[think you need a WARC subscription or membership of the Marketing Society to access]
In a nutshell: a must-read and a useful counter to what you might call our digital over-exuberance. It reminds us of the relative importance of influence the real world and influence online [and as our friends at MarketReach would remind us, Real wins].
Whilst this is in not an anti-digital book, it can be scathing about some of our worst excesses in the rush towards all things coded:
"When the history of the early 21st Century is written, will textbooks observe that internet users spent billions of dollars on 'virtual' animated online farm creatures during the worst economic slump since the great Depression?"
At the same time the combination of clear prose and strong evidence (more than mere collections of anecdote) makes this an excellent and reliable text.
And along the way there's lots to admire:
"The most successful businesses in the future will be the ones that embrace a model that puts people - rather than technology - at the center [sic]...[in particular]they will recognize that people have a far greater impact on each other than we previously realized, and that consumers are not just a collection of individuals"
A must read, even if - as I've mentioned previously - I don't happen to think that word of mouth [what people say] is even the most important part of social influence - it's what we see others do that counts.
Nice piece by the always excellent Victoria Coren in GQ this month exploring (for a male audience) the whole 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon. Here she discusses why women are reading it...
"You can shelve the idea of awkward
mimicry; women are not necessarily reading Fifty Shades
because they find it sexy anyway.They are reading it for two reasons. First: because everyone
else is. There comes a point when one simply has to join in for
fear of being left out. But I was the same about getting a
recycling bin, and that didn't turn me on much either"
Here's a piece I did for the CASRO 2012-13 Journal
(based on my keynote at their annual gathering in Scotssdale (page
42ff) based on an idea that the brilliant Grant McCracken gave me when I
last had lunch with him:
"TV chat show host David Letterman used to
play a game with his audience as he sifted the day’s ephemera, asking this
simple question of the things he (and his researchers) found to point and laugh
at: is this anything? Or, is it nothing? In other words, is the
object, behaviour or utterance significant and suggestive of an important
trend? Or, is it merely junk? Should we be paying attention to it or should we
smile and nod at contemporary culture’s richness as it sweeps past our noses"
So let's ask ourselves before we start "...what
kind of thing is the phenomenon we are studying and
seeking to explain [or change]? Is it something shaped by the agency of individuals acting
independently of their peers or is it something that’s shaped primarily by
social means – by the influence of others other than the individual?"
Amongst the many fun things that I've done this year, this vido of the Sermon I gave at the School of Life in September is one of my faves.
Thanks to the lovely folk at The School of Life for the opportunity, to the audience who turned up on the day and to the folk whose ideas and insights are shamelessly stolen and re-purposed in pursuit of this counterintuitive truth about the importance of copying in our lives and in our work.
"Motivation does not come from financial incentives alone. Again, the financial sector has done us all a disservice in promoting the belief that massive financial compensation is necessary to motivate individuals".
If you think people only do stuff for money - or even mostly do stuff for money - you'd be wrong.
There are lots of other sorts of reward and disincentives - not least is the social stuff that we go on about [people doing what other people do, for instance].
Put it this way: financial incentives presume that individuals are primarily financial optimisers, acting independently in their own interest. Paul Ormerod makes this point really well in his new book - "incentives" tend to be part of an "individualist" or "I" model of behaviour.
Some people are focused on financial incentives all the time [we call them things like "greedy mothers"], all of us can be taught to be that way [ditto] but...and there's quite lot of evidence that financial incentives can overwhelm other intrinsic motivations in certain circumstances [prosocial behaviour can actually reduce when you pay volunteers].
But - it's far from clear that financial incentives always have a positive impact in shaping behaviour in the desired direction, be it in personal health, charitable activity or criminal activity. Sometimes they actually have a negative effect [as above] becoming the reason why you continue to do something.
So if you're looking to change behaviour, please be careful with financial incentives: they don't work like they say they do [not least because we're not like they say we are] and they can actually work against the desired outcome.
Look for the other - often [pro]social - motivations.
And as we ponder our own lives, it's worth listening to wise people like Sir Ken Robinson and Hugh Macleod who remind us to focus on our passions and our talents and let the money follow those two.
Whatever it is you do, don't just do it for the money...
With NASA's Mars Curiosity Landing this fella, Bobak Ferdowsi - lead on the activity team at NASA - became a meme.
Partly on account of his "do" and partly...well, make up your own interpretations (as this nice lady does here).
