Adam Churchill: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of the SpoolCast. Seductive interactions take us to a new level in design. They leverage the latest advancements in social science, psychology, and behavioral economics.
Earlier this fall, in his UIE virtual seminar, Stephen Anderson showed us specific examples of sites who've designed serendipity, arousal, rewards, and other seductive elements into their applications, especially during the post-sign-up period, when it's so easy to lose people. He also demonstrated how to engage your users through a process of playful discovery, which is vital, whether you make consumer applications or design for the corporate environment. He's graciously offered to come back and tackle some of the questions that we didn't get to address in the seminar, as well as some things that he's been thinking about that he wanted to share with us.
Hi, Stephen. Welcome back.
Stephen Anderson: Hi, I'm glad to be back. Thanks for having me.
Adam: Now, folks who didn't get to listen to your virtual seminar can still get at it in UIE's User Experience Training Library. There's over 50 recorded seminars from experts just like Stephen Anderson. Stephen, for those listening who weren't with us for your virtual seminar, can you give us an overview?
Stephen: Yeah, I can. Before I do that, a little background, so you can understand where I'm coming from on this whole topic when I talk about seductive interaction design. I went over this in the virtual seminar.
I was working, in 2008, at a startup and also doing a big project for a retail company. And in both of those I saw the same problem, where you spend a lot of time building a great application, a great experience. You run it through testing. You do all these things. And then you push it out, live, for people to start using, and there's just no adoption. People just don't use this.
And I see this as a big problem for startups, getting people just to try and spend more than 10, 20, 30 seconds with their service. And I see this as a problem with enterprise apps or software apps where you need people to really use it for a little bit of time to meet business goals. You need to get more than 10 percent of your employees using the software. Or if it's something you're pushing to the public, you need people to use it to see the value and maybe switch from whatever they're using currently.
And so that's where I really started focusing more on, the sites that are doing a good job, the applications that are doing a great job at getting people to engage and just have fun in the process and learn more about value that their service can bring.
So, that led me to look at a lot of ideas from psychology and a lot of ideas from gaming and game mechanics. It led me to look a little bit more at neuroscience, looking at the brain and how we make decisions. Also, fields like behavioral economics, how we make decisions, how things are framed. And I started looking at all these fields that have to do with human behavior and asking myself, what do we know here that can be applied back to web applications, software design, websites, things related to interaction design and such - basically, what I talked about in the virtual seminar.
I spent about two-thirds of time talking about some of the playful, fun things, like using curiosity, humor, delighters in your websites. And I spent the final third shifting and talking about the subtle art of seduction. And we talked about things like commitment and consistency, getting people to make some small commitment or take that smaller step and how that can encourage people to follow through, or things like sequencing. And I mentioned, if any of you out there are parents, you use sequencing already. It's the idea of breaking down a task into smaller, easy steps. And as parents, we do that with toddlers, with young kids. We don't tell them to go get ready for bed. We actually have to break it down and say, "Brush your teeth. Get your pajamas on. Get in bed." We actually break it down.
So, we talked about things like that. Also, peeled back the layers on why games like Foursquare work. We talked about mayorship, and it's really not so much about mayorship as it is ownership bias or loss aversion. So, mayorship really doesn't mean much until it's threatened, until you lose it, and then people will go out of their way to go back and reclaim mayorship.
That's a quick peek at the kinds of things we talked about. Of course, my focus is always on applications and lots of ideas and examples so that people walk away with things they can use on their own projects. So, there were plenty of examples, from companies like MailChimp, iLike, Foursquare that I mentioned, and dozens of others.
How's that? Was that a good summary?
Adam: That was a great summary, and there were lots of good examples. I know the one that really caught my attention was the music site that you used and how it got you to pare down what your particular likings were. I thought that was very interesting.
Stephen: Yeah. The iLike registration process?
Adam: Right. So, one of the things that came up in the seminar, and our attendees wanted to know more about them and they wanted to know how to get them, is your Mental Notes card set. Can you tell our podcast audience a little bit more about those and, most importantly, how they can get their hands on them?
Stephen: I'd love to. Yeah. So, the Mental Notes card set, that's really a product I created to share all these ideas I was collecting with everyone else, everyone out there. And what had happened was, as I was reading all these books and going through all my research, I started keeping all these index cards, and each index card was a single idea. So, I'd have things like framing or social proof or scarcity, all these ideas.
