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!

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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.

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.

Creativity is the New Key to Success

carlstedt_kompositio_1965_l

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

 

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

 

Symbolism and Light Sabers

 

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

 

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

 

Symphony, Success, and Back to the Jungle

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Pursuing Creativity: Creative In

 

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

 

Pursuing Creativity: Creative Out

 

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

 

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

here's what i came up with

here's what i came up with

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

Movers and Shakers 

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

 Humans are made to Move 

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

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

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

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

 Don’t be a couch potato 

 

I highly recomend this book.

I highly recomend this book.

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

Active Performance 

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

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

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

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