Say it strange
Why did Apple say ‘Think different’ and not ‘Think differently’? Why did they follow this with ‘The funniest iPod ever’ rather than something like ‘The most enjoyable iPod we’ve ever made’? Why does Aleksandr the meerkat – spokes animal for price-comparison website comparethemarket.com – say ‘Simples’ and not ‘Simple’? Why did 7UP promote itself as ‘The Uncola’? Why did Budweiser decide ‘Whasssup”’ was the perfect way to build their brand? We’ll tell you why: they’re all examples of a linguistic quirk used to create a mighty meme. By twisting language just, a little they achieved maximum memorability. It’s a powerful technique but be warned, it’s easy to get wrong.
Prospective borrowers must complete a lengthy online application to be considered for a loan. Many of them begin the application but don’t finish it. Kiva enlisted the Common Cents Lab, a behavioral research laboratory, to come up with a solution.
Their suggestion: Impose an ending. Give people a specific deadline a few weeks away for completing the application. On one level, this idea seems idiotic. A deadline surely means that some people won’t finish the application in time and therefore will be disqualified for the loan. But Kiva found that when it sent applicants a reminder message with a deadline, compared with a reminder message without a deadline, 24 percent more borrowers completed the application.” Likewise, in other studies, people given a hard deadline—-a date and time—are more likely to sign up to be organ donors than those for whom the choice is open-ended.
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.
But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy.
How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels? We make tools for these kinds of people.
While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
My colleague Phil Tetlock finds that forecasting skill is less a matter of what we know than of how we think. When he and his collaborators studied a host of factors that predict excellence in forecasting, grit and ambition didn’t rise to the top. Neither did intelligence, which came in second. There was another factor that had roughly triple the predictive power of brainpower.
The single most important driver of forecasters’ success was how often they updated their beliefs. The best forecasters went through more rethinking cycles. They had the confident humility to doubt their judgments and the curiosity to discover new information that led them to revise their predictions.
Using data on more than 1m babies born in Washington state between 1996 and 2009, and records of thousands of crimes committed there between 1992 and 2015, the authors find that when women become pregnant, they are much less likely to be arrested, for a wide range of crimes. The effective most marked for “economic” crimes, such as theft and burglary, but is also true of assaults, vandalism, and alcohol and drug offences. Arrest rates fall by 50%, almost as soon as women become pregnant and fall much further as the pregnancy goes on. Although they bounce back somewhat after childbirth, arrest rates stabilize at about half pre pregnancy levels.
More surprisingly, the same pattern holds for fathers. Men are much likelier than women to commit crimes of all sorts in the first place, and the decline in some types of crime is less dramatic for dads than for mums. But arrest rates drop by around 15% once their partners become pregnant, and stay around this mark even after birth. In a blog post commenting on the paper, Alexander Tabarrok of George Mason University described the effect as “astoundingly large”. A study by Mr. Tabarrok published in 2007 concluded that the threat of an additional 20 years of prison made criminals 17% less likely to reoffend; the prospect of fatherhood, it seems, is more salutary than that of two decades of incarceration.
In one study, researchers Alan Gray, Brian Parkinson, and Robin Dunbar had pairs of strangers sit together for five minutes and watch a movie clip. Half watched a blooper reel from a popular TV comedy—one that had been pretested to get lots of laughs. The rest watched an emotionally neutral clip—think a nature channel documentary, or the lesser-known “Fifty Shades of Grayscale.”
When researchers asked participants to write a message to the person they had just met, the pairs who had watched the blooper clip disclosed significantly more personal information. And when a panel of observers watched these pairs converse, they rated their reactions between the blooper clip pairs as 30 percent more intimate than the ones between the pairs who had watched the neutral clip.
I suppose if I had to pick a favorite rule, I would paraphrase a man with a particular genius for scattering the alphabet on the page, W Somerset Maugham: there are three rules for copywriting. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
Likewise, Roddy Doyle’s quip about keeping your thesaurus in a shed or behind the fridge – ‘somewhere that demands travel or effort’ – is a handsome piece of copywriting advice. Doyle’s belief that the word you think of first is most often the best is reinforced by the kind of anxious copy that reads as if every word has been ground through the synonym sausage machine.
researchers at the Kellogg School of Business. The researchers found that published flight times had increased over 8 percent in the past twenty years. But this increase was due not to changes in the time it actually takes to get from point A to point B. Rather, they found that this extra time was “strategic padding.” Airlines intentionally reported flight times as being longer than expected so that they could positively surprise customers in flight when they announced the early arrival time (which was-actually the: real estimated arrival time all along). On-time or ahead-of-schedule flight arrivals result in happy customers. And our idea about what is on time or ahead of schedule has everything to do with the expectations that are set.
