Pic c/o @willsh
Don't listen to what we say about it, listen to what John, Gareth And Eoghan say (and perhaps not what this lady whom we seem to have upset - actually maybe it's good to make someone want to "throw your book across the room")
Pic c/o @willsh
Don't listen to what we say about it, listen to what John, Gareth And Eoghan say (and perhaps not what this lady whom we seem to have upset - actually maybe it's good to make someone want to "throw your book across the room")
Pic via @mhallsworth and @primedecision
Interesting infographic/poster on the big strands of behavioural economics for those thinking about behaviour change.
Here's the thing: 7 of the 8 strands captured here are to do with the individals and their individual cognitive quirks.
Only 1 of the 8 (handily labelled "follow the HERD", nice) acknowledges that we are social creatures and that our behaviour is primarily shaped by other people and not our own volition.
I'm afraid you'll be hearing me say this again and again over the next few weeks as it's one of the jumping off points for our new book, I'll Have What She's Having - Mapping Social Behavior (which is out later this week). Here's what eoan made of it
One of the ideas that most hinders our attempts to get to grips with human behaviour is that which sees the individual agents and not the ecosystem; the consumer (nuff said on that one) and not the social world which individuals live and which they help create.
Much of cognitive psychology (and it's fair to say, much of the Nudge-gang's work) remains rooted in understanding the quirks of individuals' cognitive machinery; much of evolutionary psychology seems to be stuck in explaining the behaviour of individuals devoid of their real context - that is, other people. And in popular culture, we tend to go back to specifics (to excessive nodality as the network theorists would put it): to the specific individual and what causes or might shape that person's behaviour. This is as true of our political debates as it is of our personal lives.
But that's not what human life is like: it's not individuals, living in splendid isolation (except for those exceptional examples, such as the saints depicted above); for us social creatures, life IS other people (even if we find it hard to see it as such for our own lives).
Couple of things to think on:
Second, this fabulous book by Martin Nowak and Roger Highfield which I've been savouring which explores how high levels of co-operation emerge naturally in human populatons (and how Nowak has explored the subject).
Third, a thought from the priest who buried my late mother. "in the end all that matters - all that has ever mattered - is the people".
As a culture, we tend to be disdainful of this line of thinking. We tend to try to squeeze the individual agent back in but in doing so we rob ourselves of the really important insights into human behaviour.
"Most lives are a quotation from the lives of others" suggested Oscar Wilde. He meant it in a bad way but it turns out he's right about the fact, wrong about the significance of it.
Once you've understood this mechanic - the central point of our upcoming book - then please try to look beyond your "nodal" filter to the system which it creates.
Try to see the woods for the trees, if you like.
Very interesting piece of research about behaviour change and the localism agenda that I stumbled on today. Download KBTLondonCouncilsFinalPUBLISH2
Those from this side of the pond will know of the sponsors - Keep Britain Tidy - and those of you from elsewhere will be able to work out what they're about.
The point being, few organisations have more experience of trying to change human behaviour (in the UK at least).
So while (if we were being picky) we could criticize the trad ask-answer research methodology at the study's heart, I think the report raises some tricky issues for those who assume that just pushing decision making down to the local community is going to work and make things better. For example:
things that drive dissatisfaction don't necessarily drive satisfaction (e.g. street cleanliness)
HT Gareth and Katy for this lovely animation of how a line drawn by 500 people one after another changes and evolves. HERD fans who've seen the live show might remember a very silly game I've used to make the same poi
nt [about 6 minutes into this video or right at the end of this one...or after 12 or so minutes here].
Random Drift is the geneticists' term for the kind of change we observe in a population's genes which is driven by a series of neutral [i.e. small accidental] changes [one following another], rather than as the result of important changes in the environment which encouraged the selection of a particular gene over another.
The big moral is this: because we are social creatures who cannot escape the world of others in to which we are born [or indeed turn off our own tendency to copy what's going on around us] much of what we call new or innovative is really just a miscopy of what's gone before - this despite all our efforts at being creative, original and innovative,
Of course, you can tell yourself you are different (and gain some kudos from being seen to be so) but maybe you might just follow Isaac Newton's confession:
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Is our rush to encourage and champion [deliberate or intentional] "innovation" perhaps missing the point?
