💎 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

💎 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

💎 Six step approach to storytelling (the Pixar Pitch)

The animation company Pixar, creators of Finding Nemo and Toy Story, has a proven formula for successful storytelling.

What has become known as the Pixar Pitch involves six sequential sentences:

Once upon a time, A.

Every day, B.

One day, C.

Because of that, D.

Because of that, E.

Until finally, F.

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

💎 When weighing up the merits of a product or dangers of a technology we often rely on how it makes us feel (rather than laboriously compute the facts)

In a second experiment, Slovic and Alhakami had students of the University of Oregon rate the risks and benefits of a technology (different trials used nuclear power, natural gas, and food preservatives). Then they were asked to read a few paragraphs describing some of the benefits of the technology. Finally, they were asked again to rate the risks and benefits of the technology. Not surprisingly, the positive information they read raised – student’s ratings of the technology’s benefits in about one-half of the cases. But most of those who raised their estimate of the technology’s benefits also lowered their estimate of the risk – even though they had not read a word about the risk. Later trials in which only risks were discussed had the same effect but in reverse: People who raised their estimate of the technology’s risks in response to the information about risk also lowered their estimate of its benefit.

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

💎 One problem with the client-agency model is that it encourages complex clever answers (rather than simple, effective ones)

As we saw, a bureaucratized system will increase in complication from the interventionism of people who sell complicated solutions because that’s what their position and training invite them to do.

Things designed by people without skin in the game tend to grow in complication (before their final collapse).

There is absolutely no benefit for someone in such a position to propose something simple: when you are rewarded for perception, not results, you need to show sophistication. Anyone who has submitted a Scholarly paper to a journal knows that you usually raise the odds of acceptance by making it more complicated than necessary.

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

💎 How reform of organisations often requires an outside perspective (unfamiliarity with the department)

‘It should be remembered, that in few departments have important reforms been effected by those trained up in practical familiarity with their details. The men to detect blemishes and defects are among those who have not, by long familiarity, been made insensible to them.’

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

💎 With uncertainty we prefer conformity (group think)

Crutchfield’s experiment involved slightly more ambiguous questions, including one in which people were asked if they agreed with the statement ‘I believe we are made better by the trials and hardships of life.’ Among subjects in a control group that was not exposed to the answers of others, everyone agreed. But among those in the experiment who thought that everyone else disagreed with the statement, 31 per cent said they did not agree. Asked whether they agreed with the statement ‘I doubt whether I would make a good leader,’ every person in the control group rejected it. But when the group was seen to agree with the statement, 37 per cent of people went along with the consensus and agreed that they doubted themselves.

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

💎 How our perception of risk is skewed by “what makes a good story or hypothesis”(rather than a cold calculation of the odds)

Many other studies produced similar results. Kahneman and Tversky divided 245 undergrads at the University of British Columbia in half and asked one group to estimate the probability of a massive flood somewhere in North America in 1983, in which more than 1,000 people drown.’ The second group was asked about an earthquake in California sometime in 1983, causing a flood in which more than 1,000 people drown.’ Once again, the second scenario logically has to be less likely than the first but people rated it one-third more likely than the first. Nothing says ‘California’ quite like ‘earthquake’.

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

💎 Reducing the over prescription of antibiotics (using social proof)

In 2014, the British government undertook a national experiment with the report card approach-sending letters to thousands of doctors in England who were prescribing the most antibiotics per capita in their regions. The letters, from high-profile British leaders, let those doctors know that they were prescribing more antibiotics than 80 percent of their local peers and suggested alternatives to writing a prescription in the heat of the moment, such as giving patients advice to care for themselves while sick. Researchers from the UK government’s Behavioural Insights Team found that these letters corresponded with a substantial decline in the rate of antibiotic prescription, with an estimated seventy thousand fewer antibiotics given to patients in a six-month period. The letters had cost very little, but they had saved significant sums of money spent on medicine by the national health care system and protected public health.

Excerpt from: The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age by Bina Venkataraman

💎 Origin of Lacoste (le crocodile)

René Lacoste, French tennis star, earned the nickname ‘le crocodile’ for winning a crocodile-skin suitcase in a bet. ‘A friend drew a crocodile’, he said, ‘and / had it embroidered on the blazer / wore on the courts!’ His polo shirts were launched in 1933 and are probably the first example of sportswear as fashion.

Excerpt from: The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher

💎 On the persistence of musical memory (even late stage Alzheimer’s patients)

The most striking examples of the persistence of musical memory come from observation of patients suffering from dementia. Late-stage Alzheimer’s patients who have difficulty recognizing family members and familiar objects can still recognize familiar songs. In some instances, these patients are able to sing despite having lost the ability to speak.”

