Luke Burgis on Wanting: The Impact of Mimetic Desire

By Mo Bunnell

Luke Burgis shares the incredibly powerful concept of mimetic desire and how it shapes our behavior in fundamental ways.

Luke Burgis shares the incredibly powerful concept of mimetic desire and how it shapes our behavior in fundamental ways. Learn why your mental models are the foundation for everything you do, how to figure out what motivates you at a core level, and how to eliminate the negative aspects of desire and replace them with a transcendent desire that drives you to change the world.

Mo asks Luke Burgis: What is your big idea in Wanting that can help people deepen their relationships and grow their careers?

  • Human desire is the fundamental basis of everything, but we don’t often think about how desire works and operates. Desire has laws just like physics and one of the most important is that desire is mimetic.
  • Desire is fundamentally imitative. Most of us have a model of wanting that’s linear, but very little human desire works like that. When it comes to most services and products, desire is almost always mimetic, and therefore nonlinear.
  • Desire always operates through a third party. In some cases, this is obvious, like in commercials featuring a celebrity. Getting under the surface and understanding who the models are is crucial to understanding the desires of your clients. Most people buy something because they are trying to be like someone else.
  • Mimetic desire is a positive thing for the most part, though we also have negative models.
  • Models change as we go through life. When it comes to client relationships, their models of desire will change as the relationship develops and they should. Otherwise, the relationship isn’t going anywhere.
  • When it comes to business development, understanding the models that our clients have will give us a better understanding of what they aspire to do or to be, which is critical.
  • Understanding what kind of family life or career your client aspires to is a great way to create continuity in a relationship. As there is disruption around us this allows the relationship to be grounded in something deeper and is conducive to effective long-term business development.
  • Asking open-ended questions can be very effective in understanding someone’s models. People are looking for outlets to have those conversations but you have to signal that you are open to them.
  • One of the key things to understand about mimetic desire is that if your model changes, your desire changes very quickly. This is the key to understanding the volatility of desire.
  • Think about how a flywheel of desire would work in your life and for your clients. Most people have a deep desire to understand models that explain complex and deep things, and mimetic desire is one of those things. As people learn about the concept, they will look for a quick and easy introduction to what the model is all about.
  • The flywheel of desire works by leading back to what people will want once they learn about a specific concept. If you get the sequence of wanting correct it can help you develop any number of positive habits.
  • By decoding who you are desiring to be and assessing whether you really want to be that, you can get in control of your models and how they are impacting you.

Mo asks Luke Burgis: How can people use mimetic desire to shape the world in a positive way and bring in more business?

  • Luke has a fundamental belief in business that you can’t understand what another person’s good is unless you actually know the person. Sometimes you need to help people get what they think they want in order to earn the right to give them what you think they need.
  • At the beginning of Covid, there were a number of students that were second-guessing enrolling in University and College all across the country. Instead of insisting the student behave as if nothing had changed, innovative schools could help facilitate the gap year to continue serving their needs in a way that aligns with their desires.
  • Mentorship is a very effective way to create positive change through mimetic desire. The dark side of mimetic desire can create tension with other people and can even lead to rivalry. If you can avoid that trap, mimetic desire and mentorship can be tremendously positive for building a business.
  • Knowing that mimetic desire can be negative, you can choose to throw it out.
  • Luke has his students reach out to a potential mentor every single semester. As adults, we are often worse at asking for mentorship. If you’re an expert in a domain take the initiative and email someone today to make yourself available.
  • Mutually beneficial relationships are oftentimes the strongest.
  • The opposite of transcendent desire is imminent desire. It’s critical to understand the system of desire in your business and your life because chances are you are not desiring enough. Find desires that exist outside that system, because that’s how industries get transformed. Transcendent leaders help you want more than they thought was wantable in the existing paradigm.
  • The more we are intentional about cultivating desires beyond the current project, that helps people avoid becoming stuck.

