Many of us like to think we can read people – and that an advantage of face to face work is that you can see the colour of their eyes – or at least their body language. In my view this is not a simple matter. There are advantages to being present with people but they, like most other ‘truths’, are spoiled by generalisations, distortions and deletions.
If you download the pdf below from the New Scientist, you’ll see that it’s not as easy to read body language as we like to think. Much of our certainty about others is driven by the need to reduce our uncertainty about ourselves - and so we look for closure & simple interpretations and drive these with generalisations.
No, you must be prepared to spend time with your informants in a way that allows them to unfold & emerge before you, only then can you calibrate the weight and significance of their words and gestures – and this matters whether you are F2F or online.
Too much rush will increase your own doubt and uncertainty and lead you to jump to conclusions. It is wholly uncertain that these will predict behaviour.
The cartoon here from Tom Fishburne would be simply funny if it did not remind me of so many of my own and other’s attempts to imbue brands with significance beyond their means. However did we think that buying a snack or a new pair of shades could act as a lever to world peace, or the end of poverty or abuse?
The answer is simple: wish fulfillment. As Freud pointed out, there is a strong unconscious drive to fulfil our wishes, some of them noble alongside the more shady ones! There are many good people in marketing, advertising and market research, people who at some level may regret tying their working lives up in the promotion of goods and services that, while amusing and diverting, do not move us forward as persons or societies. They may be left with the desire to make a difference, to contribute to a better world.
This wish to build something better persists within us all and is relentlessly driven by the nightly invasion of chilling and horrific images of cruelty and suffering that haunt our living rooms via our TV screens – as we sit there sipping our drink and munching our snack. There is an unspoken feeling that we must/should do something, yet apart from giving to charity, what can we do? We are left feeling powerless, and a little bit guilty…
The unconscioius mind, not using logic in the way that the trained mind does, attempts to rescue us by making a simple adjustment: why not conflate the promotion of snacks or washing powder with your ideal of a better world – and ‘Hey Presto’ you can change the world as you crunch your salt & vinegar. What a relief!
Then assailed by an uneasy feeling of ridiculousness at the naivety of this idea, we seek others as trapped as ourselves in the hurly burly of commercialism to gather in workshops to ‘stretch the brand’. We employ what Janis (1972) called ‘groupthink’ – a mode of thinking where the desire for harmony and cohesiveness overcomes our realistic appraisal of alternatives.
Laddering is itself no mean idea, coming as it does from psychologist George Kelly who used it to understand the underlying beliefs driving our behaviour. Used in this way, within the integrity of a single person’s framework it is a mighty tool. Stretched to provide a ‘tool’ for giving our sales work greater significance and influence in the world, it is simply a comforting delusion. No wonder the flipcharts from that workshop are forgotten somewhere on a shelf in D 43.
The Chinese have a saying: ‘The Bigger the Front the Bigger the Back” and events over the Jubilee weekend in the UK have shown us both our front and back. The emphasis has been on the front, putting a brave foot forward to rejoice in the sense of being united, together and cheerful in the face of adversity: a recreation of the Spirit of the Blitz, for although the blitz this year is not made of high explosives, it is made of bombshells in the form of poor economic results, job losses, struggle and depression.
The ‘front’ was impressive – a refusal to be bowed or cowed by adversity, a willingness to find some good and things to applaud among the bad news.
Meanwhile in the back, Cameron and his wife were clearly in the audience in front of the Palace last night and were ignored by the commentators. His significance dwindled as the nation turned to tried and trusted emblems of stability and connectedness like the Queen. We even had ‘three cheers for Her Majesty’ – responded to with gusto by the thousands in the Mall and at parties all over the UK.
However, on Wednesday morning we troop back to work and face once again the reality of our situation. Double-dip recessions are extremely rare in the UK. It is quite common for the economy to falter during a recovery with one quarter of negative activity but you have to go back to the mid-1970s, when the first oil shock of 1973-74 was followed by stagflation in 1975, to find a genuine double-dip downturn.
In the past, even during the 1930s, recoveries have been well under way by now. This time, despite the massive stimulus that has been chucked at it, four years into the deepest depression of the post-war era Britain is going backwards. Output is more than 4% below its peak in early 2008, living standards are falling and there is no sign whatsoever of the much-heralded rebalancing of the economy.
This is a terrible blow for the coalition, which now stands accused of over-cooking austerity – as predicted on these pages – and thus killing off the tentative recovery that was under way when Labour left office almost two years ago.
There is a way forward – advocated by the world’s leading economists – the stimulation of growth by the government rather than the ill-fated Quantitative Easing which has been seized upon by the banks as a way of building up their balance sheets and has not been distributed where it could do good – among the SME’s across the land. Osborne’s Thatcherian ‘I am not for turning’ is looking increasingly like the ‘out of touch with reality’ ravings of the Red Queen in Alice. When will they wake up and help us?
This week I want to offer you a copy of my latest paper, published in the International Journal of Market Research, Volume 54, Issue 3, this month. Called Working in Depth it provides what I hope is a comprehensive description of the value of face to face work – and the principles underpinning it – derived as they are in my practice from the European schools of psychology, rather than the American: in particular from Gestalt and Existentialism.
My approach is essentially about enabling the whole person to be present in the session: if you like brief, snappy expressions, I would some it up as: “People before Products”.
I believe that many of the over-simplistic and plain wrong findings we get from formulaic ‘Question & Answer’ sessions arise from the fact that we only have 20% of each person in the room. We already know how tricky it is for everyone to get in touch with and express their real motives (see the work of Kahneman & Tversky), but there is a real opportunity to accomplish that if we set up a safe environment for in-depth work where people can join together to explore less obvious and less noble reasons for their choices and behaviour. Without a safe place where people have time to look inward, such in-depth work is impossible.
Here, without more ado is the paper! Please email me and let me know what you think – good or bad!
There’s something a bit unnerving about this image. It might even be that these two are on the phone to each other, judging by what I notice from my own life, where my wife and I often hove into view while talking to each other on our mobiles.
Far be it from me to complain about communication, I make my living from it, but there is something chilling about the hours we all spend ‘attached’ to media every day. Have a look at Ofcom’s figures from 2010 below. On average we spend JUST UNDER 9 HOURS A DAY, using media. You heard right, 8.8 hours a day – and that’s an average.
I am increasingly aware of always being alert to the pinging of my mobile when an email or text arrives, even if I am absorbed in a book or talking with someone – or watching TV. As someone said to me recently: “You can become so withdrawn from reality that you become a virtual being having lost the ability to communicate or transact without a piece of silicon at your finger tips telling you what to do and how to do it.”
So when Weight Watchers reports, as they did via the Mail last week, that the average Briton has no time to go out, see friends, socialise (in the same place as the people they’re socialising with that is!), and calls us ‘Lazy Britons’ I personally don’t feel that I have EVER had so much to do, to attend to, to manage. I might not be with my friends but I am texting them, tweeting them, emailing them, blogging to them, or watching TV to get away from them.
You can read the Mail’s typically blamey report here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2137470/Lazy-Britons-bothered-socialise-hard-day-office.html
Now take a look at your average day below – although perhaps we all regard ourselves as better than average. In that case this is nearly, but not quite you and me!
You may have read elsewhere that we are facing an OBESITY epidemic…and that the cost of this will soon overtake the cost of treating cancer, heart disease and other major killers combined. I wonder if the powers that be think that we are just swelling up through greed and overindulgence? No doubt they play a part, satisfying the impulsive hunger that arises from a busy tweeting session.
But this epidemic should come as no surprise to any of us, when, as far as I know the only way you can do most of these 9 hours is on your bottom, or at the most strenuous, standing still. Our media obsession is killing us, just because it keeps us on our bums.
I don’t think you’re lazy, but if you’re reading this, you’re probably as stationary as I am writing it. Time to get up… and go out I think!
There is a fundamental difference of opinion that dominates politics nowadays. The mindsets which underpin these opinions rest upon whether you believe that success – or failure – starts and ends with individuals, or that intervention by others, including the state, makes a significant difference to our achievements.
In politics, the ‘individuals’ position flows from Thatcherism and is endorsed by David Cameron’s administration. Likewise the ‘interventionists’ are on the Opposition bench and take their lead from New Labour – in many ways a political attempt to marry social justice and big business.
With economists as our ‘gurus’ these days, it’s not hard to see these positions as a battle for influence between the views of Keynes and Hayek. Keynes begins with the observation that under conditions of economic uncertainty it’s foolish to assume stable outcomes and therefore we need to devise ways of intervening to bring these about. Hayek, writing quite consciously against Keynes, argues in the Road To Serfdom that intervention – or planning – however benevolent or well-intentioned, whatever the political context – must end badly. Hayek’s key message is ‘don’t plan, don’t intervene’ and remains the dominant moral position in the United States.
Looking even deeper we can see the potential for splitting and projection for adherents of either position. For both, the other side must be wrong, the individualists are merely justifying excessive greed and self-importance, while the interventionists are simply reconstructed statists.
Once splitting (right/wrong thinking) is in place, it is very hard to achieve any balance. Every living person knows that at times in life accomplishments are based on individual performance, but even so, that performance stands upon the encouragement, example and inspiration from others. Donne’s words, ‘no man is an island’ are even more accurate in a global age.
Meanwhile, in this time of ascendance for the individualists, the gap between rich and poor is doubling every twenty years. The top 1% now own 14% of Britain’s wealth. If this is pattern continues then the richest 1% will own 108% of Britain’s wealth by 2112. (Thanks to GR for the calculation!). Already the real value of wages has been in steady decline since the 1970’s. Very soon you will be working for coppers (that’s the small brown coins), as they did in the Good Old Days!
The real problem here is the weakening of the social contract as people’s wages become worth less and their entitlements are cut. This will increase in intensity, since this year public spending has actually grown (by 5%, corrected for inflation) and the cuts are due to get steeper over the next few years. You are going to get less, while our top 1%, including Dave’s Dinner Pals, are getting more.
How do you feel about that? Wouldn’t you be just a bit tempted to cheat here and there to make ends meet?
And so the corruption will spread, out of the unreasonable demands and unfairness levied on ordinary men and women. It will be a Big Society, but dominated by Cheating and Looking the Other Way as we did in the Thatcher years. Gradually all around us, the very fabric of society, our shared capital will be eroded and you will notice it in the streets, on people’s faces and in all public places.
“The word is not the route to the psyche. In the beginning was not the word, but the act.”
Jacob Moreno is the founder of Psychodrama, the use of theatrical performance and staging to re-enact events and circumstances from life. Trained as a doctor in Vienna 1912-1917, he rejected Freudian theory while still at medical school. In his autobiography, he writes that he told Freud after a lecture that he gave: “I start where you leave off. You meet people in the artificial setting of your office. I meet them on the street and in their home, in their natural surroundings. You analyse their dreams. I give them the courage to dream again. You analyse them and tear them apart. I let them act out their conflicting roles and help them to put the parts back together again.”
Starting in 1921 he began experimenting with drama as a way of treating psychiatric patients in groups. He founded The Spontaneity Theatre which used improvisational drama as a means of treatment.
In the 1920’s he also developed a set of ideas which he termed Sociometry – a research method for looking at the social structure of groups which involved Sociograms illustrating these structures. Moreno moved to the USA in 1925 and held position at Columbia University. These ideas are very useful in group work.
- Humans are not just biologically determined (as Freud thought) but have a spiritual side and are influenced by their social context. “He did not believe in Freud’s model … Freud came from biology, Moreno was inspired by the great religions of this world. Freud was atheistic. Moreno was not.”
