Give More: Lagniappe

The Big New Idea for Retail, Service and Hospitality: Lagniappe.

A ‘word worth travelling for’ is something I have always enjoyed. Mark Twain writes about just such a word, ‘lagniappe’ in a chapter on New Orleans in Life on the Mississippi (1883). It’s origin is probably Spanish. It’s meaning is special and for companies striving to make a difference – or merely to survive – its value is enormous. As Mark Twain explained,

It is the equivalent of the thirteenth roll in a ‘baker’s dozen’ … something thrown in, gratis, for good measure.

In other words, lagniappe (pronounced “LAN– yap”) is about making an extra effort … about going the extra mile … about doing something extra special. It is a gift. It is a courtesy. It is a way to stand out in a positive way. For companies like Ben & Jerry’s, Zales, Starbucks and Sodexho … it is a way of life.Successful companies know how to run successful businesses. They know how to win over and keep customers. They know how to hire and inspire their workforces. They know the importance of giving MORE THAN. They know lagniappe.

We can learn from this well travelled word in retail, service and hospitality. Lagniappe then is a small gift given to a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase. It is the basis of the Gift Encomy and comes from our long history in tribes. For over 99% of the history of mankind we’ve lived in small tribes. These tribes consisted of between 10 to 50 individuals that lived by hunting and gathering. Existing through a concept called by anthropologists as a gift economy. Each member provided for others and status was achieved through the concept of gifting. Cooperation was the route to success as a whole.

Status was not a consequence of how much you had, but rather how much you gave away. Giving for the benefit of others with no expectation of immediate return. Trade existed, but only with outside groups. This trading was inherently competitive and thus only done with strangers.

Today we are firmly entrenched in an exchange based economy. With the adoption of money, almost everything is now traded freely. Trading involves trying to get the best deal, typically at the expense of others. The basis of exchange is inherently antagonistic with the aim of giving less and getting more. The market economy is a zero sum game. You give me A and I give you B. Transactions strive to be equal, leaving no additional place left to go in the relationship. So how can you “wow” consumers with lagniappe? Consider these ideas:

  • Greet consumers enthusiastically at the door – You had me at hello – is a famous line from the movie Jerry Maguire. Rather than saying next or wave the person forward, start your welcoming process by opening the door for them.
  • Metro bank in the UK give dog biscuits to their customers (those with dogs rather, than just feeding the queues).
  • Providing cold bottled water on a hot summer day—It’s simple but it works.
  • Walking a consumer to their car with an umbrella on a rainy day—No one likes getting wet when they are running their banking errands. Go that extra mile on rainy days.
  • Writing on lovely note paper (in ink) a thank you note after the transaction to thank them for their business. Follow-up is they key to success in any business.
  • Or Just Pick Up The Phone and leave a message; It takes all of 20 seconds to leave a thank you voice mail yet that message can brighten someone’s day.

As a business why would you want to incorporate lagniappe into your marketing mix? I believe there are at least 3 distinct reasons and corresponding benefits of giving more to exceed expectations (in service, retail and hospitality).

  • Better Positioning– stand out from your competition. If everyone is providing x, the fact that you provide x + y (gift) differentiates your offering. Less than 30% of consumers buy on price. You want to tap into the 70+% who are looking for value and a strong customer experience. Business Benefit: Differentiation
  • Increased Loyalty– giving the little extra (gift) enhances the customer experience. It creates a bond between the business and the customer. The benefit of that bond include increased loyalty and ultimately patronage as a form of repayment. Business Benefit: Retention
  • Increased Reciprocity– Part of giving extra is to create goodwill (inequality).  That inequality is repaid by positive word of mouth or word of mouse. The best form of marketing is via positive word of mouth.  By giving a signature extra (gift) you provide something for your customers to talk, tweet, blog, or Facebook about. Business Benefit: Referrals

The gift or little extra is about the respect for the relationship.  It becomes a beacon, a sign that shows you care. It’s a physical sign of goodwill and customer appreciation. Let’s be honest. Most people see retail or service as boring.

Spice it up with a little lagniappe.

 Be Amazing Every Day

Which is better: Aggression or Collaboration?

It must be obvious surely? Or perhaps a trick question? Well the answer is not as obvious as you may think. Human beings probably have killed in war more members of their own species than any other animal species on this planet. It is undeniable that ours is a pretty aggressive species when compared to the rest of the animal kingdom. Aggression and war are hard-wired into the brain, but so are acceptance, empathy and collaboration. But which is better? There’s only one way to find out: FIGHT! is a recurring feature within Harry Hill’s TV Burp.

The term aggression comes from the Latin aggressio, meaning attack.Every night on the news there are reports about murders, wars and rapes. You might want to start by stop watching the news. But the news isn’t the only place where people encounter violent or aggressive behaviour. We see it at work, while commuting, on the tube and in the home. You can observe it in queues, shops offices and in sport. It starts in the school yard and grows as we get older.

I am a huge fan of Psychologist Robert Plutchik, whom identified eight primary emotions which he coordinated in pairs of opposites: joy versus sadness; trust versus disgust; fear versus anger and anticipation versus surprise. He created the 2D wheel and a conical 3D version in 1980 as a tool for understanding his psycho-evolutionary theory of emotion. Intensity of emotion and indicator colour increases toward the centre of the wheel and decreases outward. At the centre terror becomes fear and then apprehension; ecstasy becomes joy and then serenity. Secondary emotions are displayed as combinations of the primary ones. The cross over and closeness is revealing when we look at our emotions towards aggressiveness.