With all due respect to the lessons of experience, I prefer the rigor of evidence. When a trio of psychologists conducted a comprehensive review of thirty-three studies, they found that in every one, the majority of answer revisions were from wrong to right. This phenomenon is known as the first-instinct fallacy.
In one demonstration, psychologists counted eraser marks on the exams of more than 1,500 students in Illinois. Only a quarter of the changes were from right to wrong, while half were from wrong to right. I’ve seen it in my own classroom year after year: my students’ final exams have surprisingly few eraser marks, but those who do rethink their first answers rather than staying anchored to them end up improving their scores.
In another life-and-death situation, in 1989 Bengal tigers killed about 60 villagers from India’s Ganges delta. No weapons seemed to work against them, including lacing dummies with live wires to shock the tigers away from human populations.
Then a student at the Science Club of Calcutta noticed that tigers only attacked when they thought they were unseen, and recalled that the patterns decorating some species of butterflies, beetles, and caterpillars look like big eyes, ostensibly to trick predators into thinking their prey was also watching them. The result: a human face mask, worn on the back of head. Remarkably, no one wearing a mask was attacked by a tiger for the next three years; anyone killed by tigers during that time had either refused to wear the mask, or had taken it off while working. — sidebar: Occam’s Razor in the Medical field
This finding was illustrated in a Pew Research poll, showing that viewers of humorous news show like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report remembered more about current events than people who consumed information from newspapers, cable news, or network news. And in one study, researchers found that people who watched a humorous film clip before taking a brief short-term memory test recalled more than twice as much information as people who took the same test after simply sitting doing nothing for the same duration.
Next Diemand-Yauman wanted to see if the same effect would true in a more realistic setting. He took the study to a high school Ohio in the United States) and tested 220 students. He screened classes for those where the same teacher had been teaching at least two classes of the same subject and difficulty level and with the same learning material. The experimenters took all the worksheets and PowerPoint slides and changed the font. (The experimenters did not meet the teachers or the students or visit the class.)
Classes were randomly assigned to either a disfluent or a control category. The disfluent classes used material that was switched to one of these fonts:
Comic Sans Italic
In the control classes, no changes were made to the fonts. Teachers and students didn’t know the hypothesis that was being studied. They didn’t know whether they were in a fluent or disfluent group. The Material was taught the same way it normally was taught. No other changes were made in the classrooms or the instruction. Students in the disfluent condition scored significantly higher on their regular classroom tests. On a survey asking if they liked their course or course material, there were no differences in these preference ratings. There was no difference among the different disfluent fonts.
The average negotiators went in armed for battle, hardly picking note of any anticipated areas of agreement. The experts, in contrast, mapped out a series of dance steps they might be able to take with the other side, devoting more than a third of their planning comments to finding common ground.
As the negotiators started discussing options and making proposals, a second difference emerged. Most people think of arguments as being like pair of scales: the more reasons we can pile up on our side, the more swill tip the balance in our favor. Yet the experts did the exact opposite: They actually presented fewer reasons to support their case. They didn’t want to water down their best points. As Rackham put it, “A weak argument generally dilutes a strong one.”
The more reasons we put on the table, the easier it is for people to discard the shakiest one. Once they reject one of our justifications, they can easily dismiss our entire case. That happened regularly to the average negotiators: they brought too many different weapons to battle.
In 1963, the UC Santa Barbara ecologist and economist Garrett Hardin’ Proposed his First Law of Ecology: “You can never merely do one thing.” We operate in a world of multiple, overlapping connections, like a web, with many significant, yet obscure and unpredictable, relationships. He developed Second-order thinking into a tool, showing that if you don’t consider “the effects of the effects,” you can’t really claim to be doing any thinking at all.
When it comes to the overuse of antibiotics in meat, the first-order consequence is that the animals gain more weight per pound of food consumed, and thus there is profit for the farmer. Animals are sold by weight, so the less food you have to use to bulk them up, the more money you will make when you go to sell them.
The second-order effects, however, have many serious, negative consequences. The bacteria that survive this continued antibiotic exposure are antibiotic resistant. That means that the agricultural industry, when using these antibiotics as bulking agents, is allowing mass numbers of drug-resistant
isolation is powerful but misleading. For a start, while humans have accumulated a vast store of collective knowledge, each of us alone knows surprisingly little, certainly less than we imagine. In 2002, the psychologists Frank Keil and Leonid Rozenblit asked people to rate their own understanding of how zips work. The respondents answered confidently — after all, they used zips all the time. But when asked to explain how a zip works, they failed dismally. Similar results were found when people were asked to describe climate change and the economy. We know a lot less than we think we do about the world around us. Cognitive scientists call this ‘the illusion of explanatory depth’, or just ‘the knowledge illusion’.