And how I started using these was I would begin a project, be in the middle of a project, where, really, you're just focused on meeting the deadline, getting things done, and all those wonderful ideas in the kickoff meeting have fallen to the wayside. And I would pull out some of these index cards, and they were a good, easy, quick reminder of some of these really neat ideas from psychology that we could apply, or I could look for opportunities to apply, to the page I was working on at that moment or whatever design challenge I had.
So, really, it's a deck of 52 ideas from psychology, and each one is meant to be used as a trigger or a way to connect things we know, like human behavior, to the day-to-day work that we do as interaction designers. Each card has the title of a principle, has a description of what it is. We have these wonderful illustrations from Kevin Cornell, custom illustrations for each of the cards. And then the bottom half of the card is really where I list two or three sentences suggesting ways that this idea could be applied back to our designs. And that's really the value I feel like I'm trying to bring is just connecting these two worlds that, historically, for whatever reason, haven't been all that connected.
Adam: And how do folks get them?
Stephen: Getmentalnotes.com. You can go there and you can order a deck. Christmastime, so you can order decks as gifts if you like. I also put up a resources section, where it lists books and articles and other things of interest. And sometime in early 2011, I'm going to have online pages for all the cards as well, where people can share examples that they've either found or have created using these cards, and so it'll become more of a community site in that respect.
Adam: That's fantastic. Very exciting, very exciting. So, I've got my Mental Notes, literally, on my desk in front of me. And in my hand is a card that we agreed that you would talk about to give folks a feel for how they work and how they help somebody make decisions in their design process. The one that's in my hands is "periodic events."
Stephen: OK, great. And I do have to put a caveat with this one card. There are 52 cards in the deck, and I keep saying they come from psychology. This is actually the one card that I made up, I have to confess. I created this one. It was one of these things that I think describe it. People will agree that, yeah, this should be researched or there should be documentation somewhere, and maybe it's called something else, and I didn't find that. But, this is the one card that is not based on some study that I found and not based on research from the formal realms of psychology. But, I'll go ahead and jump into the idea.
"Periodic events" is what I call it, and the definition I wrote is, "Recurring events create sustained interests, anticipation, and a sense of belonging." And I wanted to bring this up this time of year because I think it's really appropriate as we're in the midst of holidays and New Year's resolutions and things of that nature.
There are lots of traditions. There are lots of things we can look forward to, things we can look back on. And that's really what this idea is commenting on. When you have these traditions, and it could be something yearly, like our Christmas celebrations or Hanukkah or these holiday traditions. It could be Halloween, Thanksgiving. It could be Easter. We have these things that we can look forward to as a group, particularly if you're a group that celebrates these traditions. It also works on smaller things, like a Tuesday-afternoon or a Tuesday-evening happy hour for employees, or a monthly book club, these things that are recurring that we can look forward to.
So, the question is, how does this apply to interaction design. There is, unfortunately, very few sites doing this, but I think you're starting to see more and more do this.
I'll start with a kids' site actually, the site clubpenguin.com, which is now owned by Disney. And I think there are billions of kids using this all over the world. What it is, is virtual penguin avatars doing penguin games.
But, one of the things that young kids will talk about - and I'm speaking from experience. I have several boys and they're all addicted to this game, Club Penguin. One of the things that they talk about is this character, Rock Hopper. And Rock Hopper likes to come and visit the island periodically, every three months, I think. And every time he come, he brings gifts with him for all of the kids to enjoy.
He's kind of like the Santa Claus of Club Penguin. It's something my kids talk about and they have to get on this week because Rock Hopper is coming to the island and he's going to give away things.
I look at that and I go, OK, why aren't we creating sort of anticipation and excitement in our web apps? And there are few sites starting to do this. One site that everyone should write down and visit right away is healthmonth.com. That's health, like taking care of your health, and month.com.
Very simply, it's a place where we can go and make some personal health commitments. It could be things like drink more water or run so many miles a week. You make them. It's personal.
