Evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers wanted to persuade a potential mate or ally of their good intentions would be better at it if they could deceive themselves without ‘leakage’ of knowledge or intent; and the most efficient way to simulate truth-telling would be to erase internal awareness of the deception. The best liars would be those who were better at lying to themselves because they would actually believe their own deceptions when they made them. They would be more likely to survive and pass on their genes; hence our gift for self-deception.
Auditors provide a good example of this bias. One hundred thirty-nine professional auditors were given five different auditing cases to examine. The cases concerned a variety of controversial aspects of accounting. For instance, one covered the recognition of intangibles, one covered revenue recognition, and one concerned capitalization versus expensing of expenditures. The auditors were told the cases were independent of each other.
The auditors were randomly assigned to either work for the company or work for an outside investor who was considering investing in the company in question. The auditors who were told they were working for the company were 31 percent more likely to accept the various dubious accounting moves than those who were told they worked for the outside investor. So much for an impartial outsider—and this was in the post-Enron age!
Obesity is contagious. If your best friends get fat, your risk of gaining weight goes up.
Broadcasters mimic one another, producing otherwise inexplicable fads in programming. (Think reality television, American Idol and its siblings, game shows that come and go, the rise and fall and rise of science fiction, and so forth.)
The academic effort of college students is influenced by their peers, so much so that the random assignments of first-year students to dormitories or roommates can have big consequences for their grades and hence on their future prospects. (Maybe parents should worry less about which college their kids go to and more about which roommate they get.)
In the American judicial system, federal judges on three-judge panels are affected by the votes of their colleagues. The typical Republican appointee shows pretty liberal voting patterns when sitting with two Democratic appointees, and the typical Democratic appointee shows pretty conservative voting patterns when sitting with two Republican appointees. Both sets of appointees show far more moderate voting patterns when they are sitting with at least one judge appointed by a president of the opposing political party.
Bosses, who were men, didn’t care. Womens labour was cheap, so much so that Graham supplemented her meagre income by painting Christmas decorations for the banks windows. The exercise reminded her of something she’d once learned: artists painted over their mistakes rather than erasing them.
And that’s what led Graham to her eureka moment. She realized she could paint over typing errors rather than erase them. She mixed white tempera paint in her kitchen blender and put it in a little bottle. Whenever she made a typo, she blotted it out with a brush, waited a few seconds for it to dry, and typed over it. Marketed as Liquid Paper, the invention became one of the bestselling office supplies of the late analogue age. In 1979 Graham sold her company to Gillette for $47.5 million.
Excerpt from: Head in the Cloud by William Poundstone
They started by collating the information about what GP practices across England were doing, and used this to identify practices whose prescription rate for antibiotics was in the top 20 per cent for their local area. Half of this group of over-prescribers were then sent a letter, signed by the Chief Medical Officer, with feedback about their prescription habits, together with three specific things they could immediately do to reduce the number of prescriptions they gave out. For example, doctors can give patients delayed prescriptions, which enable them to get their medication in the future, so long as their symptoms persist. Alongside these tips, the doctors were told how their performance compared with others. They were informed that ‘the great majority (80 per cent) of practices in [your local area] prescribe fewer antibiotics per head than yours’. When Michael and his team compared the subsequent behaviour of those doctors who received the feedback letters to that of those who got no such letter, they were surprised by the impact. Over a six-month period, GP practices receiving the feedback letters prescribed an estimated 73,400 fewer antibiotic items than those that didn’t.
With sports affiliations, random birthplace suffices, and in business it is where you work. To test this, the British psychologist Henri Tajfel split strangers into groups, tossing a coin to choose who went to which group. He told the members of one group it was because they all liked a particular type of art. The results were impressive: although A) they were strangers, B) they were allocated a group at random and C) they were far from art connoisseurs, the group members found each other more agreeable than members of other groups.
Excerpt from: The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli
When Spotify looked at its music-streaming data, it found that teens listen to contemporary and popular music almost exclusively. As listeners age, their tastes expand. They spend more time listening to obscure bands and album tracks that were not hits. As the years go by, some take up jazz or world music or classical. But somewhere around age thirty-three, most stop listening to contemporary hits at all. The phenomenon even has a name—taste freeze. Men are more susceptible to it than women. Another fun fact: become a parent, and your “music relevance” takes a hit equivalent to ageing four years.
