A More Sincere Way to Handle Objections

If you work in professional sales or business development, objections are nothing new to you. Us sales folk hear objections every single day, and the objections are not going to stop any time soon. So if you can’t stop the objections from coming, you might as well embrace them.

The Old Way to Handle Objections

If you work for a company that has a good handle on sales training, they’ve probably schooled you up on common objections you’re likely to hear in the field. It usually goes something like this…

old school objection handling

In my experience I have found that sales people, in anticipation of a particular objection, tend to jump all over their customers because their response has been practiced and rehearsed. This can leave the customer feeling like they were wrong for brining their point up, and they may even develop a negative perception of the sales professional.

A New Way to Handle Objections

new way to handle objectionsTry clarifying an objection by asking a sincere, relevant question. It’ll show that you care and will help you better tailor your response so it’s better received. Generally speaking most objections fall into two categories: objections rooted in theory, and objections rooted in experience.

Objections rooted in theory are normally based off hearsay and often can be overcome by offering more detailed information. Sometimes just getting the customer to admit they  only heard something gives you a good basis to share information that could persuade them.

Objections rooted in experience may cause the customer to have a stronger objection. In my experience people communicate best through stories. Knowing the customer’s story will allow you to form a link with them. As you respond to their objection it would be helpful to reference their own story and show them how the outcome could be different.

Here’s an example of an objection that I hear quite often and my responses based on clarifying the customer’s objection…

example

Try it out and let me know what you think. Hopefully this post wrinkled your brain.

neuroscience and exercising

Humans are made to move 

Who wants to walk 12 miles with me today? Any takers? I didn’t think so.

It might surprise you to find out that early humans traveled as much as 12 miles a day (today people walk an average of less than one-half mile!). They did this to find food, safety, and to explore. For thousands of years, exercise associated as a result of exploring and traveling did much to improve the brain functions of early man, and it still holds true for humans today.

Oxygen is vital to brain nourishment. Exercise does humans a lot of good because it helps our brains get more oxygen. When the body is moving during exercise it pumps blood and oxygen throughout the body and especially to the brain. Nitric Oxide is a flow regulating molecule that through exercise creates more blood vessels in the brain in some pretty key areas. This process of neurogenesis helps improve our cognitive ability as a result of exercise.

For thousands of years while our early ancestors were being active, the cortex of the human brain was getting bigger and bigger, and as a result humans were getting smarter and smarter.

Don’t be a couch potato

University of Washington Neurologist and author of the book Brain Rules, John Medina, shows that our society gives us a lot of reasons be a couch potato. Things like television, computers, and video games often allow people to sit around for hours on end with little body movement. Couple that with fast food and you wonder why America is the world’s fattest nation.

John Medina goes a step further and examined some of our most institutional environments that we created for ourselves. I’m talking about classrooms and cubicles, the mainstays of our educational and professional systems. Sadly, these environments are “anti brain growth environments.”

Think about it, for eight plus hours a day our children and coworkers are often sitting motionless at a desk or trapped in some fabric-lined neural jail cell. For our brains to function optimally we as humans need to move, and move often.

Bring back recess!

Today’s society is test-happy, and unfortunately a lot of academic leaders believe testing is the end-all-be-all of developing knowledge. Sadly this misguided mindset has lead to physical education and recess being eliminated from the school day so that more time can be spent on core subjects.

Is that really the right thing to do? Neuroscience teaches us that exercise facilitates intelligence and boosts memory formation. The resounding answer should be NO, it’s not the right thing to do! For the sake of our children’s mental and physical well being physical education and recess should be reinstated in schools where it’s gone missing.

Active Performance 

It is important to note that exercise alone will not improve your cognitive ability, but repeated tests have shown a strong association to improved cognitive performance. In fact it was found that physically fit kids and adults had faster cognitive response times compared to their overweight counter parts.

Building upon the principle that exercise not only leads to a healthy body, but also a healthy mind, activity and exercise were found to reduce the risk of Alzheimer Disease by 60% and stroke by an amazing 57% in a person’s lifetime.

The great news is that you don’t have to run marathons or do crossfit to benefit from exercise (but they don’t hurt). All you have to do is walk about 20 minutes a day, three days a week, and be more conscious of your dietary intake. It really doesn’t take much.

Today, we have the same brains our early ancestors did that walked 12 miles a day. So be active and make the most of your brain. I’ll leave you with this quote from John Medina that sums up why humans are made to move.

“We were not used to sitting in a classroom for 8 hours at a stretch. We were not used to sitting in a cubicle for 8 hours at a stretch. If we sat around the Serengeti for 8 hours – heck, 8 minutes – we were usually somebody’s lunch.”

For more neuroscience information on exercise please check out Brain Rules by John Medina. You can see the cover in the bookshelf section of social-brain.

Neuromarketing and McMuffins

I drive along the expressways of Chicago most mornings. Although these expressways are lined with billboard after billboard I couldn’t name three of them off the top-of-my-head for you.

Like most people who drive to work in the mornings I’m on autopilot.  I mean I’m physically behind the wheel, I am alert for break lights and lane changes, but I’m not that alert. This mental form of autopilot is actually pretty normal.

We know our brains often go into “autopilot” mode to conserve mental energy during routine tasks like drives to and from work. So you can’t really blame me for not actively looking at all of the billboards as I drive. Plus they’re billboards. I’ve seen thousands in my life time. Big whoop.

However, recently while driving I spotted a billboard along I-290W in Chicago that grabs my attention every single day. Given my background in neuroscience and marketing I quickly noticed the design of this billboard. This ad (and campaign) are noticeably influenced by science. Let’s take a look at what makes this advertisement special:

Although I’m not a fan of McDonalds, I admire their new advertising campaign for it’s neuromarketing elements and design.

  1. The oversized, detailed McMuffin quickly draws consumer attention. Market research studies using neuroscience have shown that consumers better emotionally respond to more detailed foods they’re familiar with.
  1. The left placement of the McMuffin on the billboard actually helps our brains better perceive the image faster. Objects placed on the left side of our field of view are better processed using the right side of our brains and vice versa. This is because our optic nerves criss cross when they enter our brain. The right side of our brain is better at perceiving images. The left side of our brain is better at processing numbers and writing. The image placement and writing in this ad are placed in the best spots possible for our brains to process this information effectively and efficiently.

because the optic nerve criss-crosses when it enters your brain, your left field of view best feeds to your right, artistic side of your brain, and the right field of view feeds to the left, analytic side of your brain.

  1. The text is in lowercase font making it uniform. Visually, this is preferred because the brain likes consistency. Because of how we read when a text is properly capitalized we’re prompted to look for more semantic meaning like if we were reading a textbook.
  1. The message is simple. Perhaps the most difficult thing in marketing and business development is making a concise, influential statement. This billboard speaks to a very common buying focus of consumers when it comes to food – calories and nutrition. In just four words you are now aware a McMuffin is only 300 calories. Remember the principle of cognitive fluency – the easier it is to think about something the easier it is to act upon something.
  1. The design is contrasting. It may seem like common sense but the brain loves clear contrast. The human brain is extremely visual, so the fact that the image and font pop off the background are more helpful to perception.

Pretty crazy that I can sit here and breakdown a very simple billboard and pull the science behind its design and messaging out of it. The beauty of neuroscience and perception is that it doesn’t have to be complex to be effective.

We live in the most over-communicated time ever in human history. Every company has an advertisement to catch our attention, but because we’re so perceptually bombarded, nearly all of the advertisements turn into white noise that we end up ignoring. My advice to companies is to evolve to something more engaging.

The goal for companies should not be to simply catch our attention with advertising and marketing, but to have the consumer genuinely interact with your message. The billboard above stands out for so many reasons. Right now, in this over-communicated world, simple design is going to win out because everything else is cluttered, and ultimately our brains better respond to simple rather than complex.

Got a presentation coming up to a group of people or a customer. Let this billboard remind you that simple is always better.

Your Social Brain and Your Happiness

It’s always nice when one of the most respected institutions in the world provides some research that’s right up your alley.

One of the most astounding facts neuroscience researchers have discovered in the past 20 years is that our brains are far more social than originally thought. Our brains are actually wired to connect with each other, like neural wifis. This ability to connect with each other has been and will always continue to be beneficial to human success and well being.

It’s no coincidence social participation can increase a person’s happiness. Over thousands, even millions of years, humans and our apelike ancestors that contributed to our evolution survived and thrived because of our intelligence and high level social behavior.

Today, mobile technology and social media monopolize our mental energy. Although our tools provide us with a technological advantage, we must avoid falling into a social deficit. Children, teens, adults, and professionals must place a premium on quality, in-person social interactions that are free from technological distractions. These quality, in-person social interactions will provide our brains the neural pathways for us benefit and get a sense of happiness from being a social participant.

We used to be smart, now we’re just frazzled.

As a college senior I remember sitting in my 400 level sales & marketing class, hearing the professor tell us how the internet is reshaping the field of professional sales because the consumer is becoming more intelligent as a result of easily obtaining information through the use of search engines. I enjoyed the thought that technology and knowledge could provide transparency to professionals sales – something the profession was in desperate need of.

 

I graduated from college in 2007. At that time Facebook was just getting off the ground, Twitter or LinkedIn were nowhere near mainstream, and the thought of iPhones and iPads were something from a sci-fi movie.  It’s amazing to think that was only five years ago. Those were different times then, and we were different people.

 

If in the mid 2000‘s the internet made consumers more intelligent, the addition of social media and mobile technology has made today’s consumer impossibly busy and extremely difficult to reach from a professional sales standpoint. Technology provides a cheap, quick form of communication, but one that is not emotionally stirring enough to drive buying behavior.

A majority of B2B sales professionals struggle to get over these new-age, technological hurdles that keep them from their potential customers. And even when sales professionals meet with potential customers, most are not equipped to deal with someone who is busy, stressed, over-communicated, and is short on attention.

 

The solution for sales people is not to become as complicated as the environment that surrounds today’s customers, but rather to cut right through the clutter using simple, effective communication. Here are some tips and tricks that my help you in a sales process with a frazzled, busy customer.

 

Simple is effective.

 

The human brain loves simplicity. The principle of Cognitive Fluency teaches us that the easier it is to think about something, the easier it is to act upon something. If your message is complex your customer will hesitate to take action, and nothing is worse than a customer who continually drags their feet.

 

If you’re sending a message in text keep it at three sentences or under. It’s far more likely to be read. Keep in mind most people read emails on a mobile device, and the small screen could make a two paragraph introductory email look like a novel.

 

One of the questions I like to ask is “can you summarize your entire message in a tweet?” Seriously. Thinking about your message from this perspective will allow you to trim the fat of your presentation and make your message more likely to be understood.

Be relevant or get the hell out of my office.

 

Always keep the focus on the urgent and most immediate needs of your customer. Undoubtedly you will discover other areas that you can make a difference for your customer in the sales process, but you must keep your eye on the prize. It’s important you gauge the focus of your customer and don’t get off track.

 

If your customer has several urgent and immediate needs, deliver your message one at a time when you see the timing is best. Although your customer might have 4 major needs they can’t mentally process them all at once and on the initial. Spoon feed them how you can make a difference for them one issue at a time.

 

Be Salient and Different.

 

Don’t be surprised when customers don’t return your phone calls and emails. I have best friends who don’t call me back. It’s nothing personal, it just speaks to a busy lifestyle. If you want to reach your customer you need to stand out and that might be winding the clocks back to a time before emails and text messages.

If you have a customer that’s worth the time there’s a variety of ways to get their attention. Once you’ve crafted your simple, relevant initial message you can try some of the below strategies. It’s always nice when I mailed a hand-written note to a customer and they call me back when they get it. There’s actual a scientific reason behind it. Thanks for reading and I hope this wrinkled your brain.

Cold Calling for College Kids

My experience working with college classes has been that very few students actually want to pursue a career in sales. However, the rude awakening for most students is that as they approach graduation they’re going to accept a job in sales. I always open up a conversation at the beginning of class so I can find out what actually scares students about sales, and the most common answer I get is COLD CALLING.

In life and business you only get one chance to make a first impression, and a cold call is just that, a first impression. For many people, approaching someone you don’t know is stressful regardless of the situation and setting. For my college students I liken cold calling to dating. Yep, dating.

Think about the last time you were out and saw someone that you found attractive but didn’t know them. Now I want you to think about how terrified you probably were to go over and talk to that person. Sounds a lot like a cold call doesn’t it?

When you really think about it, you have nothing to lose by introducing yourself. At worst, the person is rude or mean. If that’s the case then they’re probably not a good fit for you anyway. For the sake of learning, let’s pretend that you decide to stride on over to talk to that person.

Your appearance and confidence are paramount to your introduction’s success. Always be self assured, but not cocky. Remember peoples’ brains can unconsciously detect if you’re nervous or scared. You’re standing in the person’s line of sight. You make eye contact with them, smile and open your mouth to speak… but what do you say?!

It’s not about you.

Dale Carnegie said it best, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people to become interested in you.” As introductions and cold calls go, the first words out of most people’s mouth are often about themselves and not the person they’re talking to. Fail.

Keeping with the dating example, imagine you’re a girl at a bar and a guy you’ve never met before walks up to you and says this:

As you can see the language of Rich’s introduction is all about himself. The majority of women out there would probably not be enticed to spend more time with him because all he did was drop details about himself during his introduction.

Like our college stud above, sales professionals often make the same mistake of talking too much about their own companies while introducing themselves. Here’s an example of common cold call introduction made by a sales professional:

As you can see from the above example all this sales professional did was talk about his company. And much like the girl at the bar, the customer is probably going to pass on spending more time with this sales professional.

WIIFM

WIIFM stands for What’s In It For Me. That is the question you need to ask yourself from the perspective of the other person you’re talking to. Life is an endless series of decisions, and all sales is helping influence decision making as it pertains to business. The best way to influence people is to put their needs, concerns, and goals before yours. Taking the WIIFM perspective of the person you’re talking with will make a world of difference in your initial interaction.

Let’s go back to our first dating example of the girl at the bar. How much different do you think the interaction would be if Rich lost the cigarette and came up and said this:

Before you criticize my game, please keep in mind this is just an example. What I wanted to convey in this second scenario is that Rich is taking an interest in the other person by anchoring to an interest of hers. Rich is still the same guy as in first scenario, he just doesn’t have to be in a rush to get that information out so quickly. If he can share a common interest with her and let her know she’ll have fun by spending time with him she might be more inclined to actually do so.

From the business perspective this is how a cold call would go from a WIIFM perspective:

It amazes me how many times I have made introductions to customers without ever mentioning who I work for and still got the meeting. This is because the mind of your customer is selfish and all the things they want to hear are about their business. The customer could care less about Company X being an industry leader or a Fortune 1000 member. All the customer cares about is What can Company X do for me?  If you’re speaking to their interests, needs, and goals you’re going to make a great first impression as a result of your cold call.

The truth is if you’re going to be an effective communicator it’s all about taking an interest in the other person. If you’re trying to persuade or communicate a desire, keep the focus on the outcome or WIIFM for the other person. The best sales people aren’t talkers, they’re actually listeners. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. If you’re a college kid reading this I hope you’re able to think twice about the introductions you make personally and professionally.

Thank you for reading.

Is Technology Making Us Dumb?

It might be difficult for anyone above the age of 25 to wrap their head around, but social intelligence in our younger generations may be in jeopardy as a result of our growing dependence on technology. The above Harvard Business Review blog post may actually confirm it.

On the scale of “hippie to techie” I fall smack in the middle. I respect technology, but at the same time I am cautious of our growing dependence on it as a society. Speaking from a neuroscience standpoint I have great reason to be cautious. Technology may be undermining several key evolutionary neural responses that are essential for social development and meaningful communication.

Our Brain’s Evolutionary Roots

You might not know it, but the brain that rests in your skull has actually been a work in progress for millions of years. Humans had numerous apelike ancestors that shared brains that were very similar to our own. Over time our brains took shape to what they are today. Amazingly through our millions of years of evolution, language has only occupied a tiny sliver of space on that timeline – around 10,000 years.

To survive, our ancestors relied on social behavior and communication. Since language was not around most of that time our ancestors relied on more physical forms of communication. Millions of years of physical expression and communication have provided our brains with the unique ability to process mannerisms and facial expressions much faster than we process language.

The HBR blog is quick to point out that 55% of conversation is physical. Far and away the most important physical aspect of communication are facial expressions. Facial expression recognition is actually one of the most important factors in meaningful conversation, and is highly correlated with social intelligence.

It’s been said the face is a canvas of emotion. Our faces convey emotions that words simply cannot, and our brains pick up on it at lighting quick speeds. Evolution has defined the facial expressions we make and the way we perceive them. That is why facial expressions are the same across every culture.

could you accurately describe the emotion for each of these faces. believe it or not, many children struggle with this task and that is spelling trouble for communication later in life.

Back to the Future

Technology is not the devil, but it does rob many adults and children of attention and focus that is meant to be used in communication. My best advice is to practice as much  face-to-face, genuine communication as possible. That means turn off your Blackberrys, iPhones, and close the lids on your laptops. Take time to focus on the subtleties of the conversation.

All human cognition and behavior is set in place by the neural pathways in our brain that is unique to our own biology and experiences. That amazing 3lbs of matter is so efficient that if you do not consistently practice a certain behavior in youth it’ll be gone before you know it. Simply said, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” I beg you, please don’t let this happen to your ability to effectively communicate.

Can You Take The Hits? A Lesson in Resiliency

The Origins of Resiliency

Like all cognitive behavior, our neural pathways for resiliency begin to take shape at a young age.  Resiliency  is a combination of a biological predisposition and the environment that you’re raised in.  Because resiliency helps us manage our emotions and the emotions of others it is linked to social intelligence – which directly impacts performance later in life.

Alarmingly, a growing number of children today are raised in a manner that hinders resiliency and social intelligence.  Many parents have subscribed to the false theory that the best way to raise a child is to ensure perpetual happiness and protect their children from any and all stressors.  That’s why today children play sports where nobody keeps score and traditional gym class games like dodgeball are considered barbaric. Come on now!

Life is full of both good and bad experiences. The best way to raise children is not to protect them from the bad experiences, but rather to help our children understand how to navigate the negative experiences to return back to a positive mental state. If you don’t learn how to navigate difficult experiences in youth, it will only become more difficult as an adult.

Do you remember your first day of school? I bet you had butterflies in your stomach, and nothing is wrong with that because that is a common symptom of social stress.

Research has shown that at the start of the school year all children have increased stress hormone levels.  As the school year goes on, children who are more socially adept show a decline in stress hormone levels to their normal state.  For those children who have not had experience dealing with common stressors in life their stress hormones levels remain at a high level throughout the school year, hindering their social performance [Social Intelligence, Goleman]

Let’s flash forward 17 years from our first day of school to our first day work…

Resiliency at Work

Resiliency in professional settings grows from discomfort generated by the necessary pressures of work. We cannot control the stress we feel, but we can control the actions we take to deal with it. It amazes me the number of times I have seen adult professionals throw tantrums as a result of something not going their way. Don’t be that guy (or girl)!

Much of life and business is failure. You can’t hide from it, so you might as well embrace it – this is especially true for those of you who work in sales and marketing. That is why the best sales professionals and business leaders are those who are resilient, who see the bright side, and can “take the hits.”

The technological age we live in only makes the stressors of life and work that much more apparent. Good news travels fast, and worse news seems to travel faster through email and social media. Today, stress can spread faster than a plague started by a monkey bite. A hate email sent by a high ranking executive can derail an entire divisions motivation in seconds.

A message to the Managers

Great managers have to have an understanding of stress and resiliency. The best managers often serve as a buffer between unnecessary stress and their team. In my experience managing an 800 person field sales force I can tell you with great confidence that “happy sales professionals produce more results.”

The very nature of sales and marketing is stressful. So why would you add to that with unnecessary stress that will only hinder performance.  As a manger I would absorb a lot of negative messages and mandates to keep my team positive and performing well. This also will have you gain the trust of your team, and that is a great feeling.

as business professionals we can learn a few things from this wartime social marketing. no matter how bad things seem at first they're gonna blow over or better yet, you'll find a way through it.

However, not all stress is bad. Much like a flu shot, stress in small doses can help make you stronger over time. I highly suggest taking the time to understand each of your team members and their resiliency. This will help you coach and manage them to reach their full potential. Sometimes your team needs to be protected and sometimes your team needs to be challenged.  Quality managers will know when the time is appropriate for both.

I’ll leave you with this. It’s one of my favorite scenes from the Rocky movies. Rocky’s speech cuts right to the heart of why resiliency matters in everything that you do. Thanks for reading.

Do One Thing

Welcome to the new year ladies and gentlemen. I wish you all health and prosperity in 2012. Personally, I have never been big on new years resolutions, but since I’m writing this on the biggest football day of the year I wanted to spend some time tackling the subject (horrible pun intended).

Not surprisingly, 88% of all new years resolutions end in failure [Wiseman, 2007]. I believe this to be true because year-in and year-out we bite off more than we can mentally chew. This time of year the conversation always comes up about resolutions and you’ll hear from many people they want to do this, and that, and some of this, and that one thing. If you have more than one resolution, you’re setting yourself up for major failure.

The brain has a finite amount of mental energy. This is a fact. To accomplish tasks that require will power, like a new year’s resolution, you have to be economical with your brain’s energy. Try and do too much and your brain will perform poorly do to fatigue.

Contrary to popular belief the human brain is not good at multitasking. In fact, it’s quite bad at it. For this reason I urge you all to simplify your new year’s resolutions and pick one thing and focus on achieving it.

To get in shape you need to protect your brain.

Weight loss is the most common New Year’s resolution, so I wanted to spend some time on the subject . In a study conducted by Baba Shiv at Stanford University, several dozen undergrads were split into two groups. One group was given a two-digit number to memorize. The other group was given a seven-digit number to memorize.

After the groups spent time memorizing their numbers they proceeded down the hall one at a time where they were presented with their choice of a bowl of fruit salad or a piece of chocolate cake. Not surprisingly the group that had to memorize the seven-digit number were 2x more likely to take a piece of cake to eat.

A tired brain does not have enough mental energy to support will power – something that requires a lot of brain energy. Spending most of my life in outside sales I can say that I saw the outcome of Baba Shiv’s experiment coming. When your brain is overworked, frazzled, and stressed you make poor choices and lack will power.

DO ONE THING

Like most things in life, the key to success is simplicity. Focus on doing one thing, and then do it really well. I saw this idea in action two years ago when I sat in the office of my former marketing professor and dear friend and mentor Dr. Terri Feldman Barr. She described me a movement she was starting at Miami’s Business School called “Do One Thing.” It was brilliant.

Students were urged to select “one thing” they wanted to commit to and then shared it with their peers to create social accountability. Some students went as far to create badges with their “one thing” written on it and wore them for all to see. If you’re one thing was recycling then everyone knew you were going to do your best to be environmentally responsible.

