πŸ’Ž Stacking can make the adoption of new habits easier (like flossing)

In evidence that stacking works, consider dental floss. Many of us clean our teeth regularly but fail to floss. To test whether stacking increases flossing, researchers gave fifty British participants, who flossed on average only 1.5 times per month, information encourage them to do it more regularly.

Half of the participants were told to floss before they brushed at night, and half after they brushed. Note that only half of the participants were really stacking-using an existing automated response (brushing their teeth) as a cue for a new behavior (flossing). The other half, who first flossed and then brushed, had to remember, oh, yes, first I need to floss, before I brush. No automated cue.

Each day for four weeks, participants reported by text whether they flossed the night before. At the end of the month of reminders, they all flossed about twenty-four days on average. Most interesting is what they were all doing eight months later. Those who stacked, and flossed after they brushed, were still doing it about eleven days a month. For them, the new behavior was maintained by the existing habit. The group originally instructed to floss before they brushed ended up doing it only about once a week.

Excerpt from: Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick by Wendy Wood

πŸ’Ž We often overestimate how much events (or purchases) will change our happiness (as we tend to forget how quickly we adapt)

While we each may initially react quite differently to an event, we all have a built-in ability to detect and neutralize challenges to our happiness. This has been called our psychological immune system. Just as your body adjusts to getting into hot water, so your mind adjusts to change: the psychological reaction to changes in stimuli is analogous to the physiological reaction to changes in temperature. And your psychological immune system works a little like your physical immune system, which kicks in when faced with a threat, such as when someone nearby coughs or sneezes. This highlights the fact that many adaptation processes take place automatically and unconsciously, we simply get used to some changes without thinking about whether or not we really want to.

In one of the most interesting studies in this area, students were asked to predict how much worse their mood would be if they were rejected for a job: their average estimate was two points lower than their current mood on a ten-point scale. In sharp contrast, the actual being rejected was only 0.4 points on the same ten-point scale that effect was fleeting: ten minutes after the rejection, their happiness levels had returned to normal. By the way, there was no real job offer-such is the fun that psychologists often have at their students’ expense.

If your partner dumps you, give it a few months and you’ll generally look back on your partner as having been unsuitable. Chances are that you will then meet someone who makes you happier than that loser did. This is not to say that the pain of the breakup is any less real, just that you can take some comfort from it not lasting.

Excerpt from: Happiness by Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think by Paul Dolan

πŸ’Ž The paradox of progress (and the paradox of choice)

The Paradox of progress, and the paradox of choice: There is a familiar story of a New York banker vacationing in Greece, who, from talking to a fisherman and scrutinizing the fisherman’s business, comes up with a scheme to help the fisherman make it a big business. The fisherman asked him what the benefits were; the banker answered that he could make a pile of money in New York and come back to vacation in Greece; something that seemed ludicrous to the fisherman, who was already there doing the kind of things bankers do when they go on vacation in Greece.

The story was well known in antiquity, under a more elegant form, as retold by Montaigne (my translation): When King Pyrrhus tried to cross into Italy, CynΓ©as, his wise adviser, tried to make him feel the vanity of such action. “To what end are you going into such enterprise?” he asked. And Pyrrhus answered, “To make myself the master of Italy.” CynΓ©as: “Then ?” Pyrrhus: To conquer Africa, then … come rest at ease.” CynΓ©as: But you are already there; why take more risks?”

Excerpt from: Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

πŸ’Ž The premortem vs. postmortem (prevention vs. cure)

The premortem – when an organisation has almost come to an important decision but hasn’t formally committed itself, the decision makers gather for a brief session.

They are asked to imagine that it is one year later and that the idea has been a complete disaster.

They then have to write a short history of what happened.

The premortem can prevent many a disaster.

By contrast, a postmortem is always too late.

It’s all about timing.

Excerpt from: The Excellence Book: 50 Ways to be Your Best (Concise Advice) by Kevin Duncan

πŸ’Ž The Myers-Briggs test (a marriage test used by Fortune 500 companies)

Initially, Briggs had designed her questionnaire to identify solid marriage partners, but after the Second World War, her daughter repositioned it to place people in the right jobs. The MBTI does what all profiling systems do: asks batteries of questions and organises the answers into types which are supposed to define your personality. And yet the test has no basis in clinical psychology, though it is deployed by most Fortune 500 companies, many universities, schools, churches, consulting companies, the CIA, the army and the navy.

The MBTI test-retest validity lies below statistical significance, meaning that if you test someone more than once, you are likely to get different results. More worrying is that the questionnaire poses binary questions, asking, for example, whether you value sentiment more than logic or vice versa. The question assumes that there is a simple answer to this question, absent of context. Yet in real life, preference is highly contextual: I value logic when purchasing car insurance; I may value sentiment more when choosing to play with my son. Binaries always simplify, often to the point of absurdity, and they polarise what are often complements.

