Archimedes famously said, “Give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I will move the world.” We tend to focus on the “lever long enough” part. We are continually looking for and often finding better tools – longer levers – with which to move productivity and profitability. Sometimes it’s training, sometimes it’s automation, sometimes it’s outsourcing, different products, policies, procedures, and philosophies of doing business. This is a fruitful and endless endeavor.

But maybe we do not pay enough attention to the “place to stand” part. Archimedes could have made the statement more concise by simply saying “Give me a lever long enough and I’ll move the world.” But as a physicist and philosopher he knew the place to stand was essential.

We can speculate that Archimedes experienced levers moving heavy rocks on earth and extrapolated that the earth itself is a big rock (third rock from the sun), to which the same laws of physics apply. He may have imagined himself in space, with a very long lever, and then realized, in space there would be no place to stand and with no place to stand the lever would be useless. If you play this thought experiment out, “a place to stand” means an immovable fulcrum and a source of gravity.

Of course, gravity is the quintessential 1st Principle. It impacts everyone, always. Whether we understand it or not, even though we cannot see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, or touch it, it acts upon each of us, all the time, even the few humans who seem to escape it by going to the International Space Station.

Astronaut Scott Kelly spent 340 days in micro gravity on the ISS, while his identical twin brother, Mark Kelly, stayed on earth. Tons of data was accumulated on both twins during Scott’s mission, to better understand the relationship of gravity to the functioning of the human body. It turns out that gravity effects us in its absence as much as in its presence. The lack of gravity causes changes in not only muscle strength and bone mass but in the microbiome and DNA.

Back on earth, in your bank, a “place to stand” represents bedrock principles upon which to stand and place your fulcrum – 1st Principles you can count on and confidently use to boost performance.

Elon Musk brought the concept of 1st Principles to business when he said, “First Principle thinking” enabled him to successfully disrupt the space industry, the car industry, the solar energy industry, and others. Some people see Elon as evil, and 1st Principles were also mentioned by a truly evil fictitious character. In the psychological thriller Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector menacingly says, “First principles, Clarice,” to help Jody Foster’s character sharpen her thinking about catching a killer. A discussion of gravity, Elon, and Hannibal will not help your bank succeed but understanding other 1st Principles will. If you were a better student than I, you may recall that in math 1st Principles are called axioms.

The math on the income statement and balance sheet are well-known to you. It deals in quantities. The number of dollars of loans, deposits, income, and expenses, the number of branches, and FTEs, and their compensation. Quantities are a set of levers. The problem, now, given net interest margin compression and looming loan loss risk, is that you may not be able to pay your people the salaries, bonuses, and incentives you would like to, and they expected you to, when this year began. And you may be asking fewer people to do more with less. But there is another “place to stand.”

A place to stand which focuses on quality, not quantity. Headcount does not determine success; compensation does not determine success. The quality of each person’s contribution, and the quality of their teamwork does.

Of course your employees work for money. We all do. Money is really good at satisfying our needs for food, shelter, clothing, transportation, education, and upgrades to these. But it is not good at satisfying our needs for connection, achievement, and fulfillment. You probably know overpaid underperformers and underpaid overperformers. What makes the difference?

Quality work is predicated on several 1st Principles, including but not limited to: Our human need to belong to a group we respect. Our need to make a contribution to something we value. Our need to be perceived as competent. Our need to pursue challenging goals. Our need to realize our potential. And the 1st Principle that we are each changed, for better or worse, by the people with whom we surround ourselves.

This quality place to stand can be cultivated using Behavioral Science – a combination of economics, psychology, neurology, sociology, and physiology. Based on rigorously-conducted, empirically-validated research, from the best researchers, at the finest institutions in the world, Behavioral Science can provide your people with concrete tools, skills, and intrinsic motivation, which increase the quality of each individual’s experience of work, and the quality of their contribution to the success of your bank.



Engaged Banker eXperience delivers these and many other strategies, from behavioral science, to all of your bank’s employees, in bite-sized bits, in every learning style, using spaced repetition and synchronous communication. In other words, in a way every person can easily absorb and immediately apply, to their individual success and to the success of your bank.