also have a share of your success — they are on your team. Ask any professor about what some of her past students are doing and she will undoubtedly rave about the success of her brightest former pupils (and maybe tell anecdotes about her own role in helping the students achieve success). More often than not, students who professors brag about are the ones they invested action in.

So don’t be afraid to bankroll an action and help someone. While Penn’s academic and campus cultures seem cutthroat, they certainly don’t have to be. Let’s share our ideas, give each other feedback on a startup idea, edit a paper, sign up to do research in a lab. Let’s use our spare time to invest in people on campus and earn shares of success.

Let’s build our way to success by borrowing a move from Obama. Convert positive feelings into small, supportive actions and don’t be afraid to ask others to do the same.

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