The end result of Do One Thing was a large group of students coming together to share their goals for better behavior and accountability. This year I ask you all to do “one thing.” My “one thing” is to compliment strangers. I want to make the environment around me better one smile at a time, and my “one thing” can help make it so.

What’s your one thing?

Solving Real Problems with Conceptual Solutions

I wanted to share with you one of my favorite TED talks.

 

The term “value” is so ubiquitous (triple word score!) in business today that it runs the risk of losing its meaning. Most professionals know the importance of “value” but rarely spend time digging deep and understanding the elegance of the concept of value.

 

In this TED talk Rory Sutherland gives a very insightful and humorous survey of the history and conceptual complexity of value. He’s brilliant. Enjoy!

 

How to Call the Baby Ugly

Speaking effectively to the deficiencies of your potential customers.

By: Kevin Torres and Jeff Sobieraj

In a recent HBR Blog article The Worst Question a Sales Person Can Ask, authors Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson take a stance against the exploratory, question driven approach that dominates the sales landscape today. In the article Dixon and Adamson bring up a topic rarely covered in sales education and training, that most businesses don’t actually know what they’re doing wrong.

If most businesses are blind to their own shortcomings, asking general questions would otherwise prove to be an ineffective approach for getting the customer to voice their concerns. At a certain point in the sales process it is a necessity to bring up the subject of your customer’s deficiencies to move the sales process forward because your customer may be unaware of their issues. The goal of your sales interactions should be to let the customer discover, in their own way, that he/she has an issue or area that could be improved. If questions aren’t working it might make sense to go at your problem head-on.

Breaching the topic of your customer’s deficiencies is much easier said that done. Incorrectly communicate your message, no matter how good your intentions, and you run the risk of offending your customer. Any kind of direct challenge will most likely result in one of two responses: defend or deny. But if you’re able to effectively speak to your customers deficiencies, the sales experience you’ve provided would be valued by your potential customer as you will have come off as insightful, informative, and respectful.

Empathy

You would never think to call a baby ugly in front of its parents. With sales it’s the same concept. Just like you, your potential customers take pride and have an emotional investment with their job and their company. With that being said, most people don’t take kindly to unsolicited advice or insight. This is the mine field you travel through as you progress in the sales process. Seek to understand your customer and their roles and responsibilities before breaching the topic of their business deficiencies.

Focus on the solution

“If you’re focusing on the problem you can’t see the solution. Never focus on the problem.” – Arthur Mendleson [Patch Adams 1998]

This quote couldn’t be truer when you’re communicating with your customer about deficiencies in their business operations. Constantly speak to the obtainable outcomes of providing a meaningful solution for your customer’s problems. Keep the focus positive and give objective examples of businesses or people who were in the same situation and the solutions you provided. Sharing similar customer success stories takes the customer of the island and shows them it’s okay they’re deficient in certain areas so long as they can correct it moving forward.

Prime your customer for advice and insight

The use of brain imaging for social neuroscience teaches us that how you say something is actually more important that what you’re saying. Surprisingly, negative information delivered in a positive manner is better perceived by our brains than positive information delivered in a negative manner. Millions of years of evolution has primed our brains to respond better and faster to physical cues and mannerisms than to the use of words. So remain positive, upbeat and confident as you begin to discuss possible solutions to your customer’s deficiencies.

Would you perceive this as good news or bad news?

Although communication is overwhelmingly physical, your words still carry a lot of weight. So I enlisted the help of a good friend and top notch sales professional Jeff Sobieraj to help provide some good “ice-breakers” or softening statements for discussing your customer’s deficiencies head on. We’ll leave you with these:

“Do you mind if I share something with you…”

“Can I ask you a question off the record…”

“I have to tell you something here, and please don’t hold it against me…”

“I have to level with you here: you have to change this process/strategy/technology. Whether you’re working with me or another vendor it’s important for the sake of your business that this get fixed…”

“I know this isn’t your first rodeo. What is it that you think needs to change here…”

“I had a chance to research this issue and I actually found some areas where you can improve your effectiveness. Do you mind if I share them with you…”

“With all do respect, this is a problem area for you. The good news is there are things can be done to fix this issue and even improve upon it. I’d like to discuss it in more depth…”

The Science of Selling: The Numbers Game

Numbers…

neuroscience sheds some light on how to best use numbers to motivate your business development team.

Numbers are an integral part of business. Numbers provide keen insight into every facet of business: service, sales, and operations. Reports, statistics, and analytics are routinely placed in the hands of leadership for evaluation. This process of evaluating numbers directly affects how leadership manages and motivates their workforce. It’s not too uncommon for leadership to incorrectly attempt to motivate their workforce as they perform conceptual tasks by using numbers.

In both of the best selling books A Whole New Mind, and Drive Dan Pink beautifully illustrates the dramatic shift in business from manual, industrial tasks to conceptual tasks and how it affects motivation. In short, numbers are ideal for motivating and managing the completion of manual tasks, however this is not the case for the completion of conceptual tasks.

numbers aren't ideal for motivating conceptual tasks.

There is no greater conceptual task than business development. There’s no magic button for making a sale or marketing your good or service effectively. The key challenge in business development is providing conceptual solutions while effectively managing social interactions.

Neuroscience and Numbers

The brain that currently sits inside your skull has been a work in progress for millions of years. Over that length of time our ancestors succeeded largely based on their intelligence and the ability to form social bonds. Our current brain is a masterpiece of higher level thought and the innate ability to connect with others to accomplish tasks.

Numbers have only been around a few thousand years. On the evolutionary timeline of human brain development numbers only occupy a tiny sliver space. Today’s economic environment is made up overwhelmingly of conceptual tasks. It makes sense to embrace our ability for complex thought and social interaction. Numbers, surprisingly can short-side our ability to successfully perform conceptual tasks.

The reason why numbers can undermine our conceptual abilities is that our brain, amazing as it is, is actually quite poor at multitasking (Brain Rules). We use different parts of our brain to perform social interactions than we do to evaluate numbers, and these two areas of the brain do not work well in concert. Studies have shown that just thinking about numbers, specifically from an economic standpoint, can actually make people more selfish. Since conceptual tasks rely heavily on positive social interaction, selfish thoughts can compromise ones ability to perform optimally in this area.

Management and Motivation Tips for Conceptual Tasks

  • Lead your team by promoting social behavior that will further along the sales process. Keeping the focus on making a positive impact for your customers is the key to long term motivation and success. Always keep moving forward.
  • Performance reports and analytics should be used in review of your employees, not as the main motivator. There’s no quicker way to strip your team of autonomy and motivation by saying you need to do x phone calls, x meetings, and x presentations to have success. Activity is important, but not the end all be all of business.
  • Do NOT use your CRM to police your business development team. CRMs are meant to manage customer relationships, not harass your team. Trust the employees you hired, they all want to be successful.
  • Allow your employees to set a trend in behavior, once that trend is in place evaluate it to see if their goal is being reached, if not adjust accordingly to help them reach success and keep the tone positive.
  • Avoid falling in love with your reports. Remember, success is a byproduct of our behavior and a result of doing things the right way. The only number that matters should be the final sale, the result.

Neural Optimal Design in Use

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I promise that is going to change. I have written a lot in the past about neuromarketing and neural optimal design, but I felt it would be good to keep this post short and sweet by showing you some good marketing design that has neural influences.

Chipotle Tabasco's bottle old and new

I snapped this picture of these two Tabasco bottles while I was eating a burrito at my local Chipotle. Since I normally drench my steak burritos (and everything else) in Tabasco’s Chipotle Hot Sauce I have become quite attuned to this bottle and was amazed when I saw the new design.

I put them side-by-side because the new bottle’s design is great for two main reasons:

1. What jumps out at you is “BEST BITE”, but only then you realize that there is more to the message and it draws you in to read it more closely. Remember, the brain loves simple puzzles, and the main message on this bottle is perfectly arranged to draw in hot sauce users.

2. More image. Less Text. As you can see a hamburger has made an appearance on the bottle. Compared to the old bottle of hot sauce the picture breaks up the wordiness. Remember, a majority of the brain is dedicated to vision. That means your message has to contain a visual element.

GO DO GOOD is a fun take on social marketing

While roaming the streets of Chicago, my hometown that I miss dearly, I had to smile when I came across this sign on State Street (that great street). It’s simple puzzle like design stopped me and several others in our tracks on a busy city sidewalk to consciously process the meaning.

“GO DO GOOD” is a social marketing campaign that is built around promoting good public behavior. As I continued walking down the street I saw several city public works employees sweeping train stop wearing bright yellow shirts that had the same GODOGOOD logo. Maybe it was just the buzz of being back home or maybe it was the marketing design, but it got me. I felt like doing some good and held the door open for a lot of strangers at the next place I walked in to.

I’ve said it a lot of times, marketing is evolving. The old goal of marketing was to say “hey! look at me”, and because of that we’ve become senselessly over communicated. I believe the new goal of marketing is to have people genuinely interact with your message at a conscious level. Tabasco bottle or social marketing campaign, these two messages do just that.

Burritos and Your Brain 2.0

A long time ago I wrote an article called Burritos and your Brain. The article examined the ill received reactions from loyal customers when Chipotle decided to change their marketing design in an attempt to introduce a new logo, and how Chipotle promptly returned to their familiar marketing design shortly there after.

A little over a month ago I was driving when I spotted a billboard in the distance that looked like Chipotle’s marketing design. As I got closer I nearly crashed my car. Why, you ask. Because Chipotle had made changes to their marketing design yet again, but this time they absolutely nailed it.

This was the exact Chipotle advertisement that I saw.

Let’s examine what makes this ad so powerful by examining it through lessons and principles learned in neuromarketing:

This Ad is a Puzzle. The brain loves simple puzzles. Puzzles shake us out of our subconscious auto pilot and demand our conscious attention. With this ad you can see the bold words calling out to you, forming it’s own simple message, but it only draws you in more because you have to read the sentence that the bold words originate from. Rather than this ad just be noticed, it actually causes the consumer to consciously interact with it.

The Buying Brain Loves Puzzles. CEO of NeuroFocus Dr. Pradeep does a fantastic job of describing this in more depth in his book The Buying Brain.

The Ad is Salient. Chipotle’s marketing design was originally created to stand out against the clutter and noise of most marketing design that fills are daily environments, and it has historically worked for them. This ad is no different. The brain loves clear contrast, and it doesn’t get any clearer than “black and white”. That’s exactly what you get when you see this ad. The black bold words pop off the white background. This ad is clean, clear and contrasting – all the things your brain likes.

Great use of Font. The “Confidential Font Type” is bold and noticeable compared most other marketing design. It’s also synonymous with Chipotle. How many other companies do you see using this font on a national level? None, exactly. The font is also uniform, meaning that the letters are all the same case. In advertising the brain actually prefers when the font is uniform.

Good Logo Use. The use and placement of the logo in the ad is very important. The use of the Chipotle logo is subtle. Studies have shown that brain prefers the subtle use of logos. Company logos that are too in-your-face have actually shown negative perception from consumers’ brains. That is definitely not the case here.

Good Logo Placement. Keep in mind that this ad was placed outside, so you want your message to be centered and high on the background so it draws vision upward. The logo placement defers to the message itself letting, it go front and center. The logo is also placed on the right side of the ad. Images should be placed on the right side of material because it’s perceived with the left side of the brain – the side of your brain that is best at processing images and pictures.

Thanks for Reading!

I am glad to see Chipotle continuing their marketing dominance. I cannot express how hungry I am for Chipotle after writing this article. Steak burrito, here I come! Thanks for stopping by social-brain, and thanks for reading!

How are Neuromarketing Companies Marketing Themselves…

The Neuromarketing Frontier

The field of neuromarketing is actually still very young. Although cognitive neuroscience has been researched for decades, neuroscience as it pertains to perception and decision-making in business is still in its infancy.

My research and experience with neuromarketing has taught me a few important things about the nature of this field. Before assuming the role that I am currently in now, I was actually looking to go back to school to obtain a PhD in neuromarketing. Over the past 18 months as I searched school by prestigious school I noticed something, there were little to no neuromarketing PhD programs – largely because there were little to no professors of neuromarketing.

as we see more and more neuromarketing research used in business today it will eventually lead to neurobased classes in business schools around the nation.

Although specific research was being conducted at schools like Emory, Cal Berkley and many more, there was little academic support for neuromarketing as a major program inside business schools. This confused me as I continued to read study after mind-blowing study regarding neuromarketing, and then it hit me. The university labs that were conducting these studies were academic partners with major corporate sponsors and neuromarketing companies.

Where is Neuromarketing Research Coming From?

Companies like NeuroFocus, Buyology Inc., Sands Research, EmSense, and The Consumer Neuroscience Division of Millward Brown have been directing this field and driving neuromarketing research for all. As neuromarketing becomes a more familiar research tool for companies, these will be the names that businesses most likely to turn to improve their marketing effectiveness.

And suddenly you’re hit with a new and exciting thought – how do the companies that provide neuromarketing consulting effectively market to their customers in this new and soon to be highly competitive market? This is the beauty and superb difficulty of marketing and sales strategy that all companies face in varying capacities.

Neuromarketing companies, better than most, are supposed to understand the scientific process of marketing design, communication, and strategic execution – so it very exciting to see how they will approach business development in this new market. And it would seem that some of these companies are starting to make their first strategic marketing moves already.

NeuroStandards and The Law of Leadership

A month ago I came across a press release that announced that the world’s largest neuromarketing firm NeuroFocus had created NeuroStandards, the first and only set of scientifically sound principles for conducting EEG-based, full-brain measurements intended for application to market research studies. As I read the press release I recognized that this was no ordinary press announcement. It was also a strategic marketing move, and a very good one at that.

Highly Recommended Reading. The Buying Brain and Buyology are examples of how neuromarketing companies are leveraging education and knowledge to reach their consumers. Buyology was written by Buyology Inc. Founder Martin Lindstrom, and The Buying Brain was written by NeuroFocus CEO Dr. A.K. Pradeep. The Buying Brain gives excellent insight into basic neuroscience principles and leads wonderfully into concepts and trends that are currently at the forefront of neuromarketing.

The Law of Leadership is a term that comes from Al Ries and Jack Trout’s book The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing and builds off of positioning strategy. The core lesson behind positioning strategy is that it doesn’t matter where you’re at in the market place, but more importantly where you’re at in the mind of the consumer.

The Law of Leadership is the rule for the importance, and advantages, of being first in a product category in the mind of the consumer, and the marketing behaviors a company should take when widely recognized as a leader. And that brings us back to NeuroFocus, because in the past year they have been continually recognized as the world’s leading neuromarketing firm.

What stood out about NeuroStandards is that it was a press release that presented standards for conducting neuromarketing research for an entire industry. Rather than boast their own standards for research, NeuroFocus effectively positioned themselves firmly in the mind of the consumer as the leader by educating the consumer as well as other neuromarketing companies on best practices for the industry – something they can leverage in sales processes moving forward.

if you're the leader, just don't grow your slice of the pie. grow the entire pie!

For example if the neuromarketing industry was a pie and each neuromarketing company was a slice that makes up the pie, as the leader it doesn’t make any sense to grow just your slice of the pie. It actually makes more sense to grow the pie as a whole – thus indirectly growing your slice of the pie. By using NeuroStandards, NeuroFocus was able to effectively communicate their role as the leader by providing industry-recognized education for all.

The Emerging Role of Education in Marketing

Today’s consumers are smarter than they have ever been.  The Internet has drastically reshaped business by allowing people to research and compare every product, service, and company. This has prompted companies to add another layer, education, to their marketing and branding strategies.

I’ll end this post with a bit of sales and marketing advice that has helped me over the years. Provide education relevant to your customers, and sell industry knowledge just as much as you sell your products and services. Consumers are hungry for knowledge relating to their emotional buying intent and interests. So give them what they want, especially if you’re the one leading the pack.

Thank you for reading!

The Neuromarketing Merits of “Icing”

Maybe you’ve seen this? You’re out at a bar enjoying the local nightlife on the weekend and suddenly you hear a group of cheers coupled with laughter. You turn your head to see what the commotion is about, and just then you see a young fellow take a knee and begin chugging a bottle of Smirnoff Ice while his friends taunt him because he was surprisingly handed this beverage. The frat boys in the bar cheer and the on-looking hipsters roll there eyes in disgust. What you’ve just witnessed is a ritual called “Icing” someone.

Surprisingly “Icing” has caught on in major way and doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing down.  As absurd and childish as this drinking game may appear it actually is no different than a lot of other rituals that surround some of America’s most beloved alcoholic beverages.

"Ritual and superstition can exert a potent influence on how and why we buy" - Martin Lindstrom, Author of Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy

Truth and Limes

I was at the bar with some of my closest friends last week and I ordered a round of Coronas to bring back to our table. I successfully brought all the beers to the table but in my haste forgot the limes on the napkin at the bar. The way my friends reacted when they realized that I brought back Coronas with no limes you would have thought I kicked a puppy.

You see, people are very ritualistic. We rely on our routines, our rituals and even our silly superstitions to get us through the day.  What I had done when I was out at the bar with my friends was violate the ritual of drinking a Corona. Serve 99% of people with an ice cold Corona with no sliced fruit and their follow up question will always be “Where’s the lime?”

The interesting thing about the ritual surround drinking a Corona is that is was invented by a bartender on a slow night sometime in 1981. I always make it a point to ask my fellow beer drinkers why they think the lime goes in the bottle and they always give me one of two answers: something about sailors on a boat or the silence of thought followed by a defeated “I don’t know…”

No matter the reason for putting a slice of lime in your beer it had done something amazing for the Corona brand. The ritual of the lime separates Corona from every other import out there in the mind of the consumer. The lime ritual was attributed to helping Corona become the #1 selling imported beer. Could the same bright future be in store for Smirnoff Ice?

The Cognitive Psychology of Rituals

You might not realize it but every day in your life is made up of a series of rituals – many of which have become so ingrained in the fabric of your life that you don’t even consciously notice them.

Other rituals hold such importance that people set aside time to consciously work through them. The best example of this is religion. People from all denominations of religious groups set an hour or so a week to practice their faith in a conscious ritualistic fashion.

Rituals are cognitively pleasing and ease our daily interactions providing us with a flow to otherwise mundane activities. However, recent research is shedding new light on why rituals, both conscious and unconscious, are so important to humans.

We live in a stressful world. Wars, fluttering economies, and disease are just some of the concerns that people face every day. Like most grave concerns they often reside out of our control. It’s now believed rituals are so important to humans because our ritualistic behavior allows us to have a sense of control in an otherwise hectic life.

“If you remove the appearance that they are in control, both humans and animals become stressed. During the Gulf War in 1991, in areas that were attacked by Scud missiles, there was a rise in superstitious and ritualistic behavior.” – Dr. Bruce Hood, University of Bristol

Humans have been susceptible to stress over the entire course of our evolution. Today we fear war and our economy. Thousands of years ago we feared getting eaten and things as simple as thunder storms. Take a look back through time and realize every single culture before us has had its rituals. No wonder putting a lime in your beer just makes sense for most people.

The future of Icing

Icing is a ritual that has caught on in the short term. It has a shared set of understood rules, actions, and for some “bros”, very passionate beliefs. Smirnoff has denied any marketing effort in creating the ritual of icing, and I believe this to be true because it’s too simple and effective for any marketing mind. But for now bros will keep icing bros and that leads to six packs of Smirnoff Ice flying off the shelves.

My gut feeling is that the Icing trend will wear itself out by the end of the summer. The key to any ritual is that it is relevant, and this is where Icing lacks the proper horsepower to sustain itself for months or even years to come.

Corona has and always will ride the wave of the ritual of the lime, because flavor is the relevance of their ritual, and that is universal to all beer drinkers. Like Smirnoff, Corona didn’t invent the lime ritual, but I’ll be damned if they don’t embrace it. Look no further than their marketing for proof of lime branding.

Smirnoff Ice has gained notoriety because the ritual of Icing.  How long they choose to sustain this notoriety is up to Smirnoff’s marketing dept. One thing remains certain in this game of rituals and marketing – they work, and in different capacities at influencing our behavior to buy.

Neuromarketing: Lessons and Insights in Virtual Media and Print

The rapid and diverse evolution of technology has allowed virtual media to show unprecedented growth in recent years.  As a result many companies that were mainstays in American culture have fallen on difficult economic times because the medium for which they have traditionally communicated with their consumers has drastically shifted to virtual media.

We used to gets ads just in print. Now you can get ads on your iPad. It's obvious virtual media has its benefits, but is it what's best at getting to your consumer's brain.

The economic benefits of virtual media are many.  Because technology is relatively inexpensive companies and marketers are able to reach more people through many different channels of communication. As a result traditional print is on the decline. Although virtual media has shown to be the most effective way to reach more consumers with greater ease it begs the question, is virtual media the most effective way to communicate with the human brain?

Neuromarketing: Beyond Focus Groups

To better understand the differences in the effectiveness of virtual media and physical media Millward Brown teamed up with the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University on behalf of The UK’s Royal Mail.  Rather than using focus groups that rely on participants to articulate their subjective thoughts and feedback Millward Brown decided to use neuroscience to observe the emotions of participants in real time as they observed print and virtual ads. Here is the link to the study.

We used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scanning to understand how the brain reacts to physical and virtual stimuli. [Using Neuroscience to Understand the Role of Direct Mail, 2009 Millward Brown: Case Study]

Lessons in Emotion: Let’s Get Physical, Physical

The latest neuroscience research has only furthered our understanding of the role emotions play in the success of marketing campaigns. If encoding memories was a machine, emotions would be the lubricant that keeps it running smoothly. Neuroscience has also shed light on the role emotions play in decision making. Lessons learned in this specific area of science can best be summed up in the phrase “we think logically and act emotionally.”

This is an fMRI image used from the Millward Brown/Bangor study. The red area is activated by print ads and the blue area is activated by virtual media. Notice there is a greater response from the print ad in two key areas of the brain associated with emotion.

The research conducted by Millward Brown strongly suggested that greater emotional processing is facilitated by physical material than virtual material. One might think that because more senses are stimulated through physical interaction this would account for the increase in brain activity, but measures were taken in the study to focus on emotional processing and cancel out extraneous signals from the brain. Physical print ads are better facilitating emotions.

Applying Neuromarketing Lessons to Marketing Design

Traditionally the goal of marketing was to get your message out to as many people as possible. Over time market research allowed companies to fine tune their messages and target specific audiences. Virtual media may be the quickest and easiest way to reach the most people, but marketers should understand role their marketing can and should play in each stage of the business development process.  Virtual media works wonderfully as a tool to get your message to the masses but sometimes you need to get more in depth.