Talking last week to a good chum who's done some great stuff applying storytelling to brands prompted me to dig out this paper from Alex Mesoudi and the great Robin Dunbar. Download Mesoudi_whiten_dunbar_BJP_2006
Essentially, the learning for you and me in our storytelling activities on behalf of brands, organisations and our own ideas is this: people remember the people details not the thing details.
So use 'em or lose 'em, as the adage goes (and don't get hung up on the fact that people are more interested in each other than in you and your brand/policy).
1. How can we induce people to look after their health?
2. How do societies create effective and resilient institutions, such as governments?
3. How can humanity increase its collective wisdom?
4. How do we reduce the ‘skill gap’ between black and white people in America?
5. How can we aggregate information possessed by individuals to make the best decisions?
6. How can we understand the human capacity to create and articulate knowledge?
7. Why do so many female workers still earn less than male workers?
8. How and why does the ‘social’ become ‘biological’?
9. How can we be robust against ‘black swans’ — rare events that have extreme consequences?
10. Why do social processes, in particular civil violence, either persist over time or suddenly change?
We're working on a number of these issues, directly or indirectly. What about you? Are you increasing the body of knowledge and how? And if not, why not?
Nice piece in the papers by Saul Frampton a couple of weeks ago, whose book on the French philosopher and essayist Montaigne is now out.
As he [Montaigne]looks into himself he recognises his "aping and imitative character"; "whatever I contemplate, I adopt – a foolish expression, a disagreeable grimace, a ridiculous way of speaking"; "I often usurp the sensations of another person". He sees that such capacities lie behind the power of theatre: how sorrow, anger, hatred, pass though writer, actor and audience, like a chain of magnetised needles, "suspended one from the other", causing us to weep for those we care little about. For Montaigne, as for contemporary neuroscientists, humans thus have an inbuilt imitative, sympathetic capacity
Can't wait to read the book itself
Pic c/o etsy
Another week, another HMGovernment policy paper awash with nudging and nudges [HT Bob Pickett]
Nice piece here which highlights some important criticisms of Nudge and nudging [raised in this BMJ article] by a number of leading academic authorities on health-related behaviour change (including Prof Theresa Marteau, whom I had the good fortune to meet last year).
Here's the first para of the the BMJ piece's conclusions:
"Nudge and similar recent popular texts have stimulated policymakers to think about altering environments to change behaviour. These developments are to be welcomed. Evidence to support the effectiveness of nudging as a means to improve population health and reduce health inequalities is, however, weak. This reflects absence of evidence as well as evidence of little or no effect..." [my italics]
Part of the reason cited in the BMJ for the weakness of nudging as a frame for behaviour change tool is the fact [as suggested here previously] that largely ignores the social world in which we live and insists on considering individual behaviour as the appropriate level of granulation to think about human behaviour (the other big argument here is that the light-touch interventions that nudge tends to favour tend to skip around doing the politically difficult and often unpopular context-changing things like introducing smoking bans yet at the same time ignoring the competitive nudges e.g. what beer marketers use to steal the virtuous away...)
And - so you don't go away with the impression that this is the scientific equivalent of a local neighbourhood quarrel - the interview rightly highlights the underlying attraction of cheap and the simple fixes, which much nudging seems to offer policy makers
“This is why this idea has caught on, because it’s selling a very attractive [cheap and easy] proposition...It’s a political philosophy rather than behavioral science”
Political philosophy rather than behavioral science, indeed.
Interesting phenomenon emerging in the last few days: a spontaneous anti-nudge herd.
First, over at the RSA there have been a number of critical blogposts (the latest of which makes the very good point that all the crowing about "nudging" is likely to undermine it's impact on real people)
Just remember, you heard it here first, folks
Read a very disappointing Green Paper from the Cabinet Office (HMGovernment's policy HQ) today on Charitable Giving.
Disappointing not for the recommendations per se (up to you to make your mind up of what you think of them politically) but on the quality of the thinking behind them. Despite having built a crack team to rethink how policy and behaviour change might interact and taking soundings in all kinds of places, they've come up with essentially nothing which is likely to have an impact on the behaviour of the UK population in the area of charitable giving.