Researchers in ethology (which is the scientific and objective study of animal behaviour under natural conditions) believe that aggression confers some sort of biological advantages. It all comes down to economics and the notion that aggression, much like anything else, has benefits and costs. Aggression may help an animal secure territory, including resources such as food and water. Aggression between males often occurs to secure mating opportunities, and results in selection of the healthier/more vigorous animal. Aggression may also occur for self-protection or to protect offspring.

Konrad Lorenz stated in his 1963 classic, On Aggression, that human behaviour is shaped by four main, survival-seeking animal drives.Taken together, these drives—hunger, fear, reproduction, and aggression—achieve natural selection. Well maybe. Humans share aspects of aggression with non-human animals, and have specific aspects and complexity related to factors such as genetics, early development, social learning and flexibility, culture and morals. What are these benefits and costs of aggression? Aggression between groups of animals may also confer advantage; for example, hostile behaviour may force a population of animals into a new territory, where the need to adapt to a new environment may lead to an increase in genetic flexibility.

It is interesting to note that during the Cold War, politicians on both sides used their belief that war was highly likely to justify the manufacture and deployment of more and more nuclear weapons. Yet the belief in the near inevitability of war makes war more likely. In 1978 Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson published a ground breaking book On Human Nature. The book tries to explain how different characteristics of humans and society can be explained from the point of view of evolution. Aggression is, typically, a means of gaining control over resources. Aggression is, thus, aggravated during times when high population densities generate resource shortages. According to Richard Leakey and his colleagues, aggression in humans has also increased by becoming more interested in ownership and by defending his or her property

With increased understanding of the relations between genes and environment behavioural scientists have acquired a deeper understanding of the bases of aggression than was previously possible. The brain is awash in chemicals, including hormones and neuro-transmtters that accentuate or dampen its responses and influence its organisation and operations. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that relay, amplify, or modulate signals that are sent between neurones and other cells.There are many different hormones and neurotransmitters, of which the most important are glutamate and GABA, which excite and modify synapses. From all of the possibilities explored and the theories made, you might think that there has been a conclusion made about exactly where aggression originates as well as what could incite a particular aggressive action, but there has not been. However the following compounds seem to be most active:

  • Adrenalin, which triggers the fight or flight response
  • Testosterone, which stimulates aggression
  • Oxytocin which instills trust, increases loyalty, and promotes the tend and befriend response
  • Oestrogen, which triggers the release of oxytocin
  • Endorphins, which reinforce collaborative experiences with pleasure
  • Dopamine, which generates a reward response and fortifies addiction
  • Serotonin, which regulates moods
  • Phenylethylaline, which induces excitement and anticipation
  • Vasopressin, which encourages bonding in males in a variety of species

Out of the last few years of neurophysiological research has emerged a new hope that solutions may indeed be found to the chemical and biological sources of aggression. But there is a caveat. While War has yet to be reduced to a simple set of deterministic biochemical events taking place exclusively within the brain, research clearly demonstrates that basic neurological processes provide all of us with alternative sets of instructions that lead either toward impasse or resolution, stasis or transformation, isolation or collaboration. While no one really knows the exact causes of aggression or if it can even be said that there is one thing that causes it. So, although, there may not be one conclusive answer to why people are aggressive, it doesn’t mean that a combination of theories can’t be right or that someday, researchers will find the answer.

The Cold War and the resonant fear of nuclear fear is now largely over, but old wars continue and new ones have been initiated in many parts of the world. You may hear that the waging war as an inevitable consequence of human nature. This attitude is not only dangerous in encouraging the view that war is the method of choice for settling disputes, it is also very wrong. To get the right answer requires not only a profound understanding of how the brain works, but a global shift in our attitude toward conflict, an expanding set of scientifically informed techniques, a humanistic and democratic prioritisation of ethics and values.

We don’t need a fight to know, we need to begin with a willingness to start with ourselves.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Radical Leadership Wisdom

  • Leaders who don’t think like leaders.
  • Leaders who look for blame
  • Leaders who think like managers
  • Leaders who devalue their leadership
  • Leaders limited by their belief structure

So it is time to create some new Radical Leaders, right now. Why? Well looking up the dozens of Google synonymous or conceptual triggers of this word, consider these as applied to radical leadership: Amazing, Innovative, Uncompromising, Profound, Rigorous, Far-reaching and Essential.

Radical is in fact an amazing word, contaminated by it’s evil cousin ‘radicalisation’, which has a connections to extremism, which, in turn has a connotation of extreme violence. However the good version of radical can be twinned to the biochemical version ‘radical’: group of atoms behaving as a unit in a number of compounds. So radical leadership seems to induce alignment, one team, synergy of hearts and minds.

Using the principle of my knowledge leadership ‘still’ (and modeled on my memories of synthesis biochemistry), I have ‘distilled’ a potentially precious droplet of Radical Leadership Wisdom (RLW). Great abstractions are the distillation of an ideal and can be formed with just that ideal in mind, devoid of specific assumptions. Starting from what we see now and abstracting from there is not unlike solving a maze backwards. The best way to explore these radical leadership ideas is to start from a blank slate with lots of research behind it. Starting with an abstraction allows you to research and explore with that abstract solution grounding your explorations.

So my radical droplet proposition for leaders, is that leadership knowledge, wisdom and insight may sound like synonyms, but they are not. Though they all refer to the mind and an accumulation of thoughts and experiences, they have some very real differences in the essence of their meanings and their applications for Leadership.