The goal of neuromarketing is to create genuine interactions between consumers and your message. This is done by understanding and utilizing emotion to build successful relationships, no matter how brief those relationships are.  Applying the research discussed previously in this article would allow you to strategically create a marketing campaign that leverages both virtual and physical media to reach your desired audience in their specific roles.

For example this would equate to creating a marketing campaign that targets both consumers and retailers yet uses two different mediums to communicate (and genuinely interact) with the same message. Neuromarketing can also be extremely relevant in b2b sales and marketing. Often times in the b2b sales process you have to influence a decision maker or panel. If you have a strong value proposition then I would recommend using a physical (and relevant) medium to market to your decision makers and key influencers.

Millward Brown’s study findings are simple and yet powerful in meaning: Physical print ads are better at facilitating emotions.  I have been in awe of the Apple iPad because it has become technological wildfire.  Trends in the market suggest this is the future of our media flow. The pull as a society may be strong to put all your eggs in virtual media basket, but never the less business is and will always be done on a personal and very real level. And it’s only on that personal level you’re going to understand the meaning of emotions – those tricky unconscious feeling that make you love, hate, and buy.

The Predictive Process of Perception

Let’s begin with this simple, yet little known fact: our cognition guides our perception. Our five senses are nothing more than receptors for photons of light, wavelengths, air pressure, and so on.

The truth is that we see, touch, taste, smell, and hear with that magical three pound mass between our ears. The brain, in the most efficient manner possible organizes our multisensory inputs to help form our perceptions. But what if the perception process began long before we gathered input from our senses?

The perceptual process of the brain is surprisingly predictive in nature, and a lot of times our predictions are guided by our unconscious. To gain a better understanding of the predictive process of the perception we’re going to step into a college classroom.

“Our teacher was a nice!”  “Our teacher was a douche bag!”  “Wait. Don’t we have the same teacher?”

same class, different perceptions.

A college class was told they were going to have a guest speaker for their class. As an introduction a piece of paper was handed out to each student describing the guest speaker’s credentials and a brief description of his personality.

What the students didn’t know is that there were two types of papers handed out in the class. The only thing that differed on the two papers was the description of the guest speaker’s personality. On one form he was described as having a warm and open personality. On the other form he described as having a cold and stand-offish personality.

Here’s where it gets interesting. All of the students sat through the exact same lecture in the exact same room at the exact same time. At the end of the guest lecture they were given a singular form that asked them to rate the teacher’s performance and overall demeanor.  Interestingly enough the students responded to the review form accordingly to the pieces of paper they were handed prior to the lecture.

Puzzled by Perception

Understanding the complexities of perception was one of the main reasons I chose to study neuroscience in college and continue to today. I have always been amazed by situations where two people can look at the same object, or partake in the same singular interaction and derive two entirely different perceptions. I guess that is the beauty of cognitive diversity; everyone has their own lens or cognitive predisposition that guides the way they perceive the world.

As a marketer I was intrigued by another mysterious form of perception. It was called “value”.  “Value” is a ubiquitous term that is thrown around in business today that suggests something is perceived as favorable and possesses great meaning. You can place value on anything: ideas, goods, services, even people.

However, if you spend the time examining “value” you would realize that on the front end value is nothing more than imaginary perception.  Once you break down the perceptual process you will find that value is completely subjective and relative. I know this to be true because as a marketing and sales strategist it’s my job to construct and create value on a client by client basis.

Using Jungle Fruit to Explore the Perceptual Process of Value

The perceptual process of value something is actually broken down into three stages:

Part 1: Predicted Value (Expected Value)

This is where we construct a prediction of how we will perceive something. The interesting thing about this stage in the process is that it’s completely subjective and often times hypothetical.

For example, let’s pretend I just came back from the jungles of Brazil and discovered a new fruit that has never been eaten before. I am bringing it back to the states and want you to try it before anyone else and tell me if you like it.

At this point you would be asking questions to familiarize this unknown fruit. What’s it taste like? What’s it look like? What’s fruit is it similar to? Do I like the fruit it looks similar too? My point here is that you can ask a million questions to familiarize yourself with the unknown tasting fruit, but in the end you’re going to form some type of perception that you’re tied to. So let’s say you expect the fruit to taste like a pineapple, and you hate pineapple.

Part 2: Experienced Value

This is the part of the perceptual process where you actually experience something. This stage is objective and real.

you either like or disliked this fruit long before you even took a bite.

In our unknown Brazilian jungle fruit example this would be where I sit you down and make you take a bite of the fruit that I smuggled out of Brazil and past customs. Before you even bite into the fruit I can see a grimace on your face because your predictive perception is that the fruit is going to taste like something you dislike.

You continue to grimace as you begin to chew your first bite, but then after few seconds your grimace turns into a wide-eyed smile. To your amazement the unknown jungle fruit tastes like a mango. You freaking love mangos.

Part 3: Overall Awarded Value

This is the final stage in the perception process where you decide how much you value something based on your expectations and experience. Value falls on a spectrum so your awarded value varies in degrees.

In regards to jungle fruit you feel value the fruit at a 7 on a scale of 1-10. Odds are that you would have rated the fruit a 9 or a 10 if you expected the fruit to taste like a mango. You went into the tasting weary but left pleasantly surprised.
The interesting part about the process of perception is that it’s overwhelmingly front-loaded and predictive. A lot of times we seek to justify our predicted value and aren’t even aware of it. The most important part of the process should be the experience, but our experiences are often guided by our predictions. Looking back at the college guest lecture scenario you’re able to see that the paper guided the predictive value of the guest lecturer in both sets of students.

The Neuroscience of Predictive Perception

From a neurological standpoint predictive sights and experiences trigger less brain activity, and physiologically speaking it’s actually a good thing to use less energy. The brain has a finite amount of mental energy and as a result is highly efficient in its use of it. Mental tasks like critical thinking and examination require our brains to burn up a lot of this mental energy and are normally reserved for the first time we encounter a new or salient stimuli.

The brains accounts for 2% of your body's mass yet 20% of your body's energy consumption. Our brains our predictive to help conserve energy.

To increase overall efficiency our brains predict the familiar leading into expected unfamiliar situations. That is the beauty and complexity of the human brain that is not only reactive but proactive as well. Constructing expectations is actually more mentally efficient in the short term. As a result of these physiological processes in the brain people can be “primed” for perceptions and behavior, and in some cases that leads to a mismatch in cognition and reality.

The region of the brain that allows us to construct our expectations for perception is the prefrontal cortex. This is a highly evolved part of the frontal lobe of the brain that allows us [humans] to think hypothetically. In essence our prefrontal cortex allows us to perceive with out actually perceiving, and then create an expectation from that process. A lot of times we then seek to validate our expectations.

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

We have all heard the old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” However, actually not judging a book by its cover is much easier said than done. We know the process of how we perceive and award value. If you know how to navigate this process you can begin to really focus on the objective experience instead of the subjective expectation.

Clear your mind before trying something new and try to shake free of what might jump into your head before you experience a stimuli or situation.  Sometimes our subjective predictions hold emotional weight. In these situations it will take more practice to detach from your expectations, but logic can override emotion and that control will serve you well in decision making.

Is your Message Brain-Friendly?

5 Tips for Designing Brain-Friendly Presentations and Advertisements

You’ve got something important to say. We all do. And it doesn’t matter if you work in education, advertising, sales or a local coffee shop; you just want to make sure your message isn’t falling on deaf ears.  The trick to communicating a successful message is not to place all the emphasis on what you’re saying. The real trick is to understand how your message is being perceived. However, very few people, teachers, companies, and organizations understand the importance of communicating in a brain-friendly manner.

Recent neuromarketing research conducted by NeuroFocus, the world’s leading neuromarketing firm, has shed light on the startling gap created by a lack of brain-friendly design in today’s society.  “We have found that about 75% of all content – not just advertisements — is not neurologically optimal,” Pradeep, CEO of NeuroFocus added. “The opportunity to improve is tremendous.” I could not agree more with Dr. Pradeep’s stance on seeking to improve the content and delivery of our messages.

We spend a lot of time crafting our messages to get them out to our audiences. When our messages aren’t understood we normally do two things. The first thing we do is repeat our message and if that doesn’t work we amplify our message. That’s the equivalent of me speaking gibberish, repeating my gibberish, and finally screaming my gibberish at the top of my lungs in hopes that you somehow get what I’m talking about. It sounds pretty crazy huh? Neuroscience has provided us with some great tips that can make your message and your delivery more efficient so you’re not wasting time and money.

Tip #1: Simplify Your Message

I could have easily titled this article “How to Create Neurologically Optimal Designs”, but that’s too much work for most people’s brains to process, especially if you’re not familiar with neuroscience. Most marketers make the mistake that their audience is just as familiar with their goods and services as they are. Break that knowledge bubble and begin to understand how your audience perceives not just your company, but your industry. Then you can begin to craft a consistently simple yet relevant message that could be absorbed with greater ease.

Remember that we have three main areas of the brain. The neo-cortex of the brain is the area that allows us to think in great depth and possibility about an idea or a message, but the part of the brain (reptilian brain) that decides to act on that idea relies heavily on emotion and simplicity.

This may include simplifying your offering as well. If you present people with two choices you have a much better chance at getting your desired outcome than if you presented someone with three choices or more. Boil your message down and perfect it. Avoid the marketing/sales mistake of “showing up and throwing up”. You’re offering may be bountiful, but sometimes showing all that you offer can turn off or overwhelm your customer who often times is only looking for one thing. Start with your customer’s most urgent and immediate need, present to it, solve it, and then move onto to their next important need.

Tip #2: Match Your Font, With Your Message

This is for those graphic designers out there. With an infinite amount of fonts in your design arsenals you should know the power your font can actually carry. When people read something in a difficult-to-read font they unwittingly transfer that sense of difficulty onto the topic they’re reading about [Drake Bennett, Easy = True, 2010].  This has been proven in studies where participants were asked to rate the difficulty of a workout regiment. The regiment typed in less legible font was perceived as more difficult compared to the same regiment typed in a simpler font. Surprisingly, a questionnaire presented in a less legible font is more likely to have people answer it less honestly that if it is written in a more legible one.

My best advice is to decide the goal of your presentation or advertisement. Do you want to grab someone’s attention or do you want to pass along information? Knowing the overall desired outcome allows you to become more attuned to the font you choose. For example, if you’re presenting to parents and teachers on a 5 step process for getting children to eat healthier you had best pick a font in your handouts that easy to read, and I’m not talking about “Comic Sans”.

Tip #3: Be Contextual

I can’t express the importance of contextual advertising. The best product placement advertisements are the ones that people never meant to happen. Think about the Air Jordan basketball shoes. How many of us watched Michael Jordan play, noticed the shoes he’s wearing, saw how good he played and went out and bought a pair? I know I did. It’s one thing to show a picture of your products. It’s another thing to show your products in actual use. If I look at a picture of a product, it’s just a product in my mind. If I see the product in use I see an experience, and I have my own experiences that I can relate it to.

"it's gotta be the shoes"

Tip #4: Placement of Stats, Pictures, and Logos

People interpret information on different parts of a screen with different sections of their brains.  Stimuli in the left visual field are interpreted with by the right frontal lobe, while stimuli on the right are picked up by the left frontal lobe [Kee. 2008]. What does this mean? The right (creative) side of your brain is very good at interpreting imagery, whereas the left (analytical) side of your brain is particularly good at processing numerical information and semantics.

You see with your brain. Not with your eyes. As you can see here your visual pathways cross as they relay the stimuli they're perceiving back to the brain.

Logos and pictures would stand a better chance of being perceived if placed on the left side of advertisements. Statistical information and financial projections would best served on the right side of the screen for presentations. This is a simple yet powerful fact in brain-friendly design.

Tip #5: Engage Your Audience Emotionally

Don’t just make people think. Make them Feel. Emotion helps you gain attention. Emotion helps you learn with greater ease. Emotion makes you memorable in the mind of your audience. Emotion can take many forms and can be a powerful aid so long as it’s relevant with your message: tell a story, crack a joke, create a mini-drama or even use a prop, but whatever you do avoid the norm. Understand that attention and retention is strongest at the beginning and end of your message. So leverage your emotions properly.

John Medina, author of Brain Rules, became an award winning professor because of his work in neuromolecular biology and his understanding of how to properly apply emotion into his lessons. The passing of knowledge doesn’t have to be tasking. Science backs up the fact that people learn and retain more when they’re emotionally engaged. John’s solution was to break a 50 minute class period up by 10 minute increments using an emotional tactics like jokes, stories and role-play. The emotional pace of the class was enjoyable and his students succeeded because they were engaged. Makes you think twice about giving the same old power point doesn’t it?

Brain-Friendly Beginnings

These are only just a few tips on improving your visual presentation of your ideas and messages. Hopefully as you’re sitting at your desk, in your office, or at your computer you’ll get a chance to practice some of these tips. The importance in communication should not be placed on what you’re saying, but rather how your message is being perceived. It’s not the market place, the media, or the internet; what matters most is where you are at in the mind of your audience. Be different, be memorable, and above all be genuine. Best of luck to you and thank you for reading.

The Subtle Importance of our Surrounding Environments

A while back I wrote an article on how people unconsciously perceive and process information about the people we’re interacting with at lightning quick speeds. I want to expound on that article and focus on how people unconsciously perceive and process our surrounding environments in very much the same way that we perceive people, and how it can effect our performance both personally and professionally. To best do this we’re going to start with a story about Musician Amy Winehouse.

Singer Amy Winehouse on one of her better days...

The Prelude to Rehab…

In the summer of 2007 Amy Winehouse was clinging to life after suffering a nearly fatal overdose in her hotel room in London, England. In order to save her life doctors gave the singer a shot of adrenaline (epinephrine) and had to pump her stomach free of the narcotics that were shutting down her system. She eventually recovered, and has continued to battle drug addiction off and on since.

Anyone who has followed popular music over the years and decades understands that drug overdoses in hotel rooms is a somewhat common occurrence. Obviously drugs like cocaine are responsible for overdosing the human body, but in recent years neuroscience has shed light on the subtle yet important link that your environment and surroundings can play in overdosing. I will attempt explain why musicians often overdose in hotel rooms by focusing on their surroundings and not so much the drugs they’re taking and the direct impact the drugs have biologically.

Human beings are highly habitual and ritualistic, and this is especially true for people who frequently use drugs. Prior to her overdose Amy Winehouse was considered a habitual drug user, and almost certainly had a routine for taking drugs. Because I do not personally know Amy I can not give you a run down of her exact routine in relation to drugs, but I can provide you with a general template for such activities.

Hypothetically, let’s say that Amy’s routine for taking cocaine was to put on her favorite music in the living room of her house, sit down on her couch, and snort lines of cocaine off her coffee table. [This ritual is unique to each drug user, but people have rituals and usually do it in a specific place.] Eventually Amy will build up a tolerance to cocaine and will have to do more to get her desired high. Most people understand that your body will begin to build up a direct metabolic tolerance to drugs and alcohol, however what was previously unknown about drug use, and routines, is that your surroundings can actually affect your biology aiding in the development of a tolerance.

Onward we go on our drug adventure.  Week after week Amy continues to snort lines of cocaine off the coffee table in the living room of her house while her favorite music plays. All the while she is taking larger and larger hits. After all this time Amy’s brain begins to do something unique and unconscious at the onset of her ritual. Her brain basically says: “Okay we’re in the living room, and I hear music. Past experience tells me cocaine is soon to follow, I just know it. The body hates drugs so I’m going to get a head start and tell the body to start fighting off the cocaine right now.” And long before Amy has even taken a single line of cocaine her body has already began fighting off the cocaine in anticipation because of the environmental cues unconsciously detected by her brain.

Flash forward to London, England. Amy is in her hotel room (a new environment) and someone offers Amy some cocaine. While they’re cutting it into lines the question comes up, “how much do you want?” and Amy asks for the amount she is used to taking back home. The end result in the new environment is an overdose and near death experience for Ms. Winehouse. You see, Amy’s brain is not used to the new environment of the hotel room, and as a result her body is caught off guard by the amount of cocaine it just absorbed.

Usually Amy’s brain would tip off her body that cocaine is soon to be on its way and to begin proactively fighting it off, but by being in a new environment her brain, and as a result, her body are blindsided by the cocaine as it overruns her system. Though the amount of cocaine Amy took is the same as she has always taken, the change in her surroundings was a determining factor in her overdose because as it weakened her tolerance. Overdoses in new locations have actually helped shed light on the unconscious processing of our environments and the resulting influences it has on our biology and behavior. This holds true for everyday people who don’t use drugs as well. I’ll explain.

Dogs, Basketball, and Your Everyday Life

If Amy Winehouse’s story reminds you of a famous experience involving dogs, food, and bells you’re onto something. Using a bell and some food Pavlov proved that our environment (and stimuli) can affect our biology and our behavior in some big ways. Amy’s drug overdose goes to show us that if you add another component to the mix, like alcohol or drugs, the equation becomes more complex to understand and as a result our surrounding environment is often overlooked and underestimated when examining a certain problem or situation; even though the key to solving the problem may purely environmental.

"Ring a bell and I'll salivate. How'd you like that" -Bare Naked Ladies

Psychology teaches us the danger of the fundamental attribution error.  This principle could be the reason we often overlook our surrounding environments. The fundamental attribution error is a false justification that people often make when assessing their peers. It’s like saying “That person is acting they way they do because that’s just who they are.” Critical thinking and understanding would suggest that there is a lot more that goes into to understanding people’s actions and behaviors. Personality traits may play a role in the one’s behavior but it’s always tandem with experiences and environment.

The best illustration of the fundamental attribution error colliding with our surroundings comes from a study about basketball. A group of people were shown video of two basketball teams practicing outside shots. The first group shot the ball very well. The second group did not shoot the ball well. Participants in the study were asked to assess why the second group did not shoot the basketball well. Overwhelmingly their response was that the second group was just not as good of shooters as the first group. Interestingly enough a closer examination of the videos shows that the second group that shot poorly shot in a noticeably poorly lit gym. Very few people, if any, noted that the surrounding environment of the shooters could have been a reason why the second group shot poorly. For those of you who have shot in a poorly lit gym or at dusk it can and does affect your shooting and depth perception.

Everyday we are presented with problems and situations that demand critical thinking and understanding. Coming up with viable solutions means that we need to take into account all of the factors that determine behavior. The basketball study showed that in most cases people examine other people at a baseline value instead of holistically. But by taking a more holistic approach to understanding that includes our surroundings and environment we can begin to provide genuine solutions that can make a difference for those in our personal and professional lives. Our brains do an outstanding job of unconsciously processing information provided by our surrounding environment. What we need to make sure is that we consciously evaluate and understand our surrounding environments in the same detail and precision that our unconscious brain does.

Vision, Value and Love Handles

It is a New Year’s tradition that people make resolutions. The idea of a resolution itself is a refreshing concept. You are consciously making a decision to better your life in some form or way. Far and away the most common resolution is to lose weight. Unfortunately, many people will fail to actualize this goal because they have poorly planned or designed their strategy for obtaining their goal.

I mentioned earlier that a resolution is a conscious decision. However, much of our actions are actually at the mercy of our unconscious.  It doesn’t matter if we’re making a moral decision or a financial decision; our behaviors are often guided by our unconscious perceptions that are processed in our brains. One sense above all holds more weight than any other, and that is our vision.

In this post I want to shed light on how our visual sense guides our decisions in everyday life, and how sometimes our vision can lead us astray from our goals -like losing weight and even saving money. I’ll even offer solutions as to how you can neurologically design a better plan for accomplishing your goals this New Year.

We don’t See with our Eyes, We See with our Brains

Our eyes are responsible for the gathering of photons and light, but all that information comes together in our brains. We don’t see with our eyes, we see with our brains. Vision is our most dominant sense. Visual processes in the human brain actually account for half of our brain’s resources. Although we are highly specialized in visual perception we can still make mistakes.

Shockingly, these tables are the exact same length. Truth.

Let’s look at the table example above. It would appear that the table on the left is longer than the table on the right, but guess what, it’s not. They are equal length. The funny thing is that even after I tell you that this is an illusion it’s impossible for you visually perceive the tables as equal size. Its visual illusions like this that can lead us to make poor decisions in our everyday lives.

Bigger Plates = Bigger Waste Lines

While growing up many of us were scolded for not clearing our plates while eating dinner – some of us were even guilt tripped to a far away land where children were starving. This habit of clearing our plates is heavily dominated by our visual perception, and wrongfully so. Today, many consumers equate value to the amount of food you’re given for the money you paid for the meal. I call this the “super size” conundrum, because it’s a great to get the most bang for your buck, but does your stomach really need all that food? The answer is no. Your stomach does not need all that food.

Nutritionists long ago proved that a little bit of food will go a long way. One study suggested that a burrito could be the size of a bar of Dove soap while still being able to fulfill nutritional needs. So why do most of us consume “burritos as big as our heads” in their entirety? There are two reasons. 1. Eating is enjoyable and 2. For the stomach to communicate that it’s full to the brain takes about 15 minutes, and as a result while eating we’re guided more by our vision than by actual physiological signals. This is especially true for anyone who has eaten so much they gave themselves a stomach ache.

In nutritional study conducted in 2001, those who ate blindfolded ate 22% less food.

In 2001 Dr. Yvonne Linne conducted a study to see how much people would eat if they couldn’t see their plates. The participants were split into two groups and given equal plates of delicious food. Group one was instructed to eat until they were full. Group two was given the same instructions except group two was blindfolded. The end result was that group without vision, group two, consumed 22% less food than group one. Eating less food was achieved because group two had to rely on their own internal physiological cues for being full over the visual illusion of “clearing the plate” that guided group one.

Perception Solution: Smaller and Slower is Better

Unfortunately eating while blindfolded is frowned upon in public. So what can you do to reduce your food intake to a reasonable yet still healthy amount? It’s easy. Use smaller plates and glasses. If vision is still going to guide how much we eat just have the plate size work in your favor. It may seem like a big reduction at first but over time your stomach will adjust to a more reasonable serving of food. The same also applies for beverages as well. 8 ounces is a perfect serving size for a drink, but in a world 64oz Big Gulps (4 lbs of liquid!), 8 ounces seems like drop of water when it’s really not.

On the left you have a 12 oz bottle of soda, and on the right you have today's more common 20oz bottle of soda. The 20oz bottle of soda was actually devleoped with the idea in mind that people would drink less soda because of it's size. Sadly people didn't drink less soda, they just chugged 20 oz and got fatter. The extra 8oz of soda could acually account for 10% of your daily caloric intake.

Eating slowly will also help because you need time for your stomach to say “hey brain, stop eating. I’m full.” We live in a fast paced culture and eating slowly may not make a whole lot of sense, but it’s important to eat a slow pace. Just the other day I had to grab lunch on the go. I chose to eat a small Spicy Chicken value meal from Wendy’s (my favorite). Using the stopwatch function on my phone I timed myself to see how long it took me to eat my entire meal. My time: 4:56. Way too fast. When I can, I distract myself at lunch while reading a book, a newspaper, or a friend’s blog to stretch the time while I’m eating. I also take deep breaths between going back for more food and I try to attune to my body to pick up on the “I’m full signal”.

