πŸ’Ž On the power of surprise to fight crime (by the London Met)

However, smart-thinking cops have found other innovative ways to tackle the problem. In 2012, Met Police officers used a borrowed No. 2 London bus to sneak up on a gang of street gamblers on Westminster Bridge. Normally, the lookouts alert the street gamblers well in advance but, on this occasion, they hadn’t anticipated the 30-plus officers who jumped out on them as the bus came alongside. More than 25 gamblers were detained and 12 were charged with gaming offences.

Excerpt from: Why Did the Policeman Cross the Road?: How to solve problems before they arise by Stevyn Colgan

πŸ’Ž On the importance of creating β€˜information gaps’ (to hold attention)

Loewenstein writes of a test in which participants were confronted by a grid of squares on a computer screen. They were asked to click on five of them. Some participants found that with each click, another picture of an animal appeared. But a second group saw small component parts of a single animal. With each square they clicked, another part of a greater picture was revealed. This second group were much more likely to keep on clicking squares after the required five, and then keep going until enough of them had been turned that the mystery of the animal’s identity had been solved. Brains, concluded the researchers, seem to become spontaneously curious when presented with an ‘informations set’ they realise is incomplete. ‘There is a natural inclination to resolve information gaps,’ wrote Lowenstein, ‘even for questions of no importance.’

Excerpt from: The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr

πŸ’Ž On the false distinction between emotional and rational ad campaigns (demonstrated best by Volkswagen)

In advertising, we assume the only way to get an emotional response is with an emotional appeal.

But Bill Bernbach knew that isn’t true.

Look at the history of Volkswagen advertising.

For fifty years they did product demonstrations.

And they build a brand that has massive emotional appeal.

Ask anyone about VW and they’ll say “reliable”.

That’s an emotional response based on rational advertising.

Because a rational demonstration can have a more powerful emotional affect than something vacuous designed purely to appeal to the feelings.

Done properly, reason is emotion.

Excerpt from: Creative Mischief by Dave Trott

πŸ’Ž On the best example of branded content being 100 years old (the Michelin Guide)

In 1900 the Michelin brothers owned a tyre company in France.

They wanted to sell more tyres.

And, in order to do that, they needed to get drivers to wear down the ones they had.

So in 1900 they issued the first Michelin Guide.

It showed all the great things to see and do around France.

It encouraged people to get out in their cars and drive to all these places.

It featured a list of sights to see, places to buy petrol, places to stay.

The locations of garages, mechanics.

And, being French, good places to eat.

Excerpt from: Predatory Thinking: A Masterclass in Out-Thinking the Competition by Dave Trott

πŸ’Ž On the Theory of Omission (why copywriting isn’t like writing a book)

A book may take months to write.

Thats okay because people can take weeks to read it, savouring each word.

Copywriting isn’t like that.

Copy has to compete for attention.

We can’t assume that every word will be pored over, like a book.

That’s what made Ernest Hemingway different as a writer.

Hemingway trained as journalist.

Before he became a novelist, he worked on the Kansas City Star.

He learned the paper’s style, it became his guide to writing:

‘Use short sentence. Use short paragraphs. Use vigorous English.’

He learned to get the most from the least, to prune language.

Later in life Hemingway would call this style ‘The Iceberg Theory’.

By stating the bar minimum, you let the reader’s imagination add the part unsaid, the part below the surface.

In writing classes at universities it’s now known as ‘The Theory of Omission’.

Excerpt from:Β One Plus One Equals Three: A Masterclass in Creative Thinking by Dave Trott

πŸ’Ž On the rational excuse justifying the emotional decision (always include one)

Reason, despite what we would like to think, is not why we do what we do: it is the result of what we feel or do.

Famed adman David Ogilvy recognized this long ago when he wrote:

“Customers need a rational excuse to justify their emotional decisions. So always include one.”

(In France I once saw this expressed as “le rationnel est l’alibi du desir”.)

