Nice sceptical NYT piece today which rightly points out that the investors themselves have at least some responsibility for what happened (the dodgy fella himself and the poor show from the regulators notwithstanding).
"Of course it's safe", we say to ourselves. "Look at all those other folk who are investing with him..."
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.
I've got Dr. Alex Bentley and Professor Mike O'Brien confirmed for a session exploring how they have applied ideas and techniques from evolutionary science to the study of human behaviour.
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
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...
Yesterday, my old chum David C pointed a bunch of folk like me to this piece in Adage by Steve Knox, the guy who runs Tremor - the P&G WoM/sampling outfit.
Now, first of all let me say the two central points of the piece seem unobjectionable:
1. the idea of disrupting shared assumptions in a marketplace by what you do and how you say has been around in various forms (not least Jean-Marie Dru's masterpiece Disruption) for nearly 2 decades now. If you haven't come across it til now, I'd suggest you check your feeds (and the calendar)
2. It's good to root our theory in contemporary science. Again, the idea behind schema - whatever you call them - is not exactly news - even to the determinedly ignorant of science.
But,.....[yes, I know, I'm always qualifying positive commentary]
....what is it that I feel uncomfortable about in the case that Knox makes?
Well, I think I've got two areas of concern:
First, it does seem a rather selective reading of cognitive science - a post-rationalisation, even, to justify what the company does post-hoc - a bit of scientific sticking plaster to shore up the intellectual credentials of a business that has shifted around between sampling, testing and advocacy objectives. Starting with the business practice rather than the science.
As Grant and I and Faris have all made clear a number of times, most human speech is - as you'd expect from a social creature - phatic - that is more to do with the inter-relationships between speaker and listener than about any specific content. Most human speech and communication (in the traditional sense of words and thoughts) is content-lite and people-heavy. It's really cheap.
Even if you take a more enlightened view of influence and see influence as more a pull- than a push-phenomenon, it's far from clear how WoM is going to be a major force of behaviour. Sure, we can read excitement or despair into each other's talk and writing but this is not the same as our behaviour being shaped by the content of what other people say (except in extreme circumstances, like a Fire!).
Bit more science, Mr Knox, and a bit less assumption, maybe?
you see yonder cloud that ’s almost in shape of a camel?
the mass, and ’t is like a camel indeed.
Methinks it is like a weasel.
is backed like a weasel.
like a whale?
Very like a whale.”
Yesterday I had a repeat performance of familiar disagreement with someone who loves the Network Metaphor - someone who sees the big N as the most important lens through which to build understanding how things spread.
Suffice to say our use of the Network idea is really a Metaphor: - a comparison highlighting certain similarities - human social structures and interactions often behave very much like what we call networks elsewhere. e.g. the physical sciences or in electronics
Unfortunately we often mistake the metaphor for identity; the map for the landscape.
Wouldn't it be better to think about it as a simile (as Billy Shakes does in the quote above). No one imagines that Hamlet and Polonius are saying that the clouds are actually camels, weasels, whales or any other living thing, merely that for a moment, in certain ways, they resemble that kind of thing in certain ways.
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.
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?
it's all to easy for us to get distracted by character of the things we make - by their stickiness and the contagiousness - and imagine that it's these kind of qualities (and thus ultimately our efforts) that determines the success of the things (i.e. how far and fast they spread through a given population).
While that is true in some cases - and it's not completely irrelevant in most (terrible products don't tend to win) - assuming it as a default setting, merely encourages you & me to ignore the underlying mechanism by which the things themselves spread: that is, through people.
Two obvious reasons why we tend to go this way: 1. it plays to what we want to believe about ourselves as masters of persuasion and manipulation of the masses 2. it helps us avoid all that messy human stuff that can so bog brilliance down & (last but not least) 3. because everyone else does it, too.
The future of marketing and related disciplines is really about getting better at the people stuff and embracing the messiness of it and our lack of real control over the outcomes.
Nice post over at Research Live by the supersmart Anna in response to what I said here about the importance of copying in shaping human behaviour (yes, I know again...)
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'swork 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.
Neil and Johnnie have great posts on the negative role that conformity can have on our attempts to engineer organisational change and innovation.
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...
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?