The neat thing about it is, let's say you make these commitments and you fail and crash and burn. Well, you can start over next month. And there's this monthly cycle. Contrast that with our yearly New Year's resolutions, where all of us may go back to the gym for a month or two months if we're good, but then we fail and we renew that resolution a year from now.
Why not accelerate that and make it a monthly commitment? That's exactly what this site's doing.
And also in terms of reports, I think of grades in school and report cards. We get these forms of periodic feedback. The report card [inaudible 0:11:17] on the way to get tests and other things. A few of the companies I've been working with over the last year have been doing just this. They generate monthly reports that tell you how you did this past month.
They're business tools, so they're giving you and end-of-month report. So, it's something to look forward to. And we talked about the ability to do this real-time, to access at any moment how you're doing. We felt like this feature would be more valued if it was only giving out at a periodic interval, in this case once a month. It could have been once a week; we decided once a month fit the data the best.
So, that's really the idea of periodic events. Definitely just wanted to share that idea with everyone.
Adam: Very interesting. There were some questions in the virtual seminar that we didn't get to. Let's tackle some of those.
Marta wanted to know - she asked specifically about an academic website, but I suspect this runs into folks that are thinking about government websites and other websites attached to professional fields. How much fun can the website be without losing the professional look?
Stephen: Excellent question. One thing I would like to comment on is fun doesn't necessarily mean it has to look a certain way. I think if you look at something like Facebook, and we look at the aesthetics of Facebook, it's a pretty straight-laced, professional looking site in terms of the color scheme and the typography. It's definitely not as visual as some of the things that you'll see in designers' portfolios.
But, it's a very fun site, and I think that's because the content and the interactions that place there. I'd also bring up the photo-sharing site, Flickr.
There's also a question-and-answer site that's really nice, I've been using it a lot, called Quora.com. Q-U-O-R-A. And if you look at it, it's pretty much text, it's pretty straightforward. But, how they designed it - there's lots of things that make it fun and make it addictive. You want to come back and see if people have answered your questions or you want to ask questions. And it's just really subtle things that make it a fun site.
So, I would say fun doesn't necessarily mean it has to look a certain way to look fun. Think about how to create fun through the interactions.
Adam: Kelly wants to know about negative reinforcement. Does that have any role?
Stephen: Yeah. So this was a question that was brought up and I gave a quick answer, that I wasn't so prepared. I'm going to give an answer today that I'm a little bit more prepared.
When you talk about motivation and rewards and operant conditioning and the question of negative reinforcement, things get really complicated quickly. There is no definitive answer on this, because there are so many variables and so many things that change in context.
But, in general, back to the question, is there room for negative reinforcement, I would say yes. And just a quick clarification: negative reinforcement is often confused with punishment, but there definitely is a difference. You punish someone to stop a behavior. With negative reinforcement, you actually want to encourage a behavior by presenting a negative stimulus.
An easy example would be taking out the garbage. That's the behavior you want to encourage. Well, if the garbage starts to stinking, the only way to remove the stink is to do the behavior of taking out the garbage. So, that would be an example of negative reinforcement.
It does work in software; I think that people already use it in some ways. When you download a trial version of software and you get a nag screen that pops up every time you open the application until you register the software. That's a bit of negative reinforcement. The way to remove that nag screen is to register your software. So, I would say that negative reinforcement is being used in some ways already.
There was a great idea from a workshop I did in New York a couple months ago. We were talking about email and box overload and ways to encourage people to keep their inbox clean.
The concept was actually using visuals, but one of the ideas that came up was why not reduce contrast in you inbox, the text and the background, the fuller your box got? So, if you had a really full inbox, the contrast would start to decrease. It would be more difficult to read your inbox.
There was a lot of laughter in the audience when this was suggested, but I think there's something to it. I mean, it's kind of interesting. What if for every 10 emails it was a little harder to read your inbox? I look at that, and that's exactly what would be an example of negative reinforcement. To restore the contrast and make your inbox easier to read, clean it out. That's a clever idea and a clever way to apply it.
Now, that said, you have to be careful with conditioning behaviors. It can cross over into unethical things really quickly. And also when you punish people and you have negative things, that often times can be far less effective than what I like to focus on which is more the playful things, more of the social things, rewards in some cases.
In fact, in game systems, this idea of reinforcements is used a lot, but any game designer will tell you that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Rewards big, but punish very little.