To Hell in a Shopping Cart

Interestingly enough our visual perception also plays a big role in how much we can spend at a grocery store. Just like how we base how much we eat off our plate size, we can get sucked into the same trap with shopping carts. One such study conducted by Martin Lindstrom compared two groups of shoppers. Group one shopped using shopping carts and group two shopped using hand baskets. The end result was that the shopping cart group, group one, purchased 31% more than the hand basket group.

Whether we’re clearing a plate of filling a shopping cart our unconscious vision plays a pretty unique role guiding our behavior. Here are some tips that might help you save money: 1. Don’t shop hungry 2. Use a hand basket instead of a shopping cart 3. Make a list 4. Break your shopping routine – do this by switching up the time of day you shop, where you park, and even what door you enter. Breaking your usual unconscious rhythm while performing a common task will actually help you focus on the subtitles of the task at hand.

Happy New Year, and best of luck to you on those resolutions!

Selfi$h: Is your Motivation Helping or Hurting you? You’ll be Surprised…

Motivation is one of those dangerous buzz words in business. Everyone knows they’re supposed to have it, but very few actually understand what it truly means and how it truly works. As professionals we come face-to-face with motivation every single day. Motivation permeates our work environments because through our social interactions we are either trying to motivate others or others are trying to motivate us to accomplish tasks. Ask any manager and they’ll tell you that effectively motivating people is no easy task. Ask a really good manager and they’ll tell you it’s the most demanding, yet rewarding task there is.

Outdated and Harmful!

Unfortunately, genuine, sustained motivation is rarely achieved in most business cultures today.  Some managers have found momentary success by using carrots and sticks to motivate their employee like financial rewards and incentives. Worst of all some managers use negative reinforcement in attempt to motivate. Although they might work briefly, in the long run neither of these tactics will lead to genuine sustained motivation and quality work. People are smart. They’ll catch on and after a while they become insulted by those tactics.

As I type this article our economy is trying to recover from a near fatal blow suffered at the hands of our own device. Perhaps it’s time to rethink the way we do business? This isn’t your run of the mill article on intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, in fact, it’s much more than that. This article is a culmination of lessons learned from social neuroscience, neuroeconomics, social intelligence and case studies regarding management strategy. Let’s dive in.

The Negative Effects of Financial Rewards

James Heyman, a professor at St. Thomas, wanted to find out if paying people more money to perform a task actually led to greater productivity. His task was simple: using a computer mouse, click and drag a circle from the right side of the computer into the box that was positioned on the left hand side of the screen. Once the circle was successfully inside the box it disappeared and reappeared in its original position for the subject to do all over again. The subjects would have five minutes to drag circles into boxes.

The subjects were split into three groups: Group 1 was paid $5.00 before beginning their work, Group 2 was paid $0.50 (50 cents) before beginning their work, and Group 3 was asked to do the work with no mention of money at all. The subjects were oblivious to the amount paid to other subjects. So how did the groups perform for five minutes of work? Group 1 dragged an average of 159 circles. Group 2 dragged an average of 101 circles. What about our group that didn’t get paid anything? They must have done the least, right? Well, no. Group 3 dragged an average 168 circles – more than the highest compensated group.

Evaluating Your Tasks: Market Norms & Social Norms

Heyman’s study demonstrates how people in our society view specific tasks. There are two ways to look at the circle dragging task: from a market norm standpoint and from a social norm standpoint. More often than not people are willing to help another person out irregardless of financial compensation, but make mention of money and people evaluate their task from completely different perspective. This is best illustrated with the social norm of helping a friend move.

If I asked my friends to help me move knowing that at the end of it all they’d get pizza and cold beer they’d be more than willing to help me. However, if I offered my friends to help me move and I would pay them $10 (estimated cost of pizza and beer) each they would probably tell me to go to hell. The mention of money to my friends, and all people, changes their thought process from helping a friend to what they will get in return for their work. In general money can significantly change our thought process and shift our focus from task completion to self compensation or reward.

The Negative Social Effects of Financial Rewards

No one person is their own corporation. We all work with people in varying capacities, and we have to remember that our social interactions are the fuel for true motivation. Researchers Kathleen Vohs, Nicole Mead, and Miranda Goode explored how simply just thinking about financial compensation can affect social interactions while completing a task. In this experiment subjects were split into two groups and asked to perform two tasks in succession. The first task was to unscramble easy sentences. The second task was then to complete a complicated shape puzzle.

The two groups differed only in the types of sentences they unscrambled. Group 1 unscrambled neutral sentences (for example “It’s cold outside”). Group 2 unscrambled sentences that were related to money (for example “high paying salary”).  This unknowingly primed the subjects in Group 2 to think about money. After the word scramble tasks were completed the subjects in both groups were asked to complete a particularly challenging shape puzzle. Every subject was told they may ask for help if they needed it.

As it turns out Group 1 asked for help after an average of three minutes of work on the puzzle. Group 2, the “money” group, struggled with the puzzle and asked for help after five and half minutes on average. Thinking about money made the “money” group more self-reliant and less willing to ask for help. It doesn’t end there, however. In a continuation of experimental social interactions the “money” group was less willing to help the researcher enter data, and less likely to assist a “stranger” pick up a box of pencils that he dropped and spilled in the hallway. Thinking about money makes us selfish and self-reliant, and that can seriously negatively affect success in professional situations.

Increase Social Consciousness, don’t destroy it

Studies have shown that the most successful employees are not the employees who had the highest GPAs in college or the employees who graduated from the top colleges and universities. What the numerous studies have show is that the most successful employees are the people who are best at managing their own emotions and more importantly, the emotions of others they work with. These emotions govern our social interactions in the work place and while completing tasks. To get people’s best work you need to play to the needs of their social development. Many financial reward systems are actually undermining the success of socially intelligent employees by unconsciously promoting selfish behavior in place of socially conscious behavior while performing tasks.

When we think socially we use the part of our brain called the prefrontal cortex (green area), but when we're thinking in terms of ourselves we make our decisions with our reptilian brain (pink area). the very nature of the reptilian brain is to be primarily concerned with our own health and safety aka wealth.

Blind Motivation

Princeton professor Sam Glucksberg looked at how motivation works in complex tasks that involve incentives – like the tasks that most professionals do today. He used the famous “Candle Problem” to time people to see how fast they could solve the problem. The goal of the task is to attach the candle to the wall so that the candle does not drip on the table. The key to solving the problem is to use the box of tacks as a holder for the candle, a rather creative and ingenious solution to the task. He had two groups of people try to solve the candle problem. One group he told he was just timing them for norms. The other group he told if they finished in the top 25% of times they would get $5 and if they finished fastest overall they would get $20.

So what happened? The group that was promised rewards for the fastest times actually took longer to complete the task. In fact, they took and average of three and half minutes longer than the group that was not promised incentives. How does this happen? It’s simple. Rewards and motivation can serve as blinders for our vision.  A lot of the solutions to our problems are out on the periphery however through rewards promised for complex tasks we can only see right in front of our faces and there in lies the problem. Rewards and incentives distract us from true solutions to our problems.

Throw Away Your Carrots and Sticks

If-then motivational tactics remain in business because they worked well in the past. Like most business/management cultures today motivation is rooted in the industrial revolution. Motivating people was easier then because people’s tasks revolved around pushing a button and pulling a lever. Back then their tasks were simple and well defined, and for that reason the worker could be evaluated and rewarded for their work. That was then. This is now.

Today’s business tasks are far from clear cut and well defined. We work in the conceptual age – an age of business that requires us as employees to be critical thinkers and problem solvers drawing from multiple sources. Long ago we left the industrial revolution behind, yet for some reason we’re still using outdated motivators in attempt to get the most out of our employees today. There’s a clear mismatch here. In the past you could motivate by saying “If you do this, then you get that.” That simply will not do any longer.

There’s a Mismatch between what Science Knows and What Business Does

In his TED Talk best selling author Dan Pink drove this very point home that if-then rewards and higher incentives lead to worse performances in the work place. He maintains that our management systems today are rooted more in folklore than science. We can’t continue to go down his path and make the same mistakes in regards to motivation. Outdated if-then motivation systems applied to today’s complex business tasks either do not work, or worse, they do more harm. The reason I showed you three different motivational experiments was to demonstrate the variety of ways that poorly planned motivational systems can do harm. Dan Pink offers hope in this wonderful talk. Check it out.

Dan Pink’s newest book, Drive, comes out in just a few weeks. It will provide an in depth look into motivation in business today.  Personally, I can’t wait to read it.

This is Dan Pink reading his new book Drive. He is also the author of the national best seller A Whole New Mind.

What’s the right way to Motivate?

Just last week I sat around a table with my team of eight for a sales meeting. The sales manager was trying to “motivate” by using articles and talk of money and rewards. As he spoke of money and incentives I looked around the room and at my team’s faces. It was clear they were uninterested in what he had to say.  If the sales manager only knew what actually and personally motivated each employee his message might have been better received.

I am far from having all the answers in regards to motivation, but I understand these certain ideas to be true:

Understand the Motivations and Skills of Others: you’ll be surprised what people what drives most people to do great work, and then you’ll be able to connect with them to genuinely motivate them. Take it one step further and make sure your team does their best to understand the motivations of others as well, and remember, Passion + Talent = Unparalleled Success.

Promote Positive Social Behavior: encourage your employees to do work that benefits the group and follow up with them to ensure they’re asking for help and likewise helping others. Dedicate yourself to the success of others around you and you’ll find that they’ll start doing the same.

Create a Leadership Pipeline: find ways for your employees to have sense of self worth and leadership, even if it’s just for a single task. If you expect the best from your employees and communicate that to them you’ll be surprised at what you’ll get it.

Don’t Make Money an Issue: Pay people fairly and take the issue of money off the table. Money makes us selfish. It’s a fact.

Don’t Give Up: If you’re a manager be prepared to work harder and smarter than you ever have. You’re supposed to work for your staff to ensure their success. You’ll have to put others before yourself. Successful motivation is not a destination, it’s a journey. Be prepared to give and accept feed back. Be patient with others as they grow but all the while never stop giving them your best. Above all avoid carrots and sticks. You’re better than that :)

Sweet Brains are Made of these… The Neuroscience of Sleep and Learning

Nap time at work. Oh sweet temptation...

It’s 2:00pm on workday, and you’re sitting at your desk staring blankly at the computer screen. Your eyes narrow as you fight to keep them open. Suddenly you slip, if for just a second, to sleep. Your head drops toward your chest, but at the last second you catch yourself, and now you’re sitting at your desk slightly startled, but still painfully tired and hoping no one just saw you. What you wouldn’t give for a nap at that moment, but you drudge on with the rest of your workday in your dazed and tired state…

The described scenario is one that we have all been through. It’s a scenario that we share with hundreds of millions of Americans each week. In fact, it’s estimated that sleep deprivation is responsible for $100 billion dollars lost each year for US businesses alone. Growing up we were all taught that sleep is important and that we need our 8 hours a night. Unfortunately for most of us that was all the instruction we received about sleep. Sleep has long been a mystery for neuroscientists, however recently studies have given us much more useful insight into our sleep patterns.

The Neuroscience of Sleeping

A healthy human brain is based on a balance of neurotransmitters and energy. In regards to sleep the human brain has two opposing forces that are always “at war” with each other, thus creating a balance. One force fights to keep us awake and the other force fights to keep us asleep. Together this “war” regulates itself in a cycle that when followed keeps us functioning in a healthy optimal state. This was proved in the research by famed sleep researcher, Dement.  Dement did a lot research to discover how we sleep, but much of the mystery remains as to why we sleep.

It was originally thought that we slept to rest our brains; however that turned out to be incorrect. In reality our sleeping brains spend just as much energy our awake brains for 80% of the sleep cycle. So while our bodies are resting our brains are as active as ever. Many researchers look at sleeping brain activity and can make a strong link to learning and cognition.

In a military conducted study a soldier who lost one night's worth of sleep showed a 30% drop in cognitive skill. when the soldier lost two nights of sleep he displayed a 60% loss in cognitive skill. if you're in college and reading this you better think twice about pulling that all nighter.

Do we sleep to Learn?

John Medina, in his book Brain Rules, tells of a story about an accountant who talked in his sleep every night. This accountant didn’t just talk randomly, however. Each night this accountant would recall the numbers and statistics, with accuracy, from his day’s work. It’s believed that our brains work like this accountant’s brain in sleep – recalling and consolidating the information we learn through out the course of our days. The neurons of the brain show vigorous rhythmical activity when you’re asleep – perhaps replaying what you learned that day. (Brain Rules, Medina. 2008)

in a haste to return home for the night researchers accidentally left the electrodes still attacted to their test rat. they were studying the rat's neural activity while it navigated a maze. when they reviewed the rat's brain activity from sleep it was shockingly similar to the brain patterns demonstrated while the rat learned to navigate the maze. sleeping to learn...

The conscious human brain processes all sorts of information through out the day. The types of information we consciously process are not limited to the just the empirical, like the accountant’s statistics and numbers or school work. Because the human brain is highly emotional we process information that has emotional content as well. Emotional memory could play a role in our dreams/nightmares. It would seem that each night our brain turns off the outside world to process, reprocess, and then fine tune our cognition. Losing sleep can strongly negatively affect your ability to learn properly.

Promote Napping!

The truth is that everybody experiences the dreaded “nap zone” each day because it’s part of our biology. The drive for the afternoon nap is universal, and because of that it should be respected. The ever common “9-5 workday” is not a natural occurrence. It was actually invented out of necessity for the industrial revolution to ensure productivity.  And here we are a hundred years later still obeying a schedule set forth by men who pushed buttons and pulled levers. I am not saying we have to change our work days, but just accommodate for nap time.

NASA researchers found out that a 26 minute nap equated to a 34% increase in a pilot’s performance. Napping actually increased performance! The 36th president of the United State of America Lyndon B. Johnson routinely would close the doors to the oval office, put on his pajamas and take a 30 minute nap. Refreshed from his nap he was ready to take on the rest of his long day as leader of the free world. It’s amazing what a nap can do for productivity. This is evidence that the design of our work days should be more sensitive to our biological needs and drives. Some companies, like Google, and even schools are taking a serious look into “nap time” and the design of their days to accommodate for sleep needs and cycles.

Sleep researchers discovered that the adolescent brain requires 9.25 hours of sleep on average. to accomodate this research one Minnesota school district moved the start time of their school days from 7:20am to 9:00am. It was no surprise that this moved proved to be successful when the average GPA increased school wide and test scores jumped.

Sleep on it

In the end we all will have spent an astonishing 1/3 of our lives sleeping. My advice is to take time to truly understand your need for sleep. 8 hours has long been the recommendation, but some require more and some require less. The link between sleeping and learning is extremely intimate and should be respected. If your livelihood is based on your cognitive performance, by all means, get your rest. If you need more motivation, people who get the proper amount of sleep also have healthier bodies in addition to their healthy minds. Thank you, and good night.

What Exactly about Sex is Selling you? Can Neuromarketing sort through the Clutter of Sexual Imagery?

It’s safe to say that our culture today is saturated with sexuality. Browse any magazine, surf any channel, and gaze up at any billboard and you’re bound to find a sexually progressive advertisement staring you in the face.  As long as there has been marketing there has been the playful, and even the not so playful, use of sex in advertisements to gain an advantage in the market place.  With sexual images all around us seemingly at every turn I am turning to neuroscience to help cut through the clutter of sexual marketing to find out what really works and what doesn’t.

Is that a Burger in your Swim Suit or are you just Happy to See Me?

This spicy ad for Carl's Jr. got people talking...

In 2006 Carl’s Jr. hit the airwaves with perhaps the most sexually charged advertisement ever for a fast food chain. The 30 second commercial featured Paris Hilton flexibly washing a Bentley with soapy water and then moved to her seductively eating a Spicy BBQ Burger on the hood of the car, all while wearing a very revealing swim suit. Some media outlets declared the ad “too hot for television”, but never the less the ad was declared a smashing success. To the untrained neuromarketing eye it would appear that sex does in fact sell, but it’s not as clear cut as marketers and consumers would like to think. In fact, Carl’s Jr. used several different avenues to enhance the success of their sexually based advertisement and they may have not even known it at the time.

The Physiology of Sex and its Influence on your Brain

Every purchase we make is a decision, and neuroscience in the past decade has done a great job of unraveling the mystery of how our brains make decisions. As it turns out our “old brain”, or reptilian brain, is our decision center. Despite having a highly evolved neocortex, it was an astonishing find to discover the part of our brain that holds the most weight in our decisions is a brain that we share with most other animals. The reptilian brain’s soul focus is to help us thrive and survive. Evolutionarily speaking our reptilian brain wants us to procreate, a lot. A major influencer of our reptilian brain is our limbic system, the part of the brain responsible for our emotions and coincidentally the part of the brain that houses the hypothalamic structure which itself is responsible for regulating sex drive amongst many things. Okay, so what the hell did I just say? The anatomy and physiology of our brain allows for our sexual drive and emotions to play a key role in influencing our decisions.

Is your Marketing Sexually Relevant?

Congratulations Felt, you just wasted money on your marketing

A lot of marketers run the risk of using sex to sell something that it really has no connection to, like this bicycle. This is a prime example of forcing sexual imagery into an advertising campaign. Honestly, how many bikini clad beauties do you see riding around on grandma bikes? The end result here will be failure. Subjects that were submitted to fMRI testing – real time brain scanning – showed that in sexually non relevant advertising the sexual imagery actually distracted them from the marketers’ message. In this particular advertisement sex is doing the opposite of selling because the only thing people are focused on is the hot chick in the bikini, not the bike. In the over advertised world we live in marketers make this mistake all the time. This brings up a good question: If sex is supposed to be relevant in marketing how did the ad featuring three unrelated and arguably non relevant items of Paris Hilton, a sexy carwash, and a burger work so well for Carl’s Jr.?

Our Brains Love a good Controversy

Carl’s Jr. didn’t just air a sexually explicit advertisement for their new burger; they stirred the pot and created controversy. Controversy is a story that is packed with high levels of emotion, and as we learned before emotion, like sex, is a key influencer of our decisions. Carl’s Jr. was wise to use Paris Hilton in their commercial. As an emerging household name at the time she was their anchor for gossip and controversy. With sex as the driving vehicle the ad got people talking, it got some people outraged, and in the end it led to people seeking out the advertisement to see what it was all about. Marketing mission accomplished.

In the 1990's this was considered racy, we may scoff at it now but back then it helped launch Calvin Klein Jeans to success

Supplementing sexuality with controversy is page right out Calvin Klein’s playbook.  This designer rose to new levels of success in the 1990’s by using sexual controversy to gain exposure and drive sales for his line of jeans. He used the famous face (and body) of Brooke Shields, his jeans, and consistent design to paint a progressive picture of in your face sexuality to gain exposure, and it worked. By the mid 90’s anyone who was anyone was sporting a pair of “Calvin’s”.  Today this tradition continues with Eva Mendez as the new face (and body, oh what a body) of Calvin Klein, but because our advertising world is so saturated with sex no one’s talking like they were in the early 1990’s.

When everyone uses sex to sell it's hard to stand out. You might think "if you wear Guess clothes, you'll be sexually desirable", but there is nothing about this ad that stands out. Young unknown beauty is all around us, selling us everything. I'm sorry to say Guess's marketing is falling on deaf ears.

To reach our brains marketing has to stand out and be different. In a world jam packed with sex the path to different has taken us to a very familiar place, the mirror.

The Jim & Pam Effect

Our brains adapt to our environments very quickly. The truth is that we’ve become so accustomed to seeing the ultra beautiful and sexy selling us stuff that it is no longer working like it used to. To find out if this was true neuroscientists recently studied the fMRI scans of subjects as they browsed pictures of the ultra sexy and the average. As it turns out the brains of the subjects responded more favorably to the marketing images of people that they felt they had more in common with.

John Krasinski and Jenna Fisher helped make average the new beautiful

To best illustrate this point I turn to one of my favorite television shows, The Office. By entertainment industry standards John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer are physically middle of the pack, at least at first impression. However, both actors have grown to become some of the most famous television and movie stars today and have even managed to evolve into sex symbols. On the show Jim and Pam are perceived as being “just like you or me”, but as a neuromarketer I can argue that they are at the right place at the right time from a perception stand point. Ask anyone on the street if they have more in common with the ultra beautiful Kate Moss or Jenna Fischer and you’ll get Jenna Fischer over and over again, and that matters to people because they can relate to her.

Who said Sexuality was just for the Ultra Beautiful?

The marketing strategy of using real relatable people was the same strategy that Dove used to drive their successful Real Beauty Campaign and stand out from every other hygiene company out there at the time. In doing so Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign got people talking because some of their ads showed average women in their underwear, something that society had not seen before. There marketing was salient because it was uniquely relatable and different, and at the same time it stirred up a bit of controversy – something that you need to do to go viral.

In a world the ultra beautiful Dove stood out by letting the beauty of real shine, and it worked.

Using sex to sell is a skill. You can’t just slap a picture of gorgeous woman next to product and magically sell it. Dove showed you don’t even to use a gorgeous woman. You have to take into account a lot of factors: The sexual relevance of your ad, the current environment of the market, story telling and controversy, and emotions (and this just relates to conceptual ideas, design is another discussion).  You probably won’t even notice most of the sexual advertising around you, but next time you’re stopped and find yourself staring at a particular sexual advertisement ask yourself, why did it just work?

I Want to Break FREE: The Neuroeconomics of Discounts and Business Strategy

FREE

FREE. It's not just another discount.

As workers poured into the lobby of an office building one morning they encountered a candy sale of sorts. On the table were two kinds of chocolates for sale. One of the chocolates offered were Hershey Kisses. The price tag on the Hershey Kiss was $0.01 (one cent). The other chocolates offered were Lindt truffles – a high quality chocolate renowned for its flavor. The Lindt truffle was priced $0.15 (fifteen cents). Overwhelmingly, 75% of people purchased the Lindt truffle recognizing the value in the price for such a high quality chocolate. This chocolate sale was actually the experiment of MIT economist Dan Ariely and he wanted to find out how discounts affect our decisions.

