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

Ask Better Questions

Stop asking a dumb questions like, ‘what do you do?’.

Ask better questions. Every day. In my earlier years when I was naive I thought that my success would increase in proportion to the number of business cards I handed out. I handed them out in droves (printers loved it…) but I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t getting any business. After a few years of experience under my belt I realised that it wasn’t the numbers that count, but the quality of relationships that I nurtured.

To be a great networker you must become “you” centred rather than “me” centred. Recognise that people want to talk about themselves more than anything. They are their own favourite subjects. Take advantage of that and learn these 10 questions that will make people feel warm, appreciated, and important.

Zig Ziglar, the famous sales trainer once said,

You can get everything in life you want if you just help enough other people get what they want. 

This is so true. Thanks Mr. Ziglar.

The following are ten questions that Bob Burg, author of the book, “Endless Referrals” gives to help you get to know potential referrers and leave a lasting positive impression. Try using them today and see this amazing thing happen.

You’ll notice something in common with each of these questions. They all centre around the person you are talking to and allows them an opportunity to talk about themselves. Don’t expect to ask your Centre of Influence each of these questions, but do have a few ready when you talk to others. Think of it as a game – watch Brian Walters brilliant explanation…

 

 

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.

Innovate and Cry

I made someone cry at work the other day. I did not mean to, in fact I was trying to encourage them. I am sorry, I was wrong.

I have seen something more dramatic happen in the last few months. The truism innovate or die is being challenged. Lasting success is more rare than ever, as the innovation rate rises and competition gets tougher. So, how do you keep up with the increasing complexity and innovation in the market? The most natural way, of course, is to unleash the innovative potential of the organisation. Which can be very painful. To do so, a creative climate is a necessity, but far from enough. Innovation excellence requires shared language, processes and platforms too.

Explore, play and create novelty.Innovation as an expression of human creativity and lateral thinking, is not the result of economic development, but rather the source of sustainable economic and social progress. I am privileged to be working at the cutting edge of empirical service innovation and it is very exciting. In restaurants and hotels I work closely with, I see that they are constantly attempting to find innovative ways to serve customers more effectively and efficiently. My experience of seeing innovating in a service business, is that it seems to work best if the innovations are:

  • aligned with you why or purpose,
  • meet (and predict) a future consumer need and
  • can be delivered by empowered staff.

Now more than ever, innovation is seen as key to growth, to acquiring and sustaining competitive advantage, and to building shareholder value for the long term. But is innovation deflecting us away fro giving excellent service? Of course service systems are the dynamic configurations of people, technologies, organisations and shared information that create and deliver value to customers, providers and other stakeholders.

I see the innovation process fast becoming more open and more global. Setting up shop in local markets around the world and getting customers more involved in innovation efforts are now a vital part of any successful innovation effort.The rising significance of service and the accelerated rate of change mean that service innovation is now a major challenge to all business sectors. Innovation is forward looking. Solving yesterday’s problems is important, but not innovative. Copying what others do well is often a good approach, but not innovative.

Hotels, restaurants and the service industry form a growing proportion of the world economy and are becoming central to the way businesses, governments, families and individuals work. Innovation, a term applied almost exclusively to technologies in the past, is increasingly used in relation to service systems. Ideas of service are, of course, not new. However, the scale, complexity and interdependence of today’s service systems have been driven to an unprecedented level, due to globalisation, demographic changes and technology developments. Over the course of modern history, innovation has proved fundamental for formal organisations. In the past decades, as market competition intensified and the business environment grew in complexity and uncertainty, innovation became essential not only to an organisation’s performance, as several studies have demonstrated, but to its very existence and survival.

Innovation can be seen as a new or improved ways of designing and delivering services. This may include innovation in service delivery systems, though often this will be regarded instead as a service product innovation. Innovation of this sort may be technological, technique or expertise-based. While radical innovation can be viewed as market driving idea which comes from the leader’s vision of market opportunity, the incremental innovation from the service team is equally powerful. Just don’t make them cry.

It is surely true that every company, in every industry, needs an innovation strategy. This can be a high-tech product innovation, packaging innovation in consumer goods, or process innovation at financial services companies. But this requires a zoom out then zoom in approach. This results in a new challenge to service innovation, the real-time nature of introducing new services. The service cannot be tested in a laboratory. At minimum it must be pilot tested with real guests in a real hotel. Real clients in the restaurant. Even though innovations are desirable, the customers and organisation may resist them. And that can be dangerous ground and can produce some negative feedback on social media.