Why I love this observation is that Ogilvy uses a word not often given an airing in the communications business: excuse. Not reason or even (eugh) benefit or proposition, but excuse.

Excerpt from: The Storytelling Book (Concise Advice) by Anthony Tasgal

πŸ’Ž Beware fool’s gold white space (when assessing new markets)

Fool’s gold looks like gold, but it isn’t.

It’s usually some other yellow mineral like pyrite or chalcopyrite.

White space is blank, and when it’s on a strategist’s market map, it makes them think there’s a gap to be exploited.

But they might be wrong, particularly when it comes to innovations.

‘Fool’s gold white space’ is an apparent gap in the market, but in truth it’s a failure masquerading as a viable opportunity.

Many an innovator has been fooled by it.

So next time you come across what appears to be an unoccupied area, ask yourself two questions.

Why is this space unoccupied?

What do they know that we don’t?

Excerpt from:Β The Smart Thinking Book: 60 Bursts of Business Brilliance by Kevin Duncan

πŸ’Ž On the inaccuracy of forecasters (those who don’t know they don’t know)

Every day, experts bombard us with predictions, but how reliable are they? Until a few years ago, no one bothered to check. Then along came Philip Tetlock. Over a period of ten years, he evaluated 28,361 predictions from 284 self-appointed professionals. The result: in terms of accuracy, the experts fared only marginally better than a random forecast generator. Ironically, the media darlings were among the poorest performers; and of those the worst were the prophets of doom and disintegration. Examples of their far-fetched forecasts included the collapse of Canada, Nigeria, China, India, Indonesia, South Africa, Belgium and the E.U. None of these countries has imploded.

β€˜There are two kinds of forecasters: those who don’t know, and those who don’t know they don’t know,’ wrote Harvard economist J.K.Galbraith.

Excerpt from: The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli

πŸ’Ž On our preference to tackle new goals at the start of new time periods (happy New Year!)

…the scientists have shown that people are significantly more likely to β€œtackle their goals,” such as starting a diet or going to the gym, after reaching a β€œtemporal landmark.” They refer to this as β€œThe Fresh Start Effect.” The power of this effect is large: According to the data, the typical undergraduate is 33.4 percent more likely to work out on the first day of the week and 47.1 percent more likely to work out on the first day of the new semester. This even applies to our birthdays, with the probability of going to the gym increasing by 7.5 percent on the day after a celebration. (Not surprisingly, the scientists found that this pattern doesn’t apply to our twenty-first birthday.)

Excerpt from: The Smarter Screen: Surprising Ways to Influence and Improve Online Behavior by Shlomo Benartzi and Jonah Lehrer

πŸ’Ž On the danger of seeing patterns in random events (you’re probably imagining them)

In 1948, a man called B. F. Skinner put hungry pigeons into glass boxes. We’ve all done it. He had a feeder attached to each box through which pigeon food (fag ends and sick, presumably – I’ve never been sure) was dropped every fifteen seconds. The pigeons were observed for a while to see what would happen.

While research assistants hid behind one-way mirrors and made fun of the birds, congratulating each other on their hysterical but offensive club-footed, retarded, help-I’m-trapped-inside-a-box pigeon impressions, the birds themselves developed some interesting behaviours. As these fat, grey, warbling, puffed-up, disease-spreading scientists watched, they noticed that the pigeons were trying to work out what had to be done to release the food. Although the food was arriving entirely independently of their actions, an early drop would inevitably occur at the same time the bird made a particular gesture, such as bobbing its head or pecking at the roof of the box. The bird seemed to presume that this action had caused the arrival of the food, so each pigeon began to act out a ritual inside its box consisting of repeated actions misguidedly designed to trigger more food. Some would walk around in circles, others would peck repeatedly in the corner, and so on.

Excerpt from: Tricks of the Mind by Derren Brown

πŸ’Ž On innocuous data signals predicting other behaviours (like your choice of browser and beer preference)

Dr Michael Housman, Chief Analytics Offices at Cornerstone OnDemand, pioneered the idea that people’s characteristics could be identified by their browser.