- He emphasises the importance of creativity and spontaneityin human life. Children have a lot of these things but they get squashed. Life produces constraints, society demands conformity, and therefore people get mired in habitual ways of responding where their spontaneity is stifled. He believed that therapeutic intervention should have the aim of enabling people to reconnect with their spontaneity and thus allow them to:
- be more integrated as people
- be able to respond more flexibly and creatively to new situations, and in the way they lead their lives
- Psychodrama as an intervention is designed to bring these aims about. He developed a range of techniques within Psychodrama such as role reversal and empty chair (before Fritz Perls).
In Zerka Moreno’s words (in an interview with Victor Yalom Ph.D. on psychotherapy.net)
“The easiest way to think about [Psychodrama] is ‘the mind in action’. Instead of talking about your concerns we say ‘Don’t tell me. Show me! Showing means to act it out … it helps you to express yourself in a new way .. a way that life doesn’t usually permit [in order to] make you more integrated.”
“We’re all broken and need to become more cohesive, more integrated from within. Through the catharsis of integration, we become balanced, within and without.”
You can find a download of this summary here: Psychology on a Page 11: Psychodrama
By far the best thing if you want to experience this style of work is to do one of our Action Techniques Days.
If you have done a lot of focus groups you will have developed your own style or way of working. What was once a frightening procedure – being expected to contact and direct a group of strangers in a productive inquiry – may have become so commonplace that you have created and adopted a style that is as easy to slip on as a well-worn jacket.
To do this, the psychological mechanisms of adaptation (getting familiar with) and trial-and-error mapping will have been your allies. Put simply, you try stuff out, expand what works and contract what doesn’t.
Expressed in a diagram it looks like this:
You can click and drag this diagram if you find it useful, it is developed from work by Chris Agyris, at Harvard. Chris is a thought leader in the area of learning organisations.
Like many mechanical analogies & process diagrams it’s very comforting; a bit like the Tube Map. In this map stuff happens, it either matches (the inner path) or mismatches (the outer path) your expectations and you adjust accordingly. “Simples!”
But of course, with our appreciation of the idea of both Foreground and Background (see Top Tips for Researchers 8: Tapping the Unconscious where I introduce these ideas) that are always present in communication we can ask: ‘is it really like that?’ Let’s explore the Background for a moment. I will offer some experiences from my own Background voices to get us started. Whether I liked it or not, these were the kind of thoughts and concerns that were always with me:
- “It’s a long journey to this venue. I haven’t left quite enough time…am I going to make it?”
- “I have spent all day working on Project X – and now suddenly find myself off to do groups in Project Y. I am out of touch with the topic – and tired.”
- “This group seem subdued. I wonder is there something the matter with them – or is it me?”
- “I don’t like that bloke’s tone of voice. He seems very aggressive. I wonder if I’m going to have trouble with him.”
- “I didn’t get a look at who is in the viewing room. It seems noisy in there. What’s going on?”
- “There’s a silent chap with arms folded in the corner. How am I gonna draw him in?”
- “They’re paying a lot more attention to the sandwiches and wine than they are to the topic.”
- “I was late and it looks like they already got acquainted. There’s a group going on already. What’s it about?”
- “…the lady there reminds me of my ex!”
To be honest I had absolutely no difficulty in generating the above flow of ‘Background voices’ from my memories of focus groups. I could have continued to write down many more. The important thing is to notice that these are all Projections – mental states that arise from a sense that: ‘there is danger here, what shall I do about it?’ Some of them are anticipatory Projections – being stimulated by guilt or anxiety that you’re not up-to-date or engaged with the project sufficiently. Others seem to arise more directly as Projections based on interpretations of who is there and what is happening in the room. Notice and describe your own versions.
They are, what’s more, perfectly natural thoughts. You are being paid to do this, you have made promises or commitments to your sponsor, you may be observed by hidden viewers who have their own Background agenda, the topic may seem slight or technical or dull, the recruiting may be faulty or unrepresentative. Any or all of these things might be deemed your fault. If some members of your audience are against doing the project they will be projecting problems and faults onto the situation anyway. You may be easier to ‘kill’ than their favourite copy-lines!
From the outside you may look calm, relaxed, confident, cool and collected but I guarantee you that these Background voices will be present. If you don’t even notice them, then they are running the show unconsciously. Make no mistake about it, this is a stressful situation – and one in which you must not show that you are stressed. You have to act grown up and as if you know what you’re doing!
Notice how you’re feeling reading this if you are a moderator. Don’t you wish all that ‘negative ***t would just go away?
So what can you do???
Golden Rule One:
“Before you can moderate anybody else – you need to moderate yourself!”
How do you do this?
Start by noticing your background voice. Notice what it is saying/feeling. What tone of voice does it speak in? What associations do you have with that tone?
Don’t try to stop your Voice. Listen to it, I guarantee that it will run out of steam after a while! It’s natural to be nervous when you face uncertainty.
If it persists tell your story of this project to yourself. How did you come into it? What are the events and feelings that lead up to today? Then, notice that your story seems to suggest certain inevitable consequences – you’ll mess up the group, nothing important will come out, you’ll get stuck in the analysis, the recruiting will be all wrong, the videos won’t work, all of the above. These thoughts are absolutely no different from the kind of concerns that anyone about to embark on a high level of performance has. But they are just catastrophic fantasies. If you weren’t nervous, you wouldn’t be alive to the project.
Own your projections – see reality. Do this in the group by noticing your assessments and judgments of the people present, your voices about any folk who might be ‘viewing’, your judgments of the flow of topics and conversation. Be alive to all of these being an integral part of your moderating experience.
Share the voices or biases that persist with a colleague or client or someone you can trust, even if you have to edit the tale a bit not to seem too paralysed or neurotic! The point is that anything you resist persists and you need to get it out into the open where it can’t undermine you from within. There will be particularly frequent and troubling Background thoughts and beliefs that pop up. They will be based more on your childhood experiences in groups (at home, at school, with mates etc.) than on what is happening here and now.
Notice what your ‘Governing Variables’ in the Background are. What do you believe about yourself in terms of the impact you have on others, or the manner that you conduct yourself in public semi-structured situations
Golden Rule Two:
“You cannot be unbiased! What you can do is know your biases. Know thyself as the Greek bloke said.”
Please don’t waste time trying to make yourself a ‘blank sheet’. If you make yourself flat, it will almost certainly have the effect of flattening your groups. If you create too much silent presence people will become inhibited by your lack of affect and acknowledgment. You are the leader of the room; people will copy you whether they admit to it or not.
Golden Rule Three:
“Create space within yourself to allow others to make an impact and to be known by you!”
You can begin to see how in the presence of your own Background voice and all the details you need to attend to in the process, finding the space to let others in might not be as straightforward as it seems. Just because you are sitting there quietly, it doesn’t mean that you are allowing others in. You might be simply in the thrall of your demons!
You need to create this space and we do this by what we call ‘Accurate Empathy’. This process is one of those taught in the Facilitation module of our Advanced Practitioner’s Course, but in essence it means conducting a go-round in the opening of the group where people are invited to introduce themselves in terms of something that is important to them at the moment. Once they have spoken, it is your job as moderator to summarise and reflect back to them as clearly and non-judgmentally as you can what you heard them say. You will find your own form of words but you might try:
“Thank you, I heard you say that…(make a summary of what you heard).”
“Thank you, if I can summarise what I heard….is that right?”
“Welcome to the group, if I can recap on what I heard you say, it’s…”
If you do this, in spite of the Background voice and all the pressure to get on with the Brief, your people will arrive and so will you. You will be a big step further in making contact and creating an atmosphere of authentic, genuine value in speaking and listening
My model is derived from years of experience in working with people on perceptions, thoughts, feelings and behaviour – and the relationships between them.
From that work I have noticed a set of interlocking motivational drivers that persist in daily life. These drivers are made more or less potent by current events, fashions and culture.
The first driver is the need to self-actualise that I have called the Progressive Tendency. The second and opposing force is the need to Regress, to fall back on tried and tested routines, brands and behaviours. All of us experience some tension between these forces in our daily lives.
A third and integrating driver I call Reparation and it describes the need to make amends, to fix the broken or do the undone. The reparative tendency swings into play either when we have done too little (been too regressive) or gone too far (been too progressive).
The picture above illustrates this Creative Tension. Take a moment to find it in yourself – and in that way you can validate this model through your own experience.
Can you see in your life, a tendency to one or other of these extremes? Do you typically do too little or too much? Our explorations have revealed that most of us have some arenas in which we constantly do too little, while in others we do too much. That kind of imbalance in daily life leads both to the need to compensate but also to the occurrence of breakthroughs from time to time because of our persistence!
The recession has made it difficult for most people to anticipate progress in the near future. This is frustrating in an individualistic culture and, I believe drives the prominence of internet brands with their feeling of progressiveness together with those brands that practice innovation as a core competence (Apple, Amazon, Groupon). There’s also an illusion with these brands that you’re at the forefront, merely because you click on this or that.
The regressive component in brands is found among those most familiar to us and where they get their service right, allow us to relax and experience a feeling of being ‘held’ and safe. Well known names are prominent here, like W H Smith, Greggs and the NHS – at its best.
Within this blog I cannot calculate what your brand – or your favourite brand if you are a customer – stands for in terms of these drivers, but by using my diagnostic discovery techniques in empirical studies I can help you work out where you stand and what your customers want you to focus on. This is crucial information because whatever your current style through which you have attracted and satisfied your customers’ motives, it may be time either to reinforce that position or to incorporate another part of the motivational palette. The X Factor is a classic example of a ‘product’ that blends Progressive, Regressive and Reparative elements!
We have used Reframing as a tool many times over the years and I remain interested in new examples that I hear about which strike me as useful. Today I heard from my wife about a Community Psychology Group in Newcastle. One of its members, Joel Yoelli, has come up with a fascinating reframe using the idea of Accidents.
In brief, there is a growing tendency for vehicle accident victims to receive some form of psychological therapy as part of their recovery. We know that CBT and EDMR and other therapies can be effective at lessening the grip of trauma from car crashes and the like.
Joel has neatly extended this ‘accident’ metaphor from accidents with vehicles to accidents with people. The idea is that people are traumatised by accidents with people just as they may be by physical collisions. I think its really helpful.
Self Consciousness – and why it matters to insight seekers
We are very different when gripped by emotion from times when reason dominates.
Most of us go to considerable lengths to present a reasonable – and reasoning – self to others. Special circumstances for allowing emotion and unreason to dominate are available but carefully boundaried – sports fans in all their regalia, music concerts, services and rituals which mark transitions or passing on.
The tool we use to govern and monitor this presentation of ourselves in everyday life is self-awareness.
There is a uniquely human form of self-awareness called self-consciousness. This is the basis of our capacity both to fit in with others and cultural norms, but also to transcend the immediate situation and live in terms of the possible.
This in turn constitutes the basis of psychological freedom. It means that the future is not the past, but a place of possibility.
Self-consciousness arises as we start to distinguish ourselves from others in infancy and is increased when we acquire ‘theory of mind’ – the knowledge that other people are conscious too and that their worlds might be similar to ours in some respects but different in others. As we grow in years self-consciousness is moderated by cultural norms and lessons we are taught by experience and education.
By the time we are adults we have a veritable dictionary of modes or practices that we use to moderate the self we display. We continually update this dictionary if we are smart, but may choose to become ‘fixed in our ways’ either as a conscious strategy or as an unconscious defence against disappointment.
