Category Archives: Influencing

David Merrill & Roger Reid: Social Styles

Social Styles are a model of personality that focuses on our outer behaviour, rather than the inner you. Its founders described it as ‘the you that’s on display’.

In the early 1960s, two industrial psychologists, David Merrill and Roger Reid wanted to understand whether they could predict managerial, leadership and sales performance. To do this, they explored how people behave in social situations. They chose not to concern themselves with why.

Starting with BF Skinner’s ideas of behaviourism and James Taylor’s structured list of behavioural descriptions, Merrill and Reid discovered that people’s behaviour follows two continua, which they labelled: assertiveness and responsiveness.

Assertiveness and Responsiveness

Assertiveness styles range from ‘asking’ behaviours to ‘telling’ behaviours, while our responsiveness varies from ’emoting’, or displaying our feelings, to ‘controlling’ our emotions.

From these two dimensions, they defined four behavioural styles that we each display. As with other models, we each have our preferences, but can display all of the styles from time to time.

The value of the model lies in using it to assess the people around you, and knowing how to get the best from people with each preference.

Merrill and Reid labelled our ability to adapt to other people’s styles as ‘versatility’.

Four Quadrants: The Social Styles

David Merrill & Roger Reid - Social Styles

David Merrill & Roger Reid – Social Styles

The four quadrants that the two dimensions of assertiveness and responsiveness create, give the four social styles.

Analytical

The analytical style of interaction asserts itself by asking, rather than telling. It is also characterised by a high level of emotional control. It values facts, logic and accuracy, presenting a disciplined and unemotional – some would say cold – face to the world. This manifests in a deep need to be right about things, and therefore a highly deliberative, data-driven approach to decisions. As with all styles, there is a weakness, which is a lack of willingness to state a position until the analytical person is certain of their ground.

Driving

The driving style is the typical task-oriented behaviour that prefers to tell rather than ask and shows little concern for feelings. It cares more about results. This is a fast-paced style, keen to make decisions, take power, and exert control. Often unco-operative, this is an efficient, results-driven behaviour, the inevitable compromise of which is to sacrifice personal relationships in the short term and, in extremis, in the long term too. The weakness of this style is evident: a frequent unwillingness to listen and accommodate the needs of others.

Expressive

The expressive style is also assertive, but uses feelings to achieve its objectives. The behaviour is highly spontaneous and demands recognition and approval, and favours gut instinct in decision-making. At its best, this style comes across as charismatic, enthusiastic and idealistic. At its worst, however, the expressive style can be seen as impulsive, shallow and even manipulative.

Amiable

The amiable style expresses concern for people above all else. Keen to share emotion and not to assert itself over others, building and maintaining relationships dominate behaviour. These concerns manifest a slow, deliberate pace, coming across as sensitive, supportive and dependable. The corollary is a certain nervousness about, and even a resistance to, change. This arises from a deep need for personal security. The weaknesses of this style are the reverse of the strengths of the opposite quadrant: a low willingness to initiate change, and take action.

Assessment of Merrill and Reid’s Social Styles

Is this just another four box model?

Well, yes and no. In its current form, the company that David Merrill formed, Tracom, uses the model with a third, fully-integrated dimension: versatility. This is about how the four styles manifest in the real world, to meet other people’s needs. It is  closely related to ideas of Emotional Intelligence.

Even as ‘just another four box model’, it’s a good one. As a result, it has been widely emulated. A very similar model by Tony Alessandra uses the styles of Thinker, Director, Socialiser and Relater to replace Merrill and Reid’s four social styles, and dimensions of relationship and task orientation, to replace responsiveness and assertiveness.

Both models have considerable power in helping managers understand their behaviours and those of other people around them. And by adapting their style, the models allow managers to get the best from any social situation. And work is, of course, if nothing else… social.