And in fact a lot of the success of games is not so much the reinforcement as much as it is the inherent challenge in the play and the autonomy and mastery and these other things. And then the punishment and the rewards are really reinforcers or feedback along way.
So, a long answer. Yes, you can use it, but I think there are better things out there.
Adam: Some folks wanted to know about books you recommend for this important aspect of social, psychological/social design.
Stephen: Sure. Let me recommend the book that I'm in the middle of reading right now that I think is absolutely fantastic. It's a book called "Your Brain at Work" by David Rock. The reason I'm recommending it is that it's one of the rare books or few books I've found that actually gives a really clear explanation, a really current explanation, of a lot of neuroscience research.
David Rock's area of expertise is not web design and web applications, he focuses on management consulting and coaching and things like that. I think he's clocked over 10,000 hours coaching with people.
But, he looks at neuroscience and what we know from the latest brain research and tries to apply it to management ideas. So, "Your Brain at Work" goes through a day in the life of two workers and all the challenge they face, and he talks about ways that if we understand our brains, we could respond better.
Reading through this as an interaction designer, I'm seeing all sorts of ideas that are from this. And also it helped me understand why all of the psychology mentioned in other books actually works.
Psychology is really about observing behaviors, and this neuroscience helps explain why those behaviors happen in the first place. I definitely recommend that for your neuroscience fix.
As far as the behavioral economics goes, one of the earliest books written or the first books written on this that really got a lot of fame was Dan Ariely's "Predictably Irrational." I would definitely recommend that. All the studies are things he did himself, and each chapter is dedicated to a different topic.
Another book I'd recommend on the subject, and it would probably be the first book I'd recommend, would be "Nudge." These, by the way, are listed on the Get Mental Notes site under the resources section. So, if I forget an author or I don't list an author, you can go there and get more information link straight to Amazon or you bookseller of choice.
But, "Nudge" is a great book in that is surveys a lot of studies done over the past 30 or 40 years in the field of behavioral economics. It covers a lot of ground very quickly, but it's also very easy to read. And so I'd definitely recommend that.
Both of the books "Made to Stick" and "Switch," by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, I would highly recommend. They have a knack for taking these studies and spinning them in a certain angle. "Made to Stick" is really about why stories stick and "Switch" is about how to change behaviors.
Another book I would recommend on the gaming side would be "A Theory of Fun for Game Design" by Ralph Koster. It's really just a joy to read. Every page has an illustration done by the author on one side and the writing on the other.
It's incredibly lightweight reading on games and gaming, but when you actually look at the footnotes in the back, every word he writes and every paragraph, as light as it sounds, is heavily documented and heavily researched.
So, it's a really great way to get exposed to a lot of things we know about psychology and brain. He talks about attention and what gets our attention and challenges and things, but in a very fun and lightweight way.
So, yeah, those would be five books right there that I would recommend.
Adam: Excellent. And again, the books and their authors are listed as resources on the Get Mental Notes site.
Stephen: That's correct. Getmentalnotes.com/resources.
One thing I'll add to that, people have asked about, are there books about this stuff applied to web design. There are some out there. Joshua Porter, I'd recommend his book. There's also "What Makes Them Click." "Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click."
There are several books. But, what I encourage people to do is to go back to some of the original studies that even those books reference, and try to come up with your own ideas. I think that there's a lot to found just subscribing to some of the psychology blogs and buying the latest issue of "Scientific American" magazine and saying how could I apply this to what I do.
I try to steer people back to some of the sources of some of these studies.
Adam: One of the things that comes up, and you address it early in you virtual seminar, and there were a couple of questions on it. I'm going to let you tackle it from start to finish. It's this correlation of seductive interaction design to kind of the thought process of seducing people and seduction in love and intimacy. Or the idea of a pickup influence.
What do you have to say about that, Stephen?
Stephen: My interest and my use of the phrase "seductive interactions" did not start with the world of the pickup artist. But obviously, as I was doing research and prep for these various talks, I have gone and picked up Robert Green's book on "The Art of Seduction." I've looked at some of pickup artists' websites and some of the things they've written.
It's interesting. There's some stuff out there that's just really shady and manipulative. There's stuff that wouldn't apply. For example, there's a lot of the language, NLP and some other things, and I just don't know how well that would translate to web context.