Put simply, the paper clings onto the old individualist type of models that have shaped policy for generations. Minister Frances Maude: [my italics]
"Social action is not something that government can, or should, compel [individual] people to do; it has to be built from the bottom up, on the back of free decisions by individuals to give to causes around them. This is not easy, particularly given the pressures of life in 21st century Britain. For many of us it can feel like a struggle just to keep up with commitments spanning work, family, and friends.
So the call to social action needs to speak to individuals’ motivations and account for the obstacles to giving; to fit with people’s lifestyles and interests. In short, giving should be made as easy and attractive as possible"
As we've observed before, both these schools cling on to the default setting for thinking about our species as a fundamentally individualist one and human behaviour as a fundamentally individual phenomenon (rather than the fundamentally social one we've been arguing for). (And no, it's not good enough to mention "social influence" or gesture wildly at "social norms" as if they were something that got done to individuals and thus easily fabricated - our social species takes influence from those around us and co-creates social norms with the many hundreds and thousands of folk we share our world with - without understanding the mechanics of these kind of things, you're unlikely to get them working for you)
I think it was Emile Durkheim who noted that something qualifies as an ideology when it stops being an assertion or assumption and just becomes part of how we see the world.
Until we get beyond this Individualist Ideology embedded in the neo-dismal sciences, nothing much is going to change round here and that's a really big worry for both Big Society Fans and the rest of us.
Was recently sitting in the cafe opposite The School of Life with TSOL's own Morgwn chewing the fat when we noticed a small tour group gathering in front of the shop.
Then, as we watched, the tour guide do her spiel in the driving rain, we spotted several passers-by attracted by the crowd to cross the road, stand and listen, too, before they wandered off.
Another great example of how we outsource cognition - use other people to tell us where the good stuff is
pic c/o thisweekfordinner
Interesting Big Society headline-grabber from Windsor and Maidenhead council today (via Westminster one suspects) about incentivising pro-social behaviour.
While lauding the experimentation mindset being demonstrated, can I just suggest a. that we have a read of the literature (mixing economic and prosocial motivations doesn't have a good track record) before we leap on the bandwagon b. we insist on something better in terms of test design than the "fish oil farago" of a while back
That's all for now, folks
The Economist piece on the PNAS paper by Onnela and Reed-Tschochas seems to have further stimulated just the kind of cascade of interest among business readers this week that the study at its hear actually describes. I keep tripping over pieces online and off.
If you haven't read it you should - some interesting new angles on social influence (and a magic number - 55!).
Any article abstract that starts like this, deserves your attention
"Social influence drives both offline and online human behavior. It pervades cultural markets, and manifests itself in the adoption of scientific and technical innovations as well as the spread of social practices"
But what I really love is the way the Economist readership go overboard a. to deny they use social learning [the Economist being after all the ultimate enlightment organ of independent thought] and b. disparage it using animal metaphors. One after another....
FREE GIFT: the infamous Disney "White Wilderness" movie which created the myth of "lemming-like" self-destruction
Pic c/o Scienceblogs.com
Here's the film of our little show [c/o Surinder]
And if you're good, I might get round to blogging about Touchdown Jesus, later on...
As regular readers will know, I've been arguing for a while that the insights into human behaviour being brought to the table by what's widely known as Behavioural Economics are excellent and timely corrections to the rational choice models of behavior which themselves are rooted in classical economics in particular. They counter some of the sillier assumptions in this kind of model: that essentialy we don't think nearly as much as we've been told we do and even when we do, there are all kind of quirks and ticks in our mental processes that lead us astray from the kind of rationality we aspire to.
That said, it's equally clear that the big weakness of most of these BE-inspired models fall far short of aspirational accuracy because they miss the important fact that all human life is lived in company (real or imagined) of others - as Freud observed, we can never escape the Other.
So I was delighted to see a great pamphlet published recently by one of my heroes , Paul Ormerod, for the RSA, saying much the same thing using his expertise and insight into network theory.
And doing so, with much greater eloquence than I could muster.
