Self-fulfilling prophecies can play a big role in personal and professional success and understanding the philosophy behind them is an important management tool. Let’s delve further into this subject in this lesson.
What Is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?
Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company and considered by many to be the father of modern manufacturing processes, once said, ‘If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.
‘ While Ford was emphasizing the power of positive thinking, his quote also summarized another important psychological concept: the self-fulfilling prophecy.A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that ends up being true simply because it was made, basically confirming its own correctness. Simply having a positive or negative approach towards a prediction does not make it a self-fulfilling prophecy; that approach needs to be the primary reason the prediction ends up being accurate.
Some Examples in Business
Let’s look at a few examples of self-fulfilling prophecies in business: marketing budgets, the gasoline shortage, and entering the workforce.
Consider the typical budgeting process in most U.S. businesses.
When a new product is launched, analysts predict demand and make budgeting decisions based on their estimates. A product that is expected to have lukewarm demand will only get a moderate marketing budget. A moderate marketing budget probably won’t spur that much demand. So, the product ends up getting a lukewarm response.
The analysts were right. But, were they right because they predicted consumers’ preferences correctly or were they right because their estimate led to less marketing dollars, which led to the lukewarm reception?
The Gasoline Shortage
A good real-life, macroeconomic example of a self-fulfilling prophecy is the gasoline shortage in California in the early 1980s. California media started reporting that gas reserves were running a little low and that a gas shortage was a possibility, regardless of the fact that the existing supply could easily meet historical demand.How did drivers react to these media reports? They panicked and headed to their gas station to fill up their cars and any containers they could use to store gasoline. This artificially inflated demand led to the gas shortage. Had the media simply reported the facts – that reserves were a little low but still more than sufficient to meet demand – individuals most likely would have not changed their behavior, and the gas shortage wouldn’t have ever happened.
Entering the Workforce
You may think that self-fulfilling prophecies aren’t something that you experience, but they are more common than many people realize, especially in the workforce. Consider Susan, a recent graduate in marketing. While Susan was in school, she had an internship with the university’s marketing department.
She applies for a job that requires one year of professional experience. Susan is surprised when she gets called for an interview, but all she can think is that her internship isn’t ‘real’ experience, so she tells friends and family that there’s no way she can get it. During her interview, the committee asks about her experience, and instead of discussing her internship, she shyly admits that she is only recently out of college. Susan isn’t surprised when she doesn’t get the job.
Her prediction was right.The self-fulfilling prophecy phenomenon is caused by changes to behavior that are subconsciously made. In our example above, Susan changed her behavior by not looking for ways to apply the experience she did have. That change in behavior led to the exact prediction she was anticipating. The problem, of course, is that Susan will believe her prediction was correct because the interviewers really didn’t think she had experience, but, in reality, Susan’s own behavior led to the outcome she anticipated.
Stopping Self-Fulfilling Prophecies
Self-fulfilling prophecies can be good or bad, and they occur in everyday life.
If your prediction is that you will score in the 90th percentile of an important college entrance exam, the subconscious changes to your behavior may lead you to study harder, retain more, and make sure you prepare for the test. If your prediction limits your abilities, such as ‘I’ll never get higher than a C in this class!’ then you are likely going to under-perform simply because you won’t be able to justify the behaviors that will help you succeed.Self-fulfilling prophecies can be helpful, harmless, or hurtful. If they limit your abilities, support unfair or biased stereotypes, or predict another hurtful outcome for you or someone else, you should try to stop any behaviors that may fulfill your prophecy. This can be done, and it isn’t hard to do.
First, consider the perspectives of everyone in the situation. Second, do your best to think objectively and question any assumptions that aren’t based on fact. Your assumptions may be accurate, but if they aren’t, they can be the major flaws in your thinking process. Finally, be careful relating previous experience to current situations.
A bad experience with a certain person in the past doesn’t mean all experiences with that person in the future will be bad. Racial and ethnic stereotypes are an unfortunate example of the social impact of self-fulfilling prophecies.
Remember, as human beings that are constantly analyzing and thinking about our situations, we make predictions every day that may become self-fulfilling. A self-fulfilling prophecy is a prediction that ends up being true simply because it was made, basically confirming its own correctness. Some are good and some are bad.
By identifying when subconscious changes to your behavior will lead to an undesirable outcome, you can learn to manage the self-fulfilling prophecy phenomenon to be more successful – personally and professionally.