Radical Leadership Wisdom is the ability to discern and judge which aspects of that knowledge are true, right, lasting, and applicable to your business. It’s the ability to apply that knowledge to the greater scheme of life. It’s also deeper because it is the knowing the true meaning or reason. RLW is all about knowing your why and what it means to your business.

Wisdom is the result of the distillation of your experiences 

-Adamus Saint-Germain

Insight is the deepest level of knowing and the most meaningful radical leadership. Insight is a deeper and clearer perception of life, of knowledge, of wisdom. It’s grasping the underlying nature of knowledge, and the essence of leadership wisdom which changes everything. So Radical Leadership Wisdomwould be uncompromising leadership that is rooted in integrity, authenticity and the ability to create (biochemical) ‘radicals’ of commitment.These radical leaders would be also uncompromising travellers in search of the truth, with high levels of antibodies to bullshit, and determined to make a profound difference.

Discussion is always good and here we could debate what Radical Leadership Wisdom (RLW) might look like:

  • RLW always creates more leaders (not just) followers
  • RLW change from the old (management) style of ‘I Leadership’ to ‘We Leadership’. Radical Leadership begins with We.
  • RLW moves from controlling people to aligning passions. Successful leaders align the passions of their teammates with organisational mission.
  • RLW enables people to simplify, edit and amplify. Some leaders enjoy the feeling of importance that complexity creates. But, any fool can make something complex. Leaders always simplify.
  • RLW requires change from deciding who was right to what is right. In the world of RLW, it doesn’t matter who comes up with solutions.
  • RLW create pursuing clarity and abstraction of truth. Most people don’t have the discipline or endurance to bear the frustration of pursuing clarity. They just want to get something done.
  • RLW is massive movement from receiving praise to giving it.

To have this Radical Leadership Wisdom means to have a new powerful positive vision in life and be able to see beyond the ordinary. This radical vision when combined with massive action can truly change the world. Now is the time to re-take the word ‘radical’ and use it for new breed of leaders. It’s time for Radical Leadership Wisdom to be at the core of the curriculumSince we can’t simply carry on applying exhausted leadership to our vibrant enterprises, the time of Radical Leadership Education (RLE) has also come. [Ask me how]. It is my experience that RLW and RLE combined with discipline and perseverance, are the most important skills you can have.

Individually, we have one drop of Radical Leadership Wisdom. Together, we are an ocean.

Be Amazing Every Day. 

Unknown Pleasures

The title of one of my favourite (and iconic) albums is Unknown Pleasures by Joy Division. The title probably comes from Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. I have (honestly) tried to read it, but it is a long novel in seven volumes known both for its length and its theme of involuntary memory, the most famous example being the episode of the madeleine. The narrator begins by noting, For a long time, I went to bed early. He comments on the way sleep seems to alter one’s surroundings, and the way habit makes one indifferent to them. As a neuroscience trainer, I love the idea of getting less sleep.

Listen to the silence, let it ring on. Eyes, dark grey lenses frightened of the sun. We would have a fine time living in the night, Left to blind destruction, Waiting for our sight. – Transmission (Joy Division)

Pleasure is usually describes as the broad class of mental states that humans and other animals experience as positive, enjoyable, or worth seeking. It includes more specific mental states such as happiness, entertainment, enjoyment, ecstasy, and euphoria. In psychology, the pleasure principle describes pleasure as a positive feedback mechanism, motivating the organism to recreate in the future the situation which it has just found pleasurable. According to this theory, organisms are similarly motivated to avoid situations that have caused pain in the past. And then punk came along and I was inspired to know more.

Joy Division were formed in Salford, Greater Manchester in 1976 during the first wave of punk rock. Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook had separately attended the legendary Sex Pistols show at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall on 4 June 1976, and both embraced that group’s simplicity, speed and aggression. In fact according to legend every one of the 200 people there formed a band. Ian Curtis, who Sumner and Hook already knew, applied and, without having to audition, was taken on.

In 1979 I bought this amazing album I went that year so see them play live at West Runton Pavilion (North Norfolk) and met with Ian Curtis . I loved him and what Jon Savage described their music as, a definitive Northern Gothic statement: guilt-ridden, romantic, claustrophobic. His life is brought to many people’s attention in the stunning film Control.Curtis, who suffered from epilepsy and depression, committed suicide on 18 May 1980, on the eve of Joy Division’s first North American tour, resulting in the band’s dissolution and the subsequent formation of New Order.

The cover of the Unknown Pleasures album stimulated my love of Astronomy, Pulsars and the Universe (I still have the T shirt).The cover of their 1979 debut album is probably more well known than the album or band themselves. Famed cover art designer Peter Saville is credited with designing the cover, but as the myth goes it shows a series of radio frequency periods from the first pulsar discovered.I was studying brain science at the time and using complex mathematics like Fourier analysis to decode the data of action potential in nerve transmission. I thought the image on the cover (and it is largely cited correctly) as depicting the first pulsar discovered (CP 1919). In fact it’s not the first isolated plot of that pulsar, which was made in 1967. That honour goes to Jocelyn Bell Burnell from the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory in Cambridge, whom I was very lucky to meet when my father introduced (as head of medical research) in Cambridge.

Radio pulsars are neutron stars, huge, spinning ‘nuclei’ that contain some 1057 protons and neutrons. The large clump of nuclear matter, which has a mass about equal to that of the sun, is compressed into a sphere with a radius on the order of 10 kilometers. Consequently, the density of the star is enormous, slightly greater than the density of ordinary nuclear matter, which is itself some 10 trillion times denser than a lead brick. Currents of protons and electrons moving within the star generate a magnetic field. As the star rotates, a radio beacon, ignited by the combined effect of the magnetic field and the rotation, emanates from it and sweeps periodically through the surrounding space, rather like a lighthouse beam. Once per revolution the beacon cuts past the earth, giving rise to the beeping detected by radio telescopes.

