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.

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 🙂

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 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.