According to legend, the Buddha was born Siddharta Guatama, the son of a King in a palace in the foothills of the Himalayas. Like Oedipus his destiny had been foretold – that he would become either a powerful king or a holy man. Like parents throughout the ages, his parents opted for the safe job with plenty of status and so they devoted their lives to making sure he would come to love privilege. They made his life a luxurious prison, pampering him with finery and keeping him inside a world of ostentatious luxury where every whim was satisfied…
It was only at the age of 29 that he ventured outside where he saw what have become known in Buddhist lore as the ‘Four Sights’ – an old man, a sick man, a corpse and a wandering monk. The first three symbolized the inevitability of impermanance, and the three fates awaiting us all. Siddharta was shocked into abandoning his complacency and becoming the fourth sight, a wandering monk. It was some years later that he achieved enlightenment (waking up) after spending the night sitting beneath a tree. He became thereafter Buddha – the one who woke up – but it was the four initial sights that awoke his understanding of impermanence.
Thus Buddhism’s path to serenity began with a confrontation with the negative and the choice whether to avoid it and return to the palace of pleasures or to embrace it and walk through the world thus equipped, albeit with few luxuries & less delusions.
We can see that once again the path that produces serenity involves seeing reality in all its aspects and not running away. He who became Buddha literally stepped outside into the ‘No-go’ areas that his parents tried to shield him from – and there he found enlightenment.
We have discovered on our work on Creativity that No-Go areas are often the most fruitful places to find insight – partly because no-one has bothered to look there before!
What are your No-Go areas and how might you fare if you explored them? There are lots of safe and interesting ways of doing this…
*See Oliver Burkeman, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking
I’ve tried for years to explain the idea that resistance ensures persistence. I am indebted to the brilliant Oliver Burkeman* for bringing to my attention two important stories that demonstrate this idea. Both are founding myths of world culture. I will start with the Oedipus tale.
The essence of the story is that when Oedipus is born to the King and Queen of Thebes his horrible fate – that he will kill one parent and marry the other – has already been foretold by an oracle. His mother and father, desperate to avoid this fate, persuade a local shepherd to take the newborn and kill him. The shepherd cannot bring himself to abandon the child and passes him to another instead. The child lives and subsequently becomes the adoptive son of the King and Queen of Corinth. When Oedipus confronts them some time later with the rumour that he is adopted they deny it…and so when he hears of the oracle’s terrible forecast, he believes that they are the parents to whom it refers. Deciding to escape the curse, he puts as much distance between himself and his ‘false’ parents as he can.
Unfortunately the place to which he flees is Thebes and his terrible fate takes over: he becomes involved in an argument over a chariot and kills its occupant, who turns out to have been his father. Then he falls in love with and marries his mother, who on learning of the truth, commits suicide, leaving Oedipus to blind himself in despair…
The relevance of this tale to our daily lives was, I believe, hijacked by Freud’s insistence that it related to boy’s desire to have sex with their mothers. And although there is important insight in this interpretation, the story has a more central significance than that.
It tells us that if we try to run away from our deepest fears, they may arrive again in front of us as a result of our attempts to outmanoeuvre them. Indeed, our very dodging may ensure that we end up producing the result we dread.
The moral of the tale? Make friends with your demons, they are only aspects of your imagination and if you try to resist them, they will persist.
In next post our second story, that of Siddharta Guatama, who became the Buddha [‘the one who woke up’] we will see that attempts to make certain aspects of life ‘no-go’ areas that you do not have to face is similarly futile…
*See Oliver Burkeman, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking
The photo is of Kelly Hicks, Social Worker of the Year. I post it because Kelly, based in Darlington, recently sponsored Nicky’s Talk for Health among service users in her community. The programme was so successful that Kelly and her colleagues are determined to install TfH as a permanent feature of their work in supporting recovery from mental illness.
Groundbreakers are all too few in these times when most of us spend at least part of our day mentally under the duvet, hoping that the troubles will leave us unscathed.
Both Nicky and Kelly refuse to be hushed in their dedication to pointing out that all of us face mental disturbance at some times in our lives – and few of us really work through these problems without a friend, confidante or helper.
I commend Talk for Health to you as a serious option for anyone who wants to get more out of life. See it here: http://www.positive-therapy.co.uk/
Click on the Thumbnail to see the film.