But, there was one thing that stood out as I was looking a lot at the world of pickup artists and a lot of things they talked about, and there was one thing that really struck a chord with me. They said over and over to be a good pickup artist or to attract women or whatever, you really need to be confident in who you are.
They talk a lot about identity and just knowing who you are, what value you have to offer. And that's one thing that I think is critical for businesses. You've got a lot of really successful businesses and successful products and services, and there is a sense of identity and personality there, being on a team that has a vision that they're working towards. There's a shared story there, and there's a sense of who am I or what is this about, what are we not.
That was one thing that I really saw that parallels everything I'm talking about with seductive interactions. In fact, the book I'm writing on the topic, the last chapter is really about meaning and stories and identity. It gets to this. It's a little more abstracted from practical application like the rest of the chapters are, but I think it's important to understand the stories and the beliefs about ourselves that govern all the decisions that follow.
Adam: Some folks were looking for examples of seductive design in forms. Do you have some examples for our folks?
Stephen: Ah, yes. So, this will be harder to describe, since it's visual, but I'm going to list a few sites that people can go visit. One of these is not very visual, but it's a site hunch.com. And Hunch has this area where they ask you to talk about yourself. And people I've talked to, myself included, it's just this very addictive thing.
They're always simple questions, multiple choice or true/false. Sometimes they're images. They'll have questions like, "Which of these four pieces of artwork would you be most likely to hang on your wall?"
You really have to experience Hunch, and what you'll find is you'll start answering these questions and then you'll look up from your computer and you'll have answered 30 or 40 questions, and it'll seem like five minutes have gone by or two minutes have gone by.
They're collecting this data and they're building up a rich profile about you. It's kind of scary the stuff they can turn around and say about your personality. It's pretty spot on, or in my case it was. And that was after answering just 70 or 80 questions.
There are business applications that are trying to help you, I think, with product choices and other things, but if they understand who you are, that helps them make better recommendations.
The interesting part here is the whole process is very fun, and I'm giving away personal data. And whenever the conversation about privacy comes up, people talk about how I don't want to give up my date of birth and I don't want to tell you what my gender is, these very basic things, yet there are a handful of site where when they ask for the information in a very fun way, almost a playful experience, people are more than happy to share that and much more.
Another example would be, let's see, there's a site called Kapitall. That's spelled with a K. K-A-P-I-T-A-L-L. It's an investment site. And you might think investment, that's not so thrilling, what's so exciting about that?
Well, they have this thing called the Investor DNA Profile, where they want to get an idea of what type of investor you are or would like to be. So, they ask these questions and they're all visual. It's very kiosk-style, so you're just looking at eight tiles of options you can respond to. They click-target, things like that.
The first question is very direct, what type of investor are you, trying to gauge how risk-averse you are. And so you answer that and the next question is what's your favorite magazine, and they list eight magazines. Which magazine would you be most likely to subscribe to?
And it goes on like this alternating between a very direct investing question and a very indirect fun question about your favorite magazine or movie.
The first time I talked about this in a presentation I said, look, they're probably using the data about my favorite magazine or which one I would subscribe to, to indirectly map to their algorithms and their profile they're building of me.
Someone else commented, well, maybe they really don't care about your answers to those questions, maybe they were just [inaudible 0:25:20] , and those questions are interjected just to keep me going through the process and answering these very boring financial questions.
Either way, I don't know what they're doing on the backend, but it was, again, an eight- or nine-question process and I had fun, I went all the way through it. I think it's all about the presentation of the information and the payoff. In that case, I got to learn what type of investor I am or would like to be. That was part of the payoff.
Even in magazines with the quizzes all they time, they say what kind of mom are you or what kind of friend are you. There was an online survey, what kind of boss are you. And they led with this teaser, are you more like Darth Vader, Jean-Luc Picard? Take our test and figure out what kind of boss you are.
It was a 13-question quiz, but people gladly clicked through to find out if their management style was more like Darth Vader or Jean-Luc Picard. So, I think that how you frame the questions can make a big deal - how you frame the payoff. If it's a fun payoff, something personal, something that's a comment about you.