The unique strength of musical memory has puzzled researchers for years, but one possible reason for the robustness of musically encoded memory is that music is encoded by several different regions of the brain. While auditory regions are primarily involved, so are parts responsible for imagery and emotion. Because musical memories are laid down in multiple brain regions, stimulating any one of these regions may spark their retrieval. It also may be the reason musical memory persists so long in dementia patients. If one brain region becomes damaged, the other, healthy regions can pick up the slack, theoretically providing “backups.”

Excerpt from: Blindsight: The (Mostly) Hidden Ways Marketing Reshapes Our Brains by Matt Johnson and Prince Ghuman

💎 The worrying amount of effort spent discussing how people should be (rather than dealing with how they are)

One of the greatest reasons why so few people understand themselves is that most writers are always teaching men what they should be, and hardly ever trouble their heads with telling them what they really are.

-BERNARD MANDEVILLE, Fable of the Bees!

Excerpt from: Radical Uncertainty: Decision-making for an unknowable future by Mervyn King and John Kay

💎 Pricing two items equally makes choosing harder (and could result in fewer sales)

Kim, Novemsky, and Dhar (2013) ran this gum experiment in South Korea. Participants were given W1,000 (about $1) and asked which gum they would like to buy. Participants could also choose to keep the money and not buy any gum. When both gums were priced at W630 only 46% of participants decided to buy one of both options, but when the price was slightly different (W620 vs. W640) this proportion increased to 77%.

Excerpt from: The Psychology of Price: How to use price to increase demand, profit and customer satisfaction by Leigh Caldwell

💎 It’s well proven that price affects quality perceptions (but its effect is weighted on a number of factors)

Völckner and Hofmann (2007) analyzed 71 studies from 23 publications spanning from 1989 to 2006. The researchers distilled following findings:

  • The impact of price on quality perception is significant but has decreased since reported in the late 1980s (Rao and Monroe 1989).
  • Price-quality inference is stronger for higher-priced products.
  • Price-quality inferences decrease with increasing familiarity with the product.
  • Price-quality inference is stronger for fast-moving consumer goods than for services or durable goods.
  • Price-quality inference is stronger in European countries than in North American countries.

Excerpt from: The Psychology of Price: How to use price to increase demand, profit and customer satisfaction by Leigh Caldwell

💎 We start guessing the end of sentence before finishing it (the order in which writers place their words matters)

According to Bergen, we start modelling words as we start reading them. We don’t wait until we get to the end of the sentence. This means the order in which writers place their words matters. This is perhaps why transitive construction – Jane gave a Kitten to her Dad – is more effective than the ditransitive – Jane gave her Dad a kitten. Picturing Jane, then the Kitten, then her Dad mimics the real-world action that we, as readers, should be modelling. It means we’re mentally experiencing the scene in the correct sequence. Because writers are, in effect, generating neural movies in the minds of their readers, they should privilege word order that’s filmic, imagining how their reader’s neural camera will alight upon each component of a sentence.

For the same reason, active sentence construction – Jane kissed her Dad – is more effective than passive – Dad was kissed by Jane. Witnessing this in real life, Jane’s initial movement would draw our attention and then we’d watch the kiss play out. We wouldn’t be dumbly staring at Dad, waiting for something to happen.

Excerpt from: The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr

💎 Initial randomness amplified by social proof makes predicting the popularity of things tricky (restaurants are a good example)

Imagine two restaurants of comparable quality. Along came the first customer, who has to choose between the two he flips a coin and picks restaurant A. Now imagine the next customer. Confronted with the same choice, she has the same information plus she sees the first customer sitting in the window of restaurant A. What does she do?

You can see where this is going.

But at this point, restaurant B still has hope-how much does the second customer trust the first customer’s choice? Well, is he attractive? Does he smoke? How’s he dressed? What’s his posture? The more the second person identifies with the first, the more she trusts his choice.

Once the second customer chooses restaurant A too, it starts to solidify a consensus. The third customer would have to buck a significant trend, voting against two people, in order to choose restaurant B.

Soon, you can imagine a line put the door of restaurant A, while restaurant B sits empty – despite the restaurants’ similar quality.

Excerpt from: Brain Candy: Science, Paradoxes, Puzzles, Logic, and Illogic to Nourish Your Neurons by Garth Sundem

💎 How Sears outdid their main competitor (by making their catalogue slightly smaller)

And it inspired competitors – notably Sears Roebuck, which soon became the market leader. (The story goes that the Sears Roebuck catalogue had slightly smaller pages than Montgomery Ward’s – with the intention that a tidy-minded housewife would naturally stack the two with the Sears catalogue on top.)