Of course, there were lots of internet memes which started during the Olympics, my favourite being the funny diving faces...
And of course my tip for the top in Autumn/Winter fashion, the Wiggo Sidie (Tour de France Winner and Olympic champion, Bradley Wiggins sports a fine and distinctive set of ginger sidies here)
which generated a host of real world echoes from Sir Steve Redgrave
To these nice chaps at the cricket (albeit before the Olympics)
And now I learn Daniele, Nick and Graham will be running a marathon in September dressed the same way...maybe using the Mirror newspaper's downloadable stick on sidies....? Download Bradley
OK so my point is this: we all find it very easy and appealing to explain the spread of such things after the fact but most of the time we do it with reference to the thing and its specific characteristics rather than the mechanics which cause it to spread.
Indeed this is at the heart of the idea of memetics: a meme is
"information that is copied, varied and selected – but the term is usually reserved for those that hit the big time, or "go viral" [Susan Blackmore cited in the Guardian]
The term "selected" here is important - it derives from evolutionary science (memetics being itself an attempt to apply the broad principles of evolution to cultural phenomena). "Selected" infers that there is something specific (and perhaps superior) about the thing/species and its relevance to its environment which explains its success.
Our discussion of the kind of thing we call "memes" is unfortunately also dominationed by this kind of focus on the thing (the "information"), it's unique characteristics and what its spread reveals about our culture or how people feel (as the Do-dude piece demonstrates:)
"Ultimately, memes spread because on some level, they resonate with their audience"
While it may make very good Op-Eds and very interesting intellectual showponying, scientifically it is plain nonsense. In biological evolution and in the cultural space, things spread fundamentally because of the copying activity, mostly not because there's anything particularly important or significant about them. It's the mechanic not the thing.
Of course, it's easy - looking backward with the benefit of hindsight and with reference to the thing and the culture, why that particular thing of all the things that might have spread did spread. But it's really hard to tell ahead of time (which is the important place to start from if you want to make your ponderings useful.
As the great evolutionist Steven Jay Gould observed, re-winding the tape of evolution will more often than not lead to different outcomes from the one we find - we humans might well not have got so successful.
So whilst spotting the things that "go viral" (and post-rationalising why) is an interesting and diverting pass time, can we try to ask some more important questions, please? Ones less about the thing?
Nice line in Sunday Times piece on the "mummy porn sensation" Fifty Shades of...
"It started as a dirty secret for the stuck-at-home mum, its success put down to the fact that middle-aged women could buy and read it secretly on Kindle. It has since acquired a new, younger following, who far from reading it furtively on screen, carry their paperback with the same self-conscious pride as their Cambridge satchel. What's the point of joining a craze if nobody sees you doing it?"
One of the downsides of the rise of e-readers and tablets as replacements for physical books is that it's hard to see other people's choices. In a (culture) market, flooded with alternative choices & hard to spot expertise, popularity is a key heuristic.
I wonder when the publishing industry will clock this one?
Pic Herdmeister's own (from kiosk at Weybridge Station)
One of the oddest things about doing the work that I do is the reactions people have to the core idea: many of the behaviours and choices which we think we do independently turn out to be shaped by the choices of others. Looking at some car market data this week is a great example: even I was surprised to see how clearly the kind of social signatures we describe in our latest book fall out of the sales data.
But not everyone finds it so easy to embrace the social thing. For example, I have been involved this week in a long debate on a LinkedIn BE group (I know I shouldn't) about smoking and smoking cessation - actually it's ended up being a debate about thinking and not thinking. It's striking there how some people really do feel that they are active authors of their own lives - making independent "decisions" left, right and centre, like this decisive kinda guy, maybe?
These kinds of people find it really hard to accept that their experience (or recalled experience, most commonly) of highly conscious executive decision-making is largely illusory (or even that they might be an exception to the cognitive rule): in general terms, our conscious minds are (as Kahnemann points out) more Press Office than Oval Office, more sense-maker than decision-maker. And much of the time (in our oversupplied modern world), the popularity heuristic - what she's having - seems to work just dandy; that and recency "what we did last time".
Im sure I'll be trying IHWSH in a moment, when we head off to the pub. Somebody tell me what I want - maybe I'll just have what she's having.