You will have your own opinion of how you are seen by others. The way you are perceived may also vary between the different groups you find yourself in. You might be the life and soul of the party at home, yet very quiet among strangers. You might make your workmates laugh ‘til they cry, or be someone who pursues their work quietly. You may have all these characteristics yet play them differently from time to time.
The important point is that self-consciousness is the filter through which everything you do, say and feel is passed and moderated. There is hardly a moment, except when securely alone in the most intimate parts of our homes, that we are free from this filter: ‘what will they think of me if I do or say that?’
For the insight seeker, this applies to all meetings and encounters where you are in search of insight. Everyone has their filters in place – especially among a group of relative strangers, where you do not know your status or have control of the agenda. This is a recipe for caution and carefulness.
It is this fact, that we are all already moderated by self-consciousness that has led us to create micro-cultures where the standard norms do not apply when we want to gain insights. It has also made us quite suspicious of attempts to standardize, stereotype or assign traits to people. People are deciding their comportment based on norms, culture and minimizing risk or maximizing effectiveness. It may not reflect their true desires or intentions at all! We are all actors.
This text is downloadable as a pdf here: Self-Consciousness
Whatever you think of Tony Blair, in terms of technique the work we did for him in 2005 was a unique piece of insight work. So much so in fact that this work with its innovations in understanding the use of personality in political markets has made its way into the American Annals of Political Science and – even in the UK where Blair has been demonised – the paper was nominated for Best Paper at the MRS Conference, 2006.
People have short memories and have forgotten that 54% of us supported military action in Iraq in 2003. There is a very British tradition of gung-ho militarism that tends to fade as the real life-and-death consequences of war play out on our screens and papers. We are still not averse to the odd bit of Johnny Foreigner bashing provided we can convince ourselves that right is on our side.
My purpose in making this paper available here is not to condone or castigate Blair and his administration. It is to make the insight work that helped him recover his standing in the run-up to the 2005 election available to students of qualitative technique – particularly Two-Chair work which, under Nicky’s direction – was fundamental to this project. As far as I know it has never been used on a national issue, before or since.
Download the Paper here: Reconnecting the Prime Minister, 2005
Treat yourself to a book by this eloquent and deeply human man! His contribution was primarily as a thinker - drawing together political (Marx), psychoanalytic (Freud), theological and sociological ideas. Has an interest in the economic and cultural roots of personality – not just the biological and personal (c.f. Freud). Very close to being an ‘existentialist’. Respectful yet critical of Freud, whose thinking he regarded as contradictory and limiting. I am indebted to Nicky Forsythe for her brilliant summary of this complex thinker, below:
Fromm’s key ideas are:
the importance of freedom of will and independent action:
- using our own reason to establish values rather than adhering mindlessly to received values
- he believes we are hugely influenced by our class, culture, biology and personal history BUT we have the capacity to transcend these influences. Did not believe in determinism, which sets him apart from both instinctivists like Freud and positivists like the behaviourists
with freedom comes uncertainty, isolation, alienation and bewilderment. We are inclined to avoid these through one of three means:
- authoritarianism – doing what we are told by a person/system
- automaton conformity – merging with the prevailing mores of our society; adopting conventions – e.g. being a ‘fashion victim’ which is a horizontal counterpart to authoritarianism
- destructiveness – attempting to eliminate others – or yourself
The kind of tactic we use depends on our family culture. He talks about three kinds of families:
symbiotic families where some members of the family are ‘swallowed up’ by other members – typically this takes the form of children becoming the reflection of their parents’ wishes. This happens a lot with girls in traditional societies
- leads to the authoritarian escape
withdrawing families – Type 1 a more recent type which has evolved in Northern Europe over last 200 years. These families are prevalent wherever merchants became an important layer of society – essentially they are the bourgeousie
- parents very demanding of children
- perfectionism – living by the rules – is encouraged
- children expected to succeed & meet high standards
- leads to destructive escape – this is internalised until circumstances like war permit its release. We saw an outburst of children’s reaction to these pressures in the outburst of destructiveness in the recent London riots. It is clear that many of those taking part could not live according to these pressures & ideals
withdrawing families – Type 2 the modern family where children are considered the ‘equals’ of parents; parents want to be their kids’ buddies; children turn to peers for their values. The ‘modern, shallow, TV family’
- leads to automaton conformity
Fromm believes in what he calls the ‘social unconscious’ – unwritten rules dictated by class and culture which affect the way we think and behave. We aren’t even aware of these influences and may think we’re acting according to our free will when we aren’t. He identifies 5 orientations within this social unconscious:
- Receptive orientation. People who expect to receive what they need and are passive in their orientation. People with this orientation are found at the bottom of any society: slaves, serfs, welfare families. We might call this ‘benefits culture’. On the positive side they are accepting and optimistic; on the negative they are submissive and wishful.
- Exploitative orientation. People who expect to take what they need through coercion. Prevalent in upper classes – aristocracy, colonial powers. On the positive side, assertive, proactive. On the negative side, aggressive, seductive, coercive.
- Hoarding orientation. The emphasis here is on accumulating and keeping. This orientation is prevalent amongst the bourgeousie/middle classes and is exemplified by the Protestant Work Ethic. On the positive side, these people are economical, prudent and practical. On the negative side they are stingy and unimaginative.
- Marketing orientation. This is the orientation of modern society. The emphasis is on selling. A big emphasis on packaging and advertising. Preoccupation with things looking good – my family, job, education. On the positive side, this encourages sociability, purposefulness, being enterprising. On the negative side it gives rise to shallow, amoral, childish thinking and behaviour.
- Productive orientation. This is the ‘healthy’ one! These people do not shirk from freedom and responsibility. They value being rather than (as in all the other orientations) having. In the productive orientation you are defined by your actions not by what you have, you prefer reason to rules and freedom to conformity.
You can download a pdf of this summary here: Psychology on a Page 10: Fromm
With the previous two posts on Gestalt and Rogers I have started to focus in on the psychologists who have most influence on my contemporary thinking and practice. Another such is Otto Rank, the first non-medical practitioner of psycho-analysis.
Like many of Freud’s followers, Rank’s perspective on our nature and the developmental steps that shaped it differed from Freud’s – and on a topic that was central to Freud, the importance of the Oedipal Conflict in shaping our personality.
Rank believed that the influence of early experience made its impact long before the Oedipal period (usually said to last from 3 to 6 years). Rank cited the Birth Trauma as the experience that did most to shape our character. The essential effect of birth was, to Rank’s mind, the creation of something he called separation anxiety, the shadow of which followed us throughout life:
“Life in itself is a mere succession of separations. Beginning with birth, going through several weaning periods and the development of the individual personality, and finally culminating in death – which represents the final separation.”
We are then, to suffer ‘separation anxiety’ from birth against which we struggle by seeking to merge with or relate to others. This anxiety takes shape as a creative tension throughout life around whether to seek new untried paths or to follow tried and tested routes (e.g. products we’ve bought before) or simply to mimic others.
To summarise, we can reach a sense in Rank’s early thoughts of human life lived between the competing desires, on the one hand to separate, to individuate, while on the other to merge and surrender to the whole, to fall into the arms of another or our community. The point is that both these desires are present in the moment. This also translates to an orientation to time and process:
‘…the fear of both going forward and of going backward”
(Rank, 1929–31, p. 124).
When we translate this thinking into work and everyday life we can sense this intra-personal dilemma for ourselves, almost without exception in any moment of doubt or anxiety. Shall I go forward or backwards here – adopt a progressive approach or rely on ideas I have used before? Shall I go it alone or band together with others for support? At any moment then, in any choice, the creative tension between merging (or repeating known patterns) and individuating (striking out on a new path) must be a core influence on personal, professional and consumer decisions. For me it is vital that we encourage participants to explore the role of goods, services and brands in negotiating these issues – and arrive at a considered appraisal of where the community stands in weighing the ‘individuating’ or separating, versus ‘merging’ or joining properties of any brand now and in future.
I have visualized this tension here, which will appear if you click on this link: Creative Tension, after Rank
You can download a pdf of this summary here: Psychology on a Page 9: Rank
The core idea of Gestalt psychology is that a whole or ‘gestalt’ is perceptually primary rather than a secondary quality that emerges from its parts. This ‘whole’ seems to represent the innate way in which we experience things. Related to our Course and to our approach to psychology generally is the idea that phenomena or objects are perceived as ‘figure’ and ‘ground’. Hence the classic illustration above:
Which do you see first, the vase or the faces?
This is a similar principle to that of Foreground & Background that we use to illuminate the overt and covert parts of everyday consciousness in our practice and Courses. The important thing for us is that Background and Foreground do not exist independently of each other. They are in constant relationship and together form what the Gestaltists called a ‘Weltanschauung’ or world-view. This ‘Weltanschauung’ forms the blueprint for our actions. As Carl Rogers neatly puts it: “Behaviour is basically the goal-directed attempt of the organism to satisfy its needs as experienced, in the field as perceived.”
You can see immediately that any inquiry hoping to lead to an understanding or prediction of our actions – if it fails to account for the existence of Foreground and Background – and their interplay – is likely to be inaccurate and unreliable, simply because it fails to apprehend the reality of the way we experience the world.
So, creating an inquiry process that allows the emergence of Foreground & Background is crucial. Next, we need to check the prominence of aspects of these two parts – we need to ask which is critical in driving behaviour in any given circumsatnces? This notion of prominence bears relation to the Behavioural Economists’ idea of Choice Architecture: the similarity is the idea of a way in which perceptions are arranged that leads to preferences.
The ‘Gestalt’ is not an easy thing to explain: everyone experiences the beauty of a summer evening, or the wonder of winter snow. But these things are not easy to report or take notes on. Somehow, ‘white flakes falling’ doesn’t do it justice – even though it is accurate in a sense.
The rush to generalisation is common across many fields of inquiry: it simplifies the world and gives an impression that you know the facts. An illustration is a famous joke made in earlier days by psychoanalysts about their clients: it goes: “If they are early, they’re anxious; if on time, they’re obsessional; and if they’re late, they’re hostile.”
It is easy to sneer at these kinds of statements and claim not to be party to them, but most of our attempts to explain or understand run the risk of making too simplistic generalisations about things that are related in a complex manner. Starting with the whole rather than the parts often leads to a more realistic solution.
Here is a pdf: Psychology on a Page: Gestalt
Rogers’ theory of the self is humanistic and phenomenological. However, in spite of a ‘New Age’ fascination with Rogers, his work is neither ephemeral nor lacking empirical foundations. He always stood for embracing and evaluating evidence from the phenomena and experiences of the people he met and the meanings that they made of their lives.
His theory was based on 19 propositions that I have reduced to the 12 most important for our Course and practice:
- All individuals (organisms) exist in a continually changing world of experience of which they are the centre.
- The organism reacts to the field as it is experienced and perceived. This perceptual field is “reality” for the individual.
- A portion of the total perceptual field gradually becomes differentiated as the self. [This is my favourite: a wonderful description of how we emerge from our background in a way that allows never-ending re-evaluation and renewal!]
- As a result of interaction with the environment, and particularly as a result of interaction with others, the structure of the self is formed – an organized, fluid but consistent conceptual pattern of perceptions of characteristics and relationships of the “I” or the “me”, together with values attached to these concepts.
- The organism has a basic tendency and striving – to actualize, maintain and enhance the organism. On occasions this can lead to maladaptive behaviour.