By the century’s end, mail-order companies were bringing in $30 million a year – a billion-dollar business in today’s terms; in the next twenty years, that figure grew almost twenty-fold. The popularity of mail order helped fuel demands to improve the postal service in the countryside – if you lived in a city, you’d get letters delivered to your door, but rural dwellers had to schlep to their nearest post office.

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

💎 If you’re creating funny ads for your brand best to run them in programmes that get watched in groups (it’ll make them even funnier)

The contagious effect of humour explains the results of a 1991 experiment conducted by University of Houston psychologists, Yong Zhang and George Zinkan.

They recruited 216 students to watch 30 minutes of music videos interspersed with soft drink commercials in groups of one, three and six. In order for the test to be as realistic as possible, the participants were told they were going to be questioned on their music preferences.

Their key finding was that ads tended to be rated as least funny when they were watched alone. In contrast, ads watched in groups of three and six were reported to be 21% and 10%, funnier than those watched alone.

The impact of groups might be due to social proof – this is the idea that people are influenced by others’ behaviour. If one person laughs, it encourages others to find the content funny.

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

💎 If/then tactics as a way to achieve goals (the bigger the goal, the better the results)

In hundreds of studies spanning all kinds of contexts from eating better to completing homework assignments to saving money to avoiding the impulse to react to people on the basis of their skin color-Gollwitzer and his colleagues have demonstrated the power of people taking the time to anticipate in advance the obstacles they might face when meeting future aspirations. For example, people who want to eat healthier might jot down all of the possible temptations they’ll face in a week to eat junk food, and then set up a plan to respond to each of those urges.

What’s surprising about Gollwitzer’s research on if/then techniques is that it reveals that the more difficult the long-term goal, the greater the power of the tactic. It works better, in other words, for the challenges that elude people’s sheer willpower.

Excerpt from: The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age by Bina Venkataraman

💎 How workplace competition can backfire (dangers of “stack ranking” systems)

One well-known example of a dysfunctional workplace competition was GE’s “Rank-and-Yank” system, where the bottom 10% of the organization’s employees were fired on a regular basis. Another was Microsoft’s “Stack Racking” system, where an employee’s expectations for promotion were based on how they were ranked among their peers. A personal friend of mine who worked at GE many years ago stated, “The Rank-and-Yank system there made sure that everyone hired people weaker than themselves so they were never in danger of being yanked. When we interviewed a brilliant candidate, we made sure they never got the job because it would put ourselves in jeopardy or potentially result in a smaller bonus.”

A Vanity Fair article by Kurt Eichenwald cites that “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed – everyone – cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft. Peter Cohan from Forbes stated that, “[Stack Ranking) directed [Microsoft employees] to prevent their peers from getting outstanding performance reviews and brag about their accomplishments to each member of the management committee that determined their relative ranking.”

As you can see, workplace competition can be extremely destructive to company morale, especially during weak and uncertain economic conditions where people are preoccupied with getting laid off.

Excerpt from: Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges and Leaderboards by Yu-kai Chou

💎 How a Dutch lottery ingeniously harnesses regret aversion by allocating a lottery number to every household (postcode lottery)

Imagine you’re a student. You’re offered a free lottery ticket with the chance to win a 15 euro book token. You’re shown the ticket, and you notice the number on it. Then you’re given the chance to swap that ticket for a different one. In return for swapping tickets, you’ll get a free gift – a pen embossed with your university’s name. Would you agree to exchange the tickets or not?

When students at Tilburg University in the Netherlands were given this choice only 56 per cent of them went for it, even though their chances of winning the book token were the same and so they might as well have had the free pen.”

Perhaps you’re thinking it was the lousy gift that explained their reaction. Couldn’t the researchers have tempted the students with a slightly more enticing freebie? Maybe, but that’s not the issue. The important detail here is that the students were shown the number on the original lottery ticket. This meant that having swapped their original ticket for another, if the number on the original was drawn out of the hat, they would know they’d made the wrong decision.

That said, if you live in the Netherlands, some lottery organisers are one step ahead. In a fiendish example of the exploitation of regret aversion, they’ve designed a lottery in which everyone’s unique postcode is automatically entered into the draw. Although you can only win if you’ve paid for a ticket, in any given week you can look up to see whether you’d have won, if only you had bothered to enter.

Excerpt from: Mind Over Money: The Psychology of Money and How To Use It Better by Claudia Hammond

💎 How ‘take control’ morphed into ‘take back control’ (the language of Brexit)

The slogan started as just two words: “Take control.” Cummings loved its simplicity but felt something was missing. So he played around with different variations.

Cummings was well versed in loss aversion and the statue quo bias. He knew that people prefer to stick with things they’re already doing rather than do something new. And while “Take control” was fine, it implicitly agreed to the premise that leaving the EU was action and staying was inaction. Which played right into his opponents’ hands.