Peter Saville, who had previously designed posters for Manchester’s Factory club in 1978, designed the cover of the album. Saville reversed the image from black-on-white to white-on-black and printed it on textured card for the original version of the album. The image itself according to Scientific American writer Jen Christiansen was by Harold D. Craft, Jr., was a graduate student at Cornell University in the early 70s, working with cosmic data a the massive Arecibo Radio Observatory in Puerto Rico. You can read Christiansen’s account of her investigation, and listen to her interviews with Craft at Scientific American. He and his colleagues were experimenting with some of the first digital measurements of radio waves from pulsars (collapsed stars that flash like lighthouses), using radar equipment at the observatory. By chance, Craft ended up writing the computer program that would produce this iconic image.

Unknown Pleasures’ cover was computer generated.

Craft said he had no idea that his image was being widely used on the cover of a famous record. “I went to the record store and, son of a gun, there it was. So I bought an album, and then there was a poster that [they] had of it, so I bought one of those too, just for no particular reason, except that it’s my image, and I ought to have a copy of it.”

Unknown Pleasures was recorded at Strawberry Studios in Stockport, England between 1 and 17 April 1979, with Martin Hannett producing. Describing Hannett’s production techniques, Hook said,that Hannett was only as good as the material he had to work with, “We gave him great songs, and like a top chef, he added some salt and pepper and some herbs and served up the dish. But he needed our ingredients.”

The experience of pleasure is subjective and different individuals will experience different kinds and amounts of pleasure in the same situation. Many pleasurable experiences are associated with satisfying basic biological drives, such as eating, exercise, hygiene or sex. For real pleasure, try listening again to Unknown Pleasures again, now.

Dance, dance, dance, dance, dance, to the radio.

Be Amazing Every Day.

#1 Public Speaking Secret

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I am aiming to be one of the best public speakers around. Arrogant? Maybe. But I am working hard to be the best I can be, using fanatical discipline, productive paranoia and the BAED training programme (see card at end of this article). By breathing slowly, rhythmically and evenly, reading more than I thought possible and learning more than I thought possible. But to be a truly great public speaker you need to exude passion. One of the most famous catchphrases of motivational guru Tony Robbins is, live with passion! He is spot on (of course) and that is how we all should live. That is also how we should all speak, with true passion. As a professional speaker, if you lack this passion, you’ll never fully convert your audience members to your point of view, no matter how much innovation, how exciting, how revolutionary, or invigorating your topic may be.

So what is true passion in public speaking? Passion is about being authentic and charismatic. Passion is also an exchange of energy. It’s about emotional connection with your audience. It encompasses truth and vulnerability. Passion is not easy to accomplish. We don’t fully trust people until we’ve seen them get emotional (angry, sad, ecstatic) because these moments allow us to take the measure of their values.

My 3 secrets (and for any aspirational speaker) for success are:

  • Purpose
  • Passion
  • Presence

You’ve got to show up and be present in order to reach people through communication, and that takes passion. Otherwise, don’t bother. The most important thing is being passionate about what you’re doing and always give it your all. That is the key to success. Under the right conditions, you and your audience can feed off each others’ passion and excitement, and you’ll create something special that will change their lives and yours.

So if you run your own business, you know that at some point or other, in some capacity, you’ll need to be able to speak in front of a crowd. The word, enthusiasm, derives from a Greek term that translates as possessed by a god. In English, this means you’re inspired, given breath, by whatever you passionately believe in and your business is your passion. Allow it to come out in your speech and your actions. Whether your audience is one or one thousand, one thing does not change: that passion for your business.

My advice is to do everything you can to transform your presentation from ‘ordinary’ to ‘unforgettable’ and it all starts with doing simple things well:

  1. Loving Your Topic. Find the one thing that makes your heart sing about your presentation and that will elevate your passion on topics you don’t care about. If you can’t believe in the topic so intensely you love to talk about it, then you’ll have trouble communicating your points to the audience. At the very least, find some aspect of it you can learn to love: a key takeaway, strategy, or story that makes your heart sing. Believe in what you’re saying, because most audiences can detect a fake almost instantly. Prepare carefully, and understand the topic so well you can’t help but be enthusiastic about it.
  2. Live Your Passion. Whether you love your topic or want to run it over with a rusted-out pickup truck, you need to believe in what your saying. This strikes at the heart of authenticity. If you believe in your message, your audience will believe in it too.
  3. Exude That Passion. The point of being a passionate speaker is to serve your audience. I’m always infinitely grateful for whoever will give me an hour of their time to listen to me speak. It’s important to keep your audience’s best interest in mind. It’s critical to serve them. It’s vital to not waste their time. Think what are your giving them. Enthusiasm requires energy, so give it everything, every time.

Sincerity of emotion shows up in nonverbal conversation through, perhaps surprisingly, stillness and openness. While the strong passions like anger, joy, excitement of various kinds, can all be signaled with energetic body movements, sometimes extreme stillness can be just as effective. Think of it like the voice where the point is to establish a baseline and then vary that to exhibit the emotions.