Doubts about qualitative research in its traditional forms continue to gather pace. Here, in a cutely executed piece Coca Cola take a swipe at traditional processes – among them qualitative research. If you look more closely though, it is a particular form of qual that they criticise, namely “qualitative testing of scripts, an increasingly outmoded and irrelevant tool.”
Some colleagues have reacted nervously to this, perhaps wondering if it’s another brick in the growing wall of doubt about the usefulness and validity of our practices.
However, if you carry on, a few seconds later, you’ll hear enthusiastic avocation of a qualitative technique that can be used to ‘expand the creative potential’ in idea development. This turns out to be collaborative workshops with consumers, a qualitative experience if ever there was one, and is based in Coke’s idea that ‘consumers produce more brand stories than we (Coca Cola) do, so let’s move towards genuine consumer collaboration.’
This is co-creation if ever I heard it, and whether you carry it out online or via workshops is a choice. There are distinct advantages and drawbacks to both routes. In my recent paper, I define qualitative research as the study of subjective experience, it is not – and never has been in my view – a method for establishing likes and dislikes or eliciting opinions about material that consumers have no stake in. This kind of script testing work arose in the first place as big organisations back in the 80′s and 90′s established their own marketing departments and needed a handy tool to hold their ad agencies in check and provide fuel and ammunition for discussing agency recommendations with the consumer’s voice included. As I tell in the paper, this quickly became an industry standard practice and for many years many quallies lived off it, myself included. But we have found out since that it is of questionable validity and many of us have changed our methods.
We started co-creating in 1991 to resolve just this methodological issue. Glad to see Coca Cola catching up at last!
For what its worth, my own view of this film is that using a visualiser to tell a story is fine, but this story is far too processy, full of detail and jargon such that at the end the table of ‘tools’ being recommended looks overloaded and extremely crowded. I suspect its like that in real life as each of the techniques and their proponents struggle for supremacy.
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!
I have always tried to build bridges between the best of empirical studies and what I notice in the world. If you have followed this site you will have noticed my concern about the effects of inequality on our society – and on each of us individually.
This week’s post introduces you to the growing evidence that there is a problem for all of us when a minority are so much richer than the rest of us.
The idea that money changes people for the worse has been around for a long time. From Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, to Gordon Gecko in Wall Street, we see people who have become indifferent – even contemptuous – towards others as they amass their personal fortunes.
Are these just clichés and stereotypes? What is the truth behind these ideas? In experiments at the University of California, Berkeley, Keltner and Kraus measured the signs of interest and warmth shown by 100 volunteers towards each other. The poorer subjects were more likely to use warmer language, postures and gestures that signal engagement, whereas the richer participants were more stand-offish [Psychological Science Vol 20, p 99].
This relationship between wealth and appreciation of others was confirmed by another experiment where people were asked to rate the emotions expressed in 20 photos of human faces – a standard test of emotional intelligence. Those with the most prestigious jobs were consistently worse at the task. [Psychological Science, Vol 21]
These differences were fluid in the sense that when asked to imagine a conversation with someone higher up the social ladder than themselves, the wealthier participants became immediately better at reading emotions. The researchers concluded that our automatic reactions become immediately more vigilant and mindful of others when we feel subordinate.
These findings, of course explain why the Posh Boys running our country were so indifferent to the plight of their subordinates (us!) until the polls started to show that their popularity was declining steeply – suddenly, their status as our leaders was threatened. Why would we vote for people who don’t care about us?
For the next weeks we can expect ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ to re-emerge through a series of photo-ops with less fortunate folk, NHS staff (to dampen the furore over regional differences in pay for public servants), and Grannies (to offset fury about the stealthy cap on pensions).
There is more local evidence of the growing unpopularity of the wealthy in this study by Rosie Campbell and Phil Cowley , reported here: http://www.yougov.polis.cam.ac.uk/?p=3042
And the Who picture? The seminal track ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ is here, set against images from the growing unrest. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acqQDD3A5CQ&feature=fvst
In these clips, we see the Occupy movement, but see last night’s Newsnight as the fragmentation and unrest spreads to France, Netherlands (whose Government collapsed yesterday over disagreement on austerity measures) and Greece, where an election threatens to unseat the austerity coalition. Meanwhile Spain approaches crisis.
