Monday, 30 June 2014

Compliance is all about Freedom

We all try different persuasion techniques from time to time. It could be to get a sale, to get a colleague to swap shifts or to get a buddy to go for a beer. You may have some tricks or techniques that you think work better than others.

There is one technique however that seems to work best of all. It is the “but you are free” (BYAF) compliance-gaining technique. This operates by telling the target that he or she can refuse the request.

The key thing here is reminding people of their freedom to choose. By emphasising their freedom you are letting them know that it is OK to say No and you are not forcing them into anything. They have a free choice.

Christopher J. Carpenter reviewed 42 psychology studies (covering 22,000 people) using this technique. His meta-analysis showed that this simple idea can be pretty effective. Across all the studies it was found to double the chances that someone would say ‘yes’ to the request.

The meta-analysis shows how people donate more to good causes, are more likely to partake in surveys or lend someone the bus fare if they are caught short.

Try it for yourself, I think it's a good idea but it's up to you.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Truth & Photos

Ever been in a position where you were designing a brochure and wondered whether you should put in a particular photo? You might have decided against it because you felt a generic photo might look bland or you had trouble getting a photo that fitted well with the point you were trying to make.

It turns out that the choice of photo might not really matter that much, the important thing is to have a photo and almost any kind will do.

The BPS reports on a study involving New Zealand and Canadian students which found that including a photo with a statement made us more inclined to believe a statement accompanying the photo was true. The participants were given a series of statements saying if well known and obscure celebrities were either dead or alive. As fast as they could, without compromising their accuracy, the students had to say whether each statement was true or not. Crucially, half the statements were accompanied by a photo of the relevant celebrity and half weren't.

The statements with the photo were rated more likely to be true. As the researchers put it, the presence of the photo seemed to "inflate truthiness".

Another study with 70 New Zealand undergrads was similar but this time uninformative photos accompanied obscure general knowledge facts. For example, "Macademia nuts are in the same evolutionary family as peaches" was presented alongside a photo of macadamia nuts that provided no clues as to the veracity of the statement. The same effect was found - the students were more likely to wager that a fact was true when it was accompanied by an uninformative photo

So if you are designing a brochure and have testimonials that say your software is best of breed or your customer service has an approval rating of 99% or your deliveries are always on time, include a photo of a PC, Customer Service Agent or Delivery Guy. Generic non-descript photos are no problem, it need not be actual people or items. People will be more likely to rate your claim as true.

The same could be true for how you design websites, how politicians design election material or how you organise your eBay shop or any other on-line profile you may have. Any kind of photo will "inflate” the "truthiness" of your proposition. Guess I should have included a photo as part of this post.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Work Out Creativity

The positive impact of aerobic exercise on physiological function is well publicised. The benefits for the cardio-pulmonary system has been extensively studied and validated. There have been several population level fitness programs to target obesity.

Until recently, there was very little research on exploring the potential benefit of aerobic exercise on mental processes and structures. One potential benefit of aerobic exercise where the research was very thin on the ground is in the area of its potential effects on creativity.

Creativity is a much sought after and encouraged thought process. Creativity plays a key role in the establishment and sustained competitiveness of many organisations. In a world where many jobs are in a state of flux and there is a constant churn of new technologies and ideas, the ability to use this change in a creative way is a vital skill.

A study in the Creativity Research Journal looked at how exercise can improve our ability to think creatively. The researchers got half the participants to work out to an exercise video and the other half to just watch a video. The people who worked out performed better than their video watching counterparts when it came to a creative thinking test. The researchers used the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT) which examines divergent thinking and other problem-solving skills. Responses are then scored on four scales- Fluency, Flexibility, Originality and Elaboration.

So it appears that if you need to kick start some creativity, get a work out program going. If you are hiring for a creative role, it might help to have candidates that exercise on a regular basis. As an article on Psychology Today put it, “Sweat is like WD-40 for your mind-–it lubricates the rusty hinges of your brain and makes your thinking more fluid. Exercise allows your conscious mind to access fresh ideas that are buried in the subconscious.”

Monday, 9 June 2014

An Initial Boost

These days is it not unusual to see CEO’s giving presentations in casual tee-shirts or jeans. We've seen Mark Zuckerberg do it, Steve Jobs often strode the stage with his sleeves rolled up and Michael O Leary of Ryanair only seems to wear a suit when he is watching his race horses run. Even the average SME CEO is more likely to wear an open neck than a tie. Informal is the new formal.

This move away from formality involves more than fashion sense. There is also a tendency to informalise names. We see it in politicians with Tony Blair or Chuck Hagel, in business with Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Brad Smith from Intuit, Larry Page at Google. It is not hip to be square or so it seems.