Great actors have something they call the offstage beat that they use just before they go onstage. Mediocre actors just walk on and deliver their first lines. But the great ones are already inhabiting the character offstage before they go on. The result is a fully believable character, and one you can’t take your eyes from. You need to develop a little of the same magic, and the way to do it is to prepare, just before the communication, not only what you’re going to say but how you feel about it: strongly, fully, and with all your physical being. Breathe – slowly, rhythmic and even. That, after all, is where passion originates. And that’s how you radiate passion, align the two conversations, and convince audiences large and small of your authenticity.

Being a passionate speaker (and one of the best) is a brilliant, noble and fantastic goal. If you love your topic, believe in your message and that it is the only message for those people, and finally give the audience the respect they deserve. You are on your way to passionate speaking. If you do it with enough conviction, you will be charismatic.

I will be Amazing Every Day.

Be Amazing by Thin Slicing

This is truly amazing: the latest neuroscience research reveal that our decisions are made 7 seconds before we become aware of them. We already know that within 7 seconds of meeting people decide all sorts of things about them, from status to intelligence to promiscuity. But this new research questions the very notion of free will.

When you meet a new business acquaintance for the first time you do some quick brain references and heuristics (short cuts). It could be when you first meet your new boss, a recent addition to your team, or a potential client you want to sign up. There are lots non verbal clues that your brain scans for to make these decisions. In fact, studies have found that nonverbal cues have over four times the impact on the impression you make than anything you say. The moment that someone sees you, his or her brain is asking as a hard wired survival mechanism:

  • Are you different?
  • Are you someone to approach or to avoid?
  • Are you friend or foe?
  • Do you have status and authority?
  • Are you trustworthy, competent, likeable, confident?

Indeed people decide on your trustworthiness is judged in a tenth of a second, or less based on your facial appearance. The Princeton researchers found this out by giving one group of university students 100 milliseconds to rate the attractiveness, competence, like-ability, aggressiveness, and trustworthiness of actors’ faces. Members of another group were able to take as long as they wanted. While other traits differed depending on time spent looking, trustworthiness was basically the same.

Psychologists call it thin slicing, the ability to find patterns in events based only on narrow windows, of experience.The term seems to have been coined in 1992 by Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal in a paper in the Psychological Bulletin. One of the most popular books on thin-slicing is Blink written by Malcolm Gladwell. In this book, the author goes through and describes interesting examples and research which exploit the idea of thin-slicing. John Gottman, a well-known marital expert, describes how within an hour of observing a couple, he can gather with 95% accuracy if the couple will be together within 15 years. His accuracy goes down to 90% if he observes the couples for 15 minutes, supporting the phenomenon of thin-slicing.

Even more intriguingly, neuroscientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain found that decisions are made before you know. In the experiment participants could freely decide if they wanted to press a button with their right or left hand. Using fMRI, researchers would scan the brains of the participants while all of this was going on in order to find out if they could in fact predict which hand the participants would use before they were consciously aware of the decision. By monitoring the micro patterns of activity in the front polar cortex, the researchers could predict which hand the participant would choose 7 seconds before the participant was aware of the decision.What might this mean, then, for the nebulous concept of free will? “We think our decisions are conscious, but these data show that consciousness is just the tip of the iceberg,” says John-Dylan Haynes, a neuroscientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, who led the study.

What does this mean for you? Well, be aware that people pick up your attitude instantly (less than a second). Before you turn to greet someone, or enter the boardroom, or step onstage to make a presentation, think about the situation and make a conscious choice about the attitude you want to embody. I encourage people to use their eyes first. Looking at someone’s eyes transmits energy and indicates interest and openness. While you do this slowly raise your eyebrows. Open your eyes slightly more than normal to simulate the eyebrow flash that is the universal signal of recognition and acknowledgement.

There a universal truth about the power of the smile. A smile is an invitation, a sign of welcome. Condition yourself to stand tall and move slowly. Status and power are nonverbally conveyed by height and space. Standing tall, pulling your shoulders back, and holding your head straight are all signals of confidence and competence. Leaning forward shows you’re engaged and interested. But be respectful of the other person’s space. That means, in most business situations, staying about two feet away.

Some people believe that thin slicing causes the phenomenon known as déjà vu as they happen within the same time frame of thin-slicing and might also have a direct correlation. So even if you think you have heard this all before, every encounter, from conferences to meetings to training sessions to business lunches, presents an opportunity to meet people, network, and expand your professional contacts by making a positive first impression.

You’ve got just seven seconds, but if you handle it well, seven seconds are all you need. But, I do find it a bit disconcerting that decisions are made by unconscious me 7 seconds before conscious me. Better still read my card below:

Be Amazing Every Day.

Brain Impulse Buying

If you’re reading this thinking that you aren’t susceptible to impulse buying, think again. In truth, we aren’t always rational thinkers when we buy things (online or in store). The fact of the matter is that your unconscious mind is often driving your behaviour as a consumer. It is under the influence of our basic evolutionary drives and the clever tactics of retailers. It is so easy to feel compelled to buy something that you may regret or justify later with some retro-fitted reasoning.

So what’s going on inside your head and what can you do to make fewer purchases that will turn out to be wasteful? Impulse buying can be defined as, a stimulus-controlled, spontaneous buying behaviour that is accompanied by strong positive emotions and low cognitive control. Bit of a mouthful, so to quote Lindsay Lohan, My mum says, ‘Go with your first instinct,’ but this can lead to impulse buying!

