Nice spot by that charming man, Will Humphrey - a piece by Franz de Waal in the WSJ describing how much we underestimate the cognitive powers of our animal cousins. Have a read.
HERD fans will know we've long made this kind of case. We've talked about how Orangs for example, not only have cultures but develop them in the same ways as we humans do our own cultures.
Denying the connection just messes with our thinking: you know that old saw "Monkey See Monkey Do" - turns out we humans are much better at copying than they (or other primates) are and our (Western) obsession with originality is not the real gift; copying is what makes us.
This is just one of many ways in which we try to separate ourselves from them, when in fact who and how we are has very strong roots in them.We are - for good or ill - a Super Social Ape and not the unique and inevitably successful creature we imagine we are (as the late Stephen Jay Gould pointed out, if we were to re-run the tape of evolution, it's far from clear that we'd end up as we are or as successful as we are).
Calls for some humility, I'd say
Pic c/o Rodebikeguy.com
Nice piece here with Dave Brailsford, the "architect" of British Cyclng success
2 interesting thoughts emerge :
1. he uses the "chimp" metaphor (like "Monkey Brain") to denote the non-human bit of ruminating consciousness which distracts us from the "flow" states that athletic performance depends on (i.e. by denigrating the human bit to animal).
2. he talks about the way doping spread through cycling but without pathologising individual dopers (quite hard given the hullabaloo surrounding it recently) or - if I understand him correctly - in blaming the thing thing.
So it is 10 years ago this week that I first formally presented what I called the HERD hypothesis in written form (see above) at the Market Research Society in Birmingham (for which incidentally I shared the Best New Thinking Prize). Since then - together with a number of brilliant folk - we've managed to evolve and "operationalise" the basic insight at the heart of this paper, with 2 more books, prizes from the nice people at WPP, ESOMAR and Emerald Insight along the way, a host of well-liked articles and some fascinating conversations and experiences with people I'm not sure I'd have met otherwise.
It hasn't all been plain sailing - I have endured any number of pats on the head ("interesting but not really mainstream"), some strange challenges ("OK for kids marketing & poor people - maybe abroad?") and occasionally some hostile responses ("we don't believe that monkey shit round here" being my favourite).
But gradually, over those 10 years things have changed: not least thanks to the explosion of "social media" which has made arguing for the importance of social influence in shaping human (and consumer behaviour) so much easier (praise the Lord for Mr Z for this at least).
And collaborating with brilliant people - especially Professor Alex Bentley - to turn the analytic techniques developed across the social sciences into practical tool for marketers and decision-makers has been an unexpected but wholly positive pleasure. Back in 2007, we first developed a 4 box map based on patterns to be found in
And now 10 years on, a number of folk have picked up and recycled the work we've been doing (which is exactly how things work and spread), mostly (but not always) attributing sources. So if for example you find someone presenting one of these* over the next few days and weeks,...
...you'll know what to think, won't you?
Yes, the HERD effect is at play...
Thank you all - Alex, Mike O'B, Hugh, Jason, Ray P, Gareth K, Kevin K, Kevin D, Nick K, John K, Alex B, Susan G, Tom E, Audrey, John W, Graeme W, Wendy, Angela, Sair, Mark B, Mark H, John, Fiona, Stephen, Giles, Ben, Geoff, Paul, Liz, Judie, Colin, Chris, Roddy, Peter M, Gemma, David, Bob B, Bob P, Claire, Anne & Merry.
Sorry I can't be at MRS to celebrate the 10 years anniversary but I'm sure it'll be fabulous!
*BTW the version here first developed by Alex & I in 2010 with Anomaly & Sony Europe
Following on from my School of Life Sermon on Originality and Copying, here's a nice quote (HT Alex)
"My friend Harry Nilsson used to say the definition of an artist was someone who rode away ahead of the herd and was sort of the look out. Now you don't have to be that, to be an artist. You can be right smack in the middle of the herd. If you are, you''l be the richest"
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.
Really nice piece in this week's New York Times by my two co-authors, Professors Alex Bentley and Mike O'Brien which shows how recognising the patterns in widely available data allows you determine how different phenomena are spreading.
In this case - and reassuringly so - climate scientists adoption of key terms seem much less prone to the boom-and-bust patterns that the general public generate (as a result of what we call "undirected copying" in I'll Have What She's Having or "Copying Peers" in our long-standing commercial business).