So, please don't just reduce it to "social proof", policy folk...
[Nudging aka] "Libertarian paternalism" bears the same theological relationship to Friedmanite economics...as intelligent design does to creationism. It strips out the demonstrably false aspects of the doctrine and gives it a makeover. After the the banking crisis, the belief that markets work perfectly was as unsustainable as the belief that God created the world in 4004 BC. Nudge comes to the rescue, proposing ways to make markets work better without directly interfering with them, still less peanlising those who grow rich from them.
Or, rather more bluntly,
...It argues that there's nothing wrong with markets only with people and the state's role is to make people fit for markets and not the other way about
Now whether you buy this [alleged] use of the insights that Behavioral Economics allows us, what's clear is that many folk are just using it as a sticking plaster or worse still, a cover for what they wanted to keep on doing anyway or keep on believing; it's far from the radical disruptive force for rethinking things that some (like my chum Rory) would have us believe.
As I've often argued before, the danger of BE is not that folk don't believe it or adopt it but rather that they just stop at the easy "aren't we humans a funny old bunch of faulty individual economic agents" analysis and don't take the bigger - and much braver - step into grasping the social stuff firmly...
A week ago, one of the UK's most senior physicians (Prof Steve Field, head of the Royal College of General Practitioners) had a provocative piece published in the Observer about the need for Brits to take personal responsibility for their own individual health.
"The truth is that too many of us neglect our health, and this is leading to increasing levels of illness and early death"
Few of us can disagree with this (although a longer term view might find a comparison with Victorian Britain's health illuninating).
Where the good Doctor stirred things up is by criticising the fact that most of don't like to be told our lifestyle is unhealthy.
"Too many people do not face up to the hard facts, as they perceive them to be an attack aimed, in particular, at the poorer members of society. But it is impossible to argue on medical or ethical grounds that such behaviour is acceptable."
At the time, I found myself pondering (from the safe distance of Brittany) how little understanding of behaviour change and how such things as obesity and smoking (and their healthier corollories) spresd such a senior medical professional seemed to have. Telling people what they ought to do, even giving them the facts is unlikely to change much - I knew the facts of smoking and its likely damage to my health but still persisted for years.
A week on, the Observer has published a huge correspondence in response to the piece - largely critical of Field's opinions, it should be noted.
Much of it is considered and helpful but almost all of it misses the big point about this kind of thing: far from being "reckless" or "immoral" or "irrational" behaviour by independent individuals, over-eating, smoking and alchohol abuse tend to be things that spread through social means, as for example, Christakis and Fowler point out (in my fave book of last year).
We do these kinds of things because those around us are doing them, not because we are - any of us - acting independently. We are social not reckless.
Until the medical profession and their advisors get their heads around the importance of the Social, nothing much is going to change in terms of the population's health.
But, dear Minister of Health, leaving us to our own devices isn't going to help either...
Low social interaction turns out to be a significant health risk
"Equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day
Equivalent to being an alcoholic
More harmful than not exercising
Twice as harmful as obesity"
Not hard to swallow if you believe that we are a supremely and fundamentally social creature, is it?
Compare and contrast the enlightened UK Health Minister who seems to believe that independent agency ("taking responsibility for your own health") is going to solve our various health challenges. More on that anon.
Couple of thoughts that were prompted by the questions (more I suppose than their interaction):
i. how easy it is for adfolk to accept that humans are pretty poor "Econs" (rational choice agents)
ii. equally, how difficult it is to buy into human behaviour being anything other than the result of the aggregate of independent, self-determining agency
iii. particularly when individual human minds appear to have such a wealth of cognitive biases, quirks and tics for us to use as "insights and such)
Really, we've got to get through this BE phase so that we can start to work with the Social insights that really describe human behaviour and how it spreads.
C'mon, let's be having you...
Nice piece by Matt D'Ancona in today's London Evening Standard which uses (very flatteringly) HERD to explain the (very sudden) rise of Nick Clegg into the mainstream of British Politics.