My passion for excellence requires that innovation is most successful in service operations that seek the support of employees for innovations and, beyond that, encourage employees to participate in a culture of innovation. Many individual strands of knowledge and expertise relating to service systems already exist, but they often lie in unconnected silos. Perhaps my favourite expression,

Learn, Love, Laugh, Cry and Innovate.

I will try not to make anyone else cry tomorrow.

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.

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.

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.

Innovation is full of Paradox.

Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins.

Tom Peter’s again, right on the money. Paradox can prove to be very revealing about human nature and leadership. Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum theory. He once said, ‘Now that we have met with paradox we have some hope of making progress.’ 

At the most basic level, a paradox is a statement that is self contradictory because it often contains two statements that are both true, but in general, cannot both be true at the same time. What generates real innovation is actually understanding why (and how) paradox can inspire people.

The origins of innovation can be found in the evolution and development of the neocortex. These higher centres of the human brain are the source of abstract thought and also our very human quality of learning from failure. The ability to Explore, Play and Create Novelty in a safe environment becomes critical. The word ‘innovate’ can be traced all the way back to 1440. It comes from the Middle French word [which apparently on my Linkedin profile is something I am an expert in] ‘innovacyon’, meaning ‘renewal’ or ‘new way of doing things’. This echoes Peter Drucker’s brilliant reflection on innovation,

Change that creates a new dimension of performance.

The act of introducing something new (innovation) begins with an internal brain process. We can look at where by using tools like fMRI to determine which areas ‘light up’ during the process but it’s origin is unclear. Somewhere there is spark, a neuro-chemical reactions and the beginning of the fascination over an idea. This state of innovation, constant fascination and being intensely interested in something, is a primitive survival mechanism that might not help survival (you might eat the wrong killer berry). Yet by making a safe environment, where we can explore, play and create novelty we create a spark that both motivates and innovates.

Daniel Pink beautifully describes (in his book Drive) the paradox of money as a motivator (watch the surprising results it delivers). Companies need to allow more autonomy and self direction. That’s why Google gives its workforce 20% of their time to explore projects on their own. That’s why 3M and W.L. Gore do something similar. They know that the root of innovation is fascination and failure.

Wise leaders accept their setbacks as necessary footsteps on the path towards success. In The Innovation Paradox, Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes argue that failure has its upside, success its downside. These two are not as distinct as we imagine. They co-exist, are even interdependent. Both are steps toward achievement.

It’s not success or failure, but success and failure.

Every company worth knowing has identified innovation as a core competency needing to be developed. However a large percentage of our time and our organisation’s energy is necessarily spent on activities that don’t require innovation. We also know that scaling up an innovation depends on the operation of relatively routine tasks and processes, many of which are in place and already have been proved effective. What’s needed in organisations whom aspire to a culture of innovation, is the energy to create a spark and then embrace success and failure as equals.

The key to the innovator paradox then is the development of this neurochemical spark within people. So what sparks people? If you do some analysis of the most creativity and innovate people in history, you will find that the spark lies deep in their brain. They are able to be curious and creative. They become fascinated, even obsessed by ideas. While it can certainly be supported by systems, it can never be reduced to systems. Because that’s where innovation starts, with the innovator and the inspired individual, compelled by their DNA to make a difference. Then all that person needs is from you is time, some resources, meaningful collaboration, and periodic reality checks from someone who understands what fascination is all about.

One’s only rival is one’s own potentialities. One’s only failure is failing to live up to one’s own possibilities. In this sense, every man can be a king, and must therefore be treated like a king. – Abraham Maslow

If you study the lives of people who have had those Eureka moments, you may well note that their breakthroughs almost always came after extensive periods of intense, conscious effort. They worked, they struggled, they explored, played and created novelty. They gave up, they recommitted and then the breakthrough came, often at unexpected moments. The conscious mind works overtime in an attempt to solve a problem or achieve a goal. Unable to come up with the breakthrough, the challenge gets turned over to the subconscious mind, which then proceeds to figure it out in its own, without time pressure and focus.

Coming up with the right question is at least half of getting the right answer. If you want a breakthrough idea, begin by coming up with a breakthrough question. Find the one that communicates the essence of what you’re trying to create. Perhaps Einstein said it best when he declared, Not everything that can be counted counts; and not everything that counts can be counted. He was referring, of course, to the part of the human brain that ‘knows’ intuitively; the part that is tuned in, connected, and innately creative.