The next time around Ariely decided to lower the price of both chocolates by one cent. This meant the Hershey Kisses were now $0.00 (FREE) and the Lindt truffles were now $0.14 (fourteen cents). So what happened? The preference for chocolate was actually reversed. The Hershey Kiss was now chosen 69% of the time. The price difference was exactly the same between both chocolates, but it seems the word FREE may have had something to do with the dramatic role reversal of chocolate preference.

predictably-irrational-dan-ariely

The Neuroeconomics of FREE

FREE isn’t just another discount. The word FREE when encountered in purchasing decisions is loaded with emotion, and surprisingly, emotions are responsible for more of our decisions than logic.  Economists have long thought that logic and logic alone is what guided our behaviors and decisions when in the purchasing process. However, Neuroeconomics teaches a more up-to-date approach of how we make our financial decisions, and as it turns out more often than not our emotions are what guide our behaviors. As humans, and as consumers, we make think logically but we act emotionally. So when you’re shopping and you encounter FREE it impacts you in a way that other discounts cannot . We all share the common belief that FREE is good (most of the time), and the added positive emotional boost that you get from FREE just can’t be achieved through any other numerical discount. I’m also willing to guess there is a physiological boost from just seeing FREE.

FREE is the Future of Business

We live in the digital age, and as a result FREE is becoming more and more common. This is possible because the falling costs of digital technology lets companies make as much stuff as they want for devastatingly low costs, and when you can make stuff for low costs that enables you to give it away for FREE. Chris Anderson, author of Free: The Future of Radical Price, made a great point in saying “Give a product away, and it can go viral. Charge even a single cent for it and you’re in an entirely different business…The truth is that zero is one market and any other price is another.”

free-chris-anderson-thumb-300x445-90541

Companies can make a lot of money by giving stuff away. Businesses like Google have made large amounts of money by giving away FREE email services, however on the backside they’re increasing their revenue by selling advertising on that space. Amazon was able to boost online sales world wide by offering FREE shipping on orders over a certain amount, and because one item alone wouldn’t typically reach that required amount for FREE shipping consumers ended up adding another item to their shopping carts just to attain the benefits (both financial and emotional) of FREE.

Leveraging FREE in Marketing and Sales

Like anything there is a skill required in utilizing FREE in your business strategy to create success. Amazon leveraged FREE shipping to gain additional sales that otherwise would have not been there. Google used GMail to gain exposure to millions of users so they could sell advertising space to other companies. The strategic use of FREE allowed Google and Amazon to increase their revenue. These are just a few examples of how FREE is used in business everyday.

Apple was able to boost iPod sales initially by giving away the software program iTunes. This FREE program allowed Apple to gain familiarity with consumers and at the same time opened the door for them to easily purchase downloads and hardware to enhance their media experience. Taking it a step further the iTunes Store offers a FREE download each week and all you have to do to get the FREE song is sign up for an iTunes account. Free used properly is brilliant.

FREE can be good for businesses but it can also be bad. YouTube for example has failed to make Google any money thus far. In fact it’s draining money from Google. YouTube lets people upload and download videos as much as they want for FREE, and that is the problem. An estimated 75 billion videos will be served up by YouTube this year. Even though technology costs are almost near zero for YouTube, any fractional number multiplied by 75 billion is going to be a lot. In fact a recent report by Credit Suisse estimates that YouTube’s bandwidth costs in 2009 will be $360,000,000. [Gladwell, New York Times July 2009] YouTube’s continual FREE transactions are costing Google dearly because the user has no restrictions on FREE. For YouTube to turn a profit they need to find a solution that properly leverages FREE in their business plan and strategy.

Purchasing FREE: Buyer Beware

Hopefully after reading this post you will be more attuned to how businesses utilize FREE to influence your purchasing decisions. People love FREE. However, FREE sometimes is not the best option because we can emotionally overreact to FREE leading us to make poor decisions. Dan Ariely talks about purchasing a car a few years back. Because he has two children he thought logically and came to the conclusion that he should buy a minivan. Given his situation it was the most sensible option, but when he got to the dealership he was distracted by this beautiful Audi coupe that advertised FREE oil changes for the first 30,000 miles. Mislead by his heightened emotions to regain his youth and the FREE oil change offer he abandoned his logic and paid more for the Audi. Although the Audi is a nice car, Ariely regrets his decision because he knows the minivan would have been the best choice. In addition to practicality, Dan estimated his FREE oil change expenditures to be near $150 hardly worth his initial response to FREE the first time around.

Some FREE Advice

As I am finishing writing this post I just noticed that I am sipping a calorie FREE can of Diet Squirt. Over my shoulder my television is playing and I just heard a commercial for a fast food chain that is advertising Zero (FREE) Trans Fats in their food. It would appear that FREE is all around us urging us to purchase. Next time you set out to make a major purchase keep FREE in the back of your mind and make sure it’s truly the best decision for you in the long run.

Burritos and your Brain: a Neuromarketing Evaluation of Chipotle’s New Marketing Campaign

A little over a month ago I was driving down I-55 heading back home after a meeting in downtown Chicago when I saw something that almost caused me to crash my car.  I saw a billboard that was red in color and featured tacos as its centerpiece. As I got closer to the billboard I realized that it was Chipotle’s new marketing campaign. I was heart broken, I was devastated, and most of all I was confused.  Why had Chipotle done away with their highly successful and recognizable marketing campaign for this red colored disaster?

this sign nearly caused me to crash my car. who are you?

this sign nearly caused me to crash my car. who are you?

I’ll start by saying that I have a profound respect for all things Chipotle. Aside from working with them on a national level for their in-store operations I had extensively researched Chipotle for my marketing classes in college. I love Chipotle from their delicious burritos all the way to their unique marketing style. I was quick to notice the change in their advertisements, but what I had also noticed is that the people around me noticed the change as well, and they weren’t too happy about it.

So Simple it’s Genius

Chipotle does not advertise in mainstream media. They do not run nationally televised commercials and they reluctantly dabble in radio spots. They don’t have to because Chipotle does hundreds of millions dollar in business each year without foolishly wasting money on mainstream media advertising. Chipotle’s marketing is so simple it is genius. They rely on word of mouth, free burritos, and billboard advertisements that truly stand out.

Chipotle Ad

These billboards stand out because they are salient from most marketing advertisements that you see today. We are visually over stimulated with colors, images, and a barrage of designs. Chipotle’s answer to advertisement overload was to produce a simplistic style of marketing for their ads, and it worked. There is barely anything to this ad. You have a witty phrase written in “Confidential” font, a picture of a burrito and the Chipotle logo. William Epsy, Creative Director for Chipotle, said it best, “In a world of advertising, who wants to read more? Simplicity is they key.”

Burritos on the Brain

Neuromarketing studies of branding have shown that the most powerful aspects of advertisements aren’t logos as previously thought, but rather they are the environmental design aspects of an ad. That is to say people respond more favorably to consistent design than a Logo. For example when I showed people just the confidential type font and asked them what it reminded them of over 85% said Chipotle. That was just the font. When I showed them a picture of the foil wrapped Burrito an even greater percentage knew it was synonymous with Chipotle.

Chitpotle Font

The truth is that Chipotle’s Marketing is so strong and recognizable they could completely remove their Logo from their advertisements and people would still know its Chipotle. Marin Lindstrom, author of Buyology, calls this marketing phenomenon “Breakable” meaning that if I were to take a Chipotle billboard and break it into pieces you could look at the pieces and still recognize it as Chipotle. That’s some pretty strong marketing. The interesting thing is that Chipotle has been tinkering with their logo over time (you probably didn’t even notice), and they’ve been able to get away with it because their marketing design hasn’t changed that much, until now.

These are various logos that Chipotle has used in chronological order.

These are various logos that Chipotle has used in chronological order.

Breakable Marketing: Here is another prime example of a brand that relies on it's design more than it's logo. The Burberry logo (on left) is weak in terms of neuromarketing compared to the classic Burberry plaid design. This plaid design is versatile and can be woven into the fabric of the clothes to create a concrete perception that moves beyond logos. Break the plaid design into pieces and you've still got something that recognizalby Buberry.

Breakable Marketing: Here is another prime example of a brand that relies on it's design more than it's logo. The Burberry logo (on left) is weak in terms of neuromarketing compared to the classic Burberry plaid design. This plaid design is versatile and can be woven into the fabric of the clothes to create a concrete perception that moves beyond logos. Break the plaid design into pieces and you've still got something that is recognizably Buberry.

Comparing Marketing Ads

Old vs. New Marketing Designs of Chipotle

Old vs. New Marketing Designs of Chipotle

Here is a side by side comparison of Chipotle’s advertisements. The one of the left holds a heavy neuromarketing presence in your brain: The recognizable font, the focus on Chipotle’s core product – the burrito, and the stand out simplicity. The advertisement on the left features tacos – something that Chipotle offers but not its specialty. The font is boring and non-recognizable because hundreds of companies use that font in their advertising and the same can be said for the deep red color and text bubble design.  Although both adds are emotionally appealing because of the witty phrase content the traditional marketing ad is just designed better to stick.

Back to Good

Three weeks after I had first spotted the new Chipotle advertisement on I-55 it was gone. In its place was Chipotle’s traditional marketing advertisement that we all know and love. I guess Chipotle was wise to the fact people weren’t too happy with the change. I did notice that the traditional billboard featured a new Chipotle logo, but I was okay with that because the design was the same as in the past. A nearly perfect marketing campaign was restored to its former glory. Our brains love consistency and recognition. Chipotle’s traditional marketing has both.

As marketers we are highly creative and sometimes we think we need change when we actually do not. This was a classic case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, in this failed attempt at change we were able to discover that you can change and evolve a logo of a successful brand so long as you don’t overhaul the design of the marketing itself. Neuromarketing was right this time around in pointing out that our perception is keener to consistent marketing design rather than a single logo.

Good luck Chipotle and keep up the great work!

Face Time

Let’s begin with this brain fact: our brains unconsciously perceive people by actively scanning their mannerisms at speeds that are so fast they are undetectable to our conscious thought. None-the-less, our unconscious perceptions of people plays a vital role in governing our social interactions because more often than not these split second perceptions are spot on. For anyone who has ever muttered the phrase, “I don’t know, I just had a bad feeling about him/her.” you know exactly what I’m talking about because your unconscious processes were trying to tip you off that something, or someone, wasn’t right. Off all the things your brain unconsciously scans for facial expressions are by far the most important and telling.

This Blog Post is inspired by the book, Blink, written by Malcom Gladwell, a personal hero of mine.

This Blog Post is inspired by the book, Blink, written by Malcom Gladwell, a personal hero of mine.

What’s In a Face?

Our faces are canvases of emotion. In most situations a person doesn’t even have to speak to convey their feelings. Happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, etc. these feelings are painted all over our faces as we work through these emotions. This is a distinctly human trait. Babies, for example, when confused with a task, will look to the facial expressions of their parents for guidance. There is actually a wealth of information to suggest that facial cues played a major role in the successful development and evolution of our species, and it continues to.

Social Intelligence, Communication, and Facial Cues

Conversation and communication is 90% non-verbal.  An overwhelming majority of the human brain is dedicated to vision and perception. Taking that into account the ability to accurately detect facial cues is vital to communicating. Studies have been conducted where subjects were shown different pictures of people’s facial expressions and the subject had to guess the proper emotion. The people who scored highest in accuracy correlated with a higher level of social intelligence.

Looking at autism, this takes to the other side of the spectrum in regards to social interaction. Most children that are autistic suffer from an inability to successfully navigate social interactions and communicate because their brains have been rewired in a way that doesn’t allow them focus on facial cues. Autism is often linked with Asperger Syndrome, which is when children lack nonverbal communication skills and demonstrate limited empathy with their peers. If you can’t read a face, you can’t detect emotion, and that severely limits your ability to form an emotional bond and understanding with a peer.

The Naked Face

No two researchers have done more for the field of emotional psychology that Silvan Tomkins and Paul Ekman. Tomkins was among the first researchers to focus on the link between facial cues and emotion. Ekman was the researcher who traveled the world to find out if facial expressions were universal to all humans. Ekman traveled from Europe to Asia and even met with remote tribes of the Middle East and the jungles of Africa. To crudely sum up his research: Facial expressions are the same all over the world and convey universal emotional cues. When these two minds got together they did some powerful work and completely reshaped how we look at nonverbal communication with facial expressions.

The first thing they did was strip the face down to examine the muscles that allow us to make our facial expressions. The result is that we have five muscle groups in our face that allow, in combination, for over 10,000 different facial expressions. However, only about 3,000 of the potential 10,000 facial expressions are actually meaningful. The other 7,000 are the kind of faces you made as a kid when you were being silly. These works allowed Tomkins and Ekman to catalogue the range and meaning of nearly 3,000 facial expressions and link them with emotion.

Mind Reading and Facial Expressions

Today, Paul Ekman is in his late 60’s, but over the years of research he has developed a unique ability to pick up people’s facial expressions at speeds that most people would miss. These are referred to as micro expressions. The face cannot hide emotion. At some point in conversation a person’s facial cues will tip their true intentions or emotions even if their words suggest otherwise. Ekman often video records a speech and rewatches it in slow motion to help him detect a micro expression. In fact the first time he saw former president, Bill Clinton, speak in the 1992 Democratic Primaries he detected a facial cue that to him suggested that Clinton was a “bad boy” and a guy who “wants to get caught with his hand in the cookie jar and have us love him for it anyway.” [Bilnk, Gladwell 2005]. All these years later it looks like Ekman was pretty accurate.

Most of our facial expressions can be made voluntarily. If you want to make a face right now odds are you can make it. However, our facial expressions are also governed by an involuntary system that we have no control over and detecting those expressions is a gold mind for actively communicating and reading people on a deeper level. It has been said that a person’s eyes are a window to their soul. I maintain that a person’s face is a billboard for their brain. Take the time to attune to others in social interactions by examining their facial expressions; it can only benefit you by enriching your interactions.

The Difference between Fake and Real Emotions

This is a facial comparison of two smiles from the same night. As you can see the one on the right is me smiling in laughter, a genuine emotion.

This is a facial comparison of two smiles from the same night. As you can see the one on the right is me smiling in laughter, a genuine emotion.

Here is an example of how facial expressions can convey the difference between faking an emotion and actually experiencing an emotion. Here are two pictures on the same night of me smiling. The one on the left is me “fake smiling” for a picture with a friend. The other picture on the right is a picture someone took while I was in the middle of a laugh – an honest emotion for joy. Smiling is a facial expression everyone can do on a whim. If I asked you to smile right now you could do it, and you would do it by flexing your zygomatic major (cheek area muscles around the mouth). However if you were to genuinely laugh or smile you would flex your zygomatic major, but you would also tighten your orbicularis oculi, pars orbitalis, which is the muscle that circles the eye.

Voluntary tightening your orbicularis oculi, pars orbitalis, is almost impossible, and that is the tell sign for a genuine facial expression, or a lack there of. I circled the wrinkle next to my eye (post orbital bar area) in the photo on the right to show you that it’s only present in a genuine smile. If you look at the photo on the left you will see the skin is smooth and not wrinkled suggesting a face smile. We have two smiles here – one is fake and one is real, but either way I am still really ridiculously good looking (kidding). This is an example in still frame. Can you imagining detecting this in real time as you’re speaking with someone? Your brain can probably do it and you are not even consciously aware of it.

The Genius in Comedy

I went on a date with this girl the other night. Boy, let me tell you, she was fat. [How fat was she?] She was so fat when I went to pick her up for our date I hit her with my car. She said, “How come you didn’t go around me?” I said, “I didn’t have enough gas.” She was ugly too. I took her out to an ugly contest and the judges turned her away. They said, “Please, no professionals.” Are you kidding me I know I’m ugly. I stuck my head out the window and got arrested for mooning. I was an ugly kid too. I had real bad acne.  One time I fell asleep at the library, when I woke up a blind man was reading my face.  When I was a kid every time I played in the sandbox the cat would cover me up. What a childhood I had. My mother, she never breast fed me. She told me she only liked me as a friend. She had morning sickness after I was born.”

– Rodney Dangerfield

One of the greatest comedians of all time, Rodney Dangerfield. A personal hero of mine.

One of the greatest comedians of all time, Rodney Dangerfield, pictured here with Redd Foxx, another comedy legend.

Why Children are Awesome and Adults Suck

There is a statistic floating around out there that children laugh on average about 300 times a day, while adults laugh on average about 15 times a day.  I had originally heard this fact about a year ago and it knocked me on my ass. At first I couldn’t believe this fact. I thought about my laughter on a daily basis and likened my habits to that of a hyena. I then got to thinking about the collection of people that fill my life that I don’t interact with that often: neighbors, teachers, coworkers of friends and family, and it dawned on me that this fact holds a lot of weight and truth behind it. Hopefully the Rodney Dangerfield set helped you meet your laughter quota for the day.

To me, comedy is a beautiful art form (I’m not talking about toilet humor, but it has its place and time too).  Comedians posses a rare gift to take what we see and do and spin in it in a way that pleases people because of the novelty of their view points and perceptions. For some people comedy and humor seems to come effortlessly, and for others they have to labor to perfect their trade.  Humor, itself, is the most skillful exercise in divergent thinking that man can partake in and we have our brains to thank because of it. We’ve discussed our “new brains” or neocortex several times here on social-brain. Our new brain is a specialized part of the brain that only humans possess, and as a result we can think in hypothetical, symbolism and symphony. The ability to think in hypothetical, symbols and link seemingly unrelated subjects is at the root of every comedian’s jokes whether they know it or not.

“Betty White is so old that the very first game show she was ever on the grand prize was fire!” – Lisa Lampenelli at the Roast of William Shatner

It's been said that, "Betty white is so old if you google her, you'll find her both Craig's and Schindler's list."

It's been said that, "Betty white is so old if you google her, you'll find her on both Craig's and Schindler's list."

In social interactions the shortest distance between two people is laughter. I hold this to be very true. The best relationships in my life have started with a laugh, and this is true for plenty people. In Hollywood, when you look at the comedic trade, this is especially true. The highest honor is comedy is to be “roasted”. That is to say a group of your closest friends and peers gather to pay respect to you by ruthlessly making fun of you in a ceremonial event. Sounds messed up right? It is! But that is a testament to the unique bond that laughter can provide in social interactions.

I always make it a point to watch a roast when it’s on television. I love them. There is one thing I always notice about these roasts though. There are always a collection of comedians that are really really really old. Many of which were actually in Jesus’s yearbook. I’ve thought about the age of these comedians and it’s staggering the age they live to and the health they’re in at their old age. George Burns was 100 years old when he passed away, Rodney Dangerfield was putting crowds in stitches till he was 82 years young, and this past weekend the great Carl Reiner, who is 87, was up on stage roasting Joan Rivers, who is 76. What is more amazing is that these are just a handful of comedians who get better with old age. I wanted to examine in this post if there is something about laughter that keeps up young and as it turns out there is.

The Physical Benefits of Laughter: “Is it acually possible to pee your pants from laughter?”

Laughing actually relaxes the whole body. A good laugh can relieve physical tension and relax the muscles in your body for up to 45 minutes after. Ever been around someone who has actually peed themselves because they were laughing so hard? I have, and it’s because they laughed so hard they relaxed that part of their body more than they should have. If only R. Kelly’s defense lawyers would have been aware of this fact then they could have argued that he and that under aged girl he peed on were just watching Happy Gilmore and it was all just a big misunderstanding.

Laughing can actually boost your immune system. The physical act of laughter actually decreases the amount of Cortisol – a neurochemical associated with stress, and increase the amount of antibodies and immune cells in your blood stream. In addition to this laughter allows the brain to release endorphins which temporarily relieve pain and provide an overall sense of well being. Lastly, laughing can actually protect the heart because it exercises the cardio vascular flow to your ticker. Laughing over time can actually improve your blood flow to your heart.

The Social Benefits of Laughter: “Life is too important to take seriously.”

When used correctly humor can actually defuse a stressful or hostile situation. This is the say that if you’re getting mugged on a street corner a rubber chicken will probably not do you any good. However in professional settings the skill of well timed and appropriate humor is beyond beneficial. In research conducted by Daniel Goleman, he found that top-performing leaders elicited laughter from their subordinates three times as often, on average, as did midperforming leaders.  It’s important to note that too much joking can negatively affect your perception as well as others might consider you to be more of a jester than a leader. Find that perfect humorous balance in the work place.

More often than not successful leaders and people who are humorous share a single important socially intelligent trait. That is that they have a sense of humor about themselves and do not take themselves too seriously. Being approachable and open to criticism about your skills is a vital trait that will take a person far in life both personally and professionally. Having a sense of humor about yourself is rigorous exercise in handling your own emotions. A lot of times in your life you will be presented with criticism that you are not particularly eager to hear, and as a result you may feel a swell of negative emotions start to build within you. A lesser person would becomes hostile or defensive because of their unease or anger. However a socially intelligent or humorous person will take what’s thrown at them and roll with it. No outburst. No defensive attitude. There is just the thought process of how to incorporate their criticism to reach a level of success.

People who are appropriately humorous are more likeable in general. Just looking over the physical benefits of laughter one can see the associations we can form from being around someone who brings us joy through laughter. Most adults may not laugh that much, and this saddens me. If life has you down, stressed, or in slump don’t hesitate to seek out those who make you laugh: friends, family, movies, tv shows or books. Laugh for your health and laugh for your own social benefit.

Brain Bites: Social-Brain’s Tribute to Shark Week

SB Shark Week

Shark Week is arguably one of the most fascinating weeks of the year.  For one week we celebrate the stealthiest killer on the planet by paying tribute with specials, dramas, and documentaries. It’s amazing to think sharks have been around since the time of dinosaurs and in those millions of years since have changed very little. We here at Social-Brain are celebrating Shark Week by joining the feeding frenzy and sharing some facts about sharks’ brains:

A shark’s brain is roughly about two feet in size. Most species of shark have a “Y” shaped brain.

In comparison to most animals sharks have a pretty good brain to body mass ratio. Humans of course have an excellent brain to body ratio, but sharks aren’t all that far behind.

2/3 of a shark’s brain weight is made up of olfactory lobes. Olfaction, otherwise known as the ability to process smell, is a very important sense for predators. Since so much of the shark’s brain is dedicated to smelling, it makes it a very dangerous hunter as it has the ability to detect the scent of prey from far away.

Sharks actually have seven senses. Five of the shark’s senses are actually shared with humans. However, sharks have two additional senses that make them unique. The first is the ability to sense electrical pulses in the water, and the second is the ability to sense pressure in water. These two additional sense aid in hunting/avoiding prey and other predators.

Sharks actually have complex social interactions. This is mainly as a result of their healthy brain to body mass ratio.

A modern shark’s brain growth slows as they age, even as the rest of their bodies expand.

In 17th century France shark brain was ingested by expecting mothers to help ease the pain of child birth. Today dried shark brain is widely recognized for its ability to relieve pain.

Hopefully you enjoyed these shark brain tidbits. Enjoy the rest of the week and remember, “Live every week like it is shark week.”

Brain Boogie: Music and Your Brain

Does music just entertain us, or does it actually help us survive?

Does music just entertain us, or does it actually help us survive?