Here's the relevant bit:
"As Mark Earls shows in his brilliant book, Herd, [HURRRAH!] much behaviour that looks principled is in fact driven by peer-to-peer influence and social conformity. The "cellotaphs" of floral tributes to the late Princess, Earls demonstrates, were inspired by television images of the first bouquets : copycat behaviour rather than a spontaneous surge of emotion...[although not everyone agrees with this comparison]
...Nobody disputes that the Lib-Dem leader was the victor in the first debate. But the scale of his triumph has been amplified many times over the course of the weekend. People have chattered to people who have chattered to other people about his performance, and in the way of all folklore, the story has grown in the telling. A good television appearance has now acquired the status of the Gettysburg Address combined with the Sermon on the Mount. Infatuated with its new discovery, the elex=ctorate is willing on the Lib-Dem leader to live up to his image as Martin Luther Clegg
An infatuated girl does not care that her handsome new boyfriend is unreliable or did badly in his A-levels. this is why the Tories' attacks on Clegg's policies are a mistake and make the Conservatives sound stuffy and parental...The more the Tories say that Clegg's figures don't add up, the more appealing they make him seem"
The whole piece is here. It's smart and I happen think he's probably right on the phenomenon (and not just because he's HERDing it).
Been a bit quiet recently - partly because real world (family) concerns seem to have taken over a bit.
But also partly because have been feeling a bit bored by many of the discussions I trip over online.
In particular, there's still a lot of silly stuff around social networks and social influence.
So let's try to get at least this thing really straight:
Social networks are not channels for advertisers or for the adverts/memes you, your clients or any of your so-called "influentials" create, social networks are for all of the people who participate in the network.
Being a social creature means you spend your life in social networks; being part of a social network gives each individual a number of benefits - shared protection, shared resources and most importantly shared learning. Our ability to learn from each other (the appropriately-named Social Learning) is one of our all-too-mutual species' most characteristic capabilties and the engine by which stuff gets pulled through populations (from technologies to health habits)
(BTW it's almost never the stickiness of your brilliant creation that causes the spread and even less often "social teaching" that most influence-models suggest)
Social networks are not best understood as channels down which folk send things; social networks are webs from which members pull down learning (from each other).
Now how does that change what you're trying to do?
Regular readers will know I've long championed the new insights into human beings that we've come to know as Behavioral Economics. Indeed, you could suggest that my mission has been to challenge the received wisdom about human behaviour - to unpick the assumptions embedded in our practices in marketing, management and public policy.
For example, back in 2005 I wrote a paper (anyone got a copy?) which discussed - at some length - the cluster of cognitive biases which together make up much of BE's armoury (see this Cabinet Office paper for a full description Download MINDSPACE-full).
Again and again, In various contexts, I've returned repeatedly to the practical argument for BE - the real difficulties in bringing about actual behavior change (from the original HERD paper to the various iterations of the thinking) and the need to bring cognitive and behavioural science to bear on how we think about it. And of course, I've been a big supporter of both the IPA's BE initiative and the RSA's Social Brain project which deals with much the same set of issues. And I'm delighted that politicians and policy makers of all hues are embracing it.
But I'm beginning to think that maybe the success of BE is making us feel complacent. Maybe it's stopping us really pressing on.
Think of it this way:
Behavioural Economics is a response - a step on - from the old rational agent model of human behaviour. It conceptualises humans not as rational agents who accurately perceive the world around them and act appropriately but as faulty agents, with lazy minds (as Kahnemann puts it) - with built-in quirks and biases in our perceptional machinery.
But - and here's the big thing - it still views humans as at heart independent agents; human behaviour as grounded fundamentally at the level of individuals.
Of course, BE represents a big improvement on the old model and we'd all do well to get a grip on the insights it offers and I can see how much easier it is to slip from rational agent models to the kind of faulty agent models implied by BE...but let's be honest: it's only half way to a proper rethink.
The real breakthrough is likely to come from starting to conceptualie humans and human behaviour as fundamentally social (not individual).
Try this: is thinking an individual or social function?
I managed to scare the life out of an old mate the other day - without being in the room
He turned up for a workshop at the IPA and found himself being eyeballed by yours truly (from a poster)
So watch out...