If you, or the people who report to you, are not currently in a state of innate fascination, it’s time to turn things around. That is, of course if you really want to spark some innovation. Throughout history, the best managers and leaders always have allowed this special space of paradox and innovation to exist. Since failures so often lead to successes, and vice-versa, rather than try to sort these two out, wise managers focus on the innovation process and what can be learned from it.

What exists on the other side of failure, is fuel for your untapped creativity.

Be Amazing Every Day.

[If you don’t get this message, call me; if you do get it, don’t call. Spread the word.]

Secret World: Your Brain gets Fooled Again

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Three people check into a hotel. Sounds like the beginning of a joke. Well in a way it is, as they clearly don’t, they use Airbnb and get a really good deal. Unless, like me you try and book a room in Edinburgh in August when nothing is as it seems. All the advertised rates for booking are suddenly ‘unavailable’ when you book (because of demand for the world’s largest Arts Festival) and therefore they are doubled or triple the advertised price. Particularly annoying as I am doing a brilliant 4 week show there this August.

But imagine they did check in to a hotel and they got to pay the standard rack rate of £300 to the manager and go to their room (let assume there was no room tax or VAT and the manager accepted cash). The manager finds out a bit later that the special daily room rate is actually only £250 and gives £50 to the bellboy to return. On the way to the room, the bellboy reasons that £50 would be difficult to share among three people, so he pockets £20 and gives £10 to each person. Now, each person paid £100 and got back £10. So they paid £90 each, totalling £270. The bellboy has £20, totalling £290. Where is the remaining £10 pounds gone Who cares? Well if you do, the answer is at the end.

Your brain is so easily tricked that the retail and hospitality industries use this processing error for good and less ethical reasons. Tricks begin as soon as you walk into a shop or hotel, or are handed the menu… whether we like it or not, they playing brain and neuroscience games with us.

People aren’t rational thinkers because our brains takes short cuts all the time. In truth, research shows that a huge amount of decision-making is actually based on subconscious factors. An example of these subconscious factor comes from smells; they can transport us back to powerful and emotional memories from the past more effectively than sounds. The theory behind this has been around a while. French writer Marcel Proust, who in his novel À la recherche du temps perdu (In search of lost time – yes I have read it) describes a character vividly recalling long-forgotten memories from his childhood after smelling a tea-soaked madeleine biscuit. It is a well known fact that your memory and smells are tied closely together and there is a brilliant paper on this called ‘Odour-evoked Autobiographical Memories: Psychological Investigations of Proustian Phenomena’. Let’s call it (for simplicity) the Proust effect. It is used across retail, hotels and restaurants. Companies know this all too well and make use of scents and sounds to jolt your brain into liking or enjoying something. The true secret of successfully marketing a product is to pair a store or a product with a specific scent. If you feel at home in a store, you are more likely to buy.The first time you notice a new type of scent you will subconsciously connect this scent to an item or a person. After that the scent will trigger the response that you experienced to that person or item and hopefully a happy response.

Lets take a simple example: M&M’s don’t actually smell – try it next time you buy a packet. M&M’s are as I am sure you know, colourful button-shaped candies produced by Mars, Incorporated. M&M’s originated in the United States in 1941, and are now sold in as many as 100 countries. The company’s longest-lasting slogan reflects this encasing and sealed in essence:

Melts in your mouth, not in your hand.

But the famous M&M World Store in London (35,000 square feet store selling M&Ms products and merchandise is the largest candy store in the world) has a surprisingly strong chocolate scent when you walk in. You would expect that wouldn’t you? You want to feel like you are entering Willy Wonka’s chocolate lab when you go there. But then you look around and realise that all their wares are prepackaged. And you realise that the strong smell of chocolate is being sprayed at you with a vengeance. And your happy chocolate bubble bursts.

The Holiday Inn hotels chain has been using scents combined with the right kind of music to invite you to stay longer in their rooms, lobbies and bars. The company uses a rose scent for weddings and a leather-based scent for business meetings and similar functions. Even the chlorine pool smell comes from a bucket of powder that is added to the air system in the mornings! Should you have something to celebrate, the Holiday Inn will make your party smell fruity! This type of sensory marketing is used by many hotel chains.