As you start talking, what impression of yourself do You want to convey? The sociologist Erving Goffman called this desired impression your face: the public image a person wants to establish in a social interaction.
We put effort into establishing the appropriate face for each encounter. The face you want to show a potential boss will be different to the face you want to show someone on a date. Goffman called this effort facework. With people we trust and know well, we don’t worry so much about face. With those we don’t know— especially if those people have some power over us — we put in the facework. When we put in the facework and we still don’t achieve the face we want, it feels bad. If you want to be seen as authoritative and someone treats you with minimal respect, you feel embarrassed and even humiliated.
Skillful disagreers don’t just think about their own face; they’re highly attuned to the other’ face. One of the most powerful social skills is the ability to give face: to confirm the public image that the other person wishes to project. You don’t need to be selfless to think this is important. In any conversation, when the other person feels their desired face is being accepted and confirmed, they’re going to be a lot easier to deal with, and more likely to listen to what you have to say.
Self-praise is no commendation. (If I say I am the best copywriter in Britain, you wouldn’t listen, if Dan Wieden said so, you might be fooled into believing it.) Also, raw statistics are more convincing than polished opinions. (A car that does 68 MPG sells better than one that’s “outstandingly economical”.) Beware of adjectives. They don’t always do what you think. (You’re all concerned about kitchen cleanliness but would you fancy a snack bar called “The Hygienic Café”?)
Excerpt from: D&Ad Copy Book by D&AD
In a famous speech in the 1990s, Charlie Munger summed up this approach to practical wisdom: “Well, the first rule is that you can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang ‘em back. If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form. You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience both vicarious and direct on this latticework of models. You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head.”
The core of Bayesian thinking (or Bayesian updating, as it can be called) is this: given that we have limited but useful information about the world, and are constantly encountering new information, we should probably take into account what we already know when we learn something new. As much of it as possible. Bayesian thinking allows us to use all relevant prior information in making decisions. Statisticians might call it a base rate, taking in outside information about past situations like the one you’re in.
Consider the headline “Violent Stabbings on the Rise.” Without Bayesian thinking, you might become genuinely afraid because your chances of being a victim of assault or murder is higher than it was a few months ago. But a Bayesian approach will have you putting this information into the context of what you already know about violent crime. You know that violent crime has been declining to its lowest rates in decades. Your city is safer now than it has been since this measurement started. Let’s say your chance of being a victim of a stabbing last year was one in 10,000, or 0.01%. The article states, with accuracy, that violent crime has doubled. It is now two in 10,000, or 0.02%. Is that worth being terribly worried about? The prior information here is key. When we factor it in, we realize that our safety has not really been compromised.
So, gather your facts and get under the skin of your target. Talk to them in their language, not the Queen’s. What else? Be brief. I believe it was Pascal who added an apology to the bottom of a long letter, explaining that he hadn’t had time to write a short one. Why take twenty words to say what you could say in five? Why decide on a long copy ad when a poster-in-the-press will do? For most people, and particularly women who work outside as well as inside the home, money isn’t the most precious commodity these days; time is. We copywriters would do well to respect that.
Excerpt from: D&Ad Copy Book by D&AD
Accept that many things in the middle of your presentation may be lost. If the middle is more than 20 minutes long, break it up with activities and exercises. By doing this you are essentially creating several small presentations within your presentation. That means each of these small presentations also has a beginning, middle, and end. Since people tend to remember beginnings and endings,
Try breaking up a presentation into several small “presentations” means that people will have a lot more beginnings and endings than middies—they will remember more information.
The first flaw is perspective. We have a hard time seeing any system that we are in. Galileo’ had a great analogy to describe the limits of our default perspective. Imagine you are on a ship that has reached constant velocity (meaning without a change in speed or direction). You are below decks and there are no portholes. You drop a ball from your raised hand to the floor. To you, it looks as if the ball is dropping straight down, thereby confirming gravity is at work.
Now imagine you are a fish (with special x-ray vision) and you are watching this ship go past. You see the scientist inside, dropping a ball. You register the vertical change in the position of the ball. But you are also able to see a horizontal change. As the ball was pulled down by gravity it also shifted its position east by about 20 feet. The ship moved through the water and therefore so did the ball. The scientist on board, with no external point of reference, was not able to perceive this horizontal shift.
This analogy shows us the limits of our perception. We must be open to other perspectives if we truly want to understand the results of our actions. Despite feeling that we’ve got all the information, if we’re on the ship, the fish in the ocean has more he can share.
At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller, that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history. Heller responds, “Yes, but I have something he will never have … enough.”