Excerpt from: Head in the Cloud by William Poundstone
A quick digression on expectations (we’ll return – almost as a recurring theme — to the importance of teaching and teachers later). In 1968 Robert Rosenthal conducted an experiment in America where teachers were told that randomly selected pupils had actually performed in the top 20 per cent of a test that identified ‘potential’. This was, of course, untrue. But here’s the thing: when those pupils’ IQs were tested at the end of the year, they had increased relative to everybody else. Expectations improved performance.
In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a longterm perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the Internet, not e-commerce. It is an unprecedented change in the human condition. For the first time -literally – substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices. For the first time, they will have to manage themselves. And society is totally unprepared for it.
Excerpt from: Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker
Philip Tetlock has done one of the most comprehensive studies of forecasters, their accuracy, and their excuses. When studying experts’ views on a wide range of world political events over a decade, he found that, across the vast array of predictions, experts who reported they had 80 percent or more confidence in their predictions were actually correct only around 45 percent of the time. Across all predictors, the experts were little better than coin tossers.
Advertising agencies and marketing departments alike need to break their bad habit of placing too much emphasis on proxy measurements. Just because it’s possible to measure something, it doesn’t mean that something has value and is worth measuring.
Today there’s far too much emphasis on soft measures such as ‘number of views’, ‘likes’, ‘shares’, ‘engagement’ or even (dare we say it) creative awards. One problem is that development of advertising is often skewed towards improving these short-term measures in order to show some measurable progress. However, this is often at odds with what is best for the business long-term.
Another problem is that placing emphasis on these kinds of measures breeds distrust from other parts of the client business towards marketing and advertising, because they don’t represent real proof of any commercial progress. They are false proxies that really only serve to massage the egos of those involved, not actual measurements of success or growth that the rest of the business can identify with or actually use.
(It’s not insignificant that the word ‘person’ derives from the Latin word for a mask worn by an actor.) In Goffman’s view, we’re all actors who have half-forgotten that we’re acting. Most of the time we play a double game, aware that others are performing for us and yet believing in the performance at the same time.
Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.
The future we have come to inhabit is Huxley’s. The question is not whether or not curation is needed. It’s how we build a system that financially accommodates the new diversity of activity.
When I recently talked to Paul Smith here about advertising in the late 1970s, he remarked that the great virtue of the time was that no one demanded the same tedious logic be applied to every message. Hofmeister had a bear on the logo – that was enough. Hovis wasn’t even northern – but let’s pretend it is…. Hamlet had a message which was surely generic to all tobacco – indeed which was truer of cigarettes than cigars (cigars are rarely consumed at moments of stress).
And so on….
Freed from the wearisome burden of self-imposed rationality, and by the tyranny of consistency, there’s no limit to what we might do.
Excerpt from: Rory Sutherland: The Wiki Man by Rory Sutherland
In fact I eccentrically believe data analysis and really good statistical modelling can be immensely creative – because, just like a good creative team, well-worked data can reveal wonderfully unexpected, unasked for truths. In Freakonomics the guns vs swimming pools insight is arrived at numerically, but it is no less an astoundingly original thought for being uncovered by computers. Never forget this, folks: turbo-charged logic is a valid form of creativity.
Excerpt from: Rory Sutherland: The Wiki Man by Rory Sutherland
In another experiment, evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller quantified how sexually attractive a woman is to a man by recording the earnings of lap dancers in a strip club. And he tracked how this changed over their monthly menstruation cycle. As it turned out, men gave twice as much in tips when the dancer was ovulating (fertile) as when she was menstruating (not fertile). But the strange part is that the men weren’t consciously aware of the biological changes that attend the monthly cycle – that when she is ovulating, a surge of the hormone estrogen changes her appearance subtly, making her features more symmetrical, her skin softer, and her waist narrower. But they detected these fertility cues nonetheless.
Richard Feynman: “You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you’re finished, you’ll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird…So let’s look at the bird and see what it’s doing—that’s what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.”
We will acknowledge that it is the availability of substitutes – the legitimate alternatives to the offering of our firm – that allows the client to ask, and compels us to give, our thinking away for free. If we are not seen as more expert than out competition then we will be viewed as one in a sea of many, and we will have little power in our relationships with clients and prospects.
Exceprt from: The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns
The best swordsman in the world doesn’t need to fear the second-best swordsman in the world; no, the person for him to be afraid of is some ignorant antagonist who has never had a sword in his hand before; he doesn’t do the sane thing he ought to do, and so the expert isn’t prepared for him.