If only he could flip things around … make it seem like leaving was the status quo…

So, in a stroke of insight, he changed the slogan. It wasn’t much: just an extra word in between “Take” and “control.” But it completely changed the reference point. He added the word “back.” As in “Take back control.”

“’Back,’” Cummings wrote in his blog, “plays into a strong evolved instinct—we hate losing things, especially control.” “Back” triggered loss aversion. It made it seem like something had been lost, and that leaving the EU was a way to regain that.

When the British Election Study surveyed voters,four times as many people preferred the “Let’s take back control” language.

Excerpt from: Catalyst by Jonah Berger

💎 Highly emotive imagery is recalled equally as well as neutral imagery in the immediate term (but far better in the longer term)

In a study I conducted with Yonelinas at Davis, we presented volunteers with highly arousing emotional photos (mostly unpleasant photos of mutilated bodies and acts of violence) as well as neutral photos (people reading in a bookstore or employees working in an office). We then tested the volunteers’ memory of half the photos immediately after presenting them; we tested their memories of the rest of the photos twenty-four hours later. At first, it seemed that the volunteers’ memories of the emotional and neutral photos were not different; they remembered them equally well. However, when they came back to the lab a day later, something had changed. Now their recollection of the emotional photos was better than that of the neutral photos. The volunteers’ memories were not always more accurate, but they reported they were more vivid.”

Except from: The Optimism Bias: Why we’re wired to look on the bright side by Tali Sharot

💎 Consumers are far more likely to splurge windfall money than expected (gamblers beware)

Payday is not the only moment when customers spend more. Any time consumers receive a windfall, like birthdays or bonuses, they will increase their spending. Three Ohio University psychologists, Hal Arkes, Cynthia Joyner and Mark Prezzo, ran an experiment in 1994 exploring this phenomenon. When they recruited students for the experiment half were told a week before that they would be paid $3, while the rest expected to be given course credits. However, when the participants arrived at the experiment they were all given the same $3-dollar incentive.

The participants were given the chance to gamble with their cash on a simple dice game. Those who had been given cash in the windfall condition gambled on average $2.16 while those who had been fully expecting the money only frittered away $1.

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

💎 Group polarisation and the danger of surrounding yourself with people who share similar opinions (How correct am I?)

But they won’t. Decades of research has proved that groups usually come to conclusions that are more extreme than the average view of the individuals who make up the group. When opponents of a hazardous waste site gather to talk about it, they will become convinced the site is more dangerous than they originally believed. When a woman who believes breast implants are a threat gets together with women who feel the same way, she and all the women in the meeting are likely to leave believing they had previously underestimated the danger. The dynamic is always the same. It doesn’t matter what the subject under discussion is. It doesn’t matter what the particular views are. When like-minded people get together and talk, their existing views tend to become more extreme.

In part, this strange human foible stems from our tendency to judge ourselves by comparison with others. When we get together in a group of like-minded people, what we share is an opinion that we all believe to be correct and so we compare ourselves with others in the group by asking ‘How correct am I?’ Inevitably, most people in the group will discover that they do not hold the most extreme opinion, which suggests they are less correct, less virtuous, than others. And so they become more extreme. Psychologists confirmed this theory when they put people in groups and had them state their views without providing reasons why – and polarization still followed.

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

💎 Uncertain rewards can often be more motivating than certain rewards (when caught up in the process)

Imagine that you are participating in an auction that involves chocolate coins as a reward. You can bid on a lot containing five coins or on a mystery lot that contains either three or five coins— you won’t know which until after your bid is accepted. Logically, the lot with five coins is worth more.

But it wasn’t. Researchers at the University of Chicago staged just this auction and found that the average bid for the guaranteed five coin lots was $1.25. The average bid for the mystery lot was $1.89. When asked, participants said the uncertain auction was more exciting. It didn’t increase the actual value of the reward. It just made the game more fun. Participants paid more to play and said they wanted to participate in the auction again. (The secret, though, was getting caught up in the process. When participants planned their bid in advance, they preferred the certain reward.)

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

💎 Misrepresenting reality (so as to better reflect reality)

Our perceptional apparatus makes mistakes-distortions—in order lead us to more precise actions: ocular deception, it turns out, is a necessary thing. Greek and Roman architects misrepresented the columns of their temples, by tilting them inward, in order to give us the impression that the columns are straight. As Vitruvius explains, the aim is to “counteract the visual reception by a change of proportions.” A distortion is meant to bring about an enhancement for your aesthetic experience. The floor of the Parthenon is curved in reality so we can see it as straight. The columns are in truth unevenly spaced, so we can see them lined up like a marching Russian division in a parade.

Should one go lodge a complaint with the Greek Ministry of tourism claiming that the columns are not vertical and that someone is taking advantage of our visual mechanisms?

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