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The business & marketing dangers of the ‘Kick the Dog Effect’

We are discussing human behavior and Sejal tells me something that stops me in my tracks. She tells me the sour constant and angry complainers aren’t necessarily venting against those on the outside. They are in fact railing against the unhappiness they harbor deep within. Their anger is directed at themselves though on the surface it seems otherwise. I think about it and I recognize ‘projection’ at play and know it’s a common defense mechanism employed by many. It’s a coping tool that works best for those unwilling to face up to the bitter truth about themselves.

Trying to help isn’t a smart idea in such cases because getting to an admittance of the problem would probably be next to impossible. Dealing with unhappy people is bound to take a toll and if you are saddled with such people in your family or social life, the burden can get to you. What about at work? Ditto! Unhappy complainers and blamers suck the energy out of workplaces, and if they are in positions of leadership you can bet the drain on employee motivation can even be fatal. Expecting an admittance of a problem from such people at work is a futile pursuit. Katherine Philips, Professor of leadership and ethics at Columbia's business school when asked why leaders at business firms don’t admit to mistakes had this to say, ‘One of the basic kinds of psychological needs of human beings is to save face - right? - and to not look stupid, and not look like they don't know what they're doing. And people who are in powerful positions, and in charge, oftentimes feel that pressure even more so.’

In marketing, the propensity to project marketplace failures on to external elements and never look within can have devastating effects. Marketing stumbles when superior value isn’t created and delivered to buyers, A lack in value in most cases comes from a mismanagement of the marketing elements. It’s almost always a flaw in either the product, or its availability, or the price charged, or even the way psychological value is created and communicated to the target buyer. Smart marketers are those that are finding newer ways of value creation in a constantly altering marketplace. To ensure they are at the forefront of innovation as a prime driver of value, marketers regular revisit processes in place to assess what they do in the light of changing technology and other evolving macro-environmental variables.

Such organizational and marketing revisits and redesigns are only possible with a leadership that doesn’t suffer from the need to project failures on to the outside. That means people who are psychologically healthy enough to look within and admit to shortcomings when needed. For business and marketing’s sake, I am hoping the tribe that Sejal described that keeps ‘kicking the dog’ don’t stay around long enough to inflict irreparable damage within organizations.

I know, easier hoped than done. 

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