He analysed data from 50,000 people who his recruitment software company had helped find jobs and discovered that browser choice accurately predicted their performance. People who opted for a non-default browser, like Chrome or Firefox, lasted 15% longer in their jobs than those with a default browser, like Internet Explorer.

Housman attributed the difference to the fact that choosing Chrome or Firefox was an active decision — those workers were taking the effort to find a better browsing solution than the one pre-installed on their PC. That identified them as someone who wasn’t content with the default.

What’s the marketing application?

Clare Linford and I wondered if Housman’s finding could also be useful for marketers. Perhaps people who avoid the mainstream default browser choice, might do the same in other product categories?

We tested this hypothesis by questioning 22 lager drinkers about their brand of choice. When we split the results by their favoured browser the results were clear-cut. Only a third of lager drinkers who used Internet Explorer preferred a beer from outside the mainstream, top five lagers. However, 56% of those who didn’t use a default browser preferred a non-mainstream lager.

Excerpt from: The Choice Factory: 25 behavioural biases that influence what we buy by Richard Shotton

πŸ’Ž On the importance of protecting time (the one thing with which it is right to be stingy)

Think of all the ways people steal your time. Seneca, the Roman Stoic philosopher, wrote, ‘People are frugal in guarding their personal property; but as soon as it comes to squandering time, they are most wasteful of the one thing in which it is right to be stingy.’ Though Seneca was writing more than 2,000 years ago, his words are just as applicable today. As he noted, people protect their property in all sorts of ways – locks, security systems and storage units – but most do little to protect their time.

Extract from: Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal

πŸ’Ž On social proof inadvertently being misused and making the problem worse (the gender gap)

Take the example of getting more women on company boards, an issue widely championed by campaigners and indeed Prime Ministers, but often embodying a clear example of the ‘big mistake’. The normal centrepiece of campaigns to get more women on boards is a statistic along the lines ‘isn’t it shocking that only 25 per cent of board members are women?’ (less in some countries). It is shocking, but it’s also likely to be a message that inadvertently normalises the situation. On the other hand, if such campaigns made the equally valid point hat ’90 per cent of companies have women on their boards’, then the signalling is very different. Following discussions with Iris Bohnet, and expert on gender inequality, and Emily Walsh, special adviser to the UK’s Business Secretary, parts of the UK’s campaign to encourage more women on to boards was indeed reframed this way.

Excerpt from: Inside the Nudge Unit: How small changes can make a big difference by David Halpern

πŸ’Ž On following the rules of business (or not)

Control Tower: ‘Maybe we ought to turn on the search lights now?’

Kramer: ‘No… that’s just what they’ll be expecting us to do.’

Most of business is run according to conventional logic. Finance, operations and logistics all operate through established best practice – there are rules, and you need to have a good reason to break them. But there are other parts of a business that don’t work this way, and marketing is one of them: in truth, it’s a part of business where there’s never best practice, because if you follow a standard orthodoxy your brand will become more like your competitors’, thus eroding your advantage. The above joke from Airplane! (1980) appears when the air traffic controller is trying to follow protocol, by turning on the lights on the runway for the approaching plane; Kramer, a war veteran, is frightened of being too predictable.” It underlines a serious point.

Excerpt from: Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense by Rory Sutherland

πŸ’Ž On the importance of giving people a sense of control (and the potential for taxation)

They invited students to a lab at Harvard University and asked them to rate pictures of various home interiors. In exchange for their time, they were given $10, but told that they were required to pay a “lab tax” of $3. The instruction was to put $3 in an envelope and hand it to the experimenter before they left. The students were not thrilled by this plan. Only half complied; the other half either left the envelope empty or gave less than the required amount.