Research shows that a huge amount of our decision making is actually based on subtle subconscious factors. These tend to be accentuated when we are not focussing or distracted (sometimes deliberately). Indeed it appears that a wandering mind can not only lead to accidents and lost productivity but to powerful impulse buying. Yet the brain is the most complex organ in the Universe. It produces our every thought, action, memory, feeling and experience of the world. New research is indicating that focus is a crucial mindful choice and ideas of control (in retail) may be an illusion. Indeed real-time brain monitoring can be used to help people regain focus and might lead consumers to be more selective buyers as a result.

In the animal kingdom, humans are known for our big brains. This jelly-like mass of tissue, weighing in at around 1.4 kilograms, contains a staggering one hundred billion nerve cells, or neurons. The pattern and strength of the neural connections is constantly changing and no two brains are alike. Yet it’s structure determines how memories are stored, habits learned and personalities shaped, by reinforcing certain patterns of brain activity, and losing others. Researchers have uncovered genetic variations that help determine the size of key brain regions. These variants may represent the genetic essence of humanity and choice. Maybe.

This supposed free choice is deeply influence by some simple external factors. Most shopping is far too dull and time consuming to carry out with conscious attention. Imagine if every item you bought was cross-referenced with every other product available in the market; you would need to look at price, product composition, reviews and maybe even the quality of customer service supporting it. Even if you could find all the information in comparable formats it would take hours to buy one item. So instead we use heuristics [unconsciously held rules and short cuts] that help us make quick decisions that we’ve learned generally work out well.

However, these shortcuts when combined with loss of concentration and focus may lead to the idea of how we make poor decisions to buy. Neuroscientists at Princeton University monitored the brain activity of students who were asked to perform a repetitive task that required close attention. The findings, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, show that people can learn to stop their minds from wandering if they are made aware it is happening. This means if we (as consumers) can use real time brain activity as a basis of feedback (the app must be round the corner) we might be able to train our brains to be more sensitive to when their attention is starting to wane and gain real focus.

Another article in ‘Science Daily’ looks at the research on how what’s going on inside our head affects our senses. Children from more challenging economic communities think coins are larger than they are, and hungry people think pictures of food are brighter. (Science Daily, 3 March 2012). They found that when words were flashed very fast on a screen (too fast to read, but slow enough to imprint on the brain), hungry people saw the food related words as brighter and were better at identifying the food-related words when shown on a list after they were flashed. This research indicates is that our perceptions increase toward items that our body wants or needs. Our illusion of control and that idea we have a choice in buying is being further challenged.These exciting pieces of research indicate that we can all become neurosales savvy (whether to sell or to buy sensibly). The secret is by asking 2 questions:

  • How do we get more focus?
  • What we are really lacking, or hungry for, in our day to day lives?

It all start by telling a good story. By turning percentages and figures into a good tale capture and keeps your customers’ attention. Statistics are great but you need people to pay attention to your numbers to help drive sales. Our brains are wired to process stories in a more engaged way. Brain scan work shows that when people read a story with a lot of action elements, their brains actually mimic the motions.

Another area some retailers have learned to focus on is that we’re very susceptible to the loss aversion switch. Loss aversion, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, describes our innate concern to avoid feeling bad in the future. Normally this would affect our purchase decisions by causing us to prevaricate over a purchase: “Might I feel bad if I buy this and don’t have the money for something else?” But add in a discount that we’re told or we assume won’t last forever and our unconscious focus switches to the fear we’ll miss out on the deal. Retailers take advantage of this by packaging up products as bulk buys, or they include ‘free’ extras. We get the impression that it must be good value, and we go with this feeling rather than researching any further.

Our heuristic susceptibility to value and apparent discounts isn’t just down to the loss aversion switch; many of us have an innate desire to save. Retailers and manufacturers play on this by telling us how much money we could save by buying and using their product. Perhaps thousands of years ago, knowing that it was important to store up food and wood for the winter would be the difference between life and death. These days most of us no longer need to worry about our day-to-day survival, but the evolutionary drive remains. In short, we find it hard to resist the idea that we’ll be saving money or time.

Though we have already discovered an enormous amount about the brain, huge and crucial mysteries remain. One of the most important is how does the brain produces our conscious experiences? The vast majority of the brain’s activity is subconscious. But our conscious thoughts, sensations and perceptions, what define us as humans, cannot yet be explained in terms of brain activities.

Objectivity is an elusive virtue in buying.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Samsung, Big Data & Dumb Heuristics

Gerd Gigerenzer is a strong advocate of the idea that simple heuristics can make us smart. Yet heuristic might be the root cause of our deep fear of big data, big brother and our data being misused. Imagine you’re a turkey at Christmas. Every day you are approached by a man with a bucket of corn who feeds you. What kind of mental model of what happens when he appears, do you think you will build up? Gigerenzer is the Director of the Max Plank Institute for Human Development and might use this story to demonstrate how high tech firms approach big data to predict the future from past decisions. These organisation make predictions based on the past that are only ever correct by chance and we believe them in order to absolve ourselves of responsibility for when things go wrong. According to many it’s a waste of time, money and talent. Because systems will always go wrong. Because, of course, Christmas always comes.

In psychology, heuristics are simple, efficient rules which people often use to form judgments and make decisions. They are mental shortcuts that usually involve focusing on one aspect of a complex problem and ignoring others. This occurs when you talk with groups about Big Data. People’s gut reactions (heuristics) to things tell them that information about themselves or their loved ones, collected and disseminated, is bound to be used for evil rather than good. But how valid are their concerns about big data and this digital collection of our thoughts? Collecting information on us might fuel the fear of big data. Or as in this brilliant tweet, suggesting Samsung SmartTV instruction manual is taken from George Orwell’s 1984.