I pinched this image from yesterday’s Observer. It shows a palette of sugary drinks being taken into the Aquatic Centre at the Olympic complex. As I predicted on this site months ago the furore over the role of sugar and regulation is just beginning: http://bit.ly/HKGVX6
There is even more cause for concern if you dig into Robert Lustig’s research, reported in the Sunday Telegraph. Titled, The Bitter Truth About Sugar, Lustig makes a strong case for treating sugar as a harmful substance. http://tgr.ph/IN4157
My interest here is that ever since we started doing Breakthrough work in the 1990′s we have noticed the effects of sugar – or lack of sugar on performance and mood. The difference between people on a sugar rush and those coming down from one is enormous. When you look at the sugar equivalent in Coca Cola for example, you get an interesting take on just how much sugar there is in this kind of stuff:
Even a can of coke is 10 sugar cubes. When else would you quaff ten sugar cubes? I can’t go into it in that much depth in a blog post, but Robert Lustig can. Get up to date on this subject, it will be a headline for the next ten years. Here is his extended lecture on YouTube:
We need stronger action and regulation from our politicians. This stuff is dangerous and particularly appealing to children.
Here is a link to a lovely site put together by someone who is active in the area of trying to normalise mental illness and get us away from the medical model. The site is built around the idea of mental wellness – and I believe this is a growing and necessary reframing of views about mental events that will provide a huge benefit both to sufferers and to all of us. It will help make us all less afraid of each other and of difference.
The site also provides a powerful endorsement of Nicky’s Talk for Health (click on the image on his front page), with the authenticity of someone who is prepared to discuss weaknesses as well as strengths, a key piece of feedback for anyone trying to make something better than the stuff we already have. Great work Martin!
An extraordinary account of the sinking of the Costa Concordia on Channel 4 last night. The whole story was told through videos taken on smartphones by those on board. I have never seen anything quite so completely a ‘personal digital record’ of an event. No voice overs, no patronising explanations of what the front/back/sides of a ship were – or what hitting a rock meant! And no summing up by experts or the usual pundits,
There is an opportunity for a transformation in reporting the world here, with Channels performing the role of aggregators rather than editors showing you things from their perspective.
It would be fantastic to have such an account of the war in Syria – potentially with personal clips from all sides/perspectives in the conflict. What seemed a breakthrough in last night’s hour-long programme was the addition of sound: those capturing the events captured both the voices of others and a sound picture of panic and uncertainty – and on occasion added their own questions or comments to the pictures. We came to know several of those on board through their footage and it created a new kind of identification, a story through multiple eyes that I haven’t seen before.
It even completed the tale by showing some clips of survivors back at home, reliving their experiences and reflecting on them. As one dad tried to euphemise the events and minimise trauma to his kids, he called it ‘an adventure’. His young daughter quicky corrected him: “Dad! It was a misadventure…”
Captivating television brought to us by the people who were there.
Although we can agree sympathetically with Einstein’s thought about the primacy afforded to reason, the truth is actually different. As Kahneman points out, 95% of what we do, say, think is actually generated pretty much automatically – out of an amalgam of sensory experience, past experience, affect (emotion) and intention. Kahneman calls this System 1 thinking – automatic, instantaneous and everyday. It has little capacity to weigh up evidence or to balance alternatives. Thus automatic responses, driven by affect, do rule the day – and hence it is extremely difficult to reason anybody out of an opinion or decision that they did not arrive at by reason in the first place.
“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.
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.
The best early film we made summarising the methods and aims of our co-creation process, called Big Talk. Big Talks were done during the 1990′s by British Airways (6), BUPA (2), Singapore Airlines (3), Holiday Inn (3), Guinness (2), Gallaher (1), Visa (1) among others.
In this film you can see both the methods of co-creation at work and hear from the Marketing team what they were hoping to achieve.
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
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.
[For those who would like to study this picture more closely, if you click the graph above and then click the graph once more in the window that opens you will get an expanded version.]
Thank you, to the more than one hundred of you who have read my post on the riots and my view of where they come from. I feel honoured that you took the time and trouble and hope that the post was interesting. Like everyone else I was horrified by the level of violence during the riots and accept that those who committed acts of violence & arson, including the killing of 5 innocent people must be punished fully as they would be in normal circumstances. Yet I can’t help but think that what we saw last week can’t be explained by Cameron’s labels of criminality, thuggery, gang culture, poor parenting and lack of values.
