The Why Behind FREE HUGS

The Why Behind FREE HUGS

Like Joseph Campbell’s famous Hero’s Journey philosophy, we like to divide college students into 5 different stages of engagement based on the Engagement Pyramid below…

Each stage is defined by a different set of characteristics of an individual. Fully engaged individuals display a different set of characteristics than apathetic/uninvolved individuals. Thus, the way we interact with individuals in each stage should be different. A “5” doesn’t want to be treated like a “Neutral.” And treating a “Neutral” like a “5” might be too much too soon and thus demotivating.

Once we’ve recognized an individual’s stage, then the next step is to move them gradually up the Engagement Pyramid step-by-step. In our Dance Floor Theory program, we call this X+1. “X” being the stage an individual currently is in and “+1” being the next step that is challenging enough for that indivdual, but not too challenging (e.g. +3) which might be demotivating. If you think of it like a video game, video games do an amazing job of knowing your current level and knowing what the next motivating challenge is for you. That’s the same thing as X+1.

The hardest step on the Engagement Pyramid is moving someone from a “Neutral” to a “1.” Where a “Neutral” is someone who doesn’t care and is indifferent to anything you do and a “1” is someone who actually pays attention and is curious. Once someone is a “1,” it’s much easier to continue to move them towards a “5.”

Ask most educators and they will tell you student apathy is huge on college campuses. Campuses are filled with “Neutrals,” however most of the activities we do on campuses are geared towards “1” through “5” people because they are the ones who will pay attention to our flyers, emails, and Facebook invites and take the extra effort to actually show up to an event. But what about the larger percentage of our campus that are “Neutrals?” What can we do to engagement them, to give them their X+1 moment, and to move them from a “Neutral” to a “1?”

Enter Free Hugs…

Well actually, Free Hugs is just one example of thousands of examples of events we call Blender Events. Blender Events serve two purposes…

  1. Cause people to have a pattern interrupt throughout their day. Or as we say in Dance Floor Theory, get people to go from “Meh” to “Hmmm.”
  2. Build peer-to-peer relationships by mixing people together with near-peers. Near-peers are people who are models of success that are just a stage or two ahead. In the Engagement Pyramid, a near-peer to an “X” would be a “1.”

Every time we host a Blender Event on campus and cause a “Neutral” to have a pattern interrupt in their day, or get them to go  from “Meh” to “Hmmm,” or connect them with a “1,” then we are supplying them with an X+1 Moment. The more X+1 Moments they have, the harder it will be for them to stay a “Neutral” as they will start to display characteristics of a “1” whether they want to or not. And once they are a “1,” then we can work on getting them to become a “2.”

So there you have it, That’s the ‘why’ behind Free Hugs. As you may have noticed, it has very little to do with the actual Free Hugs event and more to do with the introductions/connections/relationships that happen from the Free Hugs event.

Tom Krieglstein

I train leaders & give Free Hugs. Founder of Swift Kick. Member of EO, TechStars, and YEC.

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