Mo asks Luke Burgis: How can we use mimetic desire positively to deepen relationships?

  • We all have a core motivation that has been with us our whole lives. If you look hard enough you will probably see a pattern in a person’s motivational drive. These core motivations are less mimetic desires and you can learn them by listening to the way they describe their proudest achievements.
  • Getting at the heart of a person’s core motivation is one of the most important aspects of building a powerful team or client relationship.
  • Thin desires tend to be all over the place and tend to be more mimetic. Thick desires tend to follow the same path of growth throughout a person’s life and build up over time.
  • A great starting question for a new client would be “In the past, what did a relationship you had with a partner that you consider a success look like?” Those stories are a template for the relationship they want to have with you.
  • Think about a time in your life where you found a deep sense of satisfaction and achievement. That’s a sign of a core motivational drive and thick desire.
  • In terms of business, ask about a win in the last few years or a relationship they were deeply satisfied with. Draw out what was specifically meaningful for them. Then ask what actions they took to achieve that, and what about that project that was so satisfying. Everyone has a different answer and understanding why they consider those things wins in the first place will help you more deeply understand the person.

Mo asks Luke Burgis: How can we use mimetic desire to hack our own habits?

  • It comes down to having a plan. In the absence of a game plan, the negative aspects of mimetic desire wins and you will gravitate to what’s easy.
  • You may be able to list your core values, but you need to go further and order them from most important to least important. Oftentimes our values will come into conflict and without knowing the hierarchy you make everything more difficult.
  • Your positive models can help you escape the negative flywheel. With a positive mentor, you can measure what your time has been spent on and compare it to what you are hoping to be.
  • In times of uncertainty imitation increases, especially the negative type. Positive models of desire like professionals and mentors can really help in these situations.
  • Work can feel like a battlefield. When you’re in the trenches you need to have a transcendent desire to pull you above the fray.
  • We are responsible for what other people want. Every person we come into contact with we leave wanting a little differently. Who is it in your life that has the biggest effect on what you’re doing?
  • If you’re not putting in the time on business development that you know you should, are you lacking the model?
  • Understanding the impact and influence we have on desire is a highly meaningful and fundamental aspect of everything we do.
  • In order for a career progression to play out the desire has to be thick. You have to find a mentor that you respect on multiple levels to develop the perseverance to make it a reality.
  • Look for models that are stable and have been around for a long time to avoid losing your model midway through your journey.
  • It’s better if the lines of communication are open. Emulation of positive role models shouldn’t be done in secret. We are on the outside looking in most of the time, so we won’t really understand the process unless communication is open. Without communication we can go from one wrong false assumption to another.
  • We don’t often know what the good is going to be in a relationship. Trust that investing in a colleague’s personal development is always going to be fruitful.

Mo shares his insights from the habits of Luke Burgis.

  • Mimetic desire is one of the most powerful forces in the world. You need to harness that power in your life because if you don’t it will have control of you.
  • We think of desire as a linear process, but we are actually running it through a model. This is often an ideal or a person that we aspire to be, and if we don’t realize who our models are our mimetic desire is yanking us around. This can lead to conflict and competition with other people and turning them into scapegoats in our minds.
  • A practical thing you can do right now is write down who your models are, positive and negative, and then become intentional about what you want to keep and what you want to shed.
  • When it comes to new clients, employees, or prospects there are three powerful questions to ask so you can better understand their core motivations. The first is “Tell me of a time when you took some kind of action and it brought you a great sense of satisfaction.” The second is “What specifically did you do to bring about that satisfaction?” The third is “What was it that was so satisfying?”
  • All business development-focused professionals need to get a yes in order to serve their clients. Transcendent desire takes that idea and plays out the deeper impacts that will become possible in the future. The mantra “Think big, start small, scale-up” is a perfect example of a transcendent desire.
  • Come at a project with a big vision and small discrete steps to get started on the process.

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