Another group of participants, however, was told that they could advise the lab manage on how to allocate their tax money. They could suggest, for example, that their taxes would be spent on beverages and snacks for future participants. Astonishingly, merely giving participants a voice increased compliance from about 50 percent to almost 70 percent! That is dramatic. Imagine what such an increase in compliance would mean for your country, if it were translated to federal taxes.

Excerpt from: The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others by Tali Sharot

πŸ’Ž On qualitative research and creative thinking in branding (how BT Cellnet became 02)

Sometimes qualitative research can provide a real platform for some genuinely creative thinking. Entire brands have been based on exactly these types of consumer insights. The team behind the re-brand of BT Cellnet had noted in their research that consumers had said ‘my mobile is as essential to me as my house keys or my wallet – I wouldn’t leave the home without it’, and from this one thought came the creative leap to the essentials of life, and hence to ‘oxygen’ and its chemical formula O2. Backed up by a series of dramatic photographs of bubbles in motions, a key visual property and an entire brand toolkit was born. It was so powerful that its launch adverts simply used this brans idea with the line ‘a breath of fresh air’ and very little else. Through multiple campaigns, straplines and ‘owners’, the company’s core ‘idea’ has remained intact for over a decade.

Excerpt from: Branding: In Five and a Half Steps by Michael Johnson

πŸ’Ž On data not having to be big to be useful (the sample is most important)

George Gallup, who essentially invented the idea of the opinion poll in the 1930s, came up with a fine analogy for the value of random sampling. He said that if you have a large pan of soup, you do not need to eat it all to find out if it needs more seasoning. You can just taste a spoonful, provided you have given it a good stir.

Excerpt from: The Art of Statistics: Learning from Data by David Spiegelhalter

πŸ’Ž On even seemingly inconsequential bits of friction in changing behaviour (to prevent suicides)

The extraordinary reductions in suicide resulting from changes in levels of carbon monoxide might have happened by accident, but the insight can be used to make deliberate changes that have reduced suicides. For example, a number of countries have introduced legal restrictions on the number of paracetamol tablets and similar everyday medications that can be bought in one go. There is not much to stop the determined buyer from going into several stores in a row and buying more pills, but it has been shown that in the UK alone such measure were associate with around 70 fewer suicides a year as a result of paracetamol ingestion (a 42 percent reduction), and an even bigger reduction of 61 per cent of patients needing a liver transplant as a result of damage from paracetamol. Similarly, there is evidence that where such pills are required to be sold in pop-out packs, rather than loose in a bottle, this also reduces suicide rates since the pills have to be taken out one at a time. A little friction, it turns out, is not always a bad thing.

Excerpt from: Inside the Nudge Unit: How small changes can make a big difference by David Halpern

πŸ’Ž The power of framing (crime) statistics to change their impact

A classic example of how alternative framing can change the emotional impact of a number is an advertisement that appeared on the London Underground in 2011, proclaiming that ‘99% of young Londoners do not commit serious youth violence’. These ads were presumably intended to reassure passengers about their city, but we could reverse its emotional impact with two simple changes. First, the statement means that 1% of Londoners do commit serious violence. Second, since the population of London is around 9 million, there are around 1 million people aged between 15 and 25, and if we consider these as ‘young’, this means there are 1% of 1 million or a total of 10,000 seriously violent young people in the city. This does not sound at all reassuring. Note the two tricks used to manipulate the impact of this statistic: convert from a positive to a negative frame, and then turn a percentage into actual numbers of people.

Excerpt from: The Art of Statistics: Learning from Data by David Spiegelhalter

πŸ’Ž Don’t tell people, show them (how escalators became “normal”)

Then someone had a brilliant idea: proof always works better than a claim.

Don’t tell people, show them.

William ‘Bumper’ Harris was an employee who’d lost a leg in an accident.

He was told to come to Earl’s Court station and ride up and down the escalator.

Just that, ride up and down, nothing else.

People at the bottom would see a one-legged man with crutches nonchalantly hop onto the escalator and ride it to the top.