The Samsung revelation on Monday 19th February 2015 in the Daily Telegraph,

‘Samsung SmartTV customers warned personal conversations may be recorded. Voice recognition software could transmit ‘personal or sensitive’ information Families are being warned that modern televisions are recording their conversations and could transmit the messages to “third parties”. Many of the latest sets have microphones so viewers can change channel, turn on a DVD or browse the internet by speaking at the screen or remote.But the small print of the privacy policies for these so-called Smart TVs contain warnings that general conversations are also being recorded.Television companies advise users who are concerned to avoid discussing “personal” matters in their livings rooms.The practice, which emerged on internet forums yesterday, led customers on social media to draw comparisons to George Orwell’s 1984. It is unclear whether the information is used for marketing purposes or held on computer that could be hacked by criminals.’

Count on the great Isaac Asimov to have presaged it, much like he did online education, the fate of space exploration and even the rise of Smart TVs. In his legendary Foundation trilogy, Asimov conceives his hero, Hari Seldon, as a masterful mathematician who can predict the future through complex mathematical equations rooted in aggregate measurements about the state of society at any given point in time. Like Seldon, who can’t anticipate what any individual person will do but can foreshadow larger cultural outcomes, big data is the real-life equivalent of Asimov’s idea, which he termed psychohistory, an invaluable tool for big-picture insight into our collective future.
But here comes the irrational fear again. The human brain comprises two distinct parts (if not 3): the old simple brain in the back, which produces impulses and instincts that help us to survive, and the new brain in the front of the head, which we use to control those impulses.The problem is that, sometimes, the two conflict. For example, we might crave fast food even while knowing it’s bad for us. Or we might feel fear when standing on top of the Shard even though we know we’re not going to fall. New research challenged the idea that human beings are rational actors, but provided a theory of information processing to explain how people make estimates or choices.

Heuristics mean we (traditionally) don’t need complex models of the world to make good decisions. These rules work well under most circumstances, but they can lead to systematic deviations from logic, probability or rational choice theory. The resulting errors are called cognitive biases and many different types have been documented. Heuristics usually govern automatic, intuitive judgments but can also be used as deliberate mental strategies when working from limited information.

No matter how much I know about heuristics and concentrate on avoiding the sunk cost fallacy, I still naturally gravitate towards it. The term sunk cost refers to any cost (not just monetary, but also time and effort) that has been paid already and cannot be recovered. So, a payment of time or money that’s gone forever. The reason we can’t ignore the cost, even though it’s already been paid, is that we wired to feel loss far more strongly than gain. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains this in his book, Thinking Fast and SlowOrganisms that placed more urgency on avoiding threats than they did on maximising opportunities were more likely to pass on their genes. So, over time, the prospect of losses has become a more powerful motivator on your behaviour than the promise of gains

The sunk cost fallacy plays on this tendency of ours to emphasise loss over gain. A brilliant 1985 (nearly 1984) research study by Hal Arkes and Catherine Blumer is a great example of how it works. They asked subjects to assume they had spent £1000 on a ticket for a ski trip in the Switzerland, but soon after found a better ski trip in France for £500 and bought a ticket for this trip too. They then asked the people in the study to imagine they learned the two trips overlapped and the tickets couldn’t be refunded or resold. Which one do you think they chose, the £1000 good vacation, or the £500 great one?

  • Over half of the people in the study went with the more expensive trip. It may not have promised to be as fun, but the loss seemed greater.

The sunk cost fallacy leads us to miss or ignore the logical facts presented to us, and instead make irrational decisions based on our emotions (see the news and big data fears) without even realising we’re doing so. The fallacy prevents you from realising the best choice is to do whatever promises the better experience in the future, not which negates the feeling of loss in the past.

Could it be that our fear of Big Data emanates from this short cutting old brain structure? What exactly are we really afraid of? If big data can help us overcome these heuristic brain errors, it holds the promise of righting the balance of quality over quantity in our culture of information overabundance, helping us to extract meaning from (digital) matter. Just as the old brain interprets images in art and film as being real (this is why we feel afraid when watching horror movies) perhaps it conflates our hypothetical big data fears with reality.

Our best bet is to try to separate the current facts we have from anything that happened in the past. In a society that tweets more words every hour than all of the surviving ancient Greek texts combined, we certainly could use that.

Samsung can only hope we can separate the two very quickly.

Be Amazing Every Day.

Big Idea: Trivial Bikeshedding Management

Did you know that today is National Trivia Day* and 50 years ago (last Wednesday 5th February, 1965) trivia was invented? Well sort of true; a Columbia Spectatorarticle appeared on this day and used the term trivia to topics like,

  • Who played the Old Gypsy Woman in The Wolfman?
  • Answer: Maria Ouspenskaya (I did not know this either).

Columbia University students Ed Goodgold and Dan Carlinsky, who had proposed the new use of the term in their original article swiftly created the earliest inter-collegiate quiz bowls that tested culturally (and emotionally) significant yet essentially unimportant facts, which they dubbed trivia contests. The expression has also come to suggest information of the kind useful almost exclusively for answering quiz questions, hence the brand name Trivial Pursuit (1982).

The word originates from the Latin neuter noun trivium (plural trivia) is from tri- “triple” and via “way”, meaning a place where three ways meet. The word trivia was also used to describe a place where three roads met in Ancient Rome. Often misquoted with the comedic line that 2 are irrelevant (trivial) as only the one leading back to Rome is important. They did not, as some wag (Frank Skinner) suggested, pin pieces of rubbish information at these cross roads.