This leads to an odd unintended consequence in hotels. Your glasses (on the fridge, mini bar or shelf of most hotels) have a lemony flavour. According to industry expert Jacob Tomsky, it’s Pledge lemon furniture spray. Jacob should know, he has worked on the front lines of hotels for more than a decade, starting as a lowly valet in New Orleans and ultimately landing at a front desk in New York City. He’s also the author of Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality and a man with some hospitality secrets to spill.He says that furniture polish is sprayed on a thick white base, rub it in, and you’ll be face-to-face with a spotless, streak-free mirror. The housekeepers kept this move behind closed doors along with another dirty secret he didn’t discover until he walked in on cleaners with Pledge in one hand and a minibar glass in the other. Keeping those glasses clean-looking was also part of the job. So the next time you put a little tap water into the glass and wonder why it has a pleasant lemon aftertaste, it’s because you just took a shot of Pledge.

Another neuromarketing experience that you should know (but probably have never thought about) it that you go into a restaurants or hotels knowing exactly what they want to order or how much they want to spend, and we can be influenced by all sorts of things that we’re not aware of. It appears there is a growing industry at the centre of all this is, the humble menu. You might think that the restaurant menu merely tells you what items are available in a certain establishment. Actually, it is a very sophisticated piece of marketing and advertising. In fact, it’s the only piece of advertising that restaurant owners can be certain their customers will read. As a result, restaurants invite in specialised menu consultants (people like me) whose job it is to lay out a menu that will persuade you to spend more money than you’d expected. I know it is all my fault and I apologise.

You may have noticed that increasingly the prices on menus no longer employ the Pound sign (£) (or Dollar $ Sign) or even any evidence of pence. Where once a steak might have cost you £16.00 now its price is stated as ‘16′ no full stop or pence. Have you noticed this happening? well it’s not just happening in the high end restaurants. I have found there are no pound signs at Carluccio’s, Byron, Giraffe or Cafe Rouge either. This is not a coincidence. A study by Cornell University’s Centre For Hospitality Research in America found that when, in a similar move, dollar signs were left off a menu, sales increased by eight per cent. For that same reason, you now never see dots leading the eye from the description of the item to the price.

Why might an item on the menu have a box around it? It’s not because it’s a dish the chef is particularly proud of, it’s because it earns a high profit for the restaurant.Alternatively, the menu might use other methods to draw our attention: an item in a different colour; an accompanying illustration; a different typeface.

Professor Charles Spence, a psychologist at Oxford University, is the co-author of The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science Of Food And Dining, and alert to the techniques in play. ‘I was in the burger restaurant Byron the other day,’ he says. ‘The menu is all in black and white, except for one item, which is highlighted in bright red. And it’s their most expensive item.’ Professor Spence says that people are also likely to spend more if menus and especially wine lists are heavy to handle. Even the use of hypnotic language words that menus now use (sorry again – my fault) can persuade us to splash out more.

If you want to learn more about the is exciting field, I suggest you take a look at the very brilliant Kate Nightingale’s Style Psychology site. She really is the expert on how you can use the human brain for good in the retail sector.

 

Oh and to put you out of your misery about the missing £10 (or should I say ‘10′ Count how much money each person started with and how much each person ends up with. Each person paid £90, totalling £270. The manager has £250 and the bellboy has £20. The bellboy’s £20 should be added to the manager’s £250 or subtracted from the guests’ £270, not added to the guests £ 270. Simple really.

Now who has a nice place in Edinburgh for me to rent in August at a fair price?

Be Amazing Every Day.

The 3 Most Powerful Brain Words

Fah Fah Fah.

Yes these 3 simple words (or sounds) are, in fact, amazing. I know that might be a stretch and maybe a bit difficult to absorb at first; but please bear with me. It is not just that I have been away, (although I have just had a brilliant short break, skiing the powder in the French Alps); or that I have been eating some amazing Michelin Star food (at the very brilliant Ferme de Montagne, in Les Gets, France); or even talking to some super bright people about the meaning of life. Oh no.

Nor have I gone completely off the rails (I hope not), not even with the ‘dread’ of a return to work (because I really love my work). However, on arrival back in the UK today, I immediately wanted to go back skiing again. Greedy maybe, but you know that our eyes are often described as bigger than our stomachs; the same may be true of the need for better (and more frequent) hospitality trips, extreme pleasure experiences, conversation and great company. You see we are so completely dependent on our 27 + senses, every moment of the day, that we totally forget how poor and easily mistaken they can be. Yes, read this if you have any remaining thoughts of there being 5 senses.