- The best vantage point for understanding behaviour is from the internal frame of reference of the individual.
- Behaviour is basically the goal-directed attempt of the organism to satisfy its needs as experienced, in the field as perceived.
- Emotion accompanies, and in general facilitates, such goal directed behaviour, the kind of emotion being related to the perceived significance of the behaviour for the maintenance and enhancement of the organism.
- Most of the ways of behaving that are adopted by the organism are those that are consistent with the concept of self.
- In some instances, behaviour may be brought about by organic experiences and needs which have not been symbolized. Such behaviour may be inconsistent with the structure of the self but in such instances the behaviour is not “owned” by the individual.
- Any experience which is inconsistent with the organization of the structure of the self may be perceived as a threat, and the more of these perceptions there are, the more rigidly the self structure is organized to maintain itself.
- Under certain conditions, involving primarily complete absence of threat to the self structure, experiences which are inconsistent with it may be perceived and examined, and the structure of self revised to assimilate and include such experiences.
Additionally, Rogers is known for practicing “unconditional positive regard,” which we have adapted for our Course and practice as a ‘culture of acknowledgment’. You will find many more examples of the influence of Roger’s on my thinking and practice here, published in the IJMR (International Journal of Market Research, May 2012): Paper Website Version
Here is a pdf of this page for your records: Psychology on a Page: Carl Rogers
There is simply no place for the dominant respondent in a well facilitated group. It shouldn’t happen. But it does. The reason it happens is due to many things:
- In the first minutes of the group, people are nervous – some react by keeping quiet, others by ‘blurting’. It is quite usual that one group member is more outgoing and forward than others. If the moderator does not deal with this immediately, it may be interpreted by the talkative one – and the group itself – as tacit acceptance that this person will occupy first place in the pecking order and will speak first on every occasion. These things happen in seconds at the start of a group.
- Another reason is that forming procedures have not been handled right. Under pressure from the brief, it is far too common to barge straight into the topic. Very often the product, service or advertising makes it into the room before the people!
- Due to the lack of invitation and participation, a democratic level playing field has not been created. No emphasis has been put on the importance of including all views in the conversation and that the moderator will support and seek out anyone trapped in silence by nerves or shyness. Even if the moderator has done a two-minute spiel, talking about how important everyone is – he has not demonstrated that – and respondents will respond to what he does, not what he says.
- Another factor is the lack of listening – and lack of attention to listening in the group. If people think that their job is to speak, then those who are interested in power and status will be hard to stop – after all that seems to be the way Brownie Points are gained here. Not only that, people will not actively listen to others. They will simply wait for their turn to speak. This can be overcome by doing an introduction process in which everyone has to introduce someone else, after listening to them in a paired conversation for a few moments.
- Social loafing is common in focus groups. Make no mistake, your participants know they are being paid for their time. There is a professional transaction underlying their attendance. Some people like to do as little as possible for their money! Some moderators too!
- Production blocking is another regular feature and can be heightened by verbose types. Some quieter members will feel ‘blocked’ by the interruptions and rapidity of the responses from the eager, talkative members. This will drive them further into the background and they may need the moderator’s support in coming forward.
- Groups that are too topic focused and full of questions will lack affect (emotional depth). Such groups are hard to listen to for everyone, energy flags, responses become routine, process dominates and everyone wants to get to the end. In these circumstances a group can feel grateful to a dominant mouthpiece – at least he keeps the thing going! Make sure activities & pace are varied and that people get to be themselves in several different ways during the group.
- A group member might feel that they have genuine, unique, in-depth experience or knowledge of your topic. You have to make a judgment call on whether to allow this kind of ‘dominance’ – based as it is on larger capability. It will have effects on the feelings of the other members, but you can ameliorate these by thanking them for their listening and asking for their input immediately afterwards.
How to Set Up the Group
Introduce yourself NOT THE TOPIC, and let the group members know that you will ensure fairness, equality of opportunity and inclusion in the session. At this point people should precede products! If you are nervous about dominant respondents – or have an anxious client behind the mirror who worries about this – say something like: “I am keen to hear from all of you and will challenge you if you take up more than your share of space to an extent that prevents others. I understand that people get carried away and I will step in if that happens too much. I won’t allow bullying or overtalking or cutting off other people’s heads to make yourself look taller.”
Next you need a go round to give everyone an equal opening to speak – preferably on a subject that is important to them – like ‘what is the biggest thing in your life at the moment’ – rather than small talk about products or usage. This ensures that they arrive in the room – as themselves, not ‘users’ or ‘lapsed users’ or ‘potential users’.
Here is an example, following on from the remarks above:
“Having said that, I do want you to feel free to share your thoughts and feelings and for us all to have the chance. Let’s practice now, by introducing ourselves to the group by talking about something that’s very much on your mind today. It doesn’t have to be about the commercial topic, I’ll brief you on that in a moment. I will go first to give you an example of the kind of thing I mean.
Then the moderator introduces h/herself at the level that h/she wishes other people to share themselves. Model the kind of behaviour that you want in the group. You are the leader, others will follow you. Being a table rasa (blank observer) will frighten people and flatten your group. Also, make no mistake about it, you have a duty of care to these people.
Once people have brought themselves to the room via their introductions you should set the Primary Task: ‘we are here this evening to….’ And give the group some information about the activities and styles of work you anticipate. Also give them reassurance about time. ‘We will end at…’ They will be worrying about it even if you are not.
Now you’re ready to go. It is twenty minutes or so into the session. Rock on.
In the second video on Action Techniques we show the ‘Blindfold Game’. This is another example of the techniques we will be teaching people how to design and use on our Advanced Qualitative Course.
The point is that in the information age it’s possible to be just as in the dark as at other times. People are so dependent on the Internet & call centres for information that it can be difficult to find out what other user’s experiences are really like. It’s easy to forget that websites and call centres are biased in the sellers interest, and that in high-cost services like insurance, healthcare or education, processes are not just complicated, they are complex because they rely on so many individual elements coming together over time. Thus predictability and reliability are hard to ensure – they can only be guaranteed by putting yourself in customer’s shoes to notice the effects that different circumstances have on customers. Then you can build services to allow or compensate for them. This is particularly important in services that deal with misfortune, like insurance and healthcare. In education you can witness each year the massive ‘clean-up’ operation – known as Clearing – that swings into action due to misfortune in students A level performance.
Action Techniques like the Blindfold Game help to train staff to grasp the bigger picture of customer experiences and what it takes to serve them.
In our second look at the unconscious mind for insight workers we think about a human being, full of vulnerabilities – as well as potentials – and ask ourselves what role would make sense for an unconscious mind in such a creature?
Above all, you would want to preserve its life, its existence. This must be a primary process for without this life there can be no person. This simple fact shapes an unconscious mind that, whatever else it might come up with, must be conservative, attracted to reliable solutions, routes and routines. Thus the unconscious favours things it has ‘seen’ before, it favours the usual route to work, the brand of biscuits you’ve already tried, the people you know and the tried and tested idea. This explains how you can do familiar things like driving home without thinking.
It was under the influence of Jung (see here: Psychology on a Page 2: Jung) that our notion of the unconscious took a turn towards the mystical, ephemeral & unknowable, while at the same time the Behaviourists (see here: Psychology on a Page 4: Behaviourism) proposed an unconscious that was animalistic, instinctive and unknowable in a different way. I believe both of these ideas are inaccurate to a considerable degree (though contain ‘grains of truth’ that we will explore further) and have created a popular idea of the unconscious an unreachable, impenetrable place – when in reality it is in view at every moment.
My own view is that the unconscious is made up of symbols, all of which are represented in language (for language is after all the structure of thinking as well as of communication). Its building blocks are words and its structure is grammatical. As we shall see over the next posts, these words are not simply sounds, but each one is attached to an image, a set of associations – and the uncomfortable examples of these are repressed or hidden from the view of others and ourselves.
The results of the experiments described in the link below are unsurprising if you’re following these posts about how the unconscious mind operates.
The next time your great idea at work elicits silence or eye rolls, it might pay to think about this reaction. This research indicates that people don’t know what a creative idea looks like and that creativity, hailed as a positive change agent, actually makes people squirm. We found this out very early on in our co-creation work and from this generated an orientation approach that would help participants overcome their unconscious rejection of novelty. You must model and adapt such a process if you don’t want the ideas you are evaluating or generating to be automatically rejected!
Many of us have formed the impression that the unconscious is deep below the surface, invisible, unknowable, out-of-reach – a bit like the huge mass beneath the water in the picture.
This is simply untrue. It is present with us, intruding, dancing in and out of sight every moment of the day (and night!)
It is visible in body language, gestures, tone of voice – as we all know from trying to figure out what others mean/intend towards us. But it is also present in language, all of the time in virtually every sentence or phrase we speak.
The relationship between the conscious and unconscious is much more like that of two voices, a foreground voice (consciousness) and a background (unconscious). This is clearly illustrated in the moebius strip you will find here: Foreground and Background in communication
So how do we get in touch with it in an active way that engages the group?
You can do this early in a session like a meeting or focus group by speaking about the idea of foreground and background voices – where the background is both the little voice ‘speaking’ in our heads and the significance that we attach to ordinary statements without realising it – while the foreground is what actually gets said.
So let’s say you ask your group members to go around telling each other their names and one fact about themselves. Let’s imagine two responses you might get:
“Hello, my name’s Ian…and I love walking!”
“Hi, I’m Marie and I’m into fashion, big time!”
These are terribly short and apparently small pieces of information. However, they are much more potentially revealing of unconscious processes than at first meets the eye. This is because before choosing the topic of walking or fashion, Ian & Marie will have momentarily rehearsed a whole set of other things they might have said: e.g. ‘I love home-cooking’, or ‘I have more colds than anyone I know’ and so on. The key point is that they chose the things they did – out of all the things they could have said – in order to present something about themselves that they wanted others to be conscious of. To do this not only have they deleted some things they might say, but they are hoping to evoke certain associations and popular meanings by their choices. However, they may hardly be conscious of what they’re doing themselves, but the group will ‘hear’ both the words and some aspect of the unconscious intention.
So, to touch or tap the unconscious, the interesting follow up remark is not: “Tell us what you like about walking/fashion.” BUT: “of all the things you might have said to this group of people, what made you choose walking/fashion?”
Allow that it might not have been a deep reason, or even if it was it may be too early to reveal it in an introduction, but what you have done by asking this is to bring into the foreground the presence of the background – and show how it shapes and determines what we say in line with our motivations and wishes. It is also possible that Ian & Marie may have chosen this information in order to avoid other, less comfortable, less normal tit-bits. So, after checking in with Ian & Marie with “of all the things etc.” ask the next two group members, “I’d be really interested to hear one of the selections that came up in your mind that you chose not to say to the group.”
Be sure to normalize and praise every piece of information yielded and to enforce safety and acceptance in the group so that no-one is shamed or sneered at, and then go on to ask the next two members: “We’ve gone this far, it’d be interesting to ask you to share one of the things you would have been more reluctant to put out into the group. Are you willing to have a go at that?”
In this way, even in the first 10 minutes of our session we are working with background unconscious material and bringing it to light in an interesting and innocuous fashion. I guarantee that your group will be fascinated by this style of working, and that you have already created permission to delve into the unconscious intentions of the group at any time along the way – providing that you update the group’s permission and deal sensitively with the material.
This is the first in a series of videos that show more dynamic (active & expressive) techniques in action. On our Advanced Qualitative Course you can find out how & when and how to set up Tantrum and other Action Techniques in a group session.