More accurately trivia are the three lower Artes Liberales: grammar, logic andrhetoric. These were the topics of basic education, foundational to the quadrivia of higher education, and hence the material of basic education and an important building block for all undergraduates. In management terms I came across Parkinson’s law of triviality on my MBA course years ago. It also known as ‘bikeshedding’ and was first described by C. Northcote Parkinson in 1957. His argument was that organisations give disproportionate weight to trivial issues.

Parkinson observed and illustrated that a committee whose job is to approve plans for a nuclear power plant spent the majority of its time with pointless discussions on relatively trivial and unimportant but easy-to-grasp issues, such as what materials to use for the staff bike-shed, while neglecting the less-trivial proposed design of the nuclear power plant itself, which is far more important but also a far more difficult and complex task to criticise constructively. As he put it:

The time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum [of money] involved.

A reactor is used because it is so vastly expensive and complicated that an average person cannot understand it, so one assumes that those that work on it understand it. On the other hand, everyone can visualise a cheap, simple bicycle shed, so planning one can result in endless discussions because everyone involved wants to add a touch and show personal contribution.

Thus bike shedding involves discussions about relatively unimportant issues which result in extensive debate. Know that feeling at many a management meetings?

It may be the result of individuals who wish to contribute feeling that they do not have the knowledge or expertise to contribute on more significant issues. Bike shedding can result in discussions that, whilst on-topic, nevertheless effectively drown out other discussions on more significant issues.

My top 7 favourite pieces of trivia are currently:

  1. On Good Friday in 1930, the BBC reported, “There is no news.” Instead, they played piano music.
  2. In the 1980s, Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel was spending $2,500 a month on rubber bands just to hold all their cash.
  3. M&M’s actually stands for “Mars & Murrie’s,” the last names of the candy’s founders.
  4. In 1907, an ad campaign for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes offered a free box of cereal to any woman who would wink at her grocer.
  5. The Arkansas School for the Deaf’s nickname is the Leopards.
  6. The Vatican Bank is the world’s only bank that allows ATM users to perform transactions in Latin.
  7. The unkempt Shaggy of Scooby-Doo fame has a rather proper real name of Norville Rogers.

*There is a National Trivia Day, but it is January 4th.

Be Amazing Every Day

Your Vast Prediction Machine

Think of the brain as a vast prediction machine. I drove my car to the station this morning; what colour is it?The brain’s desire to know the answer (I don’t have a car but to help your brain, let’s call it red) and indeed what the future holds in general is a powerful motivator in everyday life. We know that massive neuronal resources are devoted to predicting what will happen each moment.

Using research by the neuroscientists at Cal Tech it is becoming clearer that the brain needs to resolve some difficult and seemingly opposing issues to thrive.

Much is known about how people make decisions under varying levels of probability (risk). Less is known about the neural basis of decision-making when probabilities are uncertain because of missing information (ambiguity). Yet we know the brain loves certainty. This is the assurance you can avoid pain and gain pleasure (or even comfort). Some people pursue this need by striving to control all aspects of their lives, while others obtain certainty by giving up control and adopting a philosophy, faith or belief system.

Your brain is doing something quite remarkable right now. There around 40 environmental cues you can consciously pay attention to right now. Remember we have at least 27 senses (see here). Subconsciously this number is well over two-million. That’s a huge amount of data that can be used for prediction. The brain likes to know what is going on by recognising patterns in the world. It likes to feel certain. We learn much more than we ever consciously understand. Most of the signals that are peripherally perceived enter the brain without our awareness and interact on unconscious levels. This is why we say that learners become their experience and remember what they experience, not just what they are told.

Jeff Hawkins inventor of the Palm Pilot and more recently founder of a neuroscience institute explains the brain’s predilection for prediction in his book (On Intelligence),

Your brain receives patterns from the outside world, stores them as memories, and makes predictions by combining what it has seen before and what is happening now… Prediction is not just one of the things your brain does. It is the primary function of the neocortex, and the foundation of intelligence.

Meaning is not always available on the surface. Meaning often happens intuitively in ways that we don’t understand. So that, when we learn, we use both conscious and unconscious processes. In teaching, you may not reach a student immediately, but two years later he / she may be somewhere else and suddenly join the dots and get it.

The brain requires at the same time as this certainty a measure of uncertainty, causing variety. This is to avoid the boredom reflex and requires our brain to look for distraction. The evolution of play and creation of novelty stem from this quest for uncertainty. The need for the unknown, for change and new stimuli also makes us feel alive and engaged. This is in part caused by the hunger for information, just for the sake of it. Often that information doesn’t make us more effective or adaptive, it just reduces a sense of relative uncertainty.

Your brain loves a quick burst of dopamine we get when a circuit is completed. It feels good – but that doesn’t mean it’s good for us all the time. All of this explains many otherwise strange phenomenon. Knowing that we automatically avoid uncertainty explains why any kind of change can be hard – it’s inherently uncertain. It explains why we prefer things we know over things that might be more fun, or better for us, but are new and therefore uncertain. It might also explain why we prefer the certainty of focusing on problems and finding answers in data from the past, rather than risking the uncertainty of new, creative solutions.

This means that we are naturally programmed to search for meaning. This principle is survival oriented and is the basis of why your brain wanted to know the colour of my car (which I don’t have). The brain needs and automatically registers the familiar while simultaneously searching for and responding to additional stimuli.

We want to know what things mean to us. The brain likes to think ahead and picture the future, mapping out how things will be, not just for each moment, but also for the longer term. The paradox of certainty and uncertainty combined with significance and meaning.

Be Amazing Every Day.