Robert Cialdini: Influence and Pre-Suasion

Whenever you buy anything on the internet today, it is almost certain you are buying from a site that has been designed explicitly to use one of the principles of influence that Robert Cialdini clarified, named, and described. Cialdini is to influence what Angela Duckworth is to Grit, Daniel Kahneman is to Bias, and Philip Tetlock is to Judgement; the supreme academic researcher of the field, whose principal book is a public best-seller… and deservedly so.

Robert Cialdini

Robert Cialdini

Short Biography

Robert Cialdini was born in 1945 and grew up in Milwaukee. He attended the University of Wisconsin, graduating with a BS in Psychology n 1967 and moving to the University of North Carolina to study for his PhD in Social Psychology, which he gained in 1970.

After a year of post-graduate studies at Columbia University, Cialdini became an Assistant Professor at Arizona State University, remaining there for the rest of his career. He became a full professor in 1979, and since 2009, he has held the post emeritus.

In 1978, Cialdini secured a grant to study ‘compliance tactics’ and embarked on a programme of attending training courses for salespeople, fundraisers, recruiters, advertisers and any other professionals whose secrets he could learn. He coined the phrase ‘compliance professionals’ to describe these and any other people (like politicians and religious leaders), whose job it is to secure our compliance with their wishes.

Combining careful study and analysis of their methods with his own experimentation, Cialdini built up a clear model of how influence and persuasion work. He published this  – first as a book for the popular reader, and then as an enhanced work, with references to scientific papers. This book, first published in 1984, remains in print today. It has been through numerous versions and editions.

My advice is to secure the latest edition of the US version. Not only does it have better paper, but it is the more academic version of the popular editions, with more references to follow-up. That edition is titled ‘Influence: Science and Practice‘. It is a little better than the very similar ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion‘.

In 1999, Cialdini started to exploit the popularity of his ideas more robustly, establishing his training and speaking business, Influence at Work. Two books have followed:

Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion
This gives 50 case study examples that are a compelling read, but offer little of the synthesis of Influence. It is co-authored by Noah Goldstein and Steve Martin.

Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade
At time of writing (September 2016), I have only recently received my ‘on the day of publication’ hardback edition. I predict that by the time this article is published (late December 2016) it will already be a big best-seller.

Robert Cialdini’s Six Weapons of Influence

It seems patently unreasonable to summarise a new book and deprive the author of his sales. And there is more than enough meat in Cialdini’s longer published ideas for a manager to benefit from. So, let’s look at the substance – in deep summary – of Cialdini’s early book on influence.

Cialdini identifies seven primary mechanisms for influence.

Yes, seven. Not six, as per my sub-heading. Not six, as almost every website on the topic will tell you. Seven.

Buried in a footnote to the introduction (who reads those? I do – for good reason) is the one Cialdini did not forget, but many of his readers fail to spot. He says:

‘I have not included among the six principles the simple rule of material self-interest: people want to get the most and pay the least for their choices.’

He goes on to say that he won’t discuss this further, not because it is not valid, but rather, that it is so obvious, and (in my words) supported by so much evidence from thousands of years of human history, that it needs no analysis.

So, onto the Other Six Principles

… which Cialdini smartly refers to as his ‘weapons of influence’. These are:

  1. Reciprocation
    You scratch my back, and I feel obliged to reciprocate. This is the law of the free sample, the negotiating concession, and the economy of small favours.
  2. Commitment and Consistency
    I call this the Jiminy Cricket effect, because, once you have made a public commitment to something, your conscience compels you to want to act in a way that is consistent with that commitment. Think of duty, loyalty, honour.
  3. Social Proof
    We’re like sheep really. All it takes is for others to act with certainty, and we just want to follow. Herd instinct and the power of testimonials and Amazon’s review system are at work here.
  4. Liking
    I’m nice, I’m like you, I look good, and you are drawn to me, and therefore more likely to take my advice, help me out, and do what I ask. Celebrity endorsements aren’t social proof, they are based on a desire to associate with people we like.
  5. Authority
    Why do we take advice from our doctor, accountant, lawyer, or car mechanic. Maybe they know stuff, and therefore have the authority to give advice we trust. So dress the part, show me your credentials, and associate with other experts.
  6. Scarcity
    We want what’s hard to get. Have you ever noticed that countdown timer on website sales pages? It tells you how long you have before that special offer gets withdrawn. Or do you feel a desperate urge to bid again, as the eBay clock gets close to zero? These are scarcity marketing at work.

