Anyone who enjoyed the empathy exercise on our Facilitation training may be interested in Nicky’s programme Talk for Health , which teaches similar techniques in much more depth. Her next programme starts 30 May and there is a 25% discount for friends of the Langmaid Practice. The influence of this work is spreading. Talk for Health groups have run in several parts of the country as well as London.
Here’s the information..
GET EMOTIONALLY FIT THROUGH TALKING!
Talking with friends or colleagues can be wonderful when you are feeling stressed or have a challenge.
But have you ever noticed how some conversations can you leave you feeling drained while others leave you feeling refreshed and uplifted?
Find out how to have conversations that nourish the mind and soul in the next Talk for Health Programme run by Nicky Forsythe at the Positive Therapy Company. Dates are 4 Wednesday evenings and 2 Saturdays between 30 May and 11 July. Find out more on http://www.positive-therapy.co.uk/?page_id=390
You can also check it out in Wellbeing in the City’s lead article this week…
Article of the Week:
Get Emotionally Fit Through Talking!
How to have conversations that really count – personally and professionally
Some thoughts on the ethics of market research and where I stand.
This is a pigeon in a Skinner Box. These were the kinds of boxes used in the early behaviourist experiments where the rules of Stimulus > Reward and reinforcement schedules were worked out. Something you may not notice and which has got conveniently forgotten is that this pigeon is standing on a grid through which electric shocks can be administered. Yes, in early days Behaviourism was as interested in punishment as reward. Could you get more work from reward or punishment or from a cunning mixture? There has always been a chilling lack of compassion behind this kind of ‘investigation’. Who knows to what ends unscrupulous people might put the insights from this kind of thing.
Lest we forget, there is an ethical issue underlying the use of control procedures to do experiments on living creatures. You would not be able to use these Skinner Boxes now without producing public outcry. Nonetheless there is a growth in the attempts to use controlled experiments with matched samples on human subjects. The most common of these are the Random Controlled Trials of pharmaceutical development, where one sub-group is given the new medicine while the others get a placebo or an existing remedy.
Should the new medicine prove helpful or harmful, it could be advantageous or disastrous to be in the experimental rather than the control group. But you do not know which you are in when you sign up for the trial – or whether the people running the trial will let you know if there are problems or benefits emerging. If it is a drug for treatment of Stage 4 cancer, will they switch you to the new medicine should it work to grant you extra months of life? Even if they don’t do it during the trial, will they give it to you when it is approved for being willing to take the risk? Will they hell.
For these sorts of reasons, it becomes more difficult to recruit samples for RCT’s and more and more unemployed, vulnerable and desperate people take part – and more trials are done in countries where regulation is lax, help is cheap or the press uninterested. In defence of RCT’s you can argue that they are a potential step along the way to better health for human beings.
What’s this got to do with market research you say? Well, with the new enthusiasm for Behavioural Economics or experimental social psychology as it is properly called, there is a willingness to enroll groups of subjects in controlled tests where one thing is compared to another to see which condition or stimulus produces the desired behaviour (usually purchasing or adoption). Usually you do not inform the ‘respondents’ (MR speak for subjects) of the conditions or variables in the experiment. To some extent these experiments rely upon naïve subjects.
In this and other market research techniques, the treatment of people as experimental subjects is alarming. Another such area is the growth in use of invasive brain scanning technologies like MRI and EEG’s to see which area of the brain ‘lights up’ when we show people a product. My own family has endured more than 30 EEG procedures – and watched the doctors struggle to make sense of them – to the point where the only decipherable readings were obtained from sleep EEG’s (readings done when the subject is asleep). The idea that Market Researchers can ‘read’ these immensely complex encephalograms is frankly, ludicrous.
Common MRI side effects are:
Not to mention the anxiety that naturally accompanies the prospect of exposing your body to huge magnetic fields. I can understand that someone with a suspected tumour might be willing to submit to these procedures, but for the sake of trying to figure out how to optimize packaging or press advertising? Are we really that desperate to make a sale? What about our community and looking out for each other?
We have been here before. Following on from Skinner, social scientists became ready to fabricate conditions under which people could be tested in ever more extreme settings. The Milgram experiments in 1963 famously encouraged people to deliver electric shocks to strangers, following the instructions of ‘experimenters’.
In 1971, in the Zimbardo Prison experiments, students were allocated the roles of prisoners and gaolers, to explore the emergence of evil or brutality:
In this project, so caught up did everyone become in their roles that the experiment had to be abandoned to prevent real damage and lasting harm:
“Playing the roles
It was only when one of his colleagues intervened that the experiment was finally stopped. In total it only lasted six of the planned 14 days. Young men previously found to be pacifists were, in their roles as guards, humiliating and physically assaulting the ‘prisoners’ – some even reported enjoying it. The ‘prisoners’, meanwhile, quickly began to show classic signs of emotional breakdown. Five had to leave the ‘prison’ even before the experiment was prematurely terminated.”
What is my point here?