Excerpt from: Uncharted: How to Map the Future by Margaret Heffernan

πŸ’Ž The more we think about an event, the more we think it’s likely to happen (often wrongly)

One of the earliest experiments examining the power of imagination to sway intuition was conducted during the U.S. presidential election campaign of 1976. One group was asked to imagine Gerald Ford winning the election and taking the oath of office, and then they were asked how likely it was that Ford would win the election. Another group was asked to do the same for Jimmy Carter. So who was more likely to win? Most people in the group that imagined Ford winning said Ford. Those who saw Jimmy Carter taking the oath said Carter. Later experiments have obtained similar results. What are your odds of being arrested? How likely is it you’ll win the lottery? People who imagine the event consistently feel the odds or the event actually happening are higher than those who don’t.

Excerpt from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner

πŸ’Ž The labour illusion (or why incompetence sometimes pays)

But would he have preferred that the locksmith bumble around, take a long time and fake effort? Well, maybe. A locksmith once told Dan that when he started his career, he took forever to open a lock, and in the process, he often broke it, taking even more time and money to get one properly installed and finish the job. He charged for the parts to replace the broken lock as well as his standard fee for opening a locked door. People were happy to pay all this, and they tipped him well. He noticed, however, that as he became proficient and opened a lock quickly, without breaking the old lock (and without the consequent need to replace it and charge his clients for the extra parts), customers not only didn’t tip, but they also argued about his fee.

Wait, what? How much is it worth to have our door open? That should be the question. But because it’s difficult to put a price on this, we look at how much effort it takes to have that door unlocked. When there’s a great deal of effort, we feel much better about paying more. But all that should matter is the value of that open door.

Excerpt from: Small Change: Money Mishaps and How to Avoid Them by Dan Ariely and Jeff Kreisler

πŸ’Ž Repetition increases our tendency to act (but it weakens our sensation of the act)

The little-known nineteenth-century French philosopher FΓ©lix Ravaisson was able to put this concept into concrete terms. He called it the double law of habit. Basically it means this: repetition strengthens our tendency to act, but it also weakens our sensation of that act. In other words, we habituate. It’s a deceptively complex process, and one that has power to sap force and meaning from our lives. We tend to keep doing things long after they have lost meaning for us. Yes, we can take advantage of that dynamic when we form new habits, as they lose their hard edges with repetition. But it’s a double-edged sword.

Habituation is one reason we lose interest in the material stuff we buy (thinking those things will finally make us happy). Certainly, you enjoyed sitting on your new couch the day it was delivered. And you got to show it off to your friends the next time they visited. But after that? You probably don’t notice it much now.

Excerpt from: Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick by Wendy Wood

πŸ’Ž We’re more likely to remember someone is a baker, than if their surname is Baker (the Baker-baker paradox)

This is known as the Baker-baker paradox. If we are introduced to someone named Mr Baker, we are less likely to remember the name than we are to remember the profession if we are introduced to a baker. If someone is a baker, we can create an image of that person pouring flour, kneading the bread, wearing a tall white hat.

We have already formed a lot of associations with β€˜a baker’ – perhaps even multisensory experiences. We have smelled a bakery and eaten freshly baked bread. We can visualize what the baker does. The name Baker is just a bunch of letters. Names are essentially random syllables, a meaningless soup of sounds.

Perhaps, therefore, it is also easier to remember that Mikkel is a doctor and that Nikolaj owns a fruit plantation than the fact that Ib works in IT and Ida in public relations. It is easier to imagine Mikkel performing an operation or to visualize Nikolaj’s apples trees than to form an image of what it looks like when Ida ‘does public relations’.

Cicero, the Roman statesman, philosopher and orator, once wrote, ‘The keenest of all our senses is the sense of sight, and consequently perceptions received by the ears or from other sources can most easily be remembered if they are conveyed to our minds by the mediation of vision.’

Excerpts from: The Art of Making Memories: How to Create and Remember Happy Moments by Meik Wiking

πŸ’Ž The anchoring effect is influential (even when the anchors are ridiculous)

They asked people two versions of the Gandhi questions. One version is what I’ve repeated here. The other began by asking people whether Gandhi was older or younger than 140 when he died, which was followed by the same direction to guess Gandhi’s age when he died. Strack and Mussweiler found that when the first question mentioned the number nine, the average guess on the following question was 50. In the second version, the average guess was 67. So those who heard the lower number before guessing guessed lower. Those who heard the higher number, guessed higher.

Excerpt from: Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner

πŸ’Ž On the puzzling fact that only so few ad agency staff are over 50 (unlike other creative industries)

We’ll start with the Nobel Prize. There is only one Nobel Prize in a creative field. It is the prize for Literature. It went to Kazuo Ishiguro who is 64.

The Pulitzer Prize is awarded in several creative fields. The Pulitzer for Drama went to Lynn Nottage who is 54. The Pulitzer for History went to Heather Ann Thompson, age 55. The Pulitzer for Poetry went to Tyehimba Jess, age 53.

Next we move to television. The Emmy for Best Drama Series went to The Handmaid’s Tale. The novel was written by Margaret Atwood who was 79 and was creative consultant on the show. The Best Comedy Series went to Veep, executive produced by Julia Louis-Dreyfus, 57. She also won for Best Actress. Best Limited Series went to Big Little Lies created by David E Kelley, 62. The Best Supporting Actress was Ann Dowd, 62. Best Supporting Actor was John Lithgow, 73. Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series went to Alec Baldwin, 60.