Then he’d turn around, and people at the top would see a one-legged man with crutches nonchalantly hop onto the other escalator and ride it to the bottom.

‘Bumper’ Harris just did that all day.

When frightened passengers saw him do it they were reassured an ashamed.

Reassured that if a one-legged man could do it anyone could.

And ashamed that they were ever frightened in the first place.

After a day of ‘Bumper’ riding up and down, everyone was using the escalator as if it was the most normal thing.

And once that happened, the problem disappeared.

Escalators became as accepted as the have been ever since.

The lesson was, it’s better to show people than to tell people.

Excerpt from: Creative Blindness (And How To Cure It): Real-life stories of remarkable creative vision by Dave Trott

πŸ’Ž On how we accept that our personality has changed but we underestimate how much it will change

Gilbert and colleagues measured the preferences, values, and personalities of more than nineteen thousand adults ages eighteen to sixty-eight. Some were asked to predict how much they would change over the next decade, others to reflect about how much they had changed in the previous one. Predictors expected that they would change very little in the next decade, while reflectors reported having changed a lot in the previous one. Qualities that feel immutable changes immensely. Core values — pleasure, security, success, and honesty — transformed. Preferences for vacations, music, hobbies, and even friend were transfigured. Hilariously, predictors were willing to pay an average of $129 a ticket for a show ten years away by their current favorite band, while reflectors would only pay $80 to see a show today by their favorite band from ten years ago.

Excerpt from: Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein

πŸ’Ž On information not being interpreted neutrally (we are swayed by contextual cues)

An experiment by Michael Deppe and his colleagues from the University of Munster, quantified the importance of media context. In 2005, the neurologists showed 21 consumers 30 new headlines. The respondents rated the believability of the headlines on a seven-point scale, with one being the most credible and seven the least.

The headlines appeared to come from one of four news magazines. Each headline was randomly rotated between the magazines so that each viewer saw the headlines in the context of every magazine. This allowed the researchers to address the effects of the context on the credibility of the headlines.

The scores were significantly influenced by the magazine. Headlines in the most respected magazine scored on average 1.9, compared to 5.5 in the least regarded magazine.

Information is not process neutrally. We are swayed by contextual cues.

Excerpt from:Β The Choice Factory: 25 behavioural biases that influence what we buy by Richard Shotton

πŸ’Ž On how messages while drunk can have disproportionate effect (in promoting safe sex)

A group of Canadian psychologists led by Tara MacDonald recently went into a series of bars and asked the patrons to read a short vignette. They were to imagine that they had met an attractive person at a bar, walked him or her home, and ended up in bed — only to discover that neither of them had a condom. The subjects were then asked to respond on a scale of 1 (very unlikely) to 9 (very likely) to the proposition: “If I were in this situation, I would have sex.” You’d think that the subjects who had been drinking heavily would be more likely to say they would have sex — and that’s exactly what happened. The drunk people came in at 5.36, on average, on the 9-point scale. The sober people came in at 3.91. The drinkers couldn’t sort through the long-term consequences of unprotected sex. But then MacDonald went back to the bars and stamped the hands of some of the patrons with the phrase “AIDs kills.” Drinkers with the hand stamp were slightly less likely than the sober people to want to have sex in that situation: they couldn’t sort through the rationalization necessary to set aside the risk of AIDS. Where the norms and standards are clear and obvious, the drinker can become more rule-bound that his sober counterpart.

Excerpt from: Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell

πŸ’Ž On perspective blindness and the difficulties we have in adopting other people’s perspective (when buying gifts)

Why do guests do this? In 2011, Francesca Gino from Harvard and Frank Flynn from Stanford conducted an experiment to find out. They recruited ninety people and then allocated them to one of two conditions. Half became ‘senders’ while the other half became ‘receivers’. The receivers were then asked to go to Amazon and come up with a wish list of gifts priced between $10 and $30. Meanwhile, the senders were allocated to either choose a gift from the wish list, or a unique gift.