Whenever you explain the anti-social behaviour of the poor in empathetic terms you risk being branded a socialist or a liberal – labels that should be compliments, but have been turned into insults in our era. [Socialism by association with the failed communal policies of Soviet Communism, and liberalism by association with tree-hugging and simple mindedness.] These biases alone demonstrate what a hold right-wing rhetoric with its talk of crackdowns, rubber bullets and the harshest sentences the law allow, has on our daily discourse. Meanwhile those knights of the realm Sir Philip Green and Sir Richard Branson – and a whole range of MP’s – take as much as they can and threaten to move their businesses off-shore should anyone ask them to contribute more.
My observations and analysis are, however, as far as I can make them empirically backed. Using the best data I can find – particularly that compiled by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in the Spirit Level, and extended by the eminent historian Tony Judt in his last book, ‘Ill Fares the Land’ – I have been convinced that the growing inequality in incomes in our society are driving much of our dysfunction and unrest. You will see from the graph above that the UK, just behind the US and Portugal had the third highest income inequality in the developed countries, a staggering fact in itself!
This state of affairs leads inexorably to an unfair society: one where bankers can pocket bonuses of millions for their speculations and where any stock-holder can receive dividends from shares of companies, the work of which he has not put a hand to – and may not even know what that work is.
It was not always like this. As Tony Judt points out: “From the late 19th century until the 1970′s, the advanced societies of the West were all becoming less unequal. Thanks to progressive taxation, government subsidies for the poor, the provision of social services and guarantees against acute misfortune (currently in force as compensation schemes for victims of the riots!), modern democracies were shedding extremes of wealth and poverty….Over the past thirty years we have thrown all this away. To be sure, ‘we’ varies with country. The greatest extremes of private privilege and public indifference have resurfaced in the US and the UK: epicentres of enthusiasm for deregulated market capitalism.
The UK is more unequal in incomes, wealth, health, education and life chances than at any time since the 1920′s. There are more poor children in the UK than in any other country of the European Union. Since 1973, inequality in take-home pay increased more in the UK than anywhere except the US. The consequences are clear. There has been a collapse in intergenerational mobility. The poor stay poor. Economic disadvantage translates into ill-health, missed educational opportunity and increasingly the familiar symptoms of depression, alchoholism, obesity and minor criminality.” (my italics)
Is it any wonder that at this time we are experiencing a growing feeling of tension and outbursts of discontent and unrest?
Watching the original film ‘Wall Street’ it is chilling how far we have come since 1987 along the road to celebrating the dissolution of the state and the supremacy of private enterprise. The words ‘public services’ have a derogatory ring to them: we suspect that such services will be inefficient, mildly or openly disrespectful, bureaucratic and slow. There is a palpable feeling of envy that public servants, alone of all of us, have maintained pension entitlements. Thirty years ago we all had them. We have come to despise our schools – the very engines of our social mobility – and are scornful of our own institutions; the very institutions that helped lift the masses out of poverty and lack of identity.
In their place our heroes have become CEO’s (now earning 900 times more than their average worker), entrepreneurs and the rag-tag celebrities of movies and TV shows. We secretly envy their lives, peering at them through the press and TV, while rejoicing in their misfortunes, perhaps because they mirror our own. We fail to notice the difference, that when you are worth a few millions or so misfortune is a very different animal than when you have £200 between you and eviction, or when you have nothing at all except hand-outs.
We also fail to notice that the dominant characteristics of our new heroes are narcissism and selfishness. None – or very few of them – can ever get enough. Rather than acting as a lesson to the rest of us, the failure of acquisitions and money to produce happiness and repose does little to dispel the myth that riches will make everything OK. We have replaced our focus on building community, even a nation, with stashing the cash, flashing the card, collecting hoards of stuff and hoping to win the lottery.
It is tragi-comic that hundreds of youngsters were willing to risk imprisonment for an Adidas tracksuit or a pair of Nike trainers. Even the boldest could think of little better to steal than a 42″ flatscreen TV. Perhaps these images should inspire our pity as much as our hatred. I cannot think of a more frightening wake-up call, a more chilling end to the excitement than the battering of the ram through the door of your council flat at six in the morning. Not one but twenty police, clothed in helmets and riot gear pour into your home and seize the glorious track suit, cuff you and lead you off to the cells. You are denied bail, remanded in custody even though you have no record – and the magistrate sends your case to the crown courts because he can give no longer than a six month sentence. You don’t even get to keep the track suit.