Clearly, it is not easy to do this kind of thing in a crowded, over-furnished fake sitting room, such as you find in the typical viewing facility or recruiters home. But if you have chosen a setting for your group that will allow more expressive, free-form work, this is a wonderful exercise for unleashing desires…often revealing deep unmet needs.
The exercise in the film took place among a group of 70 participants and as you can see, everyone is having a go in their own way. It was this exercise that produced the unreasonable desire to “travel the whole journey on a magic carpet, or failing that, in a bed.” The project was British Airway’s 21st Century Flying innovation workshop, involving passengers and staff.
In 1997 this seemed impossible, but now you can take a comfortable limo to the airport with Virgin Upper Class, not quite a bed but the next best thing and nearly every major airline has fully flat beds in business class. Unthinkable at the time, but Tantrum helped it emerge into the world!
I am very proud of the difference that these innovations have made to countless journeys.
Have you got a couple of seconds? Have a look at the pictures above. They are all designed to capture or hook your attention.
I hope one of those grabbed you. By the way, it does not matter if they turned you on or off – what I’m trying to do is stimulate your fast archaic loop for processing that bypasses the cortex (which you must have returned to if you’re still reading!) and engages the autonomic nervous system – the one that controls heart-rate, pulse, feelings…more instinctive, automatic processes if you like.
The point here is that by engaging this by-pass we put your emotions more in control of your responses. Your feelings are now plugged directly into the stimulus – and will be influential in generating a response. That’s why sex sells. As does the power of ‘free’ (see Dan Ariely’s, Predictably Irrational). Nowadays there are more and more books that speak about the huge role of the unconscious in driving decisions, choices and behaviour. Here are links to just two of them:
In an era of shorter attention spans, where unconscious process are often in the driving seat, the hook becomes an all-important mechanism. The hook is the means by which you attract attention it is also the gateway to sustaining attention. In the images above the third ‘hook’ – the falling man picture – is designed to create an element of surprise and wonder – what will happen to the falling man? It also creates a dilemma and the mind does not like unresolved dilemmas, so is tempted to follow them through to resolution – and does this through active fantasy, “I wonder what happened to that guy?”
So in a world that is increasingly full of information, capturing attention is critical. It is inevitable that as the amount of information grows what will decline is the amount of attention given to any particular piece – so you need to know what captures people’s attention and why.
The hook is the most powerful device used in television programming and advertising to gain and sustain the viewer’s attention. In the hands of a master like Jimmy McGovern (who writes ‘gritty’, realistic British drama), there is a clear formula – which in condensed form also applies to television advertising and online content. This formula is not expressed anywhere as a theorem, but in reviewing the most successful TV dramas and commercials of the last twenty years I have noticed that the ‘hook’ must be employed within five minutes of starting the programme – within seconds if it is a commercial.
There are several types of hook and they vary between the sensory hooks that seize our attention because they are outside of normal experience, and the underlying deeper motive or part of us that the lure attempts to hook. We will deal with three stimulus variants first:
1. The shock – this is usually some quite spectacular or unexpected event, like the world falling asleep in FastForward, the battle on the beaches in the first minutes of Saving Private Ryan or a killing in a crime show. The engaging nature of the shock results from the adrenalin rush or excitement that it causes. In commercials, shocks are less serious, more bizarre or unreal, like the city-wide roller-coaster in the Barclaycard Contactless commercial or the flash mobs in airports or stations in the T-mobile campaign. The shock both hooks you and stimulates your adrenalin which in turn focuses your attention.
2. The puzzle. It is usual for the shock to give rise to the puzzle – and for the puzzle to be the means by which attention is sustained. Puzzles leave the watcher wondering – what, why, who, how – questions that demand resolution. It is the success of these elements in holding our attention – the shock leading into the puzzle, that make crime shows the world’s most popular entertainment.
Two interesting forms of puzzle that have contemporary value are
- The technological puzzle – a conundrum that can only be resolved using scientific and technological procedures of the highest order – many of us are endlessly tinkering with these as we try to improve our skills in surfing, streaming, downloading etc. This type of puzzle is the basis of the CSI television series.
- The paradox – here the essential hook lies in the contradiction between truth and falsity – an obvious delight for the participant, providing the paradox is ultimately resolved. What is the answer? Which are legitimate clues, which red-herrings?
3. The Competition. Who will win? Who will be best? How would I do facing these tests? Could I beat these people? Nowadays, the reality TV shows – like X Factor – in which people start out as beginners and are rapidly transformed into ‘stars’ draw the highest audiences of any TV show in the land. As you will notice as you read below, the competition plays straight into both regressive (Play) and progressive (Power) motives.
Now coming onto the deeper motivations, there are four main areas where things hook us:
1. Seduction – something is so attractive and desirable that you are magnetised and held in its sway. This can be a person, a product or an idea. It’s easiest when its straightforward sexual attraction, but you will notice that many other things are either associated with sex or presented in such style that they seem sensual. Lighting and camerawork can make a car look sleek, cool and sexy.
2. Power – the most progressive hooking mechanism is the suggestion that you will be in some way increased should you buy the product or service. It will enhance your image, your speed, your appearance, your prestige or status. Since so much of our society is preoccupied with status and standing, having more power – even if only by association – is no mean thing.
3. Comfort – more regressive in approach, these hooks usually rely upon memory or familiarity, prior knowledge or interest. Sentimentality is often a key ingredient. We all have our favourites, things we are drawn to automatically – because we are fans, because we have invested in earlier episodes or versions, because there is a lot of hype/media interest, because we know that all our friends are also using or watching the same things. One of the wonderful things about the comfort hook is that it involves minimum effort!
4. Play – again, appealing to the regressive, more childlike part of us are the appeals to play. Often these involve a large component of active fantasy as we can see in commercials for video games or new programmes/movies.
We all inhabit a world where people are increasingly setting out to hook or engage our attention. The consequence of this fight for our minds is that we have engineered increasingly sophisticated defences. The most direct of these is Studied Inattention. Its partner is rebuttal.
Contemporary opinion suggests that marketing and advertising has less power because of the diversification of channels and platforms. My own view is that this is often an excuse for work that has a low or inaccurate appreciation of hooks and/or motivations.
Thanks to all the readers of my posts on the Riots and our increasingly severe response to them. There is one thing we can change that could make the biggest difference. If you’d like to see that presented in a cool way – have a look at the video, which you may access by clicking the picture here or from the Slider at the top of the Home Page.
Tomorrow I hope to show how the history of progress is really the story of improvements in equality.
Here again is the link to Kate & Richard’s fine book:
I’m sorry, I just don’t buy that some elements of our society are sick, while everyone else is OK.
Let’s think about what happened in the last few days without getting caught up in emotional responses of repugnance, revenge or retribution.
Many thousands of people, in what appears to have been a series of events spread by contagion and mimicry, across the country in more than 25 locations, have suddenly decided to break the rules, ignore the consequences and help themselves…that last phrase is important; it is the core of the rioters’ behaviour.
Some of these people are young and black (and therefore a recognizable ‘other’ culture) but many are not. Teachers, graduates, females and professionals are also involved.
Where did they get these ideas from?
I think this behaviour is merely a street version that they have internalized and regenerated based on what they have seen the elite of society doing. Here are three ‘educational’ events that suggest you can help yourself and get away with it:
The investment bankers & traders earning millions in bonuses and fees from selling dubious, often worthless instruments to their own clients. This is explained and detailed at length in the Cannes Prizewinning, ‘Inside Job’. You will get the entire summary here:
Here’s a little graph showing the rise in bankers’ ‘earnings’ versus you and me. Many of those on the streets didn’t have any earnings at all:
Next learning experience – their own elected representatives, the MP’s. For 2 months or more last year the Telegraph gradually released details of the extent of the stealing (called expenses fiddling) by MP’s. You will find a complete list here:
Obviously there are matters of degree and dispute just as there will be with our rioters, about who did what and how serious it was. But just scroll down the list, it is very, very long! So far I have been able to find only three custodial sentences and of those, one MP is out after serving just 4 months of a 16-month sentence. No wonder people get the idea that the consequences for helping yourself may not be that bad!
Also, if they were so intent on just stealing, why did so many fires get started and so much violent destructiveness occur? It was as if they were so desperate they wished to burn down the very world they lived in and strike out at anything that represented the establishment. How did they become so frantic?
That brings us to the third educational event – the Government’s austerity programme and their publicisation of it. It is indisputable that the Government have used the power of fear and nightmares to mobilise the population into acceptance of a desperate situation. For a year now we have been hearing tales of how dreadful it is…how we must cut the deficit…how unsustainable our debts are. How everyone has to take some losses – even those who have next to nothing to start with.
This, I believe has created a cloud of anxiety across the land and no-one has listened to the more reasoned voices of two of the world’s greatest economists, Paul Krugman and Joe Stigliz who have consistently pointed out that in a period of very low interest rates and low inflation, debt is not the problem, stimulating growth and job creation is the issue. Have a look here:
All we have heard is how bad it is, how it’s getting worse and may not get better for a generation. Unsurprisingly the young feel abandoned and dismissed, especially those who did not get their 3 A*’s at A level. Finally, the markets have picked it up and have sustained the greatest sequence of successive losses since 1929. Who has been telling them all how bad it is? The bloke in the picture at the top of this post is certainly one of them.
Make no mistake, I’m not condoning violence but I don’t think these people just generated their riots out of poor parenting and bad habits – or because they are inferior in some way. This is a tempting rationale – to descry & portray them as ‘atypical’ elements. The truth is more sinister; they are simply copying their betters.
Please click on the thumbnail to watch the video.
As the co-creative work for airlines with passengers and staff increased in the late nineties I was proud and delighted to be asked by Singapore Airlines to help with passenger and crew co-creation for the cabin of the new A380.
In the video you can see passengers speaking about their desire for a seat and a bed. Underlying this were several deeper desires. The first we expressed in our analysis as the wish for a ‘gradient of intimacy’ so that your space on the aircraft, like your space at home would progress from public to private areas. Also under the guise of ‘configurability’ (one of the consistent customer wishes for their seat/space on board) we uncovered the three essential ‘ways of being’ that passengers adopted in long-haul flying – you can think of these as ‘office’, ‘restaurant’ and ‘couch’, or more ergonomically as work, rest and play. These suites add a fourth zone, the most intimate – or bedroom – to the configuration.
As the airline gathered confidence after the delayed maiden flight of the A380 in 2007, they started to bring the idea of moving from public to private space in your own area alive with copy like: ‘even the most private areas have been created with you in mind…and when you’re ready to sleep a fully flat bed equipped with a flush mattress appears’ – thus acknowledging passengers desires for a transition from a seating environment to a separate sleeping space – and subtly hinting that this bed is not the seat flattened out with all its crevices beneath you! You will see this executed in a more confident in-house video in the second of SIA’s promotional films in the short clip.
It came to pass that Big Talk – our co-creation method – found particular acceptance in the ‘imagibuilding’ of passenger experiences in the air. I will post more videos of passengers’ visions shortly.
Thanks are due here to Mac Andrews and Nicky Forsythe, my brilliant partners in all of the early co-creation programmes. Couldn’t have done it without you guys!
Click on image to see video.
I think I can confidently say that this was the first market-research sourced co-creation product in the UK. It is certainly the first to be captured on film from the moment of insight through to the delivery of the innovation. The passenger you will hear speaking in the first part of the video is actually a BA staff member. This is the beauty of the Big Talk method of co-creation – staff genuinely get to visit their ‘customer side’. Which one of us has not faced the cramped box in the loo, full of luggage as we try to freshen up or change an outfit for a meeting?