So - whatever your personal view on climate change - it's good to know that the scientists don't seem to be vulnerable to a simple "herd-effect" - they're not copying each other blindly.
And, as ever with these two delightful and erudite gents, the prose is pellucid and enthused with a generosity of spirit that I like.
One to cut out and keep.
Amusing story in the UK media today concerning the arrest of Rob Smith (above) who decided to remedy the admin error surrounding the painting gold of a Royal Mail postbox to celebrate the Olympic success of Team GB yachtsman Ben Ainslie.
It turns out that the original site selected was in Cornwall (where Ainslie grew up) but Lymington is where both men now live.
So Smith took the brush in his own hands and copied the handiwork seen elsewhere around the country on a postbox near to Royal Lymington Yacht Club - not a tricky thing to do but the obvious response, surely.
In sadder news, I've been struck by the huge cellotaph which has grown outside the home of Tia Sharp's family (12 year old who recently went missing). Flower by flower, card by card, candle by candle & soft toy by soft toy the shrine has grown as individual neighbours follow the example of others' actions to demonstrate sympathy with the family.
I've written about this phenomenon before (not least in HERD) as something shaped by individuals copying the behaviour of others but the thing that struck me in this exaple was the emergence of the particular grammar here: candle, flowers, cards and toys (when did the toys become part of cellotaph design? I've seen a few at cemetaries and road-crossings recently but think this is a new design feature evolving through the same means).
And in the US, news of yet another campus shooting.
We know that many things good and bad spread via the copycat effect (the Norwegian Anders Breivik not only copied the example of other mass murders but seems to have plagiarised large chunks of unabomber manifesto, too, as if to underline this).
But don't be mistaken: copying itself is neither good or bad.
It just is and we do it all the time.
In advance of my Sermon on Copying and Originality at The School of Life (Sept 9th), we've put together at little quiz on copying on Facetube
Let's play along...!
So 12 months on from the UK riots, a lot of thinkpieces around in the papers today
Here's one in the FT from the always reliable @Timharford who asks "Why did riots happen? And is that right question?"
And here's the one I wrote a year ago about precisely the same thing http://bit.ly/RkKuvG
And here's me on the Today programme talking about exactly the same thing. Again a year ago.
Not in anyway suggesting there's any copying going on - Tim & I both read the same sources on the riots but if you want to know about copying, come to my Sunday Sermon on Sept 9th
But if not here's some nice boys who want a riot on their own (rare enough for a social species like us humans)
For those who were at the fantastic launch of MarketReach from Royal Mail last night (more of which anon), here's the 1960 Journal of Marketing piece by Robert J Keith of Pillsbury Download Kelley I mentioned in my speech
Compare and contrast the hope and idealism with the cold-eyed realism of Stephen King's "Has Marketing Failed or was it never really tried"
Here's one of the Masters with another kind of revolution
However, as Jon (@jonhildrew) and I were discussing on twitter last night, while Amazon might find it attractive to feel that taking control of what readers see of others' choices (and locating them online in the walled garden of the Kindle store), this loses something important - for both the marketer and the consumer.
On the one hand, losing the widespread real-world window into what others are doing should significantly reduce our ability to see what is popular and how things are shifting reduce the spread of new and different titles and authors - real world influence being more powerful than online. For marketers for this kind of thing, this is going to make it harder to launch new and unfamiliar titles, authors and genres. Much more focus will need to be paid to POS and promotional deals.
On the other hand, for once, the people who buy books are also going to lose out as much as the marketers. For a long time now, covers have been part of our experience of books and turned them into social objects.
And as signals to be transmitted (intentionally or otherwise) and received and read instinctively. It reminds me of part of what we lost when music went from vinyl to tape (and then to mp3s)
Can't we find a way to bake-in this kind of stuff as Apple have done?
Imagine a football crowd without the scarves and replica shirts....
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?
Typical piece today in WSJ seeking to explain the mass phenomenon of Biebermania via neuroscience.
Typical inappropriate: mass phenomena really are not best explained by micro descriptions (as we've consistently argued).
Unless of course, all of these kids really are deciding independently on their behaviour (which the "mania" & "hysteria" tags point away from - all very I'll Have What She's Having, I suspect)
And typically lazy: neuroporn/neurononsense is just today's source of faux insight - "sciency" without having to think too hard.
Come on, will you WSJ? Try just a little bit harder, please...
In a recent post about what BE is missing, I referred to this Crawford chart that I feel captures the individualist model clearly: it places individuals - like a Ptolemaic Earth - at the heart of things.