While the work of the Greats might on the shoulders of giants, the rest of us rely on the efforts of the ordinary Joes that surround us, too. Me and you and everyone we know (and lots of others we don't) as Miranda July's first movie had it.
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.
[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...
"Data revealed that more than 80% of people entering the nightclub did so without a partner and so were potentially sexually available. There was also an approx. 50% increase in the number of couples leaving the nightclub as compared to those entering it seen on each occasion this was measured, indicating that these congregations are for sexual purposes."
Well, I never...I just revel in this kind of profound revelation into human nature,
Can I also commend the technique for calibrating the amount of exposed flesh (fig 2 p.1336) and the highly detailed chart on p.1343?
More from the University of N(o) S(hit) S(herlock) shortly
"The fact is, hemispheric differences are not well understood. Neither
are patterns over 2500 years of western history. Trying to explain the
ill-understood latter with a caricature of the former does little to
My chum is even more trenchant:
"A nice ["tribute"?] to the 'I know a bit about neuroscience so would you like to pay a lot of
money for my company that's drawn some erroneous conclusions" crowd"
So let's go easy out there with our received wisdom, shall we?
I really enjoy the debates that people have (with me and with each other) around the keynotes that I'm asked to give. I remember with particular fondness being told back halfway through the decade by one rather puffed-up marketing exec (as I recall, from the Blue Monster!) that all this social influence stuff is interesting but not that important as ultimately it is always an individual who does the buying - why bother particularly if technology was going to help us find and target them precisely?
2009 was the year that that this finally got to sound silly to most ears (not just signed up members of the HERD club).
And - no coincidence - it was also the year that 3 really important books got published on the science behind all this:
First, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's extraordinary Mothers and Others which suggests that the origins of our incredible social nature lies in the shared child-rearing habits (alloparenting) of our ancestors, rather than the more masculine "machiavelli" hypothesis (i.e. in order to gain social power and status).
Secon, John Caccioppa's fantastic social neuroscience study of Loneliness which suggests that loneliness is an aversive adaptation - like pain - which if not acted on has real physical effects on our all-too-social selves.
[Here they are at (hey hey!) Microsoft labs...reminding us that online social networks are a very recent version of much older phenomena]
I'm not sure I can pick a winner for you out of these three (you should read all of them) but I know that work about the science of social (even work of this quality and coherence) would not have found the mainstream audience it now commands just a few years ago.
What cheers me is that in many spheres of human life - politics, medicine , social policy, management & of course, marketing - it's no longer a question of maybe for the whole "HERD" Social hypothesis; it's a given (even if we're still only just beginning to work through the implications Download BrainJuicer Paper - Me-to-We Research).
There's one thing you can count on going forward - there's no going back. It's us - you,me & everyone we know.
A blog about a book he's written which reviews the best Marketing and Business books (1-page each).
In other words, a blog that gives you the content of the book that you might or might not choose to pay for which itself gives you the content of the books it describes which you might or might not go on to read or re-read (phew!)
Just re-read John Cacioppa's excellent Loneliness and think you should, too (if you're interested in the whole human beings as social creatures).
It's pretty clear from the start what kind of creature Cacioppa thinks we are
"If you asked a zookeeper to create a proper enclosure for the species Homo Sapiens, she would list at the top of her concerns 'obligatorily gregarious', meaning that you do not house a member of the human family in isolation, any more than you house a member of Aptenodytes forsteri (Emperor penguins) in hot desert sand. It simply makes no sense to put a creature in an environment that stretches its genetic leash so far"
Loneliness - the sense of not having appropriate levels of human connection - is (according to Caccioppa) like pain: an aversive adaptation. In other words, it helps tell us when something's wrong with the environment around us. And it hurts - really - and in fundamental ways. Loneliness can be as much a threat to your health as normally pathologised phenomena (such as obesity).
One of the things I love about this wise and humane book is the way it closes the loop - not only identifying the correlations between chronic loneliness and health (a strong negative connection) but it also describes clearly the causal link at an individual level (5 different ways in which it impacts on individual health) and then goes on to work through how these things can affect the chances of any one of us achieving the human contact that we seek.
And in the spirit he offers some practical wisdom for you, me and how we organise our lives, our organisations and our societies.
For example, he imagines how a cartoon guru might answer the Big Question of "What is the key to health, wealth, and happiness?":
"You are fundamentally a social being. The key to it all is to form strong social ties that are meaningful and satisfying, both to you and to those around you, near and far".