We love that. We love making lists. We love answering questions that reveal something about ourselves. Hunch, Kapitall, a couple of other sites I'll just rattle off; I won't talk about them.
But, if you got to American Express, they have a card-finder to help you pick the best card. And the questions they ask and the way they ask the questions, which is very visual, is fun. In fact they have a question that asks how much your income is, and they ask it in a way that didn't feel at all invasive, that was fun to kind of answer what my income is.
Here's one you have to go do for homework, Flipcharts.com. I won't say anymore. Just go to Flipcharts.com and start playing. It's also a fun site as well.
So, yeah, those would be getting outside the normal registration or the normal form processes. I would point to those examples as ways of making completing a form fun.
Adam: Excellent. Great stuff. Stephen, we talked a bit about there were some things that you were talking about that were tangentally related to the virtual seminar, and we both thought it would be a good idea to share them with the UIE audience.
The first concept was gamification. Can you talk a little bit more about that, what you've been thinking about?
Stephen: Yeah. Gamification is a big topic. You have a lot of debate on both sides. Gamification, just to back up, it sits somewhere between gaming and game mechanics, loyalty programs and everyday business applications.
There's a lot of people who are singing the praises of gamification. In fact, I heard about an investment group that set aside quite a significant sum of money to investigate anything related to gamifying the experience.
There are other people who are detractors who are saying this is just a fad and a buzzword and they hope it goes away quickly.
I think part of the problem is there's a lot of solid experience, research in-depth about what makes a good game. People right now are confusing points and badges, very superficial surface things, with games. Points are fine. Badges are fine, but they don't make something a game.
I think that's what you're seeing a lot of is people taking their business app and "now with badges" or "now with points." So, every time you comment on our website, you get points and so many points earn you a badge. Those are not the things that make a game fun.
If you talk to game designers, those things definitely are feedback on how you're doing, but what makes the game fun is also the challenge, the autonomy, the mastery. These are the things that go inside of a game. Those points and badges are really signifiers or reinforcers of those challenges or things that let you know that you accomplished something.
In my workshop, the question I like to ask is "What makes something a game?" and "What makes something fun?" Those are kind of two paired questions I ask. When I say what makes something a game, we start by brainstorming as many different kinds of games as we can.
So, that includes everything from hopscotch to chess to tic tac toe to World of Warcraft to Tetris. I take a very broad view of games. In fact, we even include things like investing and education. We say, OK, what are the common patterns or the common themes that make these games.
If you look at it, in all these cases there's a challenge or a goal. There are often artificial constraints, so limited resources or limited time, things like that. There's also feedback loops along the way to let you know how you're doing. Those can come in the form of reports or points and badges or whatever it is that's really that feedback on the goal.
I think with gamification, you're seeing a lot of people giving feedback or points for no real goal, no real thing that's important. So, anyway, we talk about what makes something a game. Then we shift and ask what makes something fun? I have a series of 10 questions I ask, why do we enjoy watching the show "Lost? Why do we enjoy scratching off lotto tickets?
All these questions like that, they're really trying to get at the feelings that we feel and what makes something fun. Then I turn around and ask, OK, how can we create these same feelings in our applications?
When people think of fun they think of positive stuff and a lot of times what makes something fun is things like anxiety, having a little bit of anxiety about something, suspense. All these things that aren't necessarily positive or we don't think of right away as positive things, but they actually make something fun.
Adam: Now, the other concept, admittedly, is something we at UIE talk about quite a bit. And seems to be a fairly popular topic in recent months. It's an important one. Let's hear what you have to say about "story."
Stephen: Ah, yes. I mentioned earlier that identity, story, narratives, these things are really important and that's how I'm going to close out my book. That's the last chapter.
I recently spoke at an industrial design conference. That's a little bit of a different environment for me. Most of the slides, most of the things that I talked about have applications to websites. But, I looked at this as an opportunity to really go deeper with something I was interested in which was the idea of a story.
In fact, I've been asked by some people, if I was to go through all 52 cards in the middle of this card deck, is there one that rises to the top? Is there one card to rule them all [laughs] so to speak, one that's more important or more influential? And I think it would be the idea of story.
When I say story, I'm not talking about creating a work of fiction or a narrative story or like in Club Penguin the Rockhopper coming, not that kind of story. What I'm really talking about is narrative that we all construct, or we co-construct, that guides everything we do, the decisions we made, who we spend our time with, how we spend our money.