And because we were afraid, a great many of us cheer your draconian punishment. You deserve it, you are scum – just as you always feared. Within moments last week some of my liberal chums were tweeting for tanks and live rounds to be used on the streets. And the way back from a night when you surrendered your reason to the thrill of the mob? There is no way back for most of you. Social services have been underfunded for years and are virtually dismantled with vacant unfilled posts in every department. No employer will look at you now. You will even have to listen to people say that you got off lightly.
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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!
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:
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.
In 2003, working for my good friend Joseph Debacq, we were both somewhat terrified of Joseph’s boss at Singapore Airlines, the formidable Yap Kim Wah!
Mr Yap, as he was known, had many qualities which led to him being feared and respected among us juniors and I remember him at one encounter saying to us all: “you don’t get what you expect, you get what you inspect!” He was referring to the need for constant vigilance by senior management on board the aircraft – checking the loos for cleanliness and that the cabin and aircrew were making their rounds and keeping to their agreed pattern of service, announcements and contact with passengers. I had not realised that Singapore Airline’s terrific service was in part a result of serious, consistent monitoring. I had bought the wishful dream planted by the advertising that Singapore girl was an exceptional, beautiful handmaiden who, secretly, could not resist my charms! My illusions were shattered as insight dawned!
It has become fashionable to mock inspections – especially those by Health & Safety Inspectors as the interference of busy-bodying bureaucrats – blamed for banning conker games at school, running in the playground and driving your fork-lift truck at more than 5mph.
A journalist I admire, Johann Hari in the Independent – who fights a lone battle against the cuts and their undermining of basic protections for working people – puts it much better than I can:
I think Mr Yap might agree! What do you think? It would be great to get views from my readers outside and in the UK. While you’re watching ‘that’ wedding, go to your computer and post!
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?
Each of the layers of Freud’s three-part system is derived from different sources.
The Id is the container of biological and species history – embodied in our instincts: a ‘seething cauldron’ as it has been called. It is the energy that makes you want to push someone out of the way if you are hungry or thirsty, acquire status if you are envious or to be drawn to make love to an irresistible other.
This system is in conflict with the superego – a repository of social rules, inhibitions & permissions – also derived from previous generations and taught through parents, custom and norms. It is this system that warns you to keep off the grass, drive on the left, be polite & not to grab that irresistible other without permission!
The ego is the mediator and moderator, the container of contemporary experiences – though not a holder of them (it is made up of moments of ‘now’). It is a referee but not a player in the internal drama. The ego is only a player in the sense of manipulating (or trying to) the external world in service of the internal.
So human beings are the arena in which two powerful, awesome armies confront each other, with the ego, powerless to limit their energies, engaged in a damage limitation exercise. In the picture we see a hapless ego overlooking the conflict between a beast and a highly compliant, well-ordered automaton.
For our work, the key issue here – and the reason why I focus so much on disinhibition, play, non-verbal exercises, empathic emotional connection & allowing the internal to express itself in my own practice – is that while the external world is important, it is always subordinate to the internal. And people almost certainly will not tell you this, especially if the internal desires are selfish, greedy, power-orientated, highly competitive, sexual or bizarre. Given this perspective it is easy to see why ‘reportage’ – just telling your client what they said – can so often be the booby prize!
In the focus group or interview the ego struggles to limit the damage that might be caused if the real motives were to be revealed. It tones down what might be a seething desire into something more socially acceptable or placates an overbearing superego with a veneer of polite attentiveness. In so doing it maintains form but destroys content – and is much more driven by the ego needs of the current situation to keep the awesome armies out of sight in the group or interview than by any hope, desire, longing or fear arising from the topic of discussion.
‘Internal perceptions are more primordial, more elementary, …[they have] greater economic significance’ (Freud 1923, p22, adapted from Dalal, 1998]
That’s really the key concern for us all. According to Freud, the internal world or sense of things has greater economic significance in individual’s behavior than the external. If we don’t get in touch with it, we fail to appreciate its influence; we are likely to end up with an erroneous picture of what people are up to!
We set out on the Easter weekend with high hopes. We had no idea that Staycationing (taking a holiday in the UK for overseas readers) would prove such a dire experience. What happened? What went wrong?