The result were emphatic. The senders expected that recipients would prefer unique gifts – ones they had chosen themselves. They supposed that recipients would welcome the personal touch. But they were wrong. Recipients would welcome the personal touch. But they were wrong. Recipients, in fact, much preferred gifts from their own list. The psychologist Adam Grant reports the same pattern with friends giving and receiving wedding gifts. Senders prefer unique gifts; recipients prefer gifts from their wedding list.

Why? It hinges upon perspective blindness. Senders find it difficult to step beyond their own frame of reference. They imagine how they would feel receiving the gift that they have selected.

Excerpt from: Messengers: Who We Listen To, Who We Don’t, And Why by Stephen Martin and Joseph Marks

πŸ’Ž On the false split between emotional and rational messages (people buy the pearl)

How you say something may well be more important than what you say.

But you have to have something to say in the first place.

If you have nothing to say that will soon be apparent.

No one will be fooled.

Think of it as an oyster.

You start with a piece of grit, and build a pearl around it.

People buy the pearl, they don’t buy the grit.

But no grit, no pearl.

Excerpt from: Creative Blindness (And How To Cure It): Real-life stories of remarkable creative vision by Dave Trott

πŸ’Ž On how signals of status (like an expensive car) affect behaviour

The students were unanimous. And full of bravado. Of course they would honk. And they certainly wouldn’t make any distinction between the two cars. Some claimed they would honk sooner at the high-status car. But what actually happened on the roads that subsequent sunny Sunday morning told a different story. Whilst overall close to 70 percent of waiting drivers sounded their horns in frustration, the distribution of results was unevenly split between the two cars. Fewer than 50 percent honked at the high-status car; 84 percent hooted at the lower-status car. Not only was a Californian driver’s likelihood to honk influence by the status of the car that was delaying them, but their latency to honk was influenced, too. When behind a low-status car, people would sound the horn much sooner than when behind a high-status one. Very often, more than once.

Excerpt from: Messengers: Who We Listen To, Who We Don’t, And Why by Stephen Martin and Joseph Marks

πŸ’Ž On the technique of assumption reversal for generating new perspectives and ideas (e.g Uber)

Michael Michalko, a former US army officer who has become a leader in creativity, advocates ‘assumption reversal’. You take the core notions in any subject or proposal, and simply turn them on their head. So, suppose you are thinking of starting a restaurant. The first assumption might be: ‘restaurants have menus’. The reversal would be: ‘restaurants have no menus’. This provokes the idea of a chef informing each customer what he bought that day at market, allowing them to select a customised dish. The point is not that this will necessarily turn out to be a workable scheme, but that by disrupting conventional thought patterns, it might lead to new associations and ideas.

Or, to take a different example, suppose you are considering starting a new taxi company. The first assumption might be: ‘taxi companies own cars’. The reversal would be: ‘taxi companies own no cars’. Twenty years ago, that might have sounded cray. Today, the largest taxi company that has ever existed doesn’t own cars: Uber.

Excerpt from: Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking by Matthew Syed

πŸ’Ž On the danger of not recognising the theories that guide your actions (as John Cleese notes)

John Cleese, the British comedian, put it this way: ‘Everybody has theories. The dangerous people who are not aware of their own theories. That is, the theories on which they operate are largely unconscious.’

Excerpt from: Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking by Matthew Syed

πŸ’Ž On the benefits of efficiency and the dangers of pursuing it too far (it’s worth being a little messy)

Sometimes (often actually) in business, you do know where you’re going, and when you do, you can be efficient. Put in place a plan and execute. In contrast, wandering in business is not efficient… but it’s also not random. It’s guided – by hunch, gut, intuition, curiosity … it’s worth being a little messy and tangential to find out way there. Wandering is an essential counterbalance to efficiency .. The outsized discoveries – the ‘non-linear’ ones – are highly likely to require wandering.

Excerpt from: Rebel Ideas: The Power of Diverse Thinking by Matthew Syed