The alternative is not a Copernican one - shifting the focus from one planet/individual to another while retaining the structure of concentric circles around the focal point.
No, a better conceptual map would be more like this: a repeated pattern of Crawford's individual circles or a series of interacting individual balls:
And most importantly of all, a dynamic pattern - one that is changing all the time (which leads to this kind of thing - a dynamic fitness landscape).
So two really big lessons here: 1. most humans live most of their life responding to the ideas, feelings and behaviour of those around them 2. those others are not fixed but in flux because they (too) are responding to those around them.
That's what leads to this kind of real or robot flocking and shoaling behaviour. The smooth running interspersed with sudden and rapid changes in direction are the result of this dynamic interaction.
BE can't begin to describe this level of complexity - which lies at the heart of social worlds - because of the central failure to get beyond the individualist perspective.
Admittedly, it's hard to conceptualise this dynamic supra-individual alternative - our cognitive gifts seem much better suited to the individualist models - but that doesn't make it wrong to try. And we could do with a bit more trying here, I reckon.
Am feeling for Jonah Lehrer this weekend, following Steven Poole's review of his latest book, Imagine - How Creativity Work in the Guardian. I've met Jonah a couple of times and read his work frequently and - as is often the case - feel for the real person I've construed in my head.
Unflattering reviews are never pleasant to receive (I've had a few in my time and much as I'd like to pretend they don't hurt, they genuinely do) but at the heart of this one is a critique that I have a lot of sympathy with, if it's true - namely Imagine's overwhelming neuroscientism.
"...(The term has been employed by the philosopher Colin McGinn and the critical neuroscientist Raymond Tallis, among others.) Scientism is the confidence that science can explain all aspects of human life; neuroscientism is the more specific promise that brain-scans (using the limited current technologies of fMRI and EEG) can explain the workings of the mind"
In recent posts, I've talked about neurocartography and brain-porn: others - such as the ineffable David Penn - have used the term neuromania. All of us share a concern at the very reductionist approach that sees brain activity (and groovy pictures of brains in action - which btw are reconstructed as-if they were based on a clear view of what goes on inside the skull rather than being a reconstruction of readings of changes in the electro-magnetic field in different parts of the brain) as essentially the "truth" about mind and decision-making; a rhetoric that defaults to the synaptic without further thought.
Some - like Poole? - primarily resist the reduction of the mental and cultural to the physiology of the grey matter between our ears on the grounds that these phenomena are much richer than these pictures - this brain porn - suggest. A fair point, you might think, given the relative youth of neuroscience as a discipline - we're far from the claimed precision in understanding the functionality, let alone from understanding the relationship between specific brain activity and specific action.
Me, I have another - additional - problem with looking to the individual brain for answers: most human life is lived in the company and under the influence of others - looking between the ears of an individual is only going to get you so far in understanding our fundamentally socially-shaped behaviour. It's just the wrong place to look for much beyond general principles - however well one reads the literature.
And - let's be clear - our biology is only part of our evolutionary success: for sure, it's our biology that has enabled us to develop, share and exploit culture but that culture itself is the same thing as our biology. Focusing on the biological roots - as if they are the ultimate grounding - seems to me myopic at best.
Trying to understand human behaviour through the lens of individual brain activity in the lab is like understanding dolphin behaviour by dragging individuals away from the pod and out of the water: it tells you somethings but misses the key contextual pieces.
PS The notion so widely trumpeted in support of what I'm sure is a very enjoyable book - that we are all creative - also found its way into the heart of a tome call Welcome To The Creative Age (which I published a decade ago)...and I certainly wasn't the first to suggest it!
Am ploughing my way through Charles Duhigg's new book on Habits at the moment and - the basic point about habits and our tendency default to low-level cognitive activity aside - am finding it all rather disappointingly and over familiar territory.
Not just in terms of the overkill of neuro-cartography ("we know that this is important because there's something going on in the brain here...") but in terms of the ideas of habits being shaped by rewards and repetition (in what way is this not classical conditioning?).
Add to that the lionising of dead Mad Men and their supposed magical abilities to change habits among the larger population (highly overstated, as it happens).
And let's be honest, the relentless invididualist & materialist perspective: presenting human behaviour as the product of fundamentally isolated individuals and their biology....
I've been promised that it gets better later - as Neil spotted:
“Change occurs among other people,” one of the psychologists involved in the study, Todd Heatherton, told me. “It seems real when we can see it in other people’s eyes.”