"the toughest challenge of all, which is to understand how we think, how the brain controls behaviour...that is very, very difficult and not entirely clear we can do that now"
UPDATE: Later on Wolpert suggests "we are just scratching the surface"
Not news to me, but I guess, this will be a surprise to those who think our curiously hairless species is something other than a Super Social Ape!
PS Can anyone send me a copy of the paper?
Just back from a crazy ten day research trip of snowy New England which included a visit to this great bar in Boston, Drink
Great line from one of the excellent bar staff when we enquired where they kept the booze:
"Oh, we keep it locked away. We don't want things like brand preference or marketing getting in the way of making a good choice"
pic c/o Sodahead
Listen, I think we need to sort this thing out.
It's not that what people say to each other isn't important in shaping our behaviour.
Nor, indeed that recommendation (or advocacy or whatever you call it) in particular, is completely irrelevant.
It's just that the really important mechanism lies in what other people see, hear and feel going on around them: it's in the eyes and ears of the advocate's peers and not in the words of the advocate or recommendor. It's at the "influenced" end of the telescope and not the "influencer".
Of course, we all use "what other people are saying about x" as a general heuristic to shape our own behaviour and ideas but actually more of the time it's what we observe going on around us - the behaviours and the gestures of our peer - that really counts: what we see and hear and sense.
That's what brands and governments and managers and anyone trying to change behaviour need to think about and focus on.
And that holds for Human and Timelord behaviour alike.
Very excited about the session I'm running at the Market Research Society Conference at the end of March:
If you thought all evolution had to offer the study of contemporary human behaviour was Geoffrey Miller & Robin Wight's Peacock's Tailery (that most of what we do, we do to signal our reproductive fitness), then think again. Cultural evolution is now a highly developed multi-disciplined, many-headed school that has much more to say to us - not least, it uses hard data, not speculation to do its thinking.
Now as we have these guys in London for a few days - would anyone be interested a longer, more detailed session to explore these ideas further and to share their techniques?
Nice musings by chum David C and Stowe Boyd around this study that suggests it's the not the number of connections you have that determines your influence, but rather the nature of those connections - your "betweenness" as Stowe calls it:
"It is not your follower count, or who you follow, per se. But, instead, do you have short paths into other social scenes, both incoming and outgoing? That is the deep structure of being truly connected: bridging over different social scenes, acting as a conduit, a vector, a filter and amplifier for ideas good and bad, the best insights, and deadly viruses." [SB]
But David makes this important point:
"Influence is fluid. It resides less in the node and more in the interactions between the nodes. It is the interactions which change the state of the group, not a change in the condition of the nodes (think water H2O molecules and ice, water, steam...
...This means that giving interesting things to people to do together - bringing them together around things they care about (through shared purpose), to act on those things, has more value than spotting the influencer and giving them some sort of message you expect them to go off and influence others with"
Which prompts my sixpenceworth:
Influence is not something done by certain people to other people (as for example the pic above from New Scientist might suggest) it's the result of those people we call The Influenced doing something in response to those we call Influential.
As Duncan Watts and Matt Salganik noted in their important music-download paper, it's more about the readiness of a population to adopt a behaviour than the behaviour of specific individuals.
I.e. The Influenced do the heavy lifting of Influence, not the Influentials - and the fact that Influence is often mutual i.e. we all (well-connected or not) take cues from each other - that's one important reason why the search for the Influentials is so prone to misunderstanding and dead-ends.
As soon as we grasp this, going about understanding and harnessing influence begins to be a little more sensible...
Saw this (above) lovely piece of detective work today on Buzzfeed (they picked it from giagantor who picked it up from...) about - well, let's call it the "Keep Calm Meme" (if your not a Brit or connected to Brits you might have to go check the links now to explain it. Good. Welcome back).
What the visuals (plus the comments on on the Buzzfeed page) seem to show is the history of how one little known WWII poster design spread and evolved over a short period of time (I've got a t-shirtGod, even my Dad has a mug with it on). Brilliant. Like the map of a "meme", it's suggested.
But...but, but, but...!
It's very easy to imagine that it must be something about the original design or the concept or the style of illustration that made it spread so wide (we talk of Stickiness in Marketingland or Fitness if we've got our evolutionary hat on) - something about the Keep Calm line that has an abiding appeal, something that plays to our nostalgic sense of duty or whatever. Or maybe something just plain different.