To be honest we had become so used to holidaying in Italy that we had forgotten about the English and the Rules of Englishness. Why does this matter? Well first we need to remind ourselves of Kate Fox’s brilliant summary of these rules in her book, ‘Watching the English’ (2004):
The key thing to remember is the quality of ‘social unease’ that clings to the English when they are thrown together – whether amongst familiars or strangers.
It’s hard not to feel awkward in English company. If you look at the diagram you’ll see at the centre that ‘awkward’ is the way you’re expected to feel. So the first experience we had, on meeting our Bed &Breakfast hosts – who were perfectly nice – was a feeling of timidity, awkwardness and the need to pretend to be comfortable, even though the accommodation was far from uplifting: small poky spaces, kettles and electric points that didn’t work, a barren and utilitarian character that didn’t invite warmth or conviviality.
Even that was not fundamentally the issue: the point is that once under the thrall of awkwardness there is little opportunity or invitation to establish the boundaries of the deal. Were we invited/allowed to walk/sit in their garden? Did the eggs on sale in the porch apply to us – or were ours free, and if so, how many? They made us a fresh loaf which was nice, but we are currently not eating wheat/grains, so the loaf was useless. They didn’t ask us what, if anything we would like to make our stay more pleasant! We were left feeling constantly on edge.
This is a real problem with what I’ll call civilian as opposed to professional service. Ordinary folk trying to serve strangers tend to imagine what they would like in similar circumstances, do that for you and call it service. As a recipient you are left, having to resort to moderation, humour and pretending to like what has been done to you (rather than for you).
Inevitably you feel hacked off and resort to complaining the minute your hosts’ backs are turned. Oh to have been Americans who would have helped themselves to all the eggs, tramped all over the garden with their cameras, while lobbing a twangy “Where’re y’all from?” at their hosts. Perhaps in another lifetime!
It’s not very often that your work gets used directly at a National Level. Here is one rare example. In 2004/5 we were asked to help Tony Blair, who due to the Iraq & his relationship with Bush had become disconnected from the British people – and most particularly female voters.
Using two-chair work in focus groups we were able to uncover the nature and source of women’s hostility and what might turn it around. Several weeks later, as part of the reconnection strategy TB uses a speech in Gateshead, seven weeks before the 2005 election to initiate a shift from his Professional/Public level of relationship to the Personal, likening the bad feeling towards him to a domestic squabble. We had advised him on the Relationship Triangle and its power in a debrief a few days earlier.
Whether it worked or not is up to you to decide. But his party’s support did increase by as much as 8% in the next six weeks running up to the election. Nearly all of that increase was with female voters.
This must be the guy the Monkees wrote the song for. Just finished a debrief on the 1960′s after a workshop full of people who were teenagers in that decade – myself included!
What a romantic, hedonistic bubble we all lived in – somehow believing that because a song had the word Revolution in the title or Give Peace a Chance in the lyric that it would change the world!
Yet, in spite of all the hubris and delusion, many people would agree that there has hardly been such a rich vein of creativity and originality in pop music before or since. In fact its the music that has survived as a the most vivid record of those times.
It was in the area of structure that we favoured the idea of co-creation and developed the principles and techniques for abnorming. I had long believed that people’s potential was determined more by the circumstances they found themselves in and their pathway towards those circumstances than by their innate creativity or intelligence. I don’t believe that either of these two capabilities, much favoured by experts & elites are fixed qualities that have been doled out in rations between us! There are just too many examples of people accomplishing exceptional things (often in exceptional circumstances) for any other explanation to make sense. Not just exceptional good things either: if you read the coverage about the policeman who ‘truncheoned’ Ian Tomlinson to the ground, you’ll find his creative interpretation of Mr Tomlinson’s ‘aggressive behaviour’ quite imaginative and his mixing of ‘towards’ with ‘away from’ equally inventive. The policeman said under oath that Tomlinson was approaching the police line aggressively, while the video shows him walking away.
I suspect too, that in the Courts of Justice there is an epidemic of everyday lying that illustrates huge resources of creativity and confabulation available to the ordinary man when the chips are down!
I will return to the damning ideas of special talents, elites and ‘gifted’ people again as I discuss our experiences of Breakthrough Zones in future posts.
We must also take up the topic of everyday lying and distortion so well demonstrated by this video and the policeman’s story. What if lying – or at least confabulation (making up explanations/rationalisations on the spur of the moment) – is the standard procedure in ordinary focus groups and interviews? Surely that means that for many clients getting the ‘reportage’ of what was said in the session is the booby prize!
