The idea for Velcro, conceived by George de Mestral, occurred whilst out walking his dog. Burdock seeds were always getting caught in his dog’s fur as she ran through the fields. De Mestral, an engineer, inspected further, and found the seeds hooked onto the fur with a series of microscopic loops. And so Velcro was born. It would go on to be used extensively, from children’s trainers to boots for the moon landing. Good dog.
Just because something’s new doesn’t make it better. And just because you can do something, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should. We all know the advertising industry is obsessed with the word ‘new’, not just as a selling mechanism, but also a descriptor of its own corporate structures.
How many times have you read in advertising journals of the launch of a new agency with a new way of working? The advertising business is obsessed with the word ‘new’. Of course, ‘a new way of working’ with technology represents an embracing of evolving technologies and their opportunities, but sometimes in advertising we can behave like a child at Christmas who just keeps opening one present after another and never stops to play. It’s a case of: give me something new. New is good, old is bad. We talk about old technology as though it were bad and new as though it were virtuous. We need to have the wisdom to stand back and consider the gifts we’ve been given and how best to employ them.
Experiences are not remembered equally, our memories are encoded with the experiences (both positive and negative) at their peak ‘most intense’ point and their ending ‘concluding moment’.
Participants experienced both of the following conditions:
Hand submerged in 14°C ice water for 30 seconds.
Hand submerged in 14°C ice water for 30 seconds followed by an additional 30 seconds while the water heated up to 15°C.
When asked which trial they wished to repeat, subjects actually counter-intuitively opted for the second, longer condition.
That is, exactly the same amount of time in the colder water, only to end a little warmer.
Excerpt from: The Unseen Mind by Ogilvy Change
In 1972 the American meteorologist Edward Lorenz wrote a paper with an arresting title: “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” A decade earlier, Lorenz had discovered by accident that tiny data entry variations in computer simulations of weather patterns—like replacing 0.506127 with 0.506—could produce dramatically different longterm forecasts. It was an insight that would inspire “chaos theory”: in nonlinear systems like the atmosphere, even small changes in initial conditions can mushroom to enormous proportions. So, in principle, a lone butterfly in Brazil could flap its wings and set off a tornado in Texas even though swarms of other Brazilian butterflies could flap frantically their whole lives and never cause a noticeable gust a few miles away. Of course Lorenz didn’t mean that the butterfly “causes” the tornado in the same sense that I cause a wineglass to break when I hit it with a hammer.
Excerpt from: Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction
In 1985, at the dawn of the computer age, the psychologist Susan Belmore conducted a simple experiment on twenty undergraduates at the University of Kentucky. The students were exposed to eight different short texts and then asked to answer a series of questions about what they’d just read. Four of the passages appeared on paper (a sheet of white bond, single-spaced, forty-seven characters per line) and four appeared on the monitor of an Apple II Plus 48k computer. Belmore was curious if reading the text on a screen might influence both the speed of reading and levels of comprehension.
The results were depressing, at least if you were an early adopter of computer technology. “These data indicate that reading texts on a computer display is not equivalent to reading the same texts on paper,” Belmore wrote. “Overall, college students took 12 percent longer to read and comprehended 47 percent less with computer-presented text.”
Max Planck, the theoretical physicist who helped lay the groundwork for quantum theory, said: “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its 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.”
Researchers have gone to a great deal of trouble to test the efficacy of group brainstorming. In a typical experiment, participants arrive in a group. Half of them are randomly chosen to be in the ‘work as a group’ condition and are placed in one room. They are given standard brainstorming rules and have to come up with ideas to help solve a specific problem (perhaps design a new ad campaign, or find ways of easing traffic congestion). The other half of the participants are asked to sit alone in separate rooms, are given exactly the same instructions and tasks and asked to generate ideas on their own. Researchers then tally the quantity of ideas produced under the different conditions, and then experts rate their quality. So do such studies show that group brainstorming is more effective than individuals working alone? Many scientists are far from convinced. Brian Mullen from the University of Kent at Canterbury and his colleagues analysed the efficacy of group brainstorming in this way, and were amazed to discover i the vast majority of experiments, the participants working on their own produced a higher quantity and quality of ideas than those working in groups.
As John Ward of England’s B&B Dorland noted, “Advertising is a craft executed by people who aspire to be artists, but is assessed by those who aspire to be scientists. I cannot imagine any human relationship more perfectly designed to produce total mayhem.”
An elaborate multivariate analysis showed:
The results provide firm support for the major hypothesis that verbal humor leads to greater compliance. Subjects who received a demand accompanied by humor made greater financial concessions than no-humor subjects… Humor was equally effective as an influence technique when used by both sexes, and when directed toward both sexes. Our compliance data provided no evidence that joking was more appropriate for males.
Contrary to popular belief, there isn’t a magic number of repetitions that result in a habit forming. Some say that you need to repeat an action fifty times or for twenty-one days, but very few researchers have actually looked at this question systematically. And those that have done tend to find that there isn’t a clear-cut answer to the question. In one of the few studies to have tracked the formation of healthy habits in real-world settings, researchers studied ninety-six students who had just moved to university and were encouraged to repeat behaviours in response to consistent cues (such as ‘going for a walk after breakfast’). They found that habits formed in some of the students after eighteen days, but for some it took much longer – up to 254 days. The average was sixty-six days.
Ideas that are allocated no attention at all – those that are never exposed to anyone – make no impact on the world, by logical extension, since no one sees them. The 50 per cent of YouTube videos with less than 500 views don’t individually make much impact on culture. So attention is a powerful thing – but what kind of thing is it?
Fortunately, most human behavior is learned observationally through modeling: from observing others one forms an idea of how new behaviors are performed, and on later occasions this coded information serves as a guide for action.