Enough. I was stunned by the simple eloquence of that word—stunned for two reasons: first, because I have been given so much in my own life and, second, because Joseph Heller couldn’t have been more accurate.
For a critical element of our society, including many of the wealthiest and most powerful among us, there seems to be no limit today on what enough entails.For a critical element of our society, including many of the wealthiest and most powerful among us, there seems to be no limit today on what enough entails.
A team of psychologists at University College London invited subjects into the lab in pairs. The first person was hooked up to a little squeezing machine, which applied a very small force on her finger. She was then instructed to press down on the other person’s finger using exactly the same amount of force. Crucially, the other person had no idea about this part of the instruction.
‘The second person was then instructed to push back on the first person’s finger, using exactly the same amount of force as they felt. The two individuals traded finger pushes, while the scientists measured the precise force they used. In every pair of pushers tested, the use of force escalated quickly, until the two people were pushing down on each other’s finger with about twenty times the original force.
It’s an experiment that offers an ominous glimpse into the dynamics of human escalation. Each participant thought they were behaving proportionately to the other, and while nobody was deliberately raising the stakes, somehow the pressure rose anyway.
You can stimulate group identity just by the way you have people talk about themselves or the way you phrase a question. For example, Gregory Walton’s research shows that if people say “I am a chocolate eater” versus “I eat chocolate a lot,” it affects the strength of their preference for chocolate. “Eater” is a noun. “Eat” is a verb. People who say “I am a chocolate eater,” who use the noun instead of the verb, show a stronger preference for chocolate.
In a survey about voting, Walton’s experimenters asked, “How important is it to you to be a voter in tomorrow’s election?” versus “How important is it to you to vote in tomorrow’s election?” When the noun (voter) was used instead of the verb (vote), more people actually voted the following day. Feeling that you belong to a specific group affects your behavior.
When you ask people to do stuff, use nouns rather than verbs. Invoke a sense of belonging to a group and people are much more likely to comply with your request.
Globally, there are an estimated 340 million workplace accidents each year. These accidents are enormously damaging to both individuals’ lives and their contribution to the economy. While some accidents are a result of poor working conditions, others stem from the behavior of workers. For example, employees in a Chinese textile factory were in the habit of throwing waste scraps of cloth on the floor next to them, creating a slipping hazard. An explanation of why this habit had formed was that workers were financially motivated to continue working without breaks. Initially, the factory tried a traditional approach to influence behavior: offering monetary incentives to workers if they put waste in trash cans. The effect was disappointing: scraps were still thrown on the floor, and the danger remained.
Sherry Jueyu Wu and Betsy Levy Paluck, researchers partnering with the factory, thought that meaningful visual cues on the floor might help change behavior. Specifically, they introduced decals depicting golden coins on the production floors. Culturally, golden coins are considered to symbolize fortune and luck, meaning the employees would have a disincentive to cover them with waste. Introducing these decals led to a 20 percent decline in waste on the floor. A small, contextually meaningful change to the design of the environment was enough to overcome a seemingly entrenched habit.
Excerpt from: Behavioural Insights by Michael Hallsworth
- When it comes to ads, though, remember that real people don’t much care about them. So negative effects are rare.
- We know of no evidence of any advertising that has had a negative effect on sales.
- Don’t worry about ‘alienation’. Negative effects among existing buyers but not new buyers or vice versa won’t happen; we can’t think of any examples.
- So don’t hold back from bold, provocative ideas through fear of alienation. You should be much more fearful of indifference – and that’s wonderfully liberating creatively.
Although flashbulb memories are vivid, they are also full of errors. In 1986 the space shuttle Challenger exploded. If you to recall that event, you probably remember it vividly. The day after this tragic event, Ulric Neisser, a professor who researches memories like these, he had his students write down their memories of what had happened. Three years later he asked them to write their memory of the event again (Neisser. 1992). Over 90 percent of the later reports differed from the originals. Half of them were inaccurate in two-thirds of the details. One person, when shown the description she had written three years earlier, said, “I know that’s my handwriting, but I couldn’t possibly have written that.” Similar research has been conducted on individuals with memories of the 9/11 attacks, with similar results.
However, serious academic consideration of public opinion about fictitious issues did not start until the ’80s, when George Bishop and colleagues at the University of Cincinnati found that a third of Americans either favoured or opposed the fictitious Public Affairs Act. Bishop found that this figure dropped substantially when respondents were offered an explicit don’t know’ option. However, 10 per cent of respondents still selected a substantive answer, even when given a clear opportunity to express their lack of familiarity. Similar findings were reported in the US at around the same time by Howard Schuman and Stanley Presser, who also found that a third of respondents to their survey expressed positions on issues which, though real, were so obscure that few ordinary citizens would ever have heard of them.