To return to our theme: how could we create the sort of circumstances in which accomplishing the exceptional became the norm?
From years of brainstorming and facilitating new ideas sessions, I had discovered the faults of brainstorming methods: I found myself in agreement with the synopsis given by Keith Sawyer in his excellent, ‘Group Genius’. Here Keith outlines the three reasons why brainstorming groups are less creative than impromptu groups (called Nominal Groups in the classic Osborn study):
- Social Inhibition
- Production Blocking
- Social Loafing
I will return to each of these – and what you can do about them in the Tips section. In summary, you may be starting to gather that I think that many of the conventional ideas about human beings and what happens to them when they get together are simply wrong. To test the validity of any widely promoted idea (like intelligence, talent, expertise) you need to consider who benefits most from these ideas, allow for the experimenter effect and include the value of the ideas in maintaining the status quo. Each of these three ideas appear to limit the potential for the rest of us when compared to the best of us. We can thank reality TV for beginning the process of dismantling these shibboleths.
Have a lovely weekend!
Over the next year its my intention to publish 100 tips that I have found useful in the practice of qualitative research, co-creation and depth work of all types. I think we are lacking a forum for sharing the intimate tools of our trade – including all the frustrations, disappointments and difficulties we meet along the way. I hope that others from our professional community might join in the conversation – posting if they will not only reactions to my suggestions but also good ideas of their own.
As early as 1988, I promised I would get off the road, give up the nights spent in unfamiliar homes, viewing rooms, hotels and in the company of strangers. Yet in spite of efforts to change direction, modify my practice and do it differently, I have come back to trying to understand what makes people tick (and hence what makes me the person I am!) over and over again. This is the central journey of my life, and I have spent my career pursuing it. Apart from the mysteries surrounding my own childhood, if I look back for the source of this fascination I can recall a childhood passion for detective stories and trying to figure out who was the culprit, the motive and the plot. Sherlock Holmes was a hero of my youth! There are other more intimate sources to this story and, perhaps, if I find a curious audience I will recount them in more detail.
It is, I believe, important for practitioners to know why they are in the room with others, engaged on journeys of discovery, for if the motive is only money it will get tougher and tougher to endure the double-day working (daytime + evening), the endless travel and hotels, the tension of being ‘viewed’ by clients, critics and peers and the effort to make an intervention that goes beyond reportage.
This last is a key point: if we are merely to report what people said, you can see that the days of truly interactive, face-to-face qualitative are numbered, for why should we not just collect people’s opinions gathered in a ‘room’ online? I am a big fan of online qual work – especially done in the community style – but nothing can match the face-to-face encounter for the skills of building empathy and permission to dive beneath the superficial to explore what lies beneath.
I will publish the first of the 100 tips next week.
Although I am the storyteller, the story is not mine alone. It is born from the thousands of people who have given me their time, their opinions and their feelings across 29 countries in nearly 40 years – on topics ranging from toothpaste to athlete’s foot, from tax dodging to thoughts of dying.
Without them, I could not have honed my craft, such as it is, and I would not have had the privilege of watching them uncover insight and the impact it had upon them.
From windy wet nights in Northern Cities, to sunny days in Singapore and Sydney I have gigged again and again. I have never missed a group or an interview, although I once was swept off my feet by the power of the wind in a snowstorm in Edinburgh, carrying an art-bag which acted as a sail to lift me into the air. Another time I left the results on the train and cowered for days wondering whether to come clean or hightail it to the badlands. One night in Bristol I listened to a woman tell a rapt group her recipe for roast Badger. I hope you don’t want it; I have forgotten everything except the unusual fact that it contained Flora margarine – the proper subject of the discussion.
This is my first blog and the very first post. Over the coming weeks I will do my best to share with you what I have learned in all those years and hope you will join me in talking about these matters, sharing your own tips or advice and creating a community among those of us who form the frontline of the insight business.
Every week I will post a new video, talking about some of the topics that matter most to me. I will also accompany these with pdfs of the text and slides so that you can use them for study or in projects or contact me about them if you want to. Nearly all of this is original material as far as I know.
Each week will follow a similar structure. I’ll tell you more about that soon. I hope you enjoy the Blog and look forward to hearing from you…