Musical Miracles

A doctor, with a guitar strapped over his shoulder, enters the room of a stroke patient in a neurological clinic in up state New York.  Bertha, who recently suffered a stroke to the left hemisphere of her brain, sits in silence in her wheel chair facing the window. The doctor greets her with a “good morning”, but there is no response from Bertha. She has lost the ability to speak as a result of her stroke, so she sits there silently, yet her eyes indicate she has so much to say. Silence continues to fill the room as doctor settles his things and adjusts his guitar so he can begin to play. As he begins to strum the guitar an interesting thing happens – the room comes to life. He sings out “Hello, how are you today?” and the Bertha sings back, “I am feeling fine, thank you. It’s good to see you again.”  As soon as Bertha realized she could sing, she realized that she could communicate again, something that she was unable to do just a few seconds ago. [Power Pop, Glausiusz. 2008]

The Meaning of Music

Much about music and our brains sill remains a mystery to neuroscience. We are still uncertain about the purpose of music. Some psychologists hypothesize that music is rooted in our evolution and is a differentiating factor in helping us procreate. Others theorize that music has healing powers, like witnessed with Bertha, and that it plays a vital role in stress regulation. And some cognitive psychologists believe that music is nothing more than beats and notes that serve no major roll than simply to just entertain us. As a musician (don’t beat me up, I play the violin) and a neuroscientist I have a profound respect for the entire spectrum of the musical experience.  In my experiences with people and music there is something powerful, emotional, and deeply unconscious that links music, the brain, and people together.

School of Rock

To investigate the mystery of music researcher Sandra Trehub has set up a lab that focuses primarily how babies perceive music.  The reason being is that if there is some innate musical ability in our brains a baby can perhaps shed some light on this phenomenon.  Interestingly enough in tests babies were able to acknowledge the incorrect notes played in a major scale, and what’s more impressive they were able to do this better than adults.  It’s as if they were better attuned to the building blocks of music. Music is vital to caring for children. It helps them learn and can be extremely resourceful in daily tasks like helping the child fall asleep. Maybe we were born to rock?

Marketing Music

It would seem that corporate America has caught on to power that music has over consumers. Millions are spent each year to brand specific types of music for specific stores. Businesses like Starbucks, Banana Republic, and Urban Outfitters are among some of the major names to brand a style of music to their stores. Some major corporations have evolved their old jingles into a specific musical scale that is not only catchy, but also is consistent with their marketing message. Jewel Osco has been testing a pentatonic scale that plays twice in ads; once at the beginning and once at the end. Rush Healthcare also does the same thing using the famed classical piece Cello Suite No. 1 by Bach.

Multisensory Music

Music affects each of us in unique ways. Aside from hearing the music, you can feel the music, and even become entranced by the music as you lose yourself completely. Music has the ability to connect with us on several levels at the same time, and it’s because of that we form strong connections with certain songs. Music has the ability to remind us of certain people, a certain time in our life, or a certain feeling. Most artists will pour themselves and their emotions into their work and when it all comes together it can form an emotional link to the listener. And as we’ve discussed a few times on this website if you can bring an emotional element to an experience or a memory it stands a better chance of being recalled in the long term.  Studies have shown a link between music and recalling past memories in elderly patients.

Music In, Stress Out

I will always remember coming back to my room my sophomore year of college to find my roommate, Adam, laying on the couch in complete darkness listening to a live Dave Matthews Band concert that way playing loudly on the stereo. Puzzled, I asked him if everything was okay. He said he said this was his stress relief when he feels really overwhelmed. So I closed the door and left to finish my studying at the coffee shop. Little did I know that Adam was on to something.

Research supports that music does in fact lower stress, both in listening to music and creating music. In one study cortisol, a hormone that is linked to stress, was shown to decrease in test subjects that spent time playing a drum along with music in a group setting. In other studies the same effect was reached with just listening to music. When cortisol levels remain high over time people run the risk of becoming ill because their immunes systems are weakened. If music helps keep cortisol levels low it may help keep us healthy in the long run.

Maybe it's the music? Maybe it's the rose petal bath? Either way she looks pretty stress free...

Maybe it's the music? Maybe it's the rose petal bath? Either way she looks pretty stress free...

The Mix Tape Connection

I have several friendships that were started on the basis of music. Creating music with people is another creative outlet to understand and connect with one or more people. After all, conversation is 90% non verbal. When you “jam” with other people you’re forced to speak a new language and to create something completely unique. In keeping with the theme of social intelligence you are forced to listen to others before you play, which is key to forming mutually beneficial relationships. However, simply just sharing music (legally, of course) can improve relationships as well. We’ve all made a mix tape for a special someone at some point in our youth. Sometimes music can emotionally express what we simply cannot or are scared to express. In some cases music is the bridge over a relationship gap.

Behold the mix tape. The muscial vessel of emotions and feelings of repressed teenage love.

Behold the mix tape. The muscial vessel of emotions and feelings of repressed teenage love.

Decrescendo

Though I have provided some facts on how music is beneficial to our brains the jury still remains out on the purpose of music. I firmly believe with all this information it is impossible that music is just simply for our entertainment. Music is pumped through the loud speakers of our sports stadiums to get the fans excited. Music is used to praise god, rouse armies, and bury the dead. Music reaches us in ways that no other experience can and it can help us get through difficult experiences in our lives. Although we are just beginning to understand the link between music and our brains it’s safe to say that we might never completely unravel the mystery of music. Some things, however, are better left to mystery.

Neuromarketing: Evolution

marketing and sales from a neuroscience angle

marketing and sales from a neuroscience angle

The Need for Neuromarketing

In the United States 8 out of every 10 new products brought to market fail within one year’s time. If we hop a flight to the other side of the world and stop in Japan we’ll come to find out that 9.7 out of every 10 products fail in the first year. These are pretty dismal numbers. Now I understand there are a lot of factors that play into the success (or lack there of) of any given good or service, but a lot of the emphasis in the launch of a product is placed on marketing.

Billions of dollars are spent each year on focus groups, trials, tests, or whatever tools researchers are using to predict the success of a product, yet 80% of the time they fail. As the market place continues to get more crowded the likelihood of success is diminishing unless we as marketers can better predict what actually appeals to potential consumers.  To achieve this goal we’re going to have to enter a new arena that few marketers dare to go; the human brain.

From the Marketplace to Our Minds

From the second you start your day you are bombarded with an assault of marketing and media: TV commercials, radio ads, banners on your favorite websites, street signs, and this list gets longer every hour. In fact, we are so heavily bombarded with marketing much of it becomes background noise to us after a while.  By the time you are 60 years old you will have seen over 2,000,000 commercial advertisements.  Astonishingly enough a recent survey from ACNielson found that the average person could only remember 2.21 commercials of those they had ever seen, ever, period (Buyology, Lindstrom 2008). This proves a point that you can flood a marketplace with advertising and marketing, but if you never penetrate the mind of a consumer you will fail.

Al Reis and Jack Trout were game changers when they came up with the idea of “positioning”.  They maintained that the only thing that mattered in marketing is not where you were at in the marketplace, but more importantly where you were in the mind of the consumer.  If your brand was present in the mind of the consumer you were exponentially more likely be purchased than someone who wasn’t and this is beyond true. If at this very moment I had you name as many brands of toothpaste as you could you would probably come up with a list of around 7 brands, if that. Those brands you came up with hold a lot of weight in your purchasing decision because they are the brands you’re most likely to purchase. And that brand you named first is probably the brand of toothpaste that is currently sitting in your cabinet at home.

From Our Minds to Our Brains

It would only be a matter of time before science would step up to the plate and start hitting some homeruns (non steroids, of course) in the marketing stadium. Science can literally map our brains through neuroimaging while we go through our purchasing process.  Neuromarketing can effectively map the entire purchasing process from our initial perceptions to our final decisions. The great thing is that we’re in it right now. Researchers are pioneering this process and learning new information every day. For example, in fMRI tests the design of The Mini Cooper triggers a part of the brain associated with faces, more specifically a baby’s face, in participants’ brains. The facial expression of a baby is a strong perception that is almost always positive and not surprisingly more so with women than men.

We are all consumers, and with every purchase we make we’re making a decision. The neuroscience of decision making, in general, is largely dominated by our emotions rather than our logic.  The question that many marketers face is how to properly blend emotional design into our products and marketing campaigns. This challenge looms over companies all over the world, and surprisingly very few have adopted the neuromarketing approach to business because they simply don’t know it even exists.

My Vision:  Neuroecology

Marketing campaigns exist to grab your attention and make you aware that a product exists. That marketing/consumer interaction is very topical and rarely goes any deeper than being present in your conscious for a brief moment in time. However people to people interactions hold a lot more weight in helping us form our perceptions and in making our decisions.  The person to person interaction is the only true way to authentically connect with another person and communicate knowledge. Neuromarketing will get your attention, social neuroscience will then communicate and understand the consumer’s needs and create a sale.

In most corporations today marketing and sales departments are distanced from one another and have little interaction. Marketing people are viewed as the creatives and sales people are often held in a negative light. However if you had your marketing department on the same page as your sales department in a streamlined brain based campaign you could effectively reach more people, and more importantly reach them authentically. Sales can learn a lot from neuroscience. Just like a marketer can tailor a promotional piece to effectively reach a desired audience, a trained sales person can effectively communicate the benefits of a product to the customer by utilizing presentation skills and strategy that are proven to help people make better decisions. I call it Neuroecology because this strategy takes into account everything that goes into a business decision from the selling environment to product perception to marketing to personal interaction and finally to the decision. More importantly Neuroecology is a dynamic process that is highly attuned to emotions, much like human nature.

A highly recomended read that detailes the emergence of neuromarketing and peers into the future of the field.

A highly recomended read that details the emergence of neuromarketing and peers into the future of the field.

Neuromarketing Threats

Some government groups are attacking neuromarketing claiming that it is unethical and want a ban on research. These people simply have a lack of understanding for what neuromarketing can actually accomplish. Images of subliminal advertising come to mind at the mention of brains and marketing, but these images are simply not true and they’re rooted in folklore. There is no magic buy button in the human brain. There are only complex processes that lead to a single decision. Neuromarketing provides us with the opportunity to improve the quality of business by better understanding ourselves and each other in order to better serve our potential consumers. Neuromarketing is scientific, ethical, and it is the future of business.

You Probably Think this Post is about you

Yes, I’m this Awesome all of the Time

 

“As individuals and as a nation, we now suffer from social narcissism. The beloved Echo of our ancestors, the virgin America, has been abandoned. We have fallen in love with our own image, with images of our making, which turn out to be images of ourselves.”

 

This is the dialogue of Daniel J. Boorstin, an American educator and historian, and surprisingly enough this quote is from 1914.  Now I have to imagine that if Mr. Boorstin had to spend but a few hours in today’s society his brain might fall right out of his skull. I mean this guy thought we were full of ourselves in 1914. Imagine what he’d do when we slap a pair of True Religion jeans on him, match it up with a Lacoste polo, and for the hell of it put an iPhone in his pocket.

 

The truth is narcissism is becoming an epidemic in today’s society. Just a few weeks ago The RedEye Magazine in Chicago dedicated an entire layout to tackling this very subject matter. I would like to do the same today. Undoubtedly all of us know someone that we might consider a narcissist (and if you can’t think of a person you know who fits this bill it’s probably you, sorry). We might call them a friend, coworker, acquaintance, or that tool at the gym whose shirt is too small and hogs all of the machines you’re trying to use. Since more often than not we are forced to interact with narcissistic people it should be helpful to understand them a little bit better.

 

The Narcissist Debate

 

i hope you get the what this picture is trying to say...

i hope you get the what this picture is trying to say...

Most cognitive researchers agree that there is a great deal of incongruence between how narcissists act and how they really feel deep down. Jean Twenge, author of The Narcissism Epidemic, debates that narcissists actually think and believe they really are that awesome. Wendy Behary, director of The Cognitive Therapy Center of New Jersey, debates just the opposite believing that underneath the bravado of a narcissist is really a high degree of insecurity. Fellow Chicagoan and psychoanalyst, Frank Summers holds the view point that narcissists are overwhelmingly addicted to affirmation.

 

As you can see there is a good amount of diversity in regards to narcissists, and rightfully so. After all, no two people are exactly the same, so why should we pigeon hole our ego-inflated friends and lump them all in with a singular motivation. I’ve dealt with a variety of people who exhibited narcissistic qualities and all of them had drastically different motivations that could fit the descriptions of any of the three specialists listed above. 

 

Social Intelligence and Narcissists

 

Perhaps one of the most frustrating things about dealing with a narcissist is their ability to succeed. All exhibit this booming confidence that over time has developed from their skills and abilities.  Daniel Goleman, Harvard PhD and leading social intelligence researcher, has linked narcissism to three main motivations: Dreams of glory, adoration, and self righteousness.  Surprisingly enough Goleman maintains that succeed in our society today narcissism can go a long way to helping you make difficult decisions. He refers to this as “healthy narcissism” and the key descriptor in healthy narcissism is that this person has to ability to take criticism and ideas that are not their own.

 

Ladies, is this how you get ready to go out on the weekend?

Ladies, is this how you get ready to go out on the weekend?

On the other side of the coin we have unhealthy narcissism. The motto of this narcissist is that others exist to serve me. They act with little to no concern for people around them. If the motto of social intelligence is “seek first to understand and then to be understood” their motto would be “you should always understand me”.  The goals and motivations of this narcissist are front and center in their life, and other people’s goals and motivations don’t even register on their radar. Unlike their healthy counterparts if you challenge these narcissists they will explode on you. Further these narcissists do no handle constructive criticism well at all (in fact most children today don’t either).

 

Babies and Narcissists

 

When we’re infants we lack the cognitive ability to understand that others’ needs exist in this world besides ours. Seriously, we’re these selfish little creatures that act impulsively and make a stink if we don’ get fed, changed, entertained or whatever it is that babies want. However, as we develop we begin to realize that other’s have motivations like we do and we attune to those needs and motivations. This is perhaps our first and one of our most important lessons in social interaction. Children who perform the best socially are willing to share and take time playing with others and wait their turn. They’ve learned in a way to table their impulsive selfish needs for the whole of the group or their friends.  Hearing me describe the selfish infant almost sounded like I was describing a narcissist. Perhaps narcissist failed to properly acquire these social skill set as children.

 

We all have Selfish Brains

 

Our old brain, our most primitive brain that we share with all mammals, is selfish and it serves us right to be so. In evolution if we did not act quickly for our own interests we were usually gobbled up by some large animal. Over time we developed more complex brains on top of this brain, however the old brain still runs the show because it the decision making center of the brain. Thought helps guide this process but when push comes to shove emotion chimes in our old brains says yes or no. Studies on organizational behavior have suggested that in turbulent and stressful situations people resort back to more selfish motivations and actions. This is not surprising at all because we have to ensure our own safety in times of peril.  Now let’s look past this false bravado of any given narcissist. If underneath it all these people possess a high degree of insecurity there is probably a fair amount of stress and threat that is motivating their selfish repetitive actions.

Morrie Schwartz (Tuesdays with Morrie) said “The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves.”  He was speaking to the false pressures that our culture places on all of us; Pressures like being the prettiest, the skinniest, the smartest, the wealthiest, and the most successful.  A lot of people today, especially our impressionable youth, feel this pressure and in the struggle to become something they desire place a lot of stress on themselves. This stress can be one of many routes to narcissism. The other half of Morrie’s quote is, “…And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it.” It would seem to me narcissists have the confidence to besomething their not, but lack the confidence to be who they really are.

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Differently

men and women

Men’s Brains, Women’s Brains, Whatever

 

It would seem that our society is finally starting to shake free the bonds of our outdated sexist ideology that has long dominated the culture in this country. A century ago women weren’t even allowed to vote. Today women are boldly going where men feared they would eventually go if given the chance: the boardroom, the corner office with windows, the high bench, and this list goes on as women are performing in positions that were long held for their male counterparts. Yet, this assimilation into female leadership has not been easy. Look no further than the democratic primaries from this past election and you can recall CNN making a stink about Hillary Clinton being the focus of sexism in politics, and SNL portraying Senator Clinton as a stern, somewhat butch, woman who was rigid to say the least.

 

Although women have broken down the equality barrier, the perceptual barrier stands tall for those who wish to be leaders and contributors to success in this country. In a study conducted with four test groups made up of equal men and women, the groups were given the job description of a vice president of the company as well as a description of personal attributes. The only factor that changed between the groups was the gender of the VP. Interestingly enough the gender change was enough to change the perceptions from group to group. Though both VPs were considered to be competent what differed between the man and woman was rather they were considered “likeable” or not. In the words of researcher and biologist John Medina, “The man was a hotdog. The woman was a bitch.” Upon reading this my mind drifted back to the primary elections of 2008 and I recall so many people saying Hillary was qualified but she wasn’t really relatable, which in mind is like saying, “she’s not that likeable.” So here we stand welcoming new players to the game yet we’re still playing by the same old rules. Something has to change.

 

Senator Clinton would have been a good President, but it was difficult for her to over come perceptions from being too stern and not relateable.

Senator Clinton would have been a good President, but it was difficult for her to over come perceptions from being too stern and not relateable.

Wait, You Mean To Tell Me Boys and Girls are Different?!?!

 

Amidst all this equality talk we forgot that men and women are different. For the sake of keeping with the theme of this amazing website let’s hone in on our brains. Men’s and Women’s brains differ in a variety of ways: anatomical architecture, memory formation and processing, emotions, language, vision and all that manifests itself in our behaviors. Men and women perceive differently and as a result we both operate differently. Now here is the important thing to remember, because our society gets this backwards all the time: the differences in men’s and women’s brains do NOT equate one sex performing better in general. Understanding and attuning to these differences will go along way in setting ourselves up for success in the long run.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen

 

Most people are actually unaware that the natural genetic default for creating a human life is female. This means that the blueprint for human life is a woman. So ladies, you can go tell Adam to shove it because Eve is where it’s really at and while you’re at it you can tell him to stop eating all the fruit from sacred trees, too.  In primates like chimpanzees (our genetic cousins) the female chimps are often the ones that exhibit tool use and innovation in their troops.

 

There are anatomical differences in men’s and women’s brain in every one of the four lobes of the brain. Here are some areas where women differ for men: Women on average have a thicker (thicker is good) frontal and prefrontal cortex of the brain, an area that is associated with decision making and higher level thought. Women also have a thicker corpus callosum than men which is the bridge of nerves that connects the two hemispheres of the brain. The amygdala, an area of the brain that is related to stress and emotional response, is larger in women than in men as well.

 

Now it’s wrong to justify personal behaviors through neuroanatomy. However, it is right to justify the behaviors of a population of women through neuroanatomy. Relatively speaking women in general tend to have a wider range of emotions, which can be linked back to the amygdala. Looking at the corpus callosum we can also begin to see that improved conductivity between the hemispheres allows for better multitasking, something that women tend to be better at then men. Women also tend to out perform men in language ability as well, and we can link that to our prefrontal cortex. Now ladies, before you start dishing out high fives and chest bumping each other we remember the theory of balance, and for balance every positive has to have a negative.

 

Women are more likely to have anxiety related problems. Most anorexics are women, and women are also more likely than men to develop bouts of depression. On the other side of the coin men have a greater chance of being antisocial, developing schizophrenia, drug abuse problems, and mental retardation. You see there is just as much good stuff as potential bad stuff going on in both of our brains.  The only thing that might dictate success is that task at hand.

 

Gender Memory

 

This is extremely interesting. Two groups of men and women were shown a video of a particularly horrifying accident involving a little boy getting hit by a car. While the men and women watched the video their brain activity was

How do you remember this incident? It'll differ depending if you're male or female.

How do you remember this incident? It'll differ depending if you're male or female.

monitored by fMRI. The very sight of someone getting hit by a car is emotionally salient, yet in this study men and women showed different brain activity in their amygdala regions of the brain. The right side of the amygdala in men lit up and in women their left side of the amygdala lit up. Two weeks later the groups were asked to recall the video of the boy getting hit by the car. The men better recalled the “gist” of the video and the women better recalled the details of the video, such as the boy was holding a soccer ball. The same video produced two different perceptions and two different recollections. Put those recollections together and you have a complete memory in tact. This holds true for emotionally heightened memories like a first date or a recent argument.

 

Gender Communication

 

Researcher Deborah Tannen did some really amazing research relating to how little boys and little girls verbally communicate with each other and how that shapes our communication patterns into adulthood. She spent a lot of time observing how kids communicate and form bonds of friendship and trust. No surprises here; boys and girls communicate very differently and girls tend to be better at it. To crudely summarize her 30 years of work girls use language and conversation to cement friendship and bonds. Along with conversation girls are great at utilizing the nonverbal aspects of conversation as well, like maintaining eye contact and physical cues. Boys on the other hand rarely make eye contact and prefer to use physicality and commotion to cement bonds of friendship and trust. The female approach to communication is “let’s do this together.” The male approach is “I can do this better than you.” This really doesn’t change all that much as we get older.

 

Bringing it on Home Social Intelligence Style

 

In regards to success social intelligence is the key determining factor. We know that there are differences in men and women and we must respect those differences. Socially intelligent people understand and realize how to get the most out of every individual. If you’re a manager and you have a team of both and women working underneath you it makes no sense to treat every person the same. We’re all different, so treat us differently, but in a way that fosters our success and harmonizes the groups’ effort. If you’re a leader, man or woman, you’re going to run into some opposition – be it a work style conflict or difference of opinion – you can better prepare yourself by understanding these differences and gaming planning proactively. Attuning to differences allows you to tailor your message and communication pattern into one that will successfully be understood by whomever it is you’re speaking with or reaching out to. In general our brains may be pretty different, but together two brains are always better than one.

You and Me, Baby, ain’t nothing but Mammals…

The Neuroscience of [making] Love

One of the most ground breaking shifts in neuroscience has been the acceptance that our brains are wired to connect with each other. Much of social-brain has been dedicated to using basic neuroscience to understand a variety of social interactions from our professional interactions all the way down to our most intimate interactions. Today our journey leads us to the pinnacle of our most powerful social interaction – love.

As a creature on this green earth we share one similarity with all the others animals and that is the desire to reproduce. The comfort level of expressing sexuality in this culture is cyclical. In one generation you had people making love in the mud while Jimmy Hendrix performed live on stage, but in the generation before that you had a riot on your hands if a woman’s skirt rose above her knee. Today sex and love are all around us. Pick up any magazine and there are tips about how to please your lover and what will drive the opposite sex crazy. It’s time to sort through the mess of pop culture and give you the neuroscience behind “getting it on.”

Mars, Venus, and Monkey Sex

What goes on in our brains in our most intimate moments? Science can now venture down that road to catch a glimpse of our brains activity in some of our most powerful personal moments. The first thing I want to tackle is the difference between men’s brains and women’s brains in relation to sexual perception, because what goes on in our brains during moments of passion actually differs between sexes. For the longest time it was a common belief that men were predominantly visually aroused while women on the other hand were cognitively and emotionally aroused. A raft of recent research has actually shown just the opposite.