Unfortunately, this isn't a good default setting/working assumption: more often than not with the stuff of popular culture, the thing itself isn't that important in determining how far (or not) something spreads. On the one hand, most of our choices aren't that different from each other - it doesn't really matter which one we choose - and on the other hand, focussing on the successful item distracts us from the absence of the ones which didn't make it (which will often turn out to be indistinguishable from the winner). It turns out that many successful "memes" have only one characteristic that their unsuccessful competitors didn't have: luck...!
This has much broader applications than reading popular culture or a market's history. Looking back, we're all too ready to look to the thing to explain how something spreads and - following the 7 Lesssons of Successful People syndrome - use it as a template for success. Or an unhelpful straightjacket...when all the time it may just be chance that creates success.
Indeed, one of the things, I'm working on right now is a simple way to tell the difference between something that has chance and luck to thank for its success and something which has something about itself to thank.
So next time you see something that's become popular - something that seems to fall into this "meme" category of items - why don't you try calling it "something that turns out to have been successful but might just be lucky but we don't know either way yet"?
PS What's your fave "Don't Panic"? I'm with Matt Jones' "Get Excited...". You?
"We may be able to amass 5,000 friends on Facebook but humans’ brains are capable of managing a maximum of only 150 friendships, a study has found.
Robin Dunbar, professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at Oxford University, has conducted research revealing that while social networking sites allow us to maintain more relationships, the number of meaningful friendships is the same as it has been throughout history"
If he's right - and it seems plausible - then it's worth being careful with what we call these SM connections. "Friends"? Or "Connections"?
And reminding ourselves that while technology is incredibly powerful, it's the human stuff that tends to win out.
Pic c/o Scienceblog
Regular readers will know that a lot of the drive behind my work and my writing over the last decade has been the flood of insights about human beings & human behaviour that - over the last 10 years - the behavioural and cognitive sciences have unleashed. In fact, you might say, reading and making sense of the science has shaped
Far from being a marginal - oddball, even - pursuit, this is fast becoming mainstream and will continue to grow apace this year.
Many of our most strongly-held common-sense ideas about humans and human behaviour are challenged by the work aggregated and synthesised in these kind of proejcts: like (as we HERDies like to remind folk) the Anglo-Saxon assumption that we are a species of self-determining individuals or the related one that thought shapes behaviour...
Of course, this is not just a liberation (and a step towards universal enlightenment) but it also offers the potential for the kind of one-eyed pick-and-mix applications of science that previously characterised things like "neuromarketing".
BIG PROPS to both the IPA and it President Rory Sutherland for two big initiatives in recent weeks which show a previously staid, establishment organisation taking big steps into the present.
First, the IPA social initiative (which I've discussed here before) which a. acknowledged a problem with their previous attempts to engage with the issue b. opened itself up to the community to provide a correction c. embraced the recommendations of the community to engage in d. a conversational format for the session.
While Rory wasn't directly involved here, his presence elsewhere is one of the reasons why Nigel, Patrick, Pippa, Felicity and co all felt able to go in the direction we pointed them (more on this anon, btw).
Then, yesterday I attended the public reveal of Rory's big Behavioural Economics initiative at the RSA. The fabulous Matt Grist talked about the Social Brain Project we've been working on, the brilliant Nick Chater revealed some of his great work on decision-making and the lovely Nick Southgate did a great piece on beginning to work out some of the implications for adfolk of these new insights into human behaviour.
For me, this is a landmark initiative, a public recognition that the embedded models of human behaviour in the industry's practices are not the be-all and end-all; that might even be wrong...and that we need to do something about them, pronto
Regular readers will know that I've long championed the science that points to other models than either rational choice or the standard social science ones which have dominated our thinking for generations - indeed, that's really the HERD gig, tbh. To turn this into action, they've set up a series of seminars/training events next month for different disciplines in IPA member agencies.
The IPA & their self-proclaimed Chubby Welshman are on the move. Well done both.
Yesterday, we trekked to the British Museum to see their fab Montezuma exhibit. And today I get this.