There are one or two interesting bits of New York diction, ‘slep’ for slept is my favourite.
After the first speaker the film moves to a 10 second commercial from Saatchi announcing the Arrivals Lounge, the first of its type in the world. Finally there are the first few seconds of a review of the lounge including interviews with users. I have cut most of this from the website upload, to keep it reasonably brief. If you would like the whole film (there are another 4 minutes of customer feedback) let me know.
This innovation could never have happened without the huge energy and commitment of Jayne O’Brien at British Airways. From the breakthrough sessions Jayne went on to champion a series of innovations, alongside the then marketing director, Pat Stafford who initiated the project. Shortly afterwards Jayne herself made Marketing Director at British Airways.
Many of my closest colleagues will have seen this film already, so take another look if you’ve forgotten – if not I am posting it here to bring it to a worldwide audience and as a precursor to the introduction of the Charter for Breakthrough Psychology which follows next week. I still believe that this is the best, most inspirational, yet democratic innovation process around!
Wendy’s wonderfully clear and intriguing introduction to Behavioural Economics. Well worth a view!
You will find a link to Wendy’s site on the right hand side of this page. I will be publishing my own take on Behavioural Economics during the next weeks.
Here is Mark’s entire talk from the MRS Brand Research conference in June 2011. He introduces the key idea from his new book and any of you who have read (or meant to read!) Herd should grab a copy of this when it’s out! You will find a link to Mark’s site in the right hand area of this page.
For anyone not familiar with Mark’s work, he emphasises how much of what we do is influenced by the social aspect of our nature. We spend a lot of time observing, learning from and copying each other. When you think how different this is from the huge influence of psychotherapy – where the proposition is that you can be anyone you want to be – and, above all, be an individual, you’ll appreciate how welcome and controversial Mark’s perspective is. Being the kind of rigorous and scientific thinker that he is, Mark has assembled a formidable array of evidence for his point of view. Some of it is mentioned here. As are the mysterious Mountains of Kong!
Here is a review of our Brand Research Conference day on June 9th. Written by Judie Lannon, it is clear and informative as she always is. If you’re interested in the latest in brand research have a look and I’m sure the speakers would love to hear from you.
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!
Jung was the most spiritual of the great psychologists. For him, the unconscious was like a deep, vast sea upon which we are all afloat in our separate boats of consciousness. This sea, the collective unconscious, was populated near its surface by universal characters who we catch glimpses of in stories and tales that span the world. These characters, or archetypes, are thus universal. I have been fortunate enough to bump into them in my own practice. Below are two pictures, created by consumers in an Art-from-Within session that represent on the left, the Magician, on the right, the Trickster.
These images are, unsurprisingly, from a study on credit cards. These kinds of ideas, and his liking for guided fantasy, (which we have adapted and use as creative visualisation in groups), have made Jung very popular with marketing types. Who would not want to capture the Heroic or Mother Earth aspects of a brand to give it more appeal to deep motives in us all? At a deeper level, I suspect that many practitioners enjoy this framework as it allows for deeper meanings and less mechanical approaches to understanding our topics.
In our conscious lives, another of Jung’s great models has found a home in modern organisational psychology. Many managers or team members have used Myers Briggs (MBTI) to get a reading of their preferences in perception based on Jung’s ideas: I reproduce a simple version of the model here:
For Jung, daily life was a question of seeking balance between the four functions: Thinking, Feeling, Intuition and Sensation. No one function can be allowed too much dominance in any of us without its opposite number seeking expression, if only in a roundabout and sometimes destructive manner. We are all given all of these ‘cards’ in our deck – and we must play (use) them or they will play us!
You can download a pdf of this post here: Psychology on a Page 2: Jung
What do people do when they put aside their professional roles? What do you and your mates do on the way home from a match or a party? What level of debate do you usually reach when watching the X Factor? What sells newspapers and magazines?
The answer to all of these is one word: gossip.
We love to chat with no holds barred about the things that piss us off, excite us, amuse us and just intrigue us. Much of this chat is superficially critical – a kind of offloading of judgments, assessments, opinions. But its real role is more profound, it generates a kind of creative commons where everyone’s input is welcome and irreverence rather than compliance rules the roost.
We have, of course in our wisdom, largely banished gossip from focus groups and qualitative research. It threatens to be too irreverent, critical and judgmental and we are worried that members of the public will pour cold water on anything given the chance. Just as you and I do!
Yet in gossip, what we really notice and pay attention to is revealed. Our envy, desire, status anxiety, drivers – both to fight and flee – are all apparent in five minutes gossip and you don’t have to ‘probe’. You only ever really have to probe if people are scared or indifferent – more often the latter than the former in market research.
So, how can you use the Power of Gossip to illuminate your work?
Here’s how. Set up a Gossip Game in the group. Here’s an outline of how I might do it.
“Let’s start with a well-known figure who polarizes opinion. Someone who has both fans and foes. Let’s take Bono of U2. Who is willing to represent him as fans, who as foes? Let’s have a couple of minutes each way. We’ll let the foes go first!”
“OK, we’re talking about salad dressings. I’d like to divide the group into two, four of you to discuss salad dressings as fans for a couple of minutes. The other four to listen and be ready to express your criticism of salad dressings in response to the praise of the fans. Don’t worry fans, you’ll get a chance to get your own back on the critics once they’ve done their bit.”
Here’s another method. Print off Mastheads from newspapers like the News of the World or the Sun and invite members of the group working as pairs to write headlines or stories about the product or service as they might appear in the Sun/NOW. They can search Google for images to go with their story. We only need the headline and the first couple of sentences of the story.
The point here is that this is emotional material, there is a freedom to express emotional positions without fear of looking bad or stupid.
The fact is that these may not be committed opinions, but they are social & cultural tropes – and so say a lot about the underlying opinions and judgments we hold. In a way, these games with gossip allow a group to reverse the process whereby they are invited to comment on an endorser or presenter associated with a brand. This kind of endorsement is obviously done to sprinkle stardust on a product, but allowing people to gossip about it will show you your product’s strengths and weaknesses quicker than anything.
We often want to maximize the appeal of the brand/person/service we’re working on. Giving people rational measurements like scales or discussions drives satisficing, not maximizing measures. Gossip is, by its very nature a maximizing activity. Everything gets exaggerated, good and bad – and in the exaggerations the true attachments or problems with the brand lie.
I am very excited about the new movies arriving on the site! In addition to Shaun’s original take on political brands and the Tories moving away from revitalizing their brand to an opportunist position, we have three leading thinkers in Rory Sutherland, Mark Earls and Wendy Gordon talking about the fundamental mistakes common to modern market research – and qualitative work in particular. Mistakes that are based in misunderstandings of our nature and how we make choices.
If you are someone who works in research, marketing, social science or related fields, you must take a few minutes to listen to these folks.
Rory manages to encompass Harrison’s clocks (Longitude), how you know whether men have committed adultery or not and how dogs catch Frisbees in an exhilarating rap about the logical errors of modern market research and why inquiring into the reasons for decisions is largely a waste of time. His talk is first, posted as I must to observe YouTube’s restriction in two sections. Both parts are on the site now!
Next week Mark Earls, talks about his forthcoming book, “I’ll have what she’s having” and makes a powerful case for social over individual learning and the role of mimicry and diffusion among groups of people driving most if not all of our brand choices.
Finally,in two week’s time Wendy gives a beautiful introduction to the principles and ideas of Behavioural Economics. Again I have divided these talks into two sections to keep the rules!
We are at a turning point in our industry. Three huge innovations, social learning, co-creation and behavioural economics are set to change the way we think about ourselves and each other. These findings have massive implications for the way we conduct and think about enquiries and cast much doubt on conventional qualitative methods.
I am proud to be able to present the wisdom and inspiration of these brilliant colleagues and friends to you. If you would like an uninterrupted, uncut version of any of these talks, just email me and I will send it to you. You will find links to the speaker’s websites in the links section on the right hand side of the page and my email address on the contacts page.
The best book about the psychology of fairy tales and their impact on our growing children is in my view Bruno Bettelheim’s ‘The Uses of Enchantment’. Here Bettelheim analyses the use of impossible challenges, faith and courage to implant unconscious lessons in our children about how to solve life’s biggest problems.
Some time after reading the book, I was musing on the choice of children engaged in imaginative play to portray the ITV brand in Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s charming work for television (ITV – the Brighter Side) and how closely it followed a fairy tale pattern. Please view the commercial from the video slider on my homepage (Video 9).
We might be watching the Famous Five or Narnia. The fact that we are in a magical world is conveyed by the appearance of non-indigenous creatures, the pelican and the penguins. It is a beach, but not truly a British beach – it is a beach in the realm of the imagination. There is another super Fairy Tale device in the film: James, the fisherman – who the children ‘find’ – is the bridge between nature and the human, like the woodcutter of Fairy Tales who is an elemental force capable of rescuing lost children if needs be. His ‘abode’ is humble, made out of beach bric-a-brac and artifacts of nature, he has caught his own food, which he would no doubt share with the children, and he is ‘grizzled’ like an elemental.
This kind of Fairy Tale analogy also emerges in sports broadcasting. Consider this:
“They’ve done it. They’ve beaten the champions. It’s a Fairy Tale come true!”
John Motson on an unexpected win in the FA Cup.
In John’s commentary we find reference to Jack and the Beanstalk – a story of giant killing and reclaiming what is rightfully ours. Is there a definite echo of Fairy Tales in successful television shows?
While I was thinking this through, I stumbled upon something that had been milling about for some time in my mind – the enormous successes of the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. That ‘something’ was – once again – the role of Fairy Tales in delighting children and at the same time, instructing them in strategies and tactics in the task of overcoming obstacles in their lives.
There are differences of course, for outside of sport, the biggest audience shows on mainstream TV all have a serial structure. The events unfold over weeks/months and the subtext of the series is closely aligned with modern Fairy Stories. In the case of X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent it’s a Rag to Riches fable (Cinderella). In Strictly Come Dancing, it’s less clearly fable-based, closest to Cinderella in the journey from scullery maid to princess, but essentially a moral teaching of the ‘you can do it if you really try!’ variety. Put in other words we have a human potential fable, very in line with meritocratic ideas in a meritocratic era.
Here is a table showing some of the interpretations of Fairy Tales in Modern Television:
|Programme||Fairy Story||Moral Lesson||Channel|
|Blind Date||Happy Ever After||ITV|
|Beat the StarGladiators||David & Goliath*||The little guy can win if he doesn’t give in||ITV|
|Lost||Snow White/Hansel & Gretel||Help! Someone will find you||Sky|
|The X Factor||Cinderella||Rags to Riches||ITV|
|Britain’s Got Talent||Cinderella(Susan Boyle!)||Rags to Riches||ITV|
|I’m a Celebrity||Sleeping Beauty||Rendered Helpless||ITV|
|Strictly Come Dancing||Cinderella/Sleeping Beauty||Transformation is possible – something within can be awakened.||BBC|
What is wonderful about Fairy Tales and their eternal messages are that they do not depend upon intellect for their impact. They are metaphors for life’s biggest journey – the journey into adulthood, effectiveness and beyond. They are packed with hints and tips to help you on the way. In this way, like pantomime, they are stories with something for everyone.
In the X Factor you will find the following well-drawn comparisons with Fairy Tales.