What I was interested in was peeling back a little bit deeper beyond just the fact that stories are powerful and understanding why stories are powerful. So, I started looking a lot deeper at some of the research from neuroscience and a lot of the philosophy from the field and it was really interesting biological understanding of how we construct narratives, what goes on and what happens when people see something and how we start to form impressions.
It was neat because I came back from that looking at some of the cards that I already created like anchoring, or priming or juxtaposition. All these cards with a different application and I had a much deeper understanding of why those work.
I'm going to simplify things considerably here, but when we form stories it's really associations that we manage in our brain. Even with memories, there's this idea that memories are something that happens, we put in a file folder and file it away. Well, memories really are more about all these associations, all these neurons being connected in the moment that they're brought up.
This is why our memories change over time. They are reconstructed on the spot. If you ask people to remember their wedding day or remember 9/11 or remember these events, their narrative may change over time because they'll remember different things at different moments. And different triggers can cause people to remember different things.
So, I was able to look at this and understand how the brain forms these associations and go back to things like anchoring. I'll just comment on that real quickly. Anchoring is this idea that... Let's say we're in sales and we're doing a negotiation. If we start on something and you have no idea what the price should be, you're looking for an anchor. Our brains are looking for something to anchor off of.
We go to a new restaurant. We're looking for an anchor there to gauge what kind of price range this restaurant is in. The interesting thing is there are sometimes anchors that have nothing to do with the thing it's being applied to.
So, one study, for example, they would ask people to write down the last four digits of their social security number. So that was the anchor in a way. Then about two minutes later they would say, "Hey, can you guess the population of this city?" There was a strong correlation between the number that was written down, the social security number, and this population.
There's no relationship between these two things, but there was a correlation where if you were a higher number then you guessed there was a higher population for the city.
By understanding how the brain makes these associations I was actually able to understand, OK. We've got this number in our short term, working memory and it's just kind of floating around there. We've got this other thing that pops into the same space and the brain's going to try to force a relationship even if there is none. So, some of these little things I have a much deeper appreciation for after preparing that talk.
One of the things I opened that presentation with was I showed this picture of a pen. I asked everyone to write down the number, how much would they pay for this pen? And I'd say I knew my audience, it was the industrial design event. So, they looked at the pen. It was a fountain pen. So, I knew they would probably write a reasonable number.
Then what I did is I played a video from a friend of mine who bought this pen. I think it's eleven minutes, I edited it down to four minutes to keep the salient points. But, he basically talks about how this pen was handcrafted in Japan by this company, it's a small company, it's like four or five people. They're all these old men when one of the major pen manufacturing in this village shut down, they wanted to keep making pens.
So, one of the guys is a business guy and pulled these four people together, these four artisans, and said, "Let's keep doing this." And so the other guy who's the master nib maker. You have another guy who knows all about the materials and the lacquer, that's his area of expertise.
My friend goes on to talk about how the nib on the fountain pen is actually tailored for him. They ask him how he writes and obviously which hand, but how much pressure, and they create a nib that's just for him. It goes on and talks all about the customization, the special lacquer that's only available from trees in Japan and all this stuff.
The question I follow up at the end with is I ask everyone, "OK. Look at the price you wrote down. Would you pay more or less after hearing that story?" Everyone would pay more than what they wrote down originally for the pen. I don't really care if they wrote down $30 or $300 as their first number, but what I was interested in was does your belief about the pen change after hearing the story about it?
Unanimously, everyone's like, "Yeah." So, that's where I really started getting into - that happens in everything we do. There's a story that we construct or a story that we believe or adopt. I could come back and say, "That entire story's fiction." [laughs] Hopefully that's not the case, but my point was that we construct these stories that in turn affect our decisions, and our evaluation of things.
Anyway, that was kind of the theme of the presentation much more than associations in the brain. But anyway, I wanted to add that. I could go on for an hour or two about this. [laughs]
Adam: No, it's excellent stuff, excellent stuff. Well, Stephen, I really appreciate you circling back with us. It's been a treat to have you.
Stephen: Thank you. My pleasure, as always.
Adam: For those listening, thank you and goodbye for now.