It's not tricky.It's not something you should have to think hard about.
It's plain courtesy. Good manners, as Sair says. And you can (as in this case) get a machine to do it for you.
So why can't most businesses be bothered?
Too concerned with themselves. And the money thing. Just not human enough...(more on that shortly)
She describes how different collective behaviours she observed at a recent Coldplay gig she attended (JayZ's hiphop bounce, (mexican) waves and a novel cameraphone wave) spread throught the audience to differing degrees.
From this, she posits that the reason why the cameraphone wave spread so far is something to do with some characteristics of the behaviour itself (that it was in some way superior the other two, less successful behaviours).
While cameraphonewave does sound fantastic and sparkly, can I suggest an alternative analysis which is nothing to do with the relative appeal of the behaviours to the audience: it doesn't have to be about the thing!
i.To paraphrase Paul Ormerod , Most [of our attempts to spread] Things Fail - it is genuinely hard to get a population to adopt any particular behaviour at the time and in the way that you want them to. This means that it is not surprising that the "failed" crowd behaviours were unsuccessful. Whether you are JayZ trying to get folk to bounce or the bloke at the end of row Z trying to start a mexican wave, it's more likely than not that the crowd won't pick up your thing. It's nothing to do with the thing or the influence of the person trying to spread their thing - it's just plain hard to get other folk to adopt anything.
ii. Alex's work has shown again and again how this failure rate is characteristic of random copying (the sort of copying we see in crowds and much popular culture today): one of the best ways to tell if you have random copying overtime is to see if you've got stochastic changes to popularity (or spread) rankings. It doesn't matter much which thing is adopted by whom - it's all on the basis of copying our peers.
iii. It's striking however how readily we adopt the post-hoc explanation of the success of one behaviour being somehow better (or fitter or whatever) than those things that failed. Nick Taleb's Black Swan makes much of this kind of thinking error and it's pretty poor science, too, to look to the winner to guide what we do next. That's why - however appealing they seem - those 100 habits of successful employees/brands/etc books are fundamentally flawed. I'm afraid, I looks like this is an example of that.
Let's be clear thought: this doesn't mean that Anna's points on fun/ease/visibility/novelty as features you should adopt if you want your behaviour to spread are always going to be irrelevant (many are shared by the other 'failed" behaviours); nor, at some level or other, is it untrue we are programmed to search for meaning and purpose; but it's just that in this case, contrary to what A's post suggests, copying and mimicry can account for all the phenomena described. Sorry.
While what they say is fair enough, it strikes me that we are perhaps rushing a bit quickly to see the negative side of copying and social learning...(as we too often do). It's not just that it comes with fancy hats (see pic above) and all that that means.
Are we not assuming here that only through deep volitional intention can change come about? And that anything that lies in the way of change is a bad thing...
There is another mechanism that leads to what we know of as "innovation" & which is actually a lot more common than intentional innovation: "random drift" - i.e. conformity gone wrong (inaccurate copying over many iterations).
Maybe it's another version of our attempts to "force change" - to "drive", "lead" or "create" change
Just about to head off to spend an afternoon with folk particularly interested in behaviour change.
Thought I'd share these few brief thoughts about the existing models
1. most start from the assumption that the individual is the right level of granulation for studying behavior (and thus behaviour change). Fine, if we were a solitary species of independent agents but (as we argue here regularly) this doesn't appear to be a good characterisation of Homo sapiens. We are a social species - more so that most of our relatives - and we do what we do in the company and under the influence of others (real or imagined). Most of human life is - as Oscar put it - a quotation from the lives of others.
2. most of the fancy models touted aren't behaviour change models at all but rather "how to change people's behaviour" models: in other words they presume that change is something generated largely by external ("exogenous") forces and (hate the word) "levers".
3. as a result most ignore the changes in behaviour that arise without external interventions (such as marketing), assuming that this cannot amount to much. Yet these changes are happening all the time in all aspects of our lives.
4. Few admit the enormous failure rate of attempts to change people's behaviour - in marketing, in public policy, in (change) management and in our daily lives. It's really hard to set out to change behaviour - far better to help the behaviour change itself, don't you think?