1. First, there are major and minor characters: the major characters struggle with epic issues, the minor characters provide distraction, comedy, glamour. I would argue that Simon (wicked King) and Cheryl (beautiful, kind Princess) are the main figures with Danni and Louis adding flavour to the Court of King Simon.
2. Second the Contestants: here are our children. Will they survive their early trials? Can they grow and develop to fulfil their potential? Will they graduate the ‘University’ of the Judges’ Houses. Who will love them/hate them along the way? How do they deal with success and misfortune? Each of them is fortunate or unfortunate enough to be connected to a Court Character (their Mentor). Unsurprisingly the Beautiful Princess’s protégé has won the series the last two times (2008, 2009).
The X Factor studio is, of course, Oz – or the magical land, complete with special effects – and we must return from time to time to the contestant’s ‘real’ origins, and notice how much bigger and more fantastic Oz is than their humble homes.
Have you noticed any reworkings of Fairy Tales for modern times, either on film or TV or elsewhere? Would love to hear about it if you have.
For those interested in the growing use of co-creation, I can genuinely claim to be one of the originators of this method. Since 1991 I’ve been running such sessions for a variety of organisations on different topics. I will post one of the British Airways case histories soon. Our pathway to this technique are described in detail in ‘Breakthrough Zone’, published by Wiley’s in 2003.
If you have the time, here’s a link to a Slideshare presentation I gave to an International Journal of Market Research audience in 2010. There is a sound track to the slides which will play in sync with the presentation. There are a couple of silences in the soundtrack. These last no longer than 30 seconds, and happened while I was doing something to demonstrate points with the live audience.
If you have any questions or would like to know more, get in touch. You are welcome to download the slides and I have copies of the audio track if this is your field or an area where you’re building your skills.
The cartoon shows the three Primary Representation Systems from NLP; vision, hearing and feeling.
There was a great deal of excitement about NLP, right from its origins in 1979. It appeared to offer not only some interesting and original ideas, but most of all an access to techniques which anyone, with a little training could use to create ‘magic’.
Magic was a core idea in NLP used to describe the fact that certain therapy practitioners could accomplish more in terms of transformation and change than others. These therapists’ seemed able to do magic, but Richard Bandler and John Grinder argued that their processes could be broken down, modelled and copied and then would work for anyone who applied them appropriately. Expert therapists modeled in the early days of NLP were Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt Therapy, Virginia Satir, founder of family therapy and the hypnotherapist, Milton Erickson.
Essentially NLP is a set of tools for breaking down, analysing and copying successful processes for change. In addition, it included some ideas about the links between language (including body language) and underlying feelings, values and motives. In particular, NLP challenged three common events in language; distortions, deletions and generalisations. It tackled these by asking the speaker to be specific about how they had come about and thus recovering the deletions, specifying the generalisations and straightening out the distortions. From these interventions, new insights emerged.
Another central idea of NLP is ‘the map is not the territory’ which argues that each of us only ever operates on the basis of our internal representation of the world (our ‘map’) and not the world itself (‘the territory’). This resonates with the idea expressed in ‘Freud on a Page’ (see Blog Archive), that the internal forces always dominate the external representations. We thus limit, distort and impoverish our capabilities by our use of a map that is unable to express the full possibilities and potentialities available – because it is coloured by deletions, generalisations and distortions.
A third core idea of NLP is that of the Primary Representation System. This refers to our major senses and the role each plays in forming our ‘map’ of the world. Each of us builds this ‘map’ using the five senses, visual (V), auditory (A), kinaesthetic (K), the primary three and olfactory (O), and gustatory (G) in secondary place. The idea is that each of us favours a single modality of sensory inputs and thus our ‘maps’ are made of internal pictures (V), sounds/dialogue (A) or feelings (K). These preferences were believed to be reflected in each person’s choice of ‘predicates’ (“I see…” (V), “I hear…”(A), “I feel…”K). NLP theorists believed that eye movements were indicative of which representational system was being used, as shown in the cartoon at the top of the post. Visual representations were signalled by eyes upwards to the left or right, auditory by eyes moving across on the central level, and kinaesthetic by eyes downwards. An interesting simple test is to sustain a downwards look and notice how difficult it is to stop feelings from welling up!
So far so good. So popular and teachable did NLP seem that within a couple of years a whole host of practitioner organisations offering ‘Practitioner’ and ‘Master Practitioner’ courses had sprung up and many people enrolled in these. Business became excited by the potential of NLP to guide and empower change.
However, some serious scientific analysts were finding it hard to establish empirical evidence for the efficacy of NLP. Experimenters have found little evidence of a stable trait in use of predicates and that subjects tended to change their predicates according to the nature of the perceptual tasks they were given. In other experiments they found, that ‘K’ predicates far outweighed all others in groups of subjects. Once again, we must be careful to use what is practical and useful from NLP without seeing it as a miracle application that can do anything.
One memorable and highly useful acronym from NLP has remained with me since the early days when I was a student of Robert Dilts and David Gordon on their first UK visits.
It is Match>Pace>Lead
I still find this technique of matching people, joining them at their pace using their body language and verbal style a brilliant way to lead people towards challenging or unfamiliar tasks. You need to be careful to match, not mock – if you are spotted mimicking people too crudely they can feel you are mocking them!
Too soon I have reached the end of my page – indeed, this one runs to two pages – so I will post more on NLP soon, particularly on the technique of reframing which we have used successfully to revitalise brands, services, corporate and institutional reputations. You will find a pdf of this post here:
My tip today is: don’t probe or pressurize people to provide reasons or justifications. They’ll just make stuff up to satisfy you. This is known as ‘confabulation’. Instead, take the pressure off, open things up, don’t pursue! How would you like to be ‘probed’. Sounds like the dentist!
To get a better sense of the ways in which we deceive ourselves have a look here: http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/11/10-piercing-insights-into-human-nature.php
I am amazed by the amount of poor and unhelpful process in focus groups – and process that flies in the face of our increasing scientific knowledge of how choices are made. Much of it stems from the early ideas of psychodynamic psychologists like Freud and Jung that the psyche is a bit like an iceberg, with only a little showing on the surface while much is hidden beneath. From this the idea of probing surely emerges, what if we could poke about beneath the surface to find out what’s there?
This leaves a lot of researchers busily seeking tools or techniques to dig deeper. The favourite is the question: “Why?” Unfortunately this is usually both unhelpful and leads to false attributions. We know for sure that people don’t want to appear thoughtless or irrational in front of others, so they make up a reason that satisfies the questioner.
Look at the beautiful iceberg. You could say the white bit represents conscious mind and the larger part beneath the surface the unconscious. It’s true that more and more research shows that much of our decision-making happens automatically, within the unconscious, and so it is important to think about how to reach these more hidden areas. But if you think for a second about how Freud and Jung went about it, they created settings that were as pressure free as possible and just asked people to talk about what came to mind. They did not pressure or probe people, they realised that matters of importance would surface if people were free to raise them in the manner and pace that suited them!
So, my favourite ‘probe’:
“Could you please say some more about that?”
What kind of act is reading a newspaper? Cleaning your teeth? Driving a car?
Learned behaviour. It is learned from others and shaped by the social and political norms that surround you – and which you take on personally.
Thus a newspaper is more than a text: it is a social object. Some call this a ‘badge’. Cars act as badges in the same way, though small private acts like teeth cleaning have social value yet are not direct badges – they cannot be instantly observed by others.
A social object says something about you to others. It also stimulates messages to you about yourself.
Broadly, social objects have the following characteristics:
They acquired their presence in your life based on a mixture of precipitating events (your dad may have read the newspaper you now read), your self-perception, your understanding of the norms of behaviour, your sense of your status (actual or aspired to) in the group. Usually the key to this adoption is a form of copying or mimicry of someone else’s behaviour.
Once a social object has acquired desirability, it initiates the process of building a habit or repeated behaviour with regard to it. That habit is based primarily in the early days on a Governing Belief.
Typical Governing Beliefs about the meaning of the social object like a newspaper might be: makes me look smart, makes me feel empowered, makes me appear well-informed, makes me look part of the elite, singles me out from the crowd. A car says that you’re devil-may-care, conservation conscious, rich, steady, fast, depending on which you choose.
However, these beliefs are not Absolute Facts: they are contingent. Being as we are, social animals and responsive to others’ view of us, we seek out confirmation of our beliefs and signals. This is done by a process that looks like this:
Free Download of Model here: Habits & Social Objects
These things change over time too: in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s cigarette smoking was regarded as evidence of sophistication and social grace. Increasingly thereafter, smoking came under attack on health-related issues as the links between cigarettes and lung cancer became clear. So the governing belief that smoking was cool came under more and more attack from new information. Ultimately that led to a paradigm shift – smoking came to be seen as the opposite of cool – as foolish. That paradigm shift is still not universal: in places disconnected from mainstream medical influence, smoking is still seen positively. In poorer parts of our communities too, smoking is more prevalent.
If you are asked to explore habitual or repeated behaviour, like shopping, reading a paper, going on holiday, travelling to work, going for a pizza, this model can really help to explore where the possibilities and problems lie. The double-loop allows you to see how a habit, even though established, can be gradually undermined by changing norms and governing beliefs. These shifting perceptions can be based upon many momentary impressions, particularly of other’s reactions to you, or realizing that you are not getting enough functional value even though your social object is cool in image terms! For example, your fast car is uncomfortable and burns petrol like a bonfire. In this way the value of social objects is continually undergoing modification.
My tip this week is this:
If you are to get the most out of an inquiry or study, become immersed in the phenomenon you are investigating. More particularly, see if you can begin to reflect upon & empathise with the significance that it has in everyday lives. Do this particularly if the product or service you are exploring has little attraction or interest for you in your life.
Everything I have ever worked on has had such significance, it’s just a matter of letting yourself be open to experiencing it. It’s best to start this process long before the fieldwork actually begins. Get yourself some experience of buying, using, chatting about, taking the mick out of, finding some friends who love/hate the thing you are about to explore.
Take this on as a ‘way of being,’ not just a mere data collection exercise. Become someone who is embroiled in the laundry and all its related activities. See if you can take the automobile you’re hired to investigate for a test drive. If it’s an insurance product, get a quote and while you’re doing so, ask what the most useful and the most irritating aspects of that experience are.
Many of the products or services that qualitative researchers are asked to explore are ordinary, everyday things. Such things, although you personally may not use them, constitute significant small acts for their users and it is the researcher’s job to get under the skin of these acts in order to appreciate their weight and significance in the lives of others. Their significance will always have some psychological value too – from products that remind them of their mum or dad to those that offer hope for their children. Things as apparently commonplace and dull as washing powder and toothpaste can command this sort of significance.
It is often in the territory of ‘small significance’ that you will find the clues that can best help your client, whether h/she was prompted by strategic or tactical reasons to do the research.
My department of psychology was, in 1967, like many others, in the grip of the influence of Behaviourism (Watson & Skinner) and Learning Theory (Hull). Today, the legacy of these years is that empiricism holds sway over any other kind of proof or theoretical heuristic in accounts of human activity.
Behaviourism has at its centre a beguiling and attractive idea: ‘what if we could estimate and calibrate the actions and reactions of human beings in response to events or stimuli by purely experimental means?’
This would remove the suspect influence of speculation about the mind, the psyche and the role of mental states, which are essentially impossible to observe without the report of the person experiencing them. We would be freed of the unscientific and subject only to the results of experiment.