But by using familiar form, TiVo mad people more comfortable adopting radical innovation, By hiding the technology in something that looked visually familiar, TiVo used similarity to make difference feel more palatable.
Many digital actions today visually evoke their analog ancestors. We click on the icon of a floppy disk to save documents and drag digital files to be thrown away in what looks like a waste bin. Visual similarity also shows up offline. High-end care often use fake wood grain on the dashboard and veggie burgers often have grill marks. All make the different seem more similar.
The opposite also holds. Design can be used to make incremental innovations feel more novel. When Apple introduced the iMac in 1998, it featured only minor technological improvements. But from a visual standpoint it was radically different. Rather than the same old black or grey box, the iMac was shaped like a gum drop and came in colors like tangerine or strawberry. The device was hugely successful, and design, rather than technology, created the needed sense of difference that encouraged people to purchase.
But does the lack of variety carry disadvantages, too? This is something that a group of researchers decided to test. They therefore set groups of frat-house members a test in the form of a murder mystery puzzle. First off, each student had to spend twenty minutes alone with a dossier of evidence. Then they were joined by two other member of their fraternity group for a twenty-minute discussion. Five minutes into their chat either a further member of their fraternity group would be brought in to help them or someone previously unknown to them.
The results were unequivocal. Those groups composed entirely of people from the same frat house found the experience far more enjoyable than those who had been joined by an outsider. They were also more confident and much more happier about the conclusion they finally came to. There was just one snag. Whereas the groups with the interloper got the answer correct 60 per cent of the time, for the homogeneous groups the figure was just 29 per cent – they were half as successful
And this shows one of the challenges of group diversity. It doesn’t always feel easy. It seems so much more straightforward for us to have team members around who adhere to whatever it happens to be the we think constitutes the ‘norm’. Yet this is dangerous. The fact is that it’s the inclusion of a different perspective that will militate against the lazy groupthink we’re so often guilty of.
In her study ‘Brilliant but Cruel’, Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School, asked people to evaluate the intelligence of book reviewers using reviews taken from the New York Times. Professor Amabile changed the reviews slightly, creating two different versions: one positive and one negative. She made only small changes in terms of the actual words, for example changing ‘inspired’ to ‘uninspired’ and ‘capable’ to ‘incapable’.
A positive review might read, ‘In 128 inspired pages, Alvin Harter, with his first work of fiction, shows himself to be an extremely capable young American author. A Longer Dawn is a novella – a prose poem, if you will – of tremendous impact. It deals with elemental things – life, love and death, and does so with such great intensity that it achieves new heights of superior writing on every page.’
While a negative review might read, ‘In 128 inspired pages, Alvin Harter, with his first work of fiction, shows himself to be an extremely incapable young American author. A Longer Dawn is a novella – a prose poem, if you will – of negligible impact. It deals with elemental things – life, love and death, and does so with such little intensity that it achieves new depths of inferior writing on every page.’
Half the people in the study read the first review, the other half read the second, and both rated the intelligence and expertise of the reviewer. Even though the reviews were almost identical – the only difference being whether they were positive or negative – people considered the reviewers with negative versions 14 per cent more intelligent and as having 16 per cent more expertise in literature. Professor Amabile writes the ‘prophets of doom and gloom appear wise and insightful’. Anyone can say something nice – but it tales an expert to critique it.
The concept of sushi was introduced into the United States during the late 1960s, a period of whirlwind change in tastes — entertainment, music, fashion and food. At first, the idea of sushi did not bite. Keep in mind that the average family at the time was sitting down to a dinner of cuts of meats with sides of mashed potatoes swimming in gravy. The thought of eating raw fish was bewildering, even dangerous, in the minds of most restaurant goers. And then a chef by the name of Ichiro Mashita, who ran Tokyo Kaikan, a small sushi bar in downtown Los Angeles, had a clever idea. He asked, ‘What would happen if the strange ingredients were combined with familiar ingredients such as cucumber, crabmeat and avocado? Mashita also realized that Americans preferred seeing the rice on the outside and seaweed paper in the interior. In other word, the roll would feel more familiar if it was made ‘inside-out’.
Demand exploded. The Californian Roll was a gateway for many people to discover Japanese cuisine. Americans now consume $2.25-billion-worth of sushi annually. As Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked, writes, ‘The lesson of the California Roll is simple – people don’t want something truly new, they want the familiar done differently.’