So, let’s recap. People over 50 are creative enough to dominate in Nobels, Pulitzers, Oscars, and Emmys but are not creative enough to write a fucking banner ad. I guarantee you, not one of these brilliantly talented people could get a job in an ad agency today. Not one.

Excerpt from: Advertising for Skeptics by Bob Hoffman

πŸ’Ž The 18th century advertising gimmicks behind the promotion of the potato (it’s all about appearances)

The demographic threat they thus posed. Here at last, late in the story, we get a glimpse of an individual as potato innovator, at least according to legend. Antoine-Augustin Parmentier was an apothecary working with the French army who rather carelessly managed to get himself captured no fewer than five times by the Prussians during the Seven Years War. They fed him on nothing but potatoes, and he was surprised to see himself growing plump and healthy on the diet. On his return to France in 1763 he devoted himself to proselytizing the benefits of the potato as the solution to France’s repeated famines. With grain prices high after poor harvests, he was pushing at an open door.

Parmentier was a bit of a showman and he devised a series of publicity stunts to get his message across. Hegot the attention of the queen, Marie Antoinette, and persuaded her to wear potato flowers in her hair, supposedly after a contrived encounter in the gardens of Versailles. He planted a field of potatoes on the outskirts of Paris and posted guards to protect it, knowing that the presence of the guards would itself advertise the value of the crop, and attract hungry thieves at night, when the guards were mysteriously absent. He gave dinners of potato cuisine to people of influence, including Benjamin Franklin. But he was also scientific in his approach. His ‘Examen chimique des pommes de terre’, published in 1773 (a year after the parliament had repealed the ban on potatoes), praised the nutrient contents of potatoes.

Excerpt from: How Innovation Works by Matt Ridley

πŸ’Ž On the need for businesses to be resilient (so they’re not blown away)

“Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire. You want to be the fire and wish for the wind”

Nassim Taleb

Excerpt from: The Science of Organizational Change: How Leaders Set Strategy, Change Behavior, and Create an Agile Culture (Leading Change in the Digital Age) by Paul Gibbons

πŸ’Ž Why it becomes harder to predict technological change (as technology develops)

Perhaps we should have seen this acceleration coming. In the 1930s an American aeronautical engineer named T. P Wright carefully observed aeroplane factories at work. He published research demonstrating that the more often a particular type of aeroplane was assembled, the quicker and cheaper the next unit became. Workers would gain experience, specialised tools would be developed, and ways to save time and material would be discovered. Wright reckoned that every time accumulated production doubled, unit costs would fall by 15 per cent. He called this phenomenon ‘the learning curve’.

Three decades later, management consultants at Boston Consulting Group, or BCG, rediscovered Wright’s rule of thumb in the case of semiconductors, and then other products too. Recently, a group of economists and mathematicians at Oxford University found convincing evidence of learning curve effects across more than 50 different products from transistors to beer – including photovoltaic cells. Sometimes the learning curve is shallow and sometimes steep, but it always seems to be there.

The learning curve may be a dependable fact about technology, but paradoxically, it creates a feedback loop that makes it harder to predict technological change. Popular products become cheap; cheaper products become popular.

Excerpt from: The Next Fifty Things that Made the Modern Economy by Tim Harford

πŸ’Ž Multiple rewards may be averaging, rather than additive (one great reward is perceived as better than a great reward and a mediocre one)

On Hallowe’en, twenty-eight trick-or-treaters with the average age of around ten came to the house. All the kids were given different combinations of candy and asked to rate their happiness levels in relation to it. Seven different happiness levels were shown by using smiley face symbols ranging from neutral to open-mouthed-grin smiley face’. Some kids were given a full-size Hershey’s chocolate bar, some kids were given a piece of gum, some kids were given first a Hershey’s bar then a piece of gum, and some kids were given first a Hershey’s bar then another Hershey’s bar. You would expect more candy to equal more happiness. But the children getting a chocolate bar then a piece of gum were less happy than the kids who received just the chocolate bar. And two chocolate bars did not bring more happiness than one chocolate bar.

Excerpt from: The Art of Making Memories: How to Create and Remember Happy Moments by Meik Wiking

πŸ’Ž 9 suggested research techniques for planners

Start Doing Research Differently

1. Don’t only talk to the consumer. Talk to someone who spends their life understanding the target. Wife, kids, boss, subordinate, neighbor, garbage man, probation officer
2. Send them a disposable camera and a one time brief
3. Get them to write something and word cloud it
4. Set up a video confessional booth
5. People love playing marketer. Give them your job
6. Think of the rote thing to do. Do the opposite
7. Get 10 smart people to write 10 Onion headlines for your brand or category
8. Go to their house as a forensic criminologist
9. Pitch ideas like this at your account people until you give them one that makes them think you’re insane. Then do that one

Excerpt from: Strategy Scrapbook by Alex Morris