Let’s hear Robert Cialdini describe these in his own words

… along with the new ‘7th Principle’ – Unity. This is the feeling of wanting to align with people that we feel we share identity with: the ‘one of us’ principle.

 

You may also like: The Influencing Pocketbook

Jennifer Aaker: Story Power

Jennifer Aaker wants you to get your message across. And her conclusion is that the best way you can do it is by telling a story. Stories are powerful, memorable, and impactful.

Jennifer Aaker

Jennifer Aaker

Short Biography

Jennifer Aaker was born in 1967 and grew up in California. She studied psychology at UC California, Berkeley, under Daniel Kahneman and Philip Tetlock, graduating in 1989. She went on to win a PhD at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business in 1995.

She went straight into an academic role as Assistant Professor in the School of Management at UCLA Anderson. She then returned to The Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1999, becoming a full professor in 2004, and General Atlantic Professor of Marketing in 2005.

We try to avoid framing our management thinkers in terms of their family members, but it is relevant to note in passing that Jennifer Aaker’s father is David Aaker – now an emeritus professor of advertising. Clearly he was influential in Aaker’s interest in branding and you can watch the two Aakers in conversation about brand and marketing.

However, she has moved away from that as her primary interest, focusing on two areas:

  1. the psychology of happiness, and how it relates to our perceptions of time and money
  2. how we can communicate via social media, using the power of storytelling

The two link together, because small acts, often mediated by social media messaging, can have an effect on our happiness.

In 2010, Aaker co-wrote The Dragonfly Effect with her husband, Andy Smith.

Brand Personalities

Jennifer Aakers came to prominence researching the personalities we associate with brands. Her idea was to see if there are a small subset of ‘personality types’ that consumers associate with brands. These would be like the ‘Big Five’ personality factors* in people. Each one is clearly distinct from the others and together, they account for a large proportion of personality traits.

Her assessment was that bands do have ‘personalities’ and that consumers make consistent interpretations. So her research set out to narrow the number of different personality types down to five. In her paper**, she shows how she reduced brand personality labels down to:

  • Sincerity
  • Excitement
  • Competence
  • Sophistication
  • Ruggedness

The personality dimension that a brand chooses to emphasise will influence consumer buying and loyalty choices. She advocated that brands can select a dominant personality type to emphasise, and present related characteristics to its audience. This creates a way to communicate brand identity and values.

Interestingly, subsequent work show that her five dimensions are far more parochial than the true Big Five Personality Factors. Outside the US, where she conducted her work, other brand personality dimensions are dominant, including Peacefulness in Japan, and Passion in Spain.

The Dragonfly Effect

The metaphor Aaker and Smith chose is one of a dragonfly’s agility being dependent upon it co–ordinating the use of four wings. In communicating effectively using digital media, Aaker and Smith’s four components are:

  1. Focus
    What one goal will you pursue?
  2. Grab attention
    How will you seize your audience’s attention in a noisy environment?
  3. Engage
    What story will engage your audience and appeal to their emotions?
  4. Take action
    What will you ask of your audience, and what difference will they make?

What Goal?

Before you communicate, you need to decide on a goal. It will need to meet five design criteria:

  • Humanistic – affecting people
  • Actionable – inspire action
  • Measurable – clear success criteria
  • Clarity – cannot be further simplified
  • Happiness – achieving the goal will make people happier

Grab Attention

To grab attention, your message must  be at least one of:

  • Personal
  • Unexpected
  • Visual
  • Visceral

Engage

To engage your audience, you need to tell a story. Stories connect the audience to the story-teller and create an emotional response. This is important because we primarily make our decisions emotionally, and use reason to justify them afterwards.