Now, that's more like it. I'm hoping we get there sooner rather than later.
In the last post, I tried to articulate what BE fans are missing due to the conceptual blinkers of their fundamentally individualist models of human behaviour. Put simply, they are still stuck thinking about human behaviour in terms of individuals, their quirky cognitive make-up and (here's the new stuff) the context in which individual agents operate (which includes other people around the studied individual).
Ok, maybe not so simple.
Let's try a metaphor. I used this picture* to open that post and deliberately so:
It's something I found at the South Bank Festival of Death for the Living - a picture about loss and grieving made by individual visitors drawing circles (of whatever size) to commemorate a lost one. The only rule being to touch circles drawn by others before you.
Now, it might be interesting and useful to look at the individual participants and their individual decisions about size, location, intensity etc, but given that all participants were united by a. having lost someone dear to them b. willingness to participate, that really is unlikely to tell us much of use in understanding the whole piece (even if asking the individuals concerned would be most interesting and revealing).
Far more interesting and useful in understanding the picture and how it grows is to understand the general principles of how individuals interact with each other and what this means for the picture at scale. Think picture and pattern and not individual and motivation or perception.
Coming back to the BE debate: it's genuinely hard to think about human behaviour beyond the individual but it is really important to do so. This is (I think) what e.g. Paul Ormerod's work on the importance of networks in shaping behaviour is reaching for - albeit through the lense of the n-word.
So when we're told: "there is nothing inherently individualistic about behavioural economics. People draw on all sorts of short-cuts and rules of thumb when making decisions; from looking at what others are doing, or listening to an authority voice, to opting for the middle choice or just picking something they recognise. The concepts and frameworks inspired by BE can embrace multiple contexts and behavioural influences, both social and individual"
...you know that it's not us missing the point.
*BTW If you are the artist or you know them, please get in touch! I've tried to track you down via the Southbank but without success.
There's an awful lot of noise around Behavioural Economics in UK marketing circles at the moment, not least in from my old colleague Crawford Hollingsworth.
Much of this is a good thing: too much of the time, we've relied on dodgy assumptions about the uman behaviour we seek to understand and/or shape. The wonderful Wendy Gordon puts it brilliantly in this series of videos.
The gap between our default assumptions about behaviour (e.g. that people are calculating machines or that they see the world cleanly and uniformly) and what e.g. behavioural economics suggests is indeed real and represents a huge opportunity for marketers, managers and policy makers.
Many of these truths seem to offer good simple insights into the kinds of problems we all struggle with. And in doing so, breathe new life into many old tools and practices, such as market research or service design. As well as bringing us closer to reality in more general terms.
But is BE the whole answer?
No. Clearly not.
But why? Well, there are those that point to the fact that BE represents a re-badging of widely published work on perception and decision-making. It's not new, in that sense - even if the re-badging has got lots of people to (re-)engage.
Others point to the very poor record in proper scientific literature of BE-led interventions actually changing behaviour. Sure, there are lots of anecdotes - popular texts are full of anecdotes (not least because anecdotes are easy to understand) but as Dr Ben Goldacre recently tweeted "the plural of anecdote is not data".[tip: when you feel overwhemled with anecdote, ask to see the peer-reviewed stuff]
No, there's something missing from BE. Something important.
I've tried to articulate why this is in the past by talking about BE as essentially a revision of traditional models of human behaviour (with added irrationality). They are part of a tradition of essentially individualist models of behaviour and ignore the fundamentally social aspects of human behaviour. In our recent book, we take a similar line, arguing that
"humans are, first and foremost, social creatures. Yes we can be lazy thinkers, and yes, we have Pleistocene brains, but a large part of our success during the Pleistocene ans since then is attributable to our doing what we do with those around us, to learn from and influence each other so naturally that we hardly notice it"
In a recent very entertaining blog post for the Marketing Society, Crawford counters that BE does cover the social aspect of humanity but then makes our point entirely for us by only citing examples of individual-level insights. "Social" here is reduced to 'what other people say and do'.
If you needed proof of how individualist this thinking remains, then consider the key visual figure in the article. Note the individual at the heart of the concentric circles.
To be fair, Crawford's error is a common one, one embedded in those who've studied Social Psychology. As I discuss (following Farr) in HERD, the fathers of this discipline in the Anglo Saxon world (the Allport brothers) were hardline individualists.