I recently came across some research which put me thinking about this. It is possible that formality is not completely dead. The research suggested that middle initials are associated with intellectual ability. A professor might be Michael D. Clark, while your local shopkeeper might be Michael Clark.

A publication in the European Journal of Social Psychology looked at seven studies and found that the display of middle initials increased positive evaluations of people's intellectual capacities and achievements. The people with the middle name were thought of as smarter and more likely to be serious professional achievers.

It seems that if you are looking for some credibility in a professional or academic setting, it’s possible that an initial might give you a boost. If you are considering writing few magazine articles or blog posts on serious topics why not throw in your middle initial and bask in the academic glow. If you want to add a bit of gravitas to the business card, put it in there too. In this case it is hip to be a little bit square and use that initial. You can still wear the tee-shirt.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Use a Pen to get the Point

So you can picture the scene, people gather in a room for a meeting, the laptops open up and as the agenda is worked through, the hum of the keyboard is heard as people take notes of the major points, tasks and agreements. We can often type faster than we can write, so using a laptop for note taking allows a more complete record of what was said and more detail to be recorded. Using the laptops in meeting would appear a great idea. Hence it is a familiar sight. 
It turns out that the story may be a little bit more complicated than that. Research by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer from Princeton University and University of California, Los Angeles suggests that hand writing notes may be more effective than the laptop option.
They conducted a number of experiments where they had students take notes in a classroom setting and then do a test which checked for recall of factual detail, their conceptual understanding of the material, and their ability to synthesize and generalize the information. Half of the students took notes with a laptop and the other half wrote out the notes out by hand.

The students on the laptops took more notes and recorded more detail. However, those who wrote out their notes by hand had a stronger conceptual understanding and were more successful in applying and integrating the material than those wielding the laptops.

The improved understanding among the pen and paper users could be a function of ‘Levels of Processing Theory’. The idea is that the physical act of writing involves more cognitive effort and thinking about what to write is a more deliberate act. As we cannot write as fast as we can type, we need to think about the key points, be more discerning about what to write and more accurate in our summary of events. We need to understand what we are listening to. 

While a fast typist can record everything that they hear, they are not thinking about the content as much, they are merely producing a written record.

If you want to trap all the detail, crank open the laptop and work away. If you want to understand and recall the points made, use the pen and paper. Laptops are optional and don’t feel corporately under-dressed if you show up with just a refill pad and Biro at your next meeting.

On a separate point, this may have implications for the increased use of laptops and tablets in the lecture theatre or training room . While the volume of notes may increase, the level of understanding may not. If you do give a class or provide training where you are trying to get key conceptual points across, insist on the pen as the weapon of choice. 

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Fading Memories

"Fading Affect Bias" (FAB) describes the way negative emotions fade quicker from memory than positive emotions. This happens when we experience something that we perceive as threatening, unpleasant, unpredictable or chaotic. Once we decide we don’t like something, our cognitive response is to forget it over time, unlike pleasant experiences, which we want to remember. The bad experiences gradually fade out, the good ones remain.

A study published in the journal ‘Memory’, found this to be cross cultural. The researchers organised 10 samples from different groups of people around the world. These included Ghanaian students and elderly German citizens (who were asked to recollect the fall of the Berlin Wall). In total, 562 people were included in the research.

The people participating in the study had to recall a number of events in their lives, both positive and negative. For each event, they rated the emotions that they felt at the time it happened, and then the emotions that they felt in the present when remembering that event.

The authors found that every cultural group included in the study experienced the FAB. In all of those sampled, negative emotions associated with remembered events faded to a greater degree than positive emotions did. Interestingly, there was no evidence that this effect changed with people’s age. The FAB is a lifelong cognitive bias, it affects young and old.

The conclusion is that our ability to look back on events with rose-tinted glasses might be important for our mental health, as it could help us to adapt and move on from adversity: It only makes sense to enjoy the positive benefits of pleasant experiences and to limit our potentially traumatic recall of unpleasant experiences. The authors suggest that the FAB is part of a set of cognitive processes that help emotional regulation and aid psychological resilience. 

From a work point of view, if you are reviewing past projects, sales initiatives or previous product launches, be mindful that some of the problems experienced at the time may have faded from memory.

If you want to know what went wrong, better check the written records and formal notes taken at the time. Chances are most of the people involved in the project will have a version of the truth coloured by the FAB which may not reflect what really happened. If you are involved in a project that did go wrong, get the facts on paper as early as possible, before the fading kicks in.