Four groups were recently subjected to arousal testing: a heterosexual male group, a heterosexual female group, a homosexual male group, and a homosexual female group. All groups were exposed to different kinds of erotic video ranging from Bonobo Chimpanzees, to man on woman, man on man, and woman on woman. While the images were viewed fMRI testing allowed researchers to see brain activity of the subjects. As it turns out none of the four groups had a strong reaction to the Bonobo Chimp porn. Interestingly enough researchers discovered that heterosexual women’s arousal increased with the intensity of the sexual activity being viewed, regardless of who was in it.  Men on the other hand were far more physically selective with their arousal response, meaning that men are more particular in who arouses them. Likewise, lesbian women showed a particular arousal response like that of men.

A popular work of art made so because of the visual appeal of all sexes.

A popular work of art made so because of the visual appeal of all sexes.

Overall this study suggests that women are more flexible when it comes arousal then originally thought.  We’ve heard time and time again that “sex sells”.  This would go far in explaining future marketing campaigns based around revealing images designed to appeal to women. It should also be noted that in social relationships women are often more emotionally attuned than men, leading to the original theory that women rely more on emotions than physicality for arousal. Though there is some truth behind the emotion argument for women on the whole, what you see is what you get (aroused by).

Sexy WiFi

Some where right now a guy is showering with Axe Body Wash. When he’s finished he’ll towel off, get dressed, and then, if marketing holds true, he will get mauled by a pack of ravenous, horny, albeit very attractive women.  It’s kind of absurd to think that simple scents can have that powerful of a reaction with the opposite sex, but neural research is suggesting a secret nerve in the brain whose main role is to detect pheromones from our partners.

For the longest time in medicine it was believed that there were only 12 cranial nerves in the brain.  However a nerve has been discovered. It’s called nerve 0 or the Terminal Nerve. Interestingly enough all vertebrae mammals have this nerve in their brains, especially humans. This nerve in our brains is located at the front of the brain, right behind the forehead and above the nasal cavity. What is unique about the sense of smell in humans is that our perception of smell proceeds right to the part of the brain that processes it. In all other senses they proceed to the thalamus (relay station) and then to another part of the brain. This nerve may play a vital role in the detection of pheromones.

A pheromone is a chemical signal that triggers a natural response in another member of the same species. For the sake of keeping with the theme of this article, sex pheromones are believed to help encourage sexual activity when shared between two people. There have been colognes for men out there that promote the use of pheromones in their scent. First off if you purchased this cologne I feel sorry for you, and secondly in your attempt to get some you’ve been mislead. The range of pheromones is extremely limited. Indications are that people do exchange such secret pheromone messages, however you have to be really close to pass the message. Like, kissing close. If there is a connection between people and your intimately close the processing of your pheromones may what takes you to the next step. Pheromones could act like an unseen olfactory cupid – putting a romantic twinkle in the eye of a mate [ Scientific American Mind]. When you’re close enough for that good night kiss more might be going on in your brain than you originally thought.

You and Me, Baby, ain’t nothing but Mammals…

The sexual brain is an interesting brain. We’re all animals, essentially. Our needs are basic, and shared with our friends in the animal kingdom. Our new brain allows us to sometimes veto our most primal urges, however once those pheromones start flowing and our emotions kick in we’re really no different that any other animal on The Discovery Channel.

Sex Sells. Even when it comes to designing a Disney Princess. In a straw pole taken by my creepy friends they selected Princess Jasmine the most seductive of all princesses.

Sex Sells. Even when it comes to designing a Disney Princess. In a straw pole taken by my creepy friends they selected Princess Jasmine the most seductive of all princesses.

Creativity is the New Key to Success

carlstedt_kompositio_1965_l

Are you an artist? Depending on your age your answer will vary. You see, if I were to walk into a kindergarten class and ask this question nearly all of the hands would go up in agreement. However, if I waltzed into a general education college class and asked this question only a handful of students would raise their hands. The truth is that we are all artists, whether you know it or not. For beginners we have to broaden our perception of art from a guy wearing a beret holding a paint brush and attacking a canvas like a skilled swordsman. Art is creativity, and creativity is boundless and freeform.

 

“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” – Pablo Picasso

 

Symbolism and Light Sabers

 

We all share a common characteristic in our brains that allows us to do something that is uniquely human, and that is create, interpret and understand symbolism. We have our highly evolved neo-cortex (new brain) to thank for that. It’s our new brain that through evolution allows us to think in abstract and hypothetical. This is important because symbolism is the cornerstone of creativity.

 

I was recently playing Star Wars with my nephew and we were using these green swimming noodles as light sabers as we battled in a duel – I was the Sith Lord and as a result got my arm chopped off. The part I want to focus on here is the green swimming noodle, because that is far from an actual light saber as possible, I mean it’s a water toy. However, our ability to rethink and perceive that noodle as a light saber, and not a noodle, is a distinctly creative, human, and cognitive skill.  Thousands of years back when we were just starting out as apes in a jungle the ability to see a rock for something more than a rock was a huge advantage to our species. No longer just rocks, we now have a hammer to crush up food or a projectile to protect us from pursuing hunters.  Long ago we left the jungle behind, but we still keep our creativity and symbolism with us because it’s still vital to our survival.

 

Symphony, Success, and Back to the Jungle

 

Our lives are filled with symbolism: mementos, keepsakes, logos, brands, signs – most of these carry emotional weight only strengthening our perception. This process of interpreting symbols is often processed in our brains out of our consciousness so this process is often taken for granted. It’s important we spend time discovering our own creative processes in addition the creative processes of others.

 

Everybody has been through a process of creative inspiration, meaning that they witnessed or experienced an event that is seemingly unrelated to another event but some how gives it explanation or purpose. I call this the Apple/Gravity effect. For example: Isaac Newton saw an apple fall from a tree and some how came up with the theory of gravity. Just think about that. It’s freaking mind blowing! The diversity of perception is fuel to our creativity. This ability to link two or more unrelated ideas is known as symphony.

 

I mentioned how we lived in a jungle many thousands of years ago. Well guess what, our culture is becoming a jungle again, and surprise, surprise, we need creativity to survive. Let’s look at our business world for a moment. There is so much competition and abundance out there that it’s scary. In my line of work I may be up against as many as 16 different vendors on a given deal, all offering similar goods and services as myself, now add a degree of uncertainty because of this crap economy and you can begin see the jungle I’m talking about. Alright Kevin, what are you getting at? If all products are essentially equal in quality the only differentiating factor is the emotional and creative appeal that is associated with the product. This means creativity and symphony are the X factor to success, especially in a turbulent competitive world. Creative thinkers step up. We need you now more than ever.

 

Pursuing Creativity: Creative In

 

I’ve heard a lot of people say “I’m just not that creative.” That’s a load of crap. They don’t have a creative disability; they’re just out of practice. The reason kids are so creative is that a child’s brain is nearly twice as active as an adult’s brain and as a result children have this desire to observe and explore everything. If you want to be more creative you need to open yourself up to new ideas, new concepts, and new perceptions. This will allow you to expand your thought and possibly provide the link that might lead to relevant symphonic ideas.

 

Pursuing Creativity: Creative Out

 

Externalize your creativity: write, draw, cook, doodle, dance, or something completely crazy that we don’t even know about.  Here’s a fun game I like to play when working with a new college class. Take out a blank piece of paper and a pen. You will have two minutes to write down as many uses for an object as you can think of. Have a friend give you a random object and begin. This is a practice in divergent thought, and you’ll be surprised with how many or how few uses people can come up with in that time. Once you’re done share your results with others and find out how they came up with that idea. Repeat with new objects. Keep in mind there are no wrong answers when you’re thinking divergently.

 

Lastly, define yourself as an artist, because in some way or form you are one. Personally, my art is people. I use the science of social interactions to better understand people so I can empower them and energize them to reach new levels of success that weren’t there previous to meeting or working with me. Okay, now it’s your turn. How are you an artist?

here's what i came up with

here's what i came up with

The Neuroscience of Stress

there are many different kinds of stress, some can actually be good for us in small doses, however on the whole stres hurts people.

there are many different kinds of stress, some can actually be good for us in small doses, however on the whole stress hurts people.

Stress, it affects every single one of us whether we like it or not. Stress can stem from a variety of things: work, play, love, family, and the list can go on for miles. Anything that we’re emotionally invested in, directly and even indirectly, has the potential to cause us stress in our lives and often does. You cannot avoid stress. Eventually it will seek you out and hunt you down. So if you can’t avoid stress, you might as well be armed to better deal with it.

Like, are we Talking Good Stress or Bad Stress?

Actually, not all stress is the same. For anyone who has ever played a sport you’re probably familiar with butterflies – and I’m not talking about the animal formerly known as the caterpillar. What I am talking about is that queasy feeling that you get in your stomach right before the big game. However, a small dose of stress, like butterflies, can go a long way. Michael Jordan openly admits to having had butterflies before big games, but that didn’t sop him from performing at amazing levels throughout his career. It may have actually helped fuel him.

A stark contrast to butterflies is aversive stress. This is a serious form of stress that is debilitating, and can significantly hinder our performance. This type of stress manifests itself differently in every single person. In fact, neuroscientists struggle to link a single set of universal physiological responses to aversive stress because every person perceives stimuli differently and therefore reacts differently. Dogs may not frighten me; however dogs may scare the hell out of one of my friends leading to a stressful response. This is the type of stress I want to focus on in this post, aversive stress.

Defining Aversive Stress

University of Washing professor and author of Brain Rules, John Medina, describes this negative form of stress as having three main attributes.  1. There must be an aroused physiological response detectable by an outside party.  2. The stressor must be perceived as aversive, meaning if you had the choice of avoid the situation all together you would. 3. The person must not feel in control of the stressor.

A Stressed Brain is a Useless Brain

In relation to stress there are two key hormones at work in our brains, adrenaline and cortisol.  At low levels cortisol helps our brains function optimally by facilitating thought and cognition. In response to a stressor soaring cortisol levels paired with a boost of adrenaline can literally paralyze the brain’s critical abilities. In this stressed state we no longer focus on the task at hand, but instead we shift our focus and attention to the stressor which results in sub par performance of our task. In addition to how we respond, prolonged stressful states can actually negatively affect the way we learn and intake information. Furthermore, stress lowers our body’s ability to fight off illness because our immune systems weaken with our hormonal surges.

 stress relief

Control Freak

Stressors that are perceived as out of our control often do the most damage to our brains and bodies. When we perceive to have little or no control over a situation the hypothetical negative outcomes we tend to focus on are knock out punch. It’s simple. Human beings don’t like the unknown. In relation to stress, human beings hate the unknown, especially when the unknown is almost certain to result in a negative outcome. Our current economy is a prime example. There is no telling how bad our economic situation may continue to get, but because the future is unknown and laced with negativity it gives many people a reason to stress.

On the flip side having too much control leaves us too emotionally (hormonally) invested in things that may not be of actual concern to us. It’s important to learn what you can and cannot control in your life and more importantly accept it; by doing so you can deflect potentially stressful situations and the biological response that accompanies them. This is easier said than done and often requires you to pull away from your emotions in a heightened state to examine your response from a logical stand point.

How we deal with stress has a lot to do with our biology. Some people are just biologically better at dealing with stress than others. In fact, men, on average tend to be better at coping with stress than women. I will note that this does not make men more capable than women, because on average women are much better at perceiving other’s emotional states. It’s a give and take of social intelligence that balances out in the end.

Stress at Work

Whether you’re an entry level employee or an executive, you’re face to face with stress every single day in the work place. Stress has a trickle down effect from the very top of our organizations that can permeate the entire culture of a company. There is and always will be constant pressure to improve and achieve our goals. Sometimes this pressure is enough to cause aversive stress, and for many it does.

Leaders and bosses should be extremely mindful of stress formation and stress reaction amongst their employees. The pressure of constant improvement coupled with negative outbursts from a boss can be disastrous for professionals. Stress, like our emotions, is contagious. If the tone of management has become increasingly negative or perceived as hostile, you can rest assure the quality of work will suffer in the long run unless changes are made.

Bosses should make a conscious effort to focus on how they choose to motivate and communicate with their staff. If you’re in the unfortunate situation of working in a job that causes you great amounts of stress my best advice is to get out. There is no telling the toll that the stress may be taking on your brain and body.

You’ve got to move it move it. What? Move it!

Movers and Shakers 

I have a niece and she is crazy. I mean she is just plain nuts. She is also only two years old, so she is living up to the “terrible two’s” stereotype, if not surpassing it. Now I don’t mean to say that she is a bad kid – and she’s not, she’s absolutely adorable – but she just gets into everything. She is curious, as all children are. If something has her attention she’s going to make a full effort to explore and find out more about it. The need to explore is a human trait and is deeply rooted in our neural evolution. For thousands and thousands of years humans have been very active in exploring planet Earth (and other planets too). Our activity as a result of our exploration has had some pretty profound impacts on our brain development. 

 Humans are made to Move 

notice that all of these people are in motion. that could be you!

notice that all of these people are in motion. that could be you!

Who wants to walk 12 miles with me today? Any takers? Probably not.  It might surprise you to find out that our human ancestors traveled as much as 12 miles a day. They did this to find food, safety and to explore. Thousands of years of traveling did much to improve the brain functions of early man, and it still holds true for humans today. 

 Our brains make up only 2% of our body mass, yet account for 20% of our energy use. That’s an incredible fact considering that if the brain was like the rest of the body is should really account for 2% of energy use. Oxygen is vital to brain nourishment. Activity (exercise) does humans a lot of good. When the body is moving during exercise it pumps blood and oxygen through out the body and especially to the brain. Nitric Oxide is a flow regulating molecule that through exercise creates more blood vessels in the brain in some pretty key areas. This process of neurogenesis helps improve our cognitive ability. 

 Don’t be a couch potato 

 

I highly recomend this book.

I highly recomend this book.

University of Washington Neurologist and author of the book Brain Rules, John Medina, shows that our society gives us a lot of reasons be a couch potato. Things like television, computers, and video games often allow people to sit around for hours upon hours with little body movement. Couple that with fast food and you wonder why America is the world’s fattest nation.  John goes a step further and examined some of our most institutional environments that we created for ourselves and how they negatively impact our brain development and chemistry. I’m talking about classrooms and cubicles, the mainstays of our educational and professional systems. Think about it for eight plus hours a day our children and coworkers are often sitting motionless at a desk or trapped in some fabric-lined neural jail cell. For our brains to function optimally we as humans need to move. 

Active Performance 

It’s important to note that exercise alone will not improve your cognitive ability but repeated tests have shown a strong association to improved cognitive performance. In fact it was found that physically fit kids and adults had faster response times compared to their over weight counter parts. What’s more amazing is that physical activity and exercise were found to decrease your odds of Alzheimer Disease by 60% and stroke by an amazing 57%. 

The great news is that you don’t have to run marathons to benefit from exercise. All you have to do is walk about 20 minutes a day three days a week and be more conscious of your dietary intake. It really doesn’t take much. It should also be noted that balance is key to exercise. Overdoing workouts will negatively impact your brain function. So be fit in a manner that comfortably works best for you. Walk when you can and breathe deep and often because Oxygen is so important your brain’s health and development. 

 We have the same brains our early ancestors did that walked 12 miles a day. So be active and make the most of your brain. I’ll leave you with this quote from John Medina that sums up why humans are made to move.  

“We were not used to sitting in a classroom for 8 hours at a stretch. We were not used to sitting in a cubicle for 8 hours at a stretch. If we sat around the Serengeti for 8 hours – heck, 8 minutes – we were usually somebody’s lunch.”

The Problem with Success

Every person has some sort of desire to better themselves in some form or way. Being the social creatures that we are we almost always use social benchmarks to gauge our growth and development. I’m talking about awards, promotions, elections, friendships, fame, and love. Striving to become successful is important in personal and professional relationships. In order to get where we want to go we make goals for ourselves, and if everything works out in the end we reach our goals and hopefully become a success story. 

Success, however, is not what it seems. It’s been said that you can tell a lot about a man’s character by how he deals with hardships, but you can tell even more about a man’s character by how he deals with success. Success can take many forms and is the aspiration of many, but success often leads to arrogance, and arrogance will always lead you to failure that could have easily been avoided. Success is the kiss of death. Don’t believe me? Take these organizations for example: The Roman Empire, The Soviet Union, Enron, General Motors, Michael Jackson, and the list goes on. I believe that we have to fundamentally change our view of success in this country so that we can weather the storms of success that the future may bring. To do this we’re going backtrack and take a look at goal setting.

 The American Nightmare

In a recent survey of 18-25 year olds conducted by The Pew Research Center that focused on “the American Dream”, 81% said their dream was the become rich, and 51% said their dream was to become famous. This is a far cry from the American dreams of our parents and grandparents. They once dreamed of owning a house of their own and providing for their family. Here we are some 40-50 years later and our dreams have been stretched to absurd wealth and fame. Alarmed? You should be Generation Y is our future. I’m nervous and I’m only 24. I’m in the thick of this mess, but alas I have not yet been perverted by dreams of wealth and paparazzi. 

 

success can lead to this...

success can lead to this...

 

Whenever I work with college classes I always talk about this survey, because when you hear it sounds really absurd.  What I try to explain to the students is that it’s okay to want to be successful but you have to understand that just wanting to be successful isn’t enough to actually make you successful. Many people believe that attributes like wealth, fame and success are goals themselves when in fact they are actually byproducts of hard work, growth and development.

Michael Jordan was famous because he was the best at basketball, Dave Matthews is famous because he’s a dedicated and talented musician, and Gandhi was known the world over because he was a person who strove to be the pinnacle of morality and righteousness. Their fame was secondary to their talent and hard work.

Goals and Objectives

Goals and success are just concepts. Objectives, however, are very real. The only true way to reach the level of success you desire is to set obtainable objectives in your life. If your goal is to get an A in a college course then make your objective to read every chapter. If your goal is to become a better baseball player make your objective to take 100 ground balls after every practice. Are you getting the idea? Objectives are what bridges the gap between where you’re at now and where you want to be. Objectives put you in motion; they ensure you’re moving towards your goal by breaking it down in to manageable chunks. Set goals in your life, but more importantly set objectives and stick to them. Objectives will get you where you want to go in life.

Most people who reach success have done a great job a sticking to their objectives to get them to that point in their life. However, one of the most difficult things is to stick to your objectives once you’ve reached your goal. Most people welcome in the arrogance and forget what got them to that point in their life. Never forget your objectives.

 The Great Ones

 

 

these two sport giants understand the true meaning of success

these two sport giants understand the true meaning of success

 

 The great ones are the people who have continual consistent success. Michael Jordan won his first three NBA Championships by working hard to become one of the most explosive players in the game. His second three championships were won late in his career after he’d lost a step in his speed. He reset his objectives and focused his game around a new shot, the “fade-away jumper” and dominated the competition in a completely new way.

 Tiger Woods is another prime example of continual success. After winning more major tournaments in his young career than most golfers win in their life times he decided to set a new objective to correct his swing. This wasn’t easy because Tiger struggled for a few tournaments, but all the while he remained committed to swinging his clubs the correct way knowing that it would make him a more consistent golfer in future tournaments. The end result was more major tournament wins including winning the US Open with an injured leg. Most people would be happy with a single major victory but Tiger knew that to keep winning majors he needs to set objectives to develop all aspects of his game.

 Success is Dynamic

Many people have the misconception that success and leadership are the end result of our objectives, but that’s simply not true. With each success in your life you’re stepping through the door for another challenge. Success is dynamic and like you it’s always changing. Understand your talents, identify your weaknesses, create your goals, and follow through with your objectives that will lead to success. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Always repeat.

Embracing Failure… Becoming The First Penguin

You’re Going to Fail

 

You are going to fail. It’s that simple. You are going to fail. Now it might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, but at some point down the line you’re going to mess up.  And it’s not going to be some little screw up either. It’s going be really bad. For some of you, you’re going to see it coming. For others you’re going to get blindsided. Some of you, bless your hearts, are going to do everything right and then guess what, you’re still going to fail. Some of you probably all ready failed. Have you gotten the hint yet? Everyone fails in some form or way in their lives, be it professional or personal. But one thing is for certain, there’s no getting around it. So you might as well embrace it, because failing isn’t as bad as you think.

 

Why We Fear Failure

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A student fearing failure is a student handicapped by outdated educational ideals.

 

Now as you read that first paragraph your stomach probably turned a little bit and some thoughts started flowing through your head about things that could fail in your life right now. Maybe is that deal waiting to close? Maybe it’s that first date?  We as a society fear failure. We are terrified of it. Through our educational development we’ve been conditioned to fear being wrong. Failure is stigmatized in our educational systems. It is the reason why when a teacher asks a question in a kindergarten class all the hands go up and when a professor asks a question in a college course only a handful of hands go up. At some point along the way we as learners begin to think that being wrong is the worst possible outcome, and we run our business like this too.

 

Think about it this way. All of us spent the first 18-22 years of our lives being told that failing is wrong. The truth is that academic life is geared around your success. In most cases if you get a C in a course that is the pretty bad, when in reality its average. Failure in the real world is much different because anything goes and you need to take chances to succeed. If you consistently got a 4/10 on your college quizzes you would probably get an F in that class. However, if you were a professional baseball player and 4/10 at bats you got a hit you would be going to the All-Star Game.

 

 

The Other Side of Failure

 

Hypothetically failure is horrible, but in retrospect failure is often essential to success.  So why is failure essential to success? Well there are two main reasons that I can think of: The first is because only through our mistakes and failures we can truly begin to learn and develop. The other reason is that failing over time begins to make us resilient to aversive conditions.

 

Michael Jordan said it best. He said, “I can accept failure. What I can’t accept is not trying.” That is what I am getting at. If you try, if you really give it all you got you’re going to get something out of the process of your attempt. So the end result is that you goofed or things didn’t go according to plan. The odds are that if you truly gave your best effort you’re going to walk away knowing something that you didn’t before.  That is what matters most.  Ask any great champion or stand out in their field and they will tell you the same thing. Failure leads to success.

 

What Juggling Can Teach Us about Failure

 

In my senior year of college I heard Curtis Zimmerman give a speech. Curtis is a tall large framed man who slicked his brown hair back and wears thin wire framed glasses. Curtis is a world renowned entertainer and circus performer. He can swallow swords, eat fire and juggle like it’s nobody’s business. The culmination of his speech is to have a person come on stage who can’t juggle and learn how to juggle in front of the entire audience, and best of all he guarantees they will learn to juggle, and the person, nervous as they always are gets it every time. Curtis then puts on a juggling show where he’s juggling three, four, and five balls in different patterns and ways that people have never even seen before and he’s getting really into it he says, “Do you know why I am able to do this so well?… Because I’m not afraid to do this.” And he lets all of the balls fall on the floor. “The reason I can juggle so well is because I have dropped the balls more than any other person in this room. My past failures are the reason for my current success.”