"Social Psychology is part of the study of the individual, whose behaviour it studies in relation to that sector of his environment comprised by his fellows" [GHA]
"There is no psychology of groups which is not essentially and entirely a psychology of individuals. . . . There is likewise no consciousness except that belonging to individuals" [GHA}
This - like so many others (including the Cabinet Office's own Mindspace report) - is a fundamental mistake.
Social is not just how an individual is influenced by others in their "behavioural landscape"; Social is about understanding human behaviour at a different scale. Our book again:
"We use the brains of others to think for us and as a place to store knowledge about the world; almost everything we know and do involves shared knowledge from past and present people - billions of them by now. To understand human behaviour, we need to move from the "me" perspective to the "we" perspective"
There are of course examples of behaviour that are best understood at the level of the individual (our book shows how to spot the patterns in data which point this up) but these cases are much rarer than most people think. Most of the time, most of us live in a world where the patterns reveal a fundamentally social world and our behaviour is best considered not in terms of the cognitive quirks or otherwise of individuals but in terms of e.g. networks and populations. Behaviour is not just - not even mostly - an individual phenomenon.
That's where it's BE is largely missing the point, as far as I'm concerned
Nice piece by Lucy Kellaway in the FT last week about our new book.
Makes the central point really clearly - copying is the mainstay of most human lives. Copying, not independent and heroic individualism, is what makes much of our world the way it is.
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.
Regular readers will know how much I love the wit and insight of that other marketing top toonist, Hugh Macleod but am chuffed that Tom had been led to do an I'll Have What She's Having toon since we last met down in West Wales
And lovely it is, too.
Do yourself a favour, go sign up for their regular toon mail-outs. You'll see the world differently through Tom and Hugh's eyes
Great day in Chicago today with the folks from Brainjuicer, Microsoft and Ogilvy exploring BE and marketing from lots of different angles.
Great to see old friends, not least the Chief Juicer himself (who managed to keep his trousers/pants on all day which the link reveals is a novelty nowadays), my co-author Alex who's over here at Northwestern hanging out with the NICO guys, Carol Oman from Kraft and Graceann Bennett (who's running the Ogilvy planning thing here).
We shared some stuff from the new book which seemed to go down really well - the simplicity of the model at the heart of the book really seems to engage people.
Couple of things struck me: first, how radically the conversation has shifted here in just a few years: when I first presented on it in the city way back in 2005-6, few folk were prepared to give it the time of day but now the BE agenda is no longer wierd and marginal; it's something worth enough for 100 execs tospend the day thinking and arguing about and examining what the insights bring to our practices and techniques. Of course, you'll find me qvetching about the fact that too much of the conversation is still around individual cognitive quirks and not enough about the social stuff that really makes the world go round, but that doesn't mean I'm not big supporter.
Second, that events like this that are gold-dust - the fact that Brainjuicer keep putting them on around the world, collaborating with different clients and creative agencies is an enormous credit to them. The events are free to attend and nobody gets paid - we're all here for the conversation and the stimulation.
Third, that one of my dreams has now been realised: we have now cloned Rory Sutherland. Not only can he exist in two timezones (a live Rorcast sufficed today)...
...as you can see, we had to blow him up to giant size in order to make the matter-transporter work (or has he just been down to the Cinnamon Club a few times recently?)
But why settle for one Rory when you can 3 supersized Rory's as here
3 times the fabulousness, indeed.
All hail the chubby Welshmen! Nobody has done more to promote the new behavioural and cognitive sciences that our man Rory.
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 digitalhen and BBC News
Lots of noise online today about the demise of Apple's leader Steve Jobs.
Thanks to Joseph Kay and Tom Donald (@thepunkrockshop) for pointing out the odd tributes left at the stores: flowers, yes but half-eaten apples?
Any more examples, greatfully received...
Finished an article today for Admap with my chum Alex Bentley, which uses - among other things - the recent riots to illustrate how near the surface our [wrong-headed] assumptions about human behaviour are.
Coincidentally both the Guardian and the BBC have chosen today to kick off public examinations into the causes of the recent riots.
The Guardian have chosen to repeat the format of the famous Detroit study into those disturbances and are embracing a collaboration with the LSE and (as they have learned to do from the MPs expenses) with a broader reader base. (They've also done this fab infographic)
The BBC have opted for a more informal town-hall style live event (video or twitter).