The ethnographer Tricia Wang even suggested in her 2016 TEDxCambridge talk that quantifications bias created by big data led to the near death of Nokia as a handset manufacturer. All their data suggested that people would only spend a certain proportion of their salary on a phone handset, so the market for smartphones in the developing world would be correspondingly small. Wang noticed that, once people saw a smartphone, their readiness to spend on a handset soared. Her findings were ignored as she had ‘too few data points’. However, in reality, all valuable information starts with very little data — the lookout on the Titanic only had one data point… ‘Iceberg ahead’, but they were more important than any huge survey on iceberg frequency.
We were designing stamps showcasing British fashion, but were struggling.
If we featured the clothes on well-known people, that would draw attention away from the garments. If we use models, that would be distracting too. Yet showcasing the clothes on hangers seemed lifeless.
The answer? To photograph the outfits on live models, whose faces were digitally removed. We had made the clothes come alive, saved on the make-up bills – and created something unique.
For example, people knew that Alka-Seltzer was taken for an upset stomach, but market research showed that nobody knew how many they should be taking — so most people just took one. But when viewers saw the infamous “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is” ads, purchases of Alka-Seltzer nearly doubled overnight. The tagline that sold the product became indivisible from the products function because it told consumer something they did not know.
There is either too much to worry about or not enough to worry about. They are equally bad.
It is a fair accompli.
There is nothing for him to do. It’s not his work, it’s your work. He doesn’t feel involved.
If he doesn’t like the face of the girl in your rendering, or the style of the trousers worn by the man on the right, or your choice of the car he’s driving, he will reject it.
He won’t see the big idea. He will look at the girl’s face and thing, ‘I don’t like her, this doesn’t feel right.’
It is very difficult for him to imagine anything else if what you show him has such detail.
Show the client a scribble.
Explain it to him, talk him through it, let him use his imagination.
Get him involved.
Because you haven’t shown the exact way it’s going to be, there’s scope to intercept it and develop and change as you progress.
Work with him rather than confronting him with your idea.
Instead of a gradual, evolving progression, Kuhn describes a bumpy, messy process in which initial problems with a scientific theory are either ignored or rationalized away. Eventually so many issues pile up that the scientific discipline in question is thrown into a crisis mode, and the paradigm shifts to a new explanation, entering a new stable era.
Essentially, the old guard holds on to the old theories way too long, even in the face of an obvious-in-hindsight alternative. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Max Planck explained it like this in his Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing it opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it,” or, more succinctly, “Science progresses one funeral at a time”.
Next, it’s argued that Millennials represent the future. What they do now, everyone will be doing one day. This is probably the weakest argument of all. Our job is to sell to society as it is now. Not as it will be in 10 years’ time. Young people change behaviour as they grow older, so they’re not always a reliable guide to the future. We need to distinguish ‘life-status effect’ from ‘cohort effect’. Just because young people watch less TV than average, TV viewing is not necessarily bound to decline in the future. Young people have always watched less TV than older viewers because they go out more.
We suspect that advertising’s obsession with youth is partly due to lack of perspective. We all tend to assume the average person is someone like us. And people who work in advertising are mostly young. Now there’s less TGI analysis and fewer focus groups going on, young planners are often disbelieving of how old the people buying their brands actually are (TGI reveals, for example, that the average new car buyer in the UK is 56).
So the local community has formed a group called EXIT, to help educate and de-radicalise young people, to encourage them to leave the group and help them find better lives.
But EXIT needs funding.
So the townspeople have decided, since they can’t stop the neo-Nazis marching, to use the march for their own ends.
Instead of resisting the march they are now encouraging the march.
Because they are using the march to raise money.
For every metre the neo-Nazis march, local businesses are donating ten euros to EXIT.
So the neo-Nazis will now be marching to fund EXIT.
The further they march, the more money EXIT gets.
If the neo-Nazis don’t like it they can stop marching.
Whichever way they decide, it’s a result for the local community.
Whether the neo-Nazis march or not, the little village wins.
The inhabitants now treat the march as something to enjoy and have fun with.
Every 100 metres there are signs stencilled on the ground, thanking the marchers for the money they’re raising:
YOU HAVE RAISED 1,000 EUROS FOR EXIT.
YOU HAVE RAISED 2,000 EUROS FOR EXIT.
YOU HAVE RAISED 3,000 EUROS FOR EXIT.
And so on.
By the time the neo-Nazis reach the cemetery they’ve marched a kilometre, which means they’ve raised 10,000 euros for EXIT.
So there is a huge rainbow sign thanking them, and the locals throw rainbow confetti over them.