When you start to think about people as subjects in an experiment or game you quickly lose sight of them as human beings. This leads to what Fromm calls objectification – a state in which people are mere representatives of a larger group of people – a sample. In market research these subjects are objectified as consumers. They show up to your sessions not as Billy and Sally but as users or lapsed users. Often behind a mirror, joking and sneering sit a superior group, representatives of the producers. The viewing room is notorious for disrespectful, mildly drunken behaviour.
You might ask why does big business want to pay for these and other experiments in market research? The answer is that business is endlessly searching for means of control and influence over populations. It wants to find the DNA of choice, it wants to be able to move you irresistibly to its desired end, whether product, investment or service. And it doesn’t much care who you are, only that you comply.
I don’t suggest for a moment that market researchers and business executives are wicked or unscrupulous people. It’s more invidious than that. It is an adoption of investigative standards that is driven by cultural norms. We can do these procedures, we can measure behaviour, map brains, see nerve activity in the clinic or hospital, so why not use them for better business? Everyone else is doing it, so what’s the harm?
The point is surely that their use in clinics is for the benefit of the patient, the intention is to improve his or her well-being. In Market Research the point is to find out how to influence people to sell them stuff. One is surely a noble cause, the other is venal.
I believe there is a better way. That’s why I invented co-creation in 1991. I had had enough of sitting with ‘respondents’ in fake suburban living rooms, I believed in making the agenda open and transparent, the invitation clear and specific – to create together for the betterment of everyone involved. That’s why I don’t like viewing rooms or spying on people for commercial gain. That’s why I won’t lie or pretend to people that things are any way other than they are – because that enrols me in colluding in deception.
Co-creation was not some fancy technique or cool process: it was invented to restore a democratic, consensual, level playing field between producers and their customers. It was developed to use dialogue, empathy and co-invention to excite and engage everyone. My hope was that by standing in each other’s shoes both sides of a potential transaction would become more engaged with the other, become more social, more appreciative of each other. I still cherish that hope, though the re-emergence of the experimenters disguised as Behavioural Economists and the enthusiasm for this kind of experimentation among market researchers scares me silly!
Yes folks, I’m gonna be speaking about some of the things I rant about here at an MRS conference soon. I’ve uploaded a pdf brochure for the conference – and if you’re able to come, I’d love to see you there.
Great speakers, fascinating topic!
You can get a pdf about the conference here:
Now we focus in on the heart of breakthrough psychology, the idea of abnorming – born out of my eventual realisation that no theory, no matter how cool, could explain all that we are.
This is the key reason why I’ve bothered to learn about so many of the great ideas in psychology – and to keep them in my back pocket. You never know when they’ll come in handy!
Let me know your thoughts!
It was in the area of structure that we favoured the idea of co-creation and developed the principles and techniques for abnorming. I had long believed that people’s potential was determined more by the circumstances they found themselves in and their pathway towards those circumstances than by their innate creativity or intelligence. I don’t believe that either of these two capabilities, much favoured by experts & elites are fixed qualities that have been doled out in rations between us! There are just too many examples of people accomplishing exceptional things (often in exceptional circumstances) for any other explanation to make sense. Not just exceptional good things either: if you read the coverage about the policeman who ‘truncheoned’ Ian Tomlinson to the ground, you’ll find his creative interpretation of Mr Tomlinson’s ‘aggressive behaviour’ quite imaginative and his mixing of ‘towards’ with ‘away from’ equally inventive. The policeman said under oath that Tomlinson was approaching the police line aggressively, while the video shows him walking away.
I suspect too, that in the Courts of Justice there is an epidemic of everyday lying that illustrates huge resources of creativity and confabulation available to the ordinary man when the chips are down!
I will return to the damning ideas of special talents, elites and ‘gifted’ people again as I discuss our experiences of Breakthrough Zones in future posts.
We must also take up the topic of everyday lying and distortion so well demonstrated by this video and the policeman’s story. What if lying – or at least confabulation (making up explanations/rationalisations on the spur of the moment) – is the standard procedure in ordinary focus groups and interviews? Surely that means that for many clients getting the ‘reportage’ of what was said in the session is the booby prize!
To return to our theme: how could we create the sort of circumstances in which accomplishing the exceptional became the norm?
From years of brainstorming and facilitating new ideas sessions, I had discovered the faults of brainstorming methods: I found myself in agreement with the synopsis given by Keith Sawyer in his excellent, ‘Group Genius’. Here Keith outlines the three reasons why brainstorming groups are less creative than impromptu groups (called Nominal Groups in the classic Osborn study):
- Social Inhibition
- Production Blocking
- Social Loafing
I will return to each of these – and what you can do about them in the Tips section. In summary, you may be starting to gather that I think that many of the conventional ideas about human beings and what happens to them when they get together are simply wrong. To test the validity of any widely promoted idea (like intelligence, talent, expertise) you need to consider who benefits most from these ideas, allow for the experimenter effect and include the value of the ideas in maintaining the status quo. Each of these three ideas appear to limit the potential for the rest of us when compared to the best of us. We can thank reality TV for beginning the process of dismantling these shibboleths.
Have a lovely weekend!