Priming is powerful.

The physics of priming helps us understand its context at work. Priming a physical pump is the initial step that lowers the energy required for the pump to work. You have to get air out of the pump so that it can create flow.

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In knowledge work priming is how you set up ideas to enable flow.

Knowing what to expect alters our perception.

One of the most fascinating studies I've read is about the impact price has on how wine tastes. It's all about priming. This study on wine tasting had subjects taste wine while in an MRI machine. The trick was that they were told about the price of the wine before they tasted it. Where things get crazy is that they kept giving participants the same wine ($12/bottle). With the MRI machine, they saw that reaction to price went beyond just thinking it might taste better. The subjects' bodies physiologically responded differently based on how they thought it would taste.

The measurements of brain activity in the MRI scanner confirmed this. The research team discovered that above all parts of the medial pre-frontal cortex and also the ventral striatum were activated more when prices were higher.

This makes priming an influential tool, which you can use as persuasion in relationships.

How do you first meet someone? What's their first impression? How do they bucket you?

When you meet someone new, it only takes a few seconds for you to put them into a pre-existing bucket. And it's difficult to jump buckets once you're in.

How to use priming

Taking a minute at the beginning to set up norms gets everyone aligned on what to expect. It's how you should start a coaching relationship. It's how we start sprints with clients.

It's much, much easier to set up a relationship from the beginning vs trying to reset the working relationship in the future.

How can you prime a relationship next time you start something?

One simple example is how you present new ideas and ask for feedback.

Priming isn't just about setting high expectations, it's about setting the stage for what will happen, within reason. In the wine test they used $12 wine and tested at $3, $6, and $18. Not $100.

I've seen eager employees approach an executive with idea in a way that's set up for a poor interaction. It happens often.

They say something like: "This is going to knock your socks off!" which could occasionally be true, but is already priming for a poor interaction if the executive isn't floored.

A better way to prime is to say: "I'm excited to show you this. It's gotten some great feedback. I'd like your reaction."

This primes them with more helpful information. You are excited. It has gotten feedback (not new). And you'd like reaction.

On Teams

When you're on the same page as a team, it's less likely emotions will take control of the conversation. You're more likely the make meaningful progress. Amazon uses the 6-page report that everyone reads at the outset of a meeting to prime everyone and gain quick alignment.

It's why I'm an advocate of 2-page strategic roadmaps for any major initiative.

Example roadmap successfully used to align a team. See The Best Way to Build an Effective Product Roadmap


Expectations management is a crucial skill.

How you introduce something matters.

Whether you're marketing, building products, meeting people, pitching to your boss, or spending time with your kids, priming changes the experience.

Prime for good.