Take Action

People should fee ready and able to take action. As much as possible, make it easy for them, and fun. And the more they feel you are offering them something that is uniquely tailored to them and their circumstances, the more readily they will act.

Jennifer Aaker talking about her Research on Happiness

… and how it relates to social media.

 


* The Big Five Personality Factors are: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, Neuroticism

** Dimensions of brand personality, Jennifer L Aaker, JMR, Journal of Marketing Research; Aug 1997; 34, 3

Dame Fiona Reynolds: Conservation and People

Fiona Reynolds may have little profile internationally. She may even be little known in her home country of the United Kingdom. But her contribution has been hugely valuable and her approach to change offers a simple lesson we can all learn from.

Fiona Reynolds

Short Biography

Fiona Reynolds was born in Cumbria, in the North West of England, in 1958. She studied Geography and Land Economy at Cambridge University, graduating in 1979. She then took an MPhil in Land Economy, before taking her first job at the Council for National Parks. This is an umbrella organisation for a range of campaigning conservation organisations and amenity-holding organisations (now called Campaign for National Parks). She rose to Secretary to the Council, before moving, in 1987 to The Campaign to Protect Rural England, where she remained until 1998.

It was, perhaps, a surprising move, when Reynolds left the conservation sector and joined the UK Cabinet Office (serving Government) in 1998. There she took the role of Director of the Women’s Unit. Of her time as a senior Civil Servant, Reynolds say she found it frustrating. But she did learn how to make things happen without authority, by working with and around people. This was to serve her well in her next – and most important – role. She was honoured with a CBE for services to conservation, in 1998.

In 2001, Reynolds took up the post of Director General of The National Trust, where she stayed until 2012. She felt she had been brought in to make changes and indeed she did. At the end of her tenure, in 2012, she handed over a very different organisation to her successor. In 2008, she was awarded a DCBE and became a Dame.

In 2012, she became the Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge – one of the oldest educational institutions in the UK, some of whose alumni founded Harvard University. Around the same time, she also accepted a number of non-executive directorships including Wessex Water and, most notably, the BBC. In 2014, she became Chair of the Green Alliance, and in 2015, became Chair of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England.

Changing the National Trust

When Fiona Reynolds took over as Director General of the National Trust, it was a much loved institution that felt like a club for those who loved it most. For the majority of visitors, the experience of visiting one of its buildings was very much of their being privileged to be allowed in. There was a sense that the Trust tried to hold its assets in a vacuum and visitors were, at best, a necessary source of funds and often, were seen as a distraction and a nuisance.

But the Trust’s role is to hold its land and property assets in Trust for future generations – and our own. Reynolds set about reforming the Trust to create more visitor friendly and engaging experiences. She sought to involve families with ‘open arms conservation’. She restructured the Board, allocated funds for developing renewable energy sources, and placed children at the heart of visitor experiences. Easter egg hunts, Santa trails, craft and dressing up all came to the Trusts properties, and so, increasingly, did visitors.

At the heart of her conservation philosophy was localism, so the cafes and restaurants at attractions featured local produce, and more of this was grown on the properties’ own land and in their gardens. The Trust is now a thriving institution with full car parks for many weekends, and a real influence over Government policy, that comes from over 4 million members (membership almost doubled during Reynolds’ tenure).

Reynolds’ Approach

Reynolds has said little publicly about how she led the changes at the National Trust. However, what seems clear is that she did so by recognising that people and conservation are mutually interdependent. She is a gregarious person, who has become comfortable and adept at persuasion and negotiation, as well as deploying strong, evidence-based arguments.

While her role as Master of Emmanuel is not explicitly as a change agent, this ancient institution needs to continue to change, as it has done for hundreds of years. And it seems that Reynolds is an ideal person to lead this. Her management style looks simple, but never confuse simple for easy. She simply likes people and enjoys working with them. And if you want to understand how to make change happen, there is little more you really need.