Listening to the latter it's clear how easily the conversation becomes too specific - about the particular things that happened in a particular place at a particular time and the particular causes of it. What gets lost is the underlying mechanics of this temporary outbreak - the copying. Too much already is either route #1 moralising about individuals or route #1A big-abstract-forces- acting-on-individuals kinds of argument; too little is understanding this event in the context of other such events.
Equally - as is all too often the case in market research - the individuals involved (in whatever way) are likely not to be very reliable witnesses, either about themselves or about the larger events. This is as true of the Guardian study as the BBC talking shop.
Fundamentally, only by understanding the behaviour as a social phenomenon (and not one rooted in individauls) can we really get to grips with it and start to understand what we might do differently next time. Think about it: a riot on your own? [sorry Messrs Strummer/Jones]
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.
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
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...
Very excited - young Grant McCracken anthropologist extraordinaire and author of among other things Chief Culture Office is in London a week Friday to share the joy of CCO bootcamp. Learn from the man himself - just sign up here.
I'll hanging around commenting on proceedings and generally getting in the way.
And repeating the words of last week's Dr Who "Here's something I don't understand - let's go poke it with a stick"
Hope to see you there.
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).
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!)
Reminds me of that great Myles na gCopaleen gag about a (fictional) service that preloves your library's contents for you so you don't have. Think it's in this collection of his satirical columns for the Irish Times.
Originally, HERD was just me, Mark Earls, recovering account planner and all-round opinionator. But increasingly, as I’ve discovered more and (importantly), learned from others, the community has grown.
Working with a range of collaborators and clients, we developed tools to give these HERD ideas practical application. Collaborating with likeminded folk such as Dr. Alex Bentley (deputy Director of the Leverhulme Tipping Points grant at Durham University) and Grant McCracken (anthropologist and author of Chief Culture Officer), we’ve attacked differents kinds of problem and found different kinds of solution, thanks to the power of the social perspective on humanity.
We’ve also worked with some fantastic partners – Anomaly London, Brainjuicer, Modernista!, Naked , Protein, People Ideas & Culture and Hide & Seek to adapt our thinking to specific client problems. We’ve advised large corporations (such as Unilever, Bacardi-Martini, Channel 4 Television, The Edrington Group, Sony), UK government departments (HM Department of Health and Central Office of Information) and not-for-profits such as the Gates Foundation, Greenpeace & The School of Life.
HERD started as a label for everything social about human behaviour - a research “bucket” if you like - for the “hidden truths“* of fundamentally social nature of our curious species and the fundamentally social context that shapes our behaviour.
In essence, HERD is a synthesis of the work of social scientists in a number of different fields (primatology, anthropology, archaeology, network theory, sociology, economics & cultural evolution) mixed together with management and marketing science and my own professional experience of more than two decades, trying to understand and shape mass behaviour.
I first used the term HERD publically in March 2003 in an award-winning conference paper which challenged many of the core assumptions of advertising, marketing and market research professionals way of seeing the world and proposed a realignment of these disciplines around the idea of humans being fundamentally social creatures.
Soon enough, HERD was a book (John Wiley & Sons 2007/2009) which a lot of people read (and many said nice things about) then more articles, more speeches and more prizes. But in the last few years, it has become both a consulting business and a mainstream way of thinking about human behaviour for many marketing, advertising and research professionals as well as for those working in politics, public policy and security.
HERD started in the pre-Facebook world (Mark Zuckerberg was still in High School) but has only become more relevant in our attempts to make sense of the human behaviour in the modern post-Facebook world.
*well, not so hidden, more ignored really.
There are three main ways in which clients tend to engage us
I am a recovering advertising and marketing professional who has held Senior posts at big comms agencies (Ogilvy) and radical ones (St Luke’s) on some of the trickiest strategy challenges in behaviour change. I have long been committed to the industry bodies (I’m a Business Leader of the Marketing Society & I’ve sat on committees for the APG & IPA in the UK and taught for both these and the AAAA in the US) and society in general (I’ve helped organisations such as Arts & Business and The School of Life). I am a longstanding Fellow of the RSA.
The path to HERD is not hard to trace. Ironically, for someone who now preaches the ubiquity of social learning rather than independent choice, I was taught (at home, at school, at uni, at everywhere) to "think it through": in other words, not to accept what others told me to accept but to challenge everything until a more compelling, better-evidenced and more workable descriptions of how things work emerges.
It doesn’t always you popular or terribly rich but it is the most exciting thing – as my friend Russell Davies put it, standing at the front of the train with the wind in your hair, it’s such a thrill!