Hundreds of conditioning and learning trials later, the behvaiourists had formulated the famous S>R model, shown in the diagram below:
The key idea here is that those responses which reward by the satisfaction of some drive or appetite would be strengthened, while those that did not would gradually fade or extinguish. In the early days this practice of conditioning behaviour using reward was known as Operant Conditioning.
In other words: positive chains of events that lead to reward are likely to be sought after while negative or unrewarded sequences are not. Kind of obvious but the behaviourists believed it could be expanded to calibrate all behaviour once you knew the Stimulus and Response.
You can immediately see the attractiveness of this idea to people who wish to sell a product or service. If we could link the product with a state of reward or reinforcement then surely this would increase sales? For many years nearly every commercial for just about anything used this S>R>R model to ‘train’ the customer to buy the product and expect the reward – even if that was only freedom from undesirable or negative experiences. One of my favourite funny reward commercials can be seen here:
Very quickly, right from the early days of commercial TV, advertisers were using these theories in a clever way. The most famous of these was perhaps the ‘Problem>Solution’ pattern of many commercials. Here the advertiser sets up a Stimulus that reflects discomfort or problems and solves it with a Response featuring his product or service, leading to a Reward for the viewer who, hopefully, can identify with the events in the commercial from h/her own experience.
Nowadays, the reward business has become something of a science of its own, based on those early behaviourist experiments. Loyalty cards, interest free loans (reduction of punishment), BOGOF (Buy One Get One Free) and Frequent Flyer Miles are all examples of extensive Reward schemes – that can be modeled by their owners to maximize spending and loyalty from their customers.
I haven’t got room for it here – this is Psychology on a Page after all – but I will post an example of the S>R>R model being used in a research study soon.
Download a pdf of this summary here: Psychology on a Page 4: Behaviourism
You will find what I hope is a powerful critique of what I call ‘scientism’ and behaviourism here: Working in Depth Paper: website version
A opener on insight. Talking about 4 paths to insight that I have found fruitful. This is the central topic of the site and there will be more on this in the next series of videos!
Transactional Analysis (TA):
Throughout my early career I became something of a specialist in advertising development research: the kind of project where you take a set of scripts or storyboards out into groups to see if they grab people or not.
One of the essential components of this kind of work is to have a language for talking about the tone of voice or style of behavior depicted in the prospective commercial and whether it works to engage and motivate or not. Transactional Analysis intrigued me because it had tackled just that problem – the issue of finding an easy to understand language to communicate with patients about the workings of their psyches – and doing so in a way that these ‘inner voices’ were simply described.
The founder of TA, Eric Berne, called these voices the Ego States. This language, with its famous Parent, Adult, Child model was particularly appropriate for advertising because so often commercials attempt to skirt the rational defences of the mind and engage our childlike delights or pleasures.
The basic TA model is here: the idea is that there are three core components to consciousness, three voices if you like – a Parent, an Adult and a Child.
Each one has a particular tone and affect, summarized here:
The fun thing is that you can experience each of these voices for yourself from moment to moment. Your parent voice can be either controlling or nurturing, your adult presents facts and observations while your child hums that jingle or pop tune you can’t get out of your head! The beauty of the model is that it can be checked out experientially by any of us at any time. We can feel its reality: our inner voices do speak to us in different styles. In advertising research we often used references to these voices to analyse the impact – or lack of it – of advertising.
There is a brilliant example of a TA enhanced commercial here: the R White’s Secret Lemonade Drinker:
Here an adult who creeps downstairs in an exaggerated pantomime ‘tippy-toes’ walk to help himself to some Lemonade from the fridge. He is totally gripped by his Child ego state. His expression is of delight. Just as he drinks his lemonade, his wife appears behind him, completely in her Adult, and we wonder for a few seconds whether she will scold him (Critical Parent) or empathise (Nurturing Parent).
Because the advertiser wants to encourage our empathy and participation, a smile dawns on her face and she accepts her man’s bizarre behavior. All of this takes place over a jingle, a mock rock track sung in a very Free Child voice.
The key to discovery is letting go. Once you have formed your group or team, you need to set them free on their journey with whatever brief(s) and resources you plan to make available. This need to let go is one reason why I have focused so much on disinhibition in my group work – hoping to let go of my own inhibitions as well as everyone else’s!
Last time I talked about tips for evaluation. This time we’re talking about discovery projects where you are setting out to uncover things that haven’t been found before. Such projects might have innovation as their goal, or to update and catch up with changes in attitude or behavior due to time or new arrivals in the market place.
If you are briefed to discover & innovate, then the diagram below gives you a strong sense of the ideal shape of your research sessions. As you can see the major part of the session is devoted to opening up or divergent thinking which is very different in shape and nature from the kind of control-oriented work you might do in an evaluation group.
Here the forming part of the group or session is crucial, you are going into unknown territory with strangers so you need to be able to count on each other. Although this ‘unknown territory’ exists in an urban or suburban comfortable room or viewing facility, or perhaps a hotel meeting room – don’t think this doesn’t mean people won’t be anxious – they will. And so will you! Whatever you do don’t adopt a ‘nonchalant’ or devil-may-care attitude as if you were a complete expert, which almost certainly covers nervousness – and is likely to create mimicry in the group as they copy you, the most powerful person in the room!
Here is the shape of the Discovery Journey with key markers along the way:
If you have difficulties interpreting this on-screen you can download a pdf of the discovery diagram here:
We will return to the Phases or stages in this journey in future Tips, but notice if you will similar journeys of your own, where you have opened yourself up for new experiences. Going on holiday is a favourite [although if you’re a worrier like me, you may have packed everything but the kitchen sink!] Think of a time when you took things as they came, tried out some new stuff and went with the flow: that’s the kind of headspace to employ if you’re leading a creative journey.
More on what all the phases involve soon!
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!
My Tip this week: get your groups arguing. Read on and you’ll see why.
If you have a set of alternatives to evaluate its likely there are two main question you’ll want to answer: which is strongest and why?
There are any number of ways in which one thing may be stronger than others, but we know that liking is a key attribute of preferences that lead to purchase. In many years of market testing Unilever have established this attribute’s importance. They have also shown that ‘likelihood to purchase’ is strongly correlated with buying in the real world – so you want to ask your respondents: ‘which do you like best?’ and ‘which would prompt you to buy?’ Of course you’ll do this in the words that work best for you but my advice is to keep it simple!
Next we come to the question of ‘why?’ If yours is a qualitative project, almost certainly some degree of diagnostics will be expected of you. Here the science and the state of our knowledge suggests that our respondents are much less likely to know why they chose one thing over another than they think!
Of the ten seminal papers on this site, 1,2 6 & 7 are relevant to this issue of awareness of our own ‘reasons’.
So, what should we do? The answer to this kind of methodological question is often to be found by questioning your own daily practices. How do you and your family reach decisions about prefrences in daily life? In my family it is almost always by discussion and argument, in which one side (even if only one side of your own mind!) presents its arguments against the other and they battle it out. We try to stop short of outright fights!
In my experience modern focus groups might do a bit of discussing – if there’s time, – but almost never any argument. This is for two main reasons:
1. There is a fear of argument and dissent in groups – that this activity would make the respondents uncomfortable – and more importantly, might make the moderator and the clients uncomfortable too.
2. Rhetoric, or the skill of argument is unfashionable in this empirical age. We are not taught how to argue in a civilised manner – and thus argument often appears uncivilised!
This is where Breakthrough Psychology comes in handy. One of the key techniques of abnorming (the founding principle of Breakthrough psychology), is called the Flip. To do it you just flip what is normally done on its head and do the opposite. So, if most groups don’t argue, we must find a way to use argument – and everyday life is actually packed full of it – in our groups or interviews.
How do you do that? My experience suggests that making it into a game is the best way. To do this you divide your group up into 3 teams, two trios and a pair (for a standard 8 member group – vary numbers if you have different size groups). Each trio chooses a different route from those you are evaluating and has five minutes to come up with a ‘pitch’ to the other group members on why this route works best for them. The pitch must be no longer than a couple of minutes. Then, once the first trio has done its pitch, the second trio goes on, pitching another preferred route using their arguments.
The point of this is that in order to ‘pitch’ something, people have to grapple with the original, turn it into their own words, extract what is of value from it and also what it means to them. It is these two elements meaning and value that will give you the best diagnostics. They also have to practice condensation, another crucial ingredient of evaluation work – forcing us to summarise virtues.
The remaining pair + the moderator form an audience and create a score out of ten for each pitch. That score can be linked to some attribute if you wish, like true to the brand, strength of appeal, whatever your client is trying to understand about the value of the routes. Or they can just comment on their experience of the pitches without scoring if you prefer. I recommend getting the scores!
Whether you end up focusing on one preferred route or more in your report/analysis is up to you and shaped by your brief.
Try this out in your next focus groups or post a comment with any questions you have and I will try to answer them.
The first thing to say is thank God for the extra holiday – and you don’t need to feel obliged for a moment to watch the wedding – they’re paying for it with your money anyway.
Next, what’s the key ‘sub‘ or ‘covert‘ text to look out for? Well here’s my take on that: the BBC in particular will be very keen to stress the links with us ‘common’ people. The key to this connection is the ‘People’s Princess’ with which Blair dubbed Diana, so links back to Diana may be frequent in the commentary. Comparisons of dress, style, comportment will all be made – and I suspect there will be frequent references to ‘that ring‘ – you know the blue sapphire that was Diana’s ring. This object, the ring, has connections to Diana, reinforces her ‘genes’ in Will and touches Kate through enrolling her in the Diana side to the Royals. If the Winsdors are smart they will encourage this, though I don’t expect any ‘touchy feely’ behaviour from them. They will look as well-turned out and wooden as they always do on such occasions.
ITV may focus more on the stuff, the kit, the carriages, the horses, the dresses – and hopefully tell us what is going through Kate’s mind as she goes through the day. ITV will also pick out Kate’s family/relations/ex-boyfriends, playing the Soap card. One channel or another will have invited a friend/relative of Kate’s into the studio or on video link.
The next thing will be the repeated reference to the modernity (i.e. common touch & informality) of the couple. Everyone knows the Windsors are out of touch and driven by protocol, so we will be assured that the incoming king and his ‘commoner’ bride will put all that to rights. Not sure about this myself – he looks more and more like Charles every time I see him! I wish him well in this endeavour.
For these reasons, I don’t think her dress will have a long train. That would suggest too much that she is being ‘entrained’ into the establishment – but this detail may have escaped their notice in the clamour for glamour and it will be an unconscious acknowledgment of her ‘entrainment’ if she shows up with a tail 100ft long as Diana did. She will either have no train or a short one if she’s smart.
Next, watch out for the ‘you may kiss the bride’ moment. This will be the first real possibility for informality and to notice how they contact/hold/each other. Will they have such a kiss? Will it be a ‘royal peck’ or the intimacy of two love-birds, happily released into each other for a few seconds? This is a key moment: you may glean a lot about the courage of the couple to be themselves (or not) with the world’s eyes on them from this exchange. It may have been written out of the proceedings altogether as potentially too clumsy, revealing, damaging of composure. We will see!
There will be quite a lot of shots and commentary on the audience. BBC will focus more on the formal representatives of states, institutions, charities etc. while ITV will notice the TV stars and celebrities. Let’s hope for at least one comic costume – a jester – to liven things up. Could be Elton, if he’s been invited, though David Beckham often sports a good line in high camp collars or cummerbunds. I think Posh will look demure.
What about you folks?