Guy Kawasaki: Corporate Evangelist

It is a common cry that the internet has changed everything and almost equally common to hear that it has transformed marketing. One person leading the charge to dedefine marketing in the technology age is Guy Kawasaki; formerly, and perhaps most famously, Chief Evangelist for Apple.

Guy Kawasaki

Short Biography

Guy Kawasaki was born in 1954, in Honolulu. He says of his school that ‘it is not as well known as its rival, because no presidents of the US went there’. However, it did allow him to study psychology at Stanford University, from where he went on to UCLA, after a week at UC Davis; starting Law School, but finding it wasn’t for him. After gaining his MBA at UCLA, his first job was in the jewellery trade, which taught him how to sell.

Kawasaki’s next job took him into the milieu in which he has remained: the technology industry. It was when his employer was taken over, and he was asked to move to Atlanta, that he made the move instead to Apple, in 1983. There he took the role of ‘Software evangelist’ – his job was to convince developers to create products for a new computer that, at the time, had a tiny user-base, no backwards compatibility, and minimal sales. He stayed in this role for four years.

His next role was leading a software business, creating products for a new computer… He says deprecatingly of himself that he believed his own hype, but for a while, the database software that Acius created was among the best for the Apple system. A spell of journalism followed (in the Mac arena) and then he collaborated to set up another software company. But in 1995, Kawasaki returned to Apple as their ‘Chief Evangelist’ charged with developing and protecting the brand.

Leaving Apple again in 1997, he co-founded a technology venture capital business and gradually built up a wide portfolio of advisory positions with tech businesses. Indeed, he continued to found businesses too – most notably Alltop, and increasingly became a much in-demand speaker and author. He is currently Chief Evangelist at graphics and design software service company, Canva.

Kawasaki’s Ideas

The first thing to say is that Kawasaki’s ideas are not original, and I doubt he would claim it for them. His skill is creating a coherent narrative around ‘marketing by enchantment’ – using the ideas of soft influence to engage an audience and build a loyal customer base for a product or service. He himself likens the content of his book, Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds and Actions, to Dale Carnegie’s earlier book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. He also describes himself as the author of thirteen books, or of one book, written thirteen times. Be aware of this when shopping, as it does contain a grain of truth!

For me, Enchantment is the book that contains his central thesis. He describes ‘enchantment’ as ‘to charm, delight, enrapture’, and as ‘the process of delighting people with a product, service, organization, or idea.’

So how can you create enchantment?

Kawasaki identifies three primary requirements for enchantment:

1. Greatness

Greatness is about quality – you cannot truly enchant with a sub-standard product. If you want to enchant, you need to start with the passion to create a great product that people will crave, because it goes well beyond good: in Steve Job’s words; ‘crazy good’. Canva, with which he is currently associated, has been described as ‘the easiest to use design program in the world’. Whether or not you believe this is true, the fact that people with knowledge say this is a sign of its greatness (and it is pretty good – and free to use!). It is also an example of another of Kawasaki’s points: that a grand vision is not important, drawing the supposition that Richard Branson almost certainly had no concept of ‘Virgin Group’ when he started Virgin Records – he simply set out to create a great record label. For many years, Canva has been targeted at individuals; only recently has it started to create an enterprise level offering.

2. Likeability

You need to make your product or service likeable, by being humble, generous, decent and doing what you say you’ll do. Answer your phones quickly, and do the right thing for people. Kawasaki is mistrustful of charisma and instead urges real engagement with customers and prospective customers. Show them courtesy and respect, and do nice things for them and they will surely come to like you and your brand.

3. Trust

Long-term, likeability will turn into trust. When you continually delight with both the quality of your product or service and treat people exceptionally well, they will come to trust you. Once you have that, as long as you do not squander it, you have created real and valuable capital for your brand.

I think you can see that none of this is revolutionary.

So why is it important? It is important because it works, yet is not that widely acted upon. The burden of Kawasaki’s advice is honoured more often in the breach than the observance, as the vast majority of corporations continue to invest highly in traditional forms of marketing and advertising, which fail to respectfully engage with their markets. Why? I think because it is easier. I think that you can readily hire an agency for the one, but need exceptional individuals and exceptional commitment to ‘do enchantment’ well.