 

The First Penguin

 

The late Randy Pausch PhD, author of The Last Lecture and former professor at Carnegie Melon, gave out a First Penguin award each year when he was teaching to the biggest failure in trying something big and new because he thought this should be celebrated. The idea came to him because First Penguins are the ones that risk their lives to jump into water first even though it might be filled wih predators.

penguin08

Behold the glorious First Penguin. This penguin is the first to dive into the water. That water might be filled with predators or that penguin might get first dibbs on all the tasty fish in the ocean. Take the risk.

 

My best advice is if you’re not the first penguin find someone who will make you the first penguin, find someone who will push you into the frigid waters below. When I first started my job right out of college I was fortunate enough to have a boss who embraced failure and taking chances. Believe it or not I was scared to make phone calls to clients because I was scared I might mess up and fumble my words on the phone and sounds dumb. So my boss sat at my desk with me and made me make some calls. I was so nervous I messed up a lot at first, but then I realized that this wasn’t so bad at all. After while my initial fear wore off and I became quite good at the phones. Now I start off every phone block session with a random call to a business in a phone book just to get my goof up out of the way. I used to be that little penguin on the edge of the iceberg looking into the water, scared to jump. Today I’m still that little penguin, but now I’m doing back flips into the water and give it my best effort every time I jump.

 

Be that first penguin. Celebrate your attempt even if it ends up in failure, because odds are you’ve learned something important along the way. Good luck.

 

Some quotes and media on failing that you might like.

 

“Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”

                                                            - Batman’s Dad

 

“Mistakes are, after all, the foundations of truth, and if a man does not know what a thing is, it is at least an increase in knowledge if he knows what it is not.”

- Carl Jung, Psychologist

 

“My reputation grows with every failure.”

                                                            - George Bernard Shaw

 

“Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.”

                                                            - John Dewey

 

 

 

Are You Socially Intelligent Enough to Lead?

 

more than likely this woman hates her job. how about you?

more than likely this woman hates her job. how about you?

 

Hate Your Job? Join the Other Millions of Americans…

 

A recent survey conducted by Entrepreneur Magazine suggested that 77% of Americans dislike their jobs.  Most of the people cited that office politics as well as their bosses were part of the reason why they disliked their current occupation. I found it really interesting that it was other people, and not job descriptions, that were given as the main reason for people hating their jobs.

 

Today’s business world is a fickle beast.  It moves at break neck speeds and demands everything from you and your peers.  In corporations there is a constant sense of urgency as you’re held to quarterly results and expected to reach your growth goals.  I have spent a great deal of time researching the culture of corporate America and it’s scary to see the negative progression of our supposed “productive cultures”. There is a growing demand for results and lessening of support. This current culture crisis in America would be enough to make anyone hate their job, yet most of the negativity is directed at our bosses.

 

Believe it or not, there are some vestiges where good corporate culture fosters success and growth. It’s really sad that these businesses are few and far between but they do exist and the reason they succeed is because of their management and social intelligence.

 

Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership

 

In September of 2008 Harvard Business Review posted an article that tackled this very subject. It was titled Social Intelligence and the Biology of Leadership and was written by Daniel Goleman, PhD and Richard Boyatzis. If you subscribe to HBR I would highly recommend checking out this article. This article was viewed as ground breaking and cutting edge by the business community.

 

Goleman, who is the leading expert in social intelligence, looked at management from a social neuroscience perspective.  He focused on the importance of empathy and understanding and becoming attuned to others moods. He stressed the importance of developing a genuine (that is the key word here) interest in and talent for fostering positive feelings in the people whose cooperation and support you need.  As it turns out certain people have a biological predisposition that allows them to be more emotionally attuned and aware. However, it’s important to note that these skills can be developed over time.

 

In the past it has been common practice to promote a worker based solely on results. Promoting based only on results seems to make perfect sense, however more often than not this decision to promote based on numbers backfires.  Sales is a prime example. I have seen numerous sales reps promoted to managers, and at the same time I have seen a vast majority of them fail in their new position. The reason being was though they could produce sales results they do not have the social intelligence to enable their staff to produce the same results. Sadly most do no understand the nuances of understanding and communicating so they try to force results and goals on their staff and that’s where rifts start to form. Results are important when selecting a manager, but along with results social interactions should be looked at heavily to ensure you’re getting a person who is skilled in understanding and communicating with others.

 

A Happy Boss is a Great Boss

 

Research suggests that top performing leaders elicited laughter from their subordinates three times as often as mid performing leaders. A reason for this is that being in a good mood helps people take in information effectively and respond nimbly and creatively.  Laughter is paramount to social intelligence. It’s been said that when communicating with another person laughter is the shortest distance between two people.

 

There is a line though when it comes providing a positive environment. There are strict bosses out there and conversely there are bosses that are not strict enough. A good manager and leader will know how to handle that line because they will have understood how to interact with each individual employee to get the most out of them. Leaders have to be demanding but in ways that foster a positive mood.

The carrot on a stick method doesn’t make neural sense.  If you want to succeed in the long run you need to break away from the trite management strategy that would have you threatening your staff and scaring them into results. It might produce some short term results but it comes at a high price in the long run – the loss of trust from your staff. Become a socially intelligent leader; genuinely understand the strengths, weaknesses, goals, and talents of your staff and yourself. Enable your staff for long term success and have fun while doing it. Accomplish this and the results might surprise you. After all, research in the past decade has confirmed that there is a large performance gap between socially intelligent and socially unintelligent leaders.

The Good, the Bad, and the Monkey: The Good/Evil Debate from Social Neuroscience

only social neuroscience can bring these three together

only social neuroscience can bring these three together

Are human beings inherently good or evil? This question has long be debated and was made most famous by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes.  Both sociologists agreed that all men are created equal; however they greatly disagreed on the inherent nature of man. Hobbes argued that man is, by default, selfish and as a result, harmful to others. Rousseau argued the opposing more optimistic view point that man is by default a good being, but through the persuasion of their state or society has been influenced to perform acts of evil.  It would seem that both men evaluated social interactions as their gauge for the capacity for good or evil in humans.  A look into the science behind these social interactions may help sway this debate.

 

  

What monkeys can teach us about compassion

 Six rhesus monkeys have been trained to pull chains to get food. At one point the seventh monkey, in full view of the others, gets a painful shock whenever one of them pulls for food. On seeing the pain of the shocked monkey, four of the rhesus monkeys start pulling a different chain, one that delivers less food to them but that inflicts no shock to the other monkey. The fifth monkey stops pulling any chain at all for five days, and the sixth monkey for twelve days – that is, both starve themselves to prevent shocking the seventh monkey.

 

Daniel Goleman PhD calls this instinctive compassion. Shockingly, in similar tests conducted with both lab rats and infants, both performed in the same altruistic manner as the monkeys.  So is this proof humans are innately good?

From a neuroscience perspective I would say yes, humans are innately good, but with a twist. Hobbes argued that humans are selfish and that was the root of their evil. This is only partly correct. Remember the old brain, the brain that was concerned primarily with our own safety, the brain that we share with nearly every other mammal? That brain is selfish, and it serves us right to be so, other wise we would have been lost many thousands of years back in our evolution.  What differentiates us from the other mammals is our mid brain (emotion) and our new brain (thought) that compliment our old brain. Since all three of these brains work together they are interconnected and by design allow us to feel what we see in other animals and people. Seeing discomfort makes us feel uncomfortable and because we don’t like feeling uncomfortable we can take steps to alleviate the other animals discomfort causing us to perform a good deed. 

 

Back to the monkeys, you see when the six monkeys saw the seventh monkey being shocked they empathized and mirrored with the visible pain of the seventh monkey in their own brains. The six monkeys then thought about their own action options, and then acted by choosing less food or no food at all to keep the seventh monkey from pain. This is easily proved in a lab but it is not 100% in real time. I’ll explain in my future posts.

 

We’re no different than rhesus monkeys

 

I’ll end on this: A similarity that humans experience from time to time that reminds me of the very experiment with the rhesus monkeys. Have you ever been driving in your car on the expressway you accidentally cut off another drive and didn’t even realize you did so until the second you had actually done it? I’m guessing, yes, you have.

 

Here’s how the experience probably ended after you accidentally cut off the other driver. You either heard the irate honking of the other driver or you looked in your mirror and the car finally came out of your blind spot. Startled, you stop playing with whatever was distracting you, sit up straight, and as the other driver begins to pull up next to your car you make a dedicated effort keep looking ahead even though you can already feel that the person in the other car is staring at you with hatred and disgust. Like the rhesus monkeys you can’t stand seeing the pain or anger of another human because it triggers something in your own brain (mirror neurons) that causes a similar emotion, and especially because your action was the root of their anger. So your best option given the circumstances is to become the best driver you can be at that very moment while avoiding all visual contact to prevent the transmission of the other driver’s negative emotions.

 

So please drive safely people :)

 

 

Monkeys, Ice Cream Cones, and Mirror Neurons: The Three-Way That Gave Way to Social Neuroscience

work those mirror neurons baby monkey. work it!

work those mirror neurons baby monkey. work it!

A Macaque monkey sat in his cage in the corner of a neuroscience lab in Italy during a hot summer in the mid 1990’s. The monkey looked a bit goofy wearing a helmet type device that was rigged with electrodes that were supposed to detect a neuron that fired when the monkey raised its arm. As one of the Italian researchers entered the room the monkey sat with its arm at its side. The Italian researcher, like most people during a hot summer’s day, was enjoying an ice cream cone.  He turned and inspected the monkey’s cage and noticed that nothing was going on. The monkey was just chilling with its electric rigged hockey helmet and its arms still at its sides.  What happened next was amazing. The researcher raised his ice cream cone to his mouth and the electrodes starting registering that the monkey’s neuron was firing. However, there was one problem: the monkey didn’t raise its arm.  As the researcher raised the ice cream to his mouth again the neuron fired once more. Something was up…

 

 

 

Like most great discoveries this was a complete accident. What the researcher and his monkey counterpart stumbled upon was called a “mirror neuron”. A mirror neuron is a neuron which fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another animal. Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of another animal, as though the observer were itself acting. Though the monkey didn’t actually move it’s arm the neuron still fired because it mirrored or made a connection with the researcher when he raised his arm.  Currently science has only found mirror neurons in humans, primates and some birds.

 

This very discovery was the seed that would eventually grow into Social Neuroscience. Social Neuroscience functions on the principle that we are wired to connect. Mirror neurons amongst many emerging discoveries are proof our brain’s very design is to be socialable. This means that every person we encounter has an affect on our brain, and that in turn, affects our bodies. Dan Goleman, author of Social Intelligence has this to offer:

 

“To a surprising extent, then, our relationships mold not just our experience but our biology. The brain-to-brain link allows our strongest relationships to shape us on matters as benign as whether we laugh at the same jokes or as profound as which genes are (or are not) activated in T-cells, the immune system’s foot soldiers in the constant battle against invading bacteria and viruses.  That link is a double-edged sword: nourishing relationships have a beneficial impact on our health, while toxic ones can act like slow poison in our bodies.”

 

Think about it this way: Can you ever recall a time when either you or a friend was in a particularly bad relationship with a significant other? At the end of the relationship did the constant fighting and ill tempered interactions affect your biological state, as in you felt sick, tired, or even nauseated from having to deal with that person. That’s Social Neuroscience at its worst, however, it gives a stark introcuction into how social relationships and interactions can truly affect you both in the short term and the long term.

 

Social Intelligence is an advanced companion to emotional intelligence. Now that I have somewhat introduced both I can begin to give some more examples of situations and people you might encounter or have encountered and how to get the most out of those people and situations.

The Importance of Balance, and Why We “Black Out”

 The human brain is the pinnacle of efficiency. That 3lbs piece of white and grey matter has enough energy flowing through it to power a 10 watt light bulb. That’s enough energy to make Uncle Fester jealous. Now to begin to understand the brain we need to understand how it uses its energy. For the brain to remain highly efficient and functioning properly it relies on being in a balanced state. That means the brain needs both positive and negative processes working at the same time to create a balance.  If your brain falls out of balance some weird stuff can go down. To best illustrate this let’s look at a favorite college past time, “blacking out.”  Keep in mind this is going to be a very rudimentary explanation.

Why We Black Out

As I mentioned before the brain has both positive and negative processes. The fuel or energy for these processes is called Glutamate and GABA. Glutamate is the neurotransmitter that fuels your brain’s positive processes.  GABA is the neurotransmitter that fuels your brain’s negative processes. The plus/minus processes of Glutamate and GABA create the balance your brain needs.

But it’s Friday, and you’re thirsty. So you strap on your toga and you hit the town. Next thing you know you’re throwing back shots, cranking out keg stands that will whip a party into a frenzy and what the hell, you even shotgun a beer or eight. You see the funny thing about alcohol is that it potentiates GABA. So with a little added help from booze GABA becomes more abundant in your brain, and that offsets the balance your brain needs to function properly.

The area of your brain that is associated with short-term memory is called the hippocampus, and is normally fueled by the positive neurotransmitter Glutamate… but not tonight. Since GABA is in excess it overrides some of the functions of your hippocampus, affecting your ability to process memory. So when you wake up on a futon, naked, with a bunch of strangers you can blame it on your brain for not being balanced. No worries though, by the time you wake up and shake off your moral hangover your brain’s activity should have balanced itself back out.

 

 If you’re confused just remember your dashboard.

 

 That’s right, think of your dashboard and dials, specifically your temperature gauge. Think aboBalance is good! Don't over heat and don't get cold.ut it, you always want your temperature to be right in the middle of that gauge. If the pin moves too far towards The H (Heat) your car would over heat and not work. If the pin moves too far towards The C (Cold) your engine isn’t going to work properly either. You want that pin right in the middle, balanced.  So how does this relate back to social intelligence?

 

 

This idea of balance is important because it can be applied to your desired emotional state. It’s proven that the higher your emotions run, the more difficult it is to perform basic functions. Similarly if you don’t have enough emotional stimulation you can’t perform a task optimally either.  You want your emotions to be like the heat gauge on your car, in the middle range – not too hot and not too cold.  People who are emotionally and socially intelligent can control the flow of their emotions by thinking and priming their emotional state for what has happened and what might happen. Thw higher your emotions run the more difficult it is to control your impulses and that could lead to you doing something you might regret.  So next time you begin to feel your emotions starting to get the best of you take time to think and find your emotional balance. The lesson of balance is essential to the success and development of your emotional and social intelligence.

The History and Possibilities of Social Intelligence.

Emotional Intelligence is a phrase coined by Daniel Goleman, a Harvard University professor who specializes in the emerging field of Social Neuroscience. He has been at the forefront of emotional intelligence for many years now having published three groundbreaking books on the topic.  Here is a brief excerpt from an insightful book he wrote, it’s called Working with Emotional Intelligence.

 

“The rules for work are changing. We’re being judged by a new yard stick: not just by how smart we are, or by our training or experience, but also by how well we handle ourselves and each other.”

 

Let’s look at business for example. Today’s market place is continually evolving.  As competition grows and the intelligence of the customer continues to expand, the end result is that people, not products, will be the deciding factor in successful business. At this point in the game every company out there has a product that is similar if not “better” than the others.  However, people are what differentiate a product in the market. People are what make the connection between companies and organizations. People help bridge the organizational gap and drive business.

 

 

EQ – The New Kid on the Block

 

Since the IQ test became common practice it has generally defined the intelligence of a person, but as it turns out, only in part. The funny thing about IQ is that it’s a static form of intelligence. That’s right, static. It remains the same over time.  In fact your IQ will more than likely remain the same well after your teen years.

 

I would like to introduce EQ – IQ’s emotional counterpart. It’s your emotional intelligence, and it is dynamic. You got it, dynamic. Your emotional intelligence is ever changing and always developing through out your life time.  It’s completely up to you how much you’re willing to develop your EQ.  There is no correlation between IQ and EQ.

 We've all seen the iceberg analogy.

Some of you might be wondering if there is a difference between men and women in EQ as women tend to be viewed as more “in touch” emotionally. Actually women and men are equal in terms of EQ because the strengths and weaknesses balance out: Women are more emotionally aware and men are more resilient to stress. Emotional Intelligence is how you handle yourself. Social Intelligence is how you handle yourself and others in social situations.

We’ve all seen the iceberg analogy.

 

 

 

Forecasting: our nation’s youth continue to get smarter and smarter; however their social skills are rapidly declining. One researcher commented that “Kids today just can’t take criticism.”  In our society we attribute a high IQ to automatic success. That is false. Not all geniuses succeed in life. It has been proven over and over again that the main determining factor in success is EQ, not IQ (though it should be noted that one must possess an adequate IQ). Emotional Intelligence is what can make the difference between an average performer and a superstar.  

My vision is that by making people cognizant to way they perceive and act they will gain a better understanding of themselves and in turn also gain a better understanding of the people they interact with.

What’s the Deal with Emotions?

I turned on EPSN this morning and the anchors were talking about the upcoming BCS National Champtionship Game and one anchor, Kirk Herbstreet, was talking about the role emotion will play in the game and how it could be the difference for victory.  Watch any sports show regarding a big game and the importance of emotion always comes up. This holds true far beyond the realm of sports. Emotions play a vital role in our day to day actions and often times they play a much larger role than we give them credit for.

As humans we are emotional beings.  With each living moment we wade in a sea of emotion. Sometimes the waters are calm, sometimes the waters toss about, and every so often the waters rise up like a tsunami wave and overtake you. However, one thing remains: there will always be water – there will always be emotion. I submit that most people can feel their emotions, but very few actually understand them, and even fewer understand the emotions of others. In most cases we cannot stop ourselves from feeling emotions, they just come. It’s what a person does once they’ve felt an emotion that can make all the difference.

In my last post I introduced the three very general parts of the brain: The old brain, the middle brain, and the new brain. These brains, respectively, were responsible for making decisions, emotion, and thought. Any time we are confronted with a stimuli these three brains work in concert to lead us to an action. The flow of this interaction often looks like this:

 Emotion –> Thought –> Action

Once you’ve felt  and acknowledge the emotion you’re feeling it is crucial that you take time to think. Most people fail to do this, and it can be the source of difficulties in their social interactions. You might think about why did I feel that emotion? What action should I take? How will my potential reaction affect me, how will it affect others? The truth is there are a million different questions you can ask yourself in relation to any given scenario, all that matters is that you think. Once you’ve thought and used the input of your emotions you can make a decision as to what you action may be. Pretty easy huh? This is a baby step into a much larger world.

When Your Emotions Get the Best of You…

I walked out of lunch at one of my favorite sushi restaurants and noticed a man holding package and ringing the doorbell to the UPS Store that was located next door. He was about 40 and looked like any suburban father would. He continued ringing the bell until it was quite clear that no one was going to answer. The UPS Store was closed and accidently left their “open” sign lit in the window. Then something happened. He slapped the side of the package he was holding and cursed out loud. I decided to slow my pace as I walked and watch this scene play out. Clearly this guy was feeling the emotion of anger, I mean he was really cheesed, and it was because he couldn’t mail his package. My guess he was so angry because it was important that it get mailed that day. I’ll never know, I was in no position to ask him, he might choke me.

He started his car and hit his steering wheel cursing up a storm, he was still very angry. The emotional flood gates were open. He then began reving up his engine. It was clear to me at this point his emotions were in control of his actions. He backed up really fast and began speeding down the street still cursing. He failed to notice that a woman was backing her car out of her parking spot down the way. Blinded by his emotions he realized this too late, slammed his breaks, and rear-ended her car. Luckily it wasn’t that bad. However he got out and started screaming at the lady. I felt privledged and somewhat sad to watch this entire situation play out. I noticed one thing though, as the emotions started to rush in he failed to think and figure out what action would be best to take give the changing circumstances of his situation. He went right from emotion to action, skipping thought, and he is paying for it now (more than likely in the form of his insurance).

I’ll end with this. Oprah said this to Liz Lemon on an episode of 30 Rock, “We’re not always in control of the emotions we feel, but we are always in control of the actions we can take.”

Three Brains are Better than One

To begin to understand how the human brain processes information during our daily interactions you have to break down the human brain so it’s nice and simple to understand.  I remember the first time I saw an actual human brain,  and the thing I remember most is that it looked nothing like the clean images and drawings from the text books. It actually looked like a grayish mess, but once we got to slicing and dicing it began to make sense of what was what. Our lesson today is nowhere near as complex, hopefully it’s more intriguing.

breaking down the brain

breaking down the brain

The Reptilian Brain

The reptilian brain is a very primitive organ. It’s called the reptilian brain because it has been around for over 450 million years and is actually still present in reptiles today. This is the first part of your brain to develop. The reptilian brain or the “old brain” is responsible for you unconscious processes. It controls things like heartbeat and breathing. Think about it, have you ever had to focus to make your heart beat, or to make yourself breath (assuming you’re not having a panic attack). Of course not, these things just happen and that’s thanks to your old brain. It’s been said that the old brain is primarily concerned with your survival. The most recent research has shown that the old brain plays a major roll decision making. The old brain actually decides “yes” or “no” in response to a situation or stimuli. Pretty neat stuff huh? We’ll expand more on the old brain at a later time.

The Middle Brain

Through human evolution we developed a brain on top of our first brain. This brain, the middle brain, is a little more complex than the first brain. From a social neuroscience perspective the middle brain is primarily concerned with emotional processing. Emotions are vital to understanding and communicating in social interactions and play a crucial role in our behaviors and actions.

The New Brain

The new brain is what makes our species so unique. No other animal has a brain like ours and that’s because of our new brain, also commonly referred to as the neo cortex. This brain is responsible for higher level thinking. It allows us to think in abstract and hypothetically as well as perform rational thought. Studies have shown that this part of the brain continues to grow and develop until the age of 24. This is what separates us from other animals and makes humans so unique.

Three Brains Become One

So lets tie this all together. The reptilian brain decides, the middle brain processes emotions, and the new brain thinks. When confronted with a stimuli all of these processes from your three brains work in concert to achieve an end result.  This is the process that your brain works when confronted with almost any situation. Of course you’re largely unaware of what’s going on, but social neuroscience aims to give you the understanding of how you perceive and communicate. The knowledge of the social perception process can make a big difference in understanding your actions and emotions. Now that we’ve laid something of a base I hope we can begin to really explore this dynamic process through some example interactions.

If this sounds like something you’d like to learn more about I recomend picking up the book NEUROMARKETING written by Patrick Revoise & Christopher Morin. This book looks at how the brain makes decisions and the best way to communicate to the old brain. It’s a terrific read and much of this post was inspired by the book’s breakdown of the brain. Check out more at:http://www.salesbrain.net/users/folder.asp?FolderID=5622&gclid=CNzi8O-M6pcCFRlRagodkEOCDA Continue reading