The power of being first triggers our need for security. This power exerts itself in all parts of our lives, from laws to wrong info. It can warn us of future problems and help us reach our goals. It can cause us to think inside the box and to stop thinking.
Identifying the Power
In law, the power of being first is called precedent. “Fear and Loathing” (The Economist, September 22, 2012 edition) shows how it even constrains those who seem to have total control. Whenever we “justify the present by calling up the past” (“The Uses of History, [The Economist, December 20, 2014 edition]), we are using the power of being first. “We have always done it this way,” is a routine work example.
In job interviews, it is best to be the first one (“A Question of Judgment, [The Economist, June 16, 2012 edition]). Agenda setting in politics and in business taps power of being first. It is the first thing to state the limits of discussion. People stating their views first is an informal use of agenda setting.
In all these examples, the power of being first sets the sides of the box. It is inside this box where we will think and discuss. Judging what follows is according to this box. For instance, we judge the success of meetings by how closely they follow the agenda. Another judging the second job candidate in terms of the first.
Using the Power of Being First
The power of being first anchors thoughts in people’s minds. It can be as simple as a keyword. It can set a mood. A fallen child who bruises a knee is a common example. If we say something cheery before the first tears hit, the child moves on without crying. The same happens when we are first to frame a negative event in a good light.
In conversation people focus on the idea just said. We can use this power to keep it going or to change it. We can also use it to set prices for new products, services or relationships. This power is at play with price when someone says, “You can always come down. You cannot go up.”
Knowing how this power works protects us from thinking inside the box, and helps us spot problems early and achieve our goals.