Force Dynamics - Help/Hinder/Let

The Big Idea

Our language includes a finer-grained idea of “cause and effect” than just “cause” and “effect.” Specifically, our language encodes the way we think about how entities interact with each other in the form of forces.

For example, “the jar is sealed” is a neutral statement because there are no forces, but “I can’t open the jar” implies a dynamic in which I am unable to overcome the force of the jar lid being stuck.

The Heuristic

Agonists and Antagonists

Agonists are the “hero of the sentence,” and antagonists are the “villain of the sentence.” In the “I can’t open the jar” example, I’m the hero, struggling vigilantly to overcome the antagonistic force that keep the jar stuck.

Intrinsic Force Tendencies

If you interpret some of these, my natural “state of rest’ is “not opening the jar,” and the natural “state of rest” for the jar is “not opened.” We are both biased towards rest. It’s only when I take action to try to open the jar that I must overcome the bias towards rest.

Stronger and Weaker

If I’m unable to open the jar, then the agonist (me) is weaker than the antagonist. However, suppose that I am able to open the jar easily, or if I overcome the jar and succeed in opening it. Then, I am the stronger and the jar is the weaker.

Help, Hinder, and Let

Forces can interact in three ways: helping, hindering, and letting.

For instance, “using the rag helped me open the jar” suggests that I was able to summon additional “force” in overcoming the jar’s natural tendency towards remaining sealed by using the rag.

“That weird crusty stuff around the jar kept me from opening the jar” suggests that the weird crusty stuff hindered me from overcoming the jar.

Finally, a “letting” dynamic can emerge if the abating of a force causes an agonist or antagonist return to its intrinsic tendency. For example, “releasing the ball let it roll down the hill.”

Where You Can Use It

“Let me help. A hundred years or so from now, I believe, a famous novelist will write a classic using that theme. He’ll recommend those three words even over I love you.” - Captain Kirk

“Every good narrative has a villain, and we picked ours early on: AT&T.” - John Legere, T-Mobile

Considering force dynamics can be an effective mechanism for copywriting and copy testing. Who are the agonists and antagonists of your brand? What are their intrinsic force tendencies? And how can you help your customer help, hinder, or overcome/let something happen?

If you are a security company, you may want to convince your customers that you can help them hinder hackers or thieves. Or, you may want to convince them that you can help them in their own efforts to do so.

Companies that sell diet foods often market themselves as not wanting to hinder you from eating the foods you want. Milkshakes, burgers, etc all seem to be on their plans

On the other hand, if you’re a company that sells candy bars, you may want to urge customers to overcome the self-control mechanisms that might hinder them buying your product, or to “let themselves” have a treat. For example: “Hungry? Why wait? Grab a Snickers.”