Our multiple senses aren’t just giving a flawed view of what’s going on in the world; they’re affected by what’s going on elsewhere, by your pre-programming and by complex sensory interactions. Your reality is in fact cobbled together from a bunch of different parts of your brain working in conjunction. It’s a bit like a crazy ski lift queue (or line in the US) full of insane snowboarders, from different countries, all going in different directions: trust me, that is pretty messy. In fact, I am sure your brain does it’s best to convince you that it is working just fine, despite the reality of it being a messy, chaotic place.

Let’s take food as an example of the chaos and confusion that exists in your brain. Many people have experienced the following parental statement: You can’t leave the dinner table until you finish your food (or think of the starving children and other versions exist). That common parental mantra turns out to have left a mark.You may know that if you are offered varying amounts of food on a plate, you will end up eating more if there’s more food on the plate. This can happen regardless of how hungry you are. We eat more ice cream if we use a larger spoon than if we use a smaller spoon. According to new research, adults from many different cultures around the world typically finish almost all of the food that’s on their plates. It may make you a member of of the Clean Plate Club – you eat pretty much everything you put on your plate. The new Cornell University study shows that the average adult eats 92% of whatever he or she puts on his/her plate. Brian Wansink Ph.D., author of the forthcoming book, Slim by Design, says, If you put it on your plate, it’s going into your stomach.

Wansink and co-author Katherine Abowd Johnson analyzed 1179 diners and concluded that we’re a Clean Plate Planet. Although diners were analysed in 7 developed countries, the US, Canada, France, Taiwan, Korea, Finland, and the Netherlands, the results were nearly identical. If we serve it, we’ll eat it regardless of gender or nationality.

A further study finds that hungry people see food-related words more clearly than people who’ve just eaten. The study, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that this change in vision happens at the earliest, perceptual stages, before higher parts of the brain have a chance to change the messages coming from the eyes. The research 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.

Not convinced? Ok, so here comes the most amazing demonstration of how to confused your brain becomes by just 2 of those 27 senses.

Your Eyes Can Make You Hear Different Words.

When you hear someone talk, the whole process is normally pretty straight forward and I am sure you are pretty confident you won’t be fooled.The sound comes out of the other person’s mouth, it travels into your ears and you just heard what they said….this must be so, because you experience it every day. If your hearing works fine, what could possibly go wrong?

The very short answer is your eyes are playing a deep and powerful trick on you. You see, vision is the most dominant sense in humans, and that means that what your eyes are seeing will sometimes override what your ears are hearing. So let me prove it in this extraordinary clip from a brilliant documentary on BBC2 called Horizon: Is Seeing Believing?

You will see (and hear) a guy saying bah bah bah over and over. Afterward, he changes his tune to fah fah fah … or so your eyes would have you believe. In reality, the audio never changed, only the picture did. That is, the voice is still saying bah, but since it’s now dubbed over a picture of the same guy pronouncing fah, your brain actually changes what you’re hearing so that it doesn’t conflict with what you’re seeing. If you close your eyes or look away, fah automatically goes back to being bah. This illusion is called the McGurk effect, and even knowing know full well what’s going on, you can’t get your ears to hear the correct sound. The McGurk effect tends to be minimised when you’re interacting with familiar faces, but it gets worse if you’re dealing with strangers. Things like the way the person is dressed or even what they’re carrying can influence the words you think you hear them say.

So all this research indicates that our perceptions increase toward items that our body wants or needs. But how does this relate to hospitality and my need for another holiday?

Well the simple answer is, it is very complex.

What really motivates people to want to travel, go to a posh restaurants or spend more money on goods and services is driven by internal (old) programmes, powerful external stimuli and by conflicting patterns and hierarchies within the brain.

So if ‘food hunger’ enhances our senses toward food, what does our selection of attractions tell us about what we are lacking, or hungry for, in our day to day lives? Because that is what is guiding our attention to travel magazine, TV shows and advertisements. While I was bashing the new powder snow, what were the things that motivated me to eat at the best restaurant? Why did I seek fine minds to discuss neuroscience with? What do these and many other choices that we make, say about our motivations and needs? What further adds to the improbably hard equation to solve, is why are these so different from one person to the next?

These are the kinds of questions that are getting me (and others) excited. By seeking new clues and answers from a variety of fields we might get closer to the secret of human decision making. If we can understand this powerful mechanism then the following 3 words make perfect sense,

Bah Bah Bah

Be Amazing Every Day.