You’ve almost certainly heard of the marshmallow test, research done by Walter Mischel over more than forty years at Stanford University. The short version: Small kids (three to five years old) are put in a library and offered a deal: Here’s a marshmallow. If you eat it now, we’re done, but if you wait fifteen minutes and the marshmallow is still here when we come back to you, you get two marshmallows.
It turns out that this single indicator of self-control and the ability to resist resolution is incredibly accurate. Twenty years later, the kids who showed they could wait ended up being happier, wealthier, on a better path forward.
New research makes something very clear, though: Kids who didn’t think the promise of two-for-one would be kept ate the marshmallow right away. Of course they would, wouldn’t you? The home you grow up in and the culture you live in matters more than we can imagine. If you are raised in a chaotic environment filled with broken promises, it’s incredibly difficult to bet on the future.
Industrialists made all of us promises as we grew up. Promises about the rewards of doing well in school or being obedient. Promises about good jobs waiting for us, about upward mobility, about fairness. As the industrial era fades, those promises are being broken for too many.
The opportunity that the connection economy brings with it offers a different set of promises, promises about freedom and taking your turn and doing work that matters. And it’s not at all surprising that so many are hesitant to take action… we eat the marshmallow instead because, hey, we’re used to our system breaking its promises.
Of course we’re wary of a glistening new offer, especially when it involves so much fear and requires us to trust others (and ourselves).