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.

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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.