Presenting to Enchant
A short diversion

I was very much taken, while researching this blog, with Kawasaki’s simple advice for presenters, so here it is…

The 10-20-30 Rule:

  • 10 Slides
  • 20 minutes
  • 30 point font

Use lots of graphics and images

Where you can, demonstrate rather than explain

Kawasaki Speaking

Guy Kawasaki is a much in demand speaker. Here he is at TEDx talking about ‘The Art of Innovation’. This is one of my favourite TED talks with plenty of aha moments.

Jamie Oliver: Chef Businessman

There are many celebrity chefs, and many of them operate successful businesses, so choosing one to feature as one of our management thinkers is tough. But British chef, Jamie Oliver, more than fits the bill. For nearly twenty years, he has maintained the love of the public in the UK, avoiding mis-steps as he took his celebrity career to the US, retains fierce loyalty of people who have worked for and with him, and continues to grow his businesses steadily, whilst contributing significantly to some major philanthropic initiatives, many of which he has led.

Jamie Oliver

Short Biography

Jamie Oliver was born in Essex in the UK, in 1975. He grew up in Cambridge, where his parents ran and continue to run a pub. It was in their kitchen that he first learned the skills of cooking, which developed at catering college and started to take wings when Oliver spent time in France, learning the basics of classical cuisine.

Returning to England, he worked for renowned UK-based Italian chef Antonio Carluccio, where he met long-time friend and cooking mentor, Gennaro Contaldo. From there, he moved to a role as sous chef at Fulham’s River Cafe, where he appeared, unscripted, in a one-off 1997 documentary about the restaurant, and caught the eye of numerous TV producers. After five offers, he signed a deal that led directly to two series of The Naked Chef; a title that reflected his ideas of simplicity in cooking, rather than an alternative to traditional chefs’ whites.

This kicked off a hugely successful TV and recipe book career that continues today, with the addition of massively profitable mobile apps and his own YouTube channels with nearly 2 million subscribers between them. Perhaps his most notable television endeavours are:

  • The 2002 Jamie’s Kitchen,in which he took fifteen seemingly unemployable young people and trained them to be chefs in a restaurant, Fifteen, that subsequently won awards. The model has been replicated in several places and continues to train new cohorts of apprentices under the aegis of the charitable Jamie Oliver Food Foundation
  • The 2002 Jamie’s School Dinners which saw him campaigning for better food in Britain’s schools. This has led to other public health campaigns in the UK, US and Australia. In 2013, Oliver was made Honorary fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners in recognition of his food health campaigning
  • The same year also saw the first of many culinary travelogue programmes – a format that is particularly popular in the UK. This one took him to Italy and a cuisine he seems particularly attached to
  • Other food campaigns include Atlantic fish stocks, pig farming and poultry

But hey, this is the Management Pocketblog!

Reading about Jamie Oliver’s business nous, it is hard to select a shortlist of admirable management lessons that we can learn from him. These range from the obvious, like seizing opportunities that arise, assessing choices shrewdly, and trading on an endearing personality, to those which are hard for most of us to generalise to our own practice, like keeping a large proportion of your business interests within your family and network of close and trusted friends and colleagues. One might also have added, until recently, maintain a large share of the equity in your business (I believe Oliver owns around 80% in total of his many businesses at time of writing). However, in early June 2015, the press started to report that he is trying to raise significant equity capital to fund a major global expansion of some of his restaurant brands.

So what to focus on?

Jamie Oliver is a public personality, but he has used his charm and charisma shrewdly. He has avoided all manner of scandals that attach to celebrities (including other British celebrity chefs) and seems by all accounts to be a genuinely nice and decent chap, who inspires great loyalty. Many of his close business advisors and staff have been with him from very early on, and many people rush to praise him in the press. On the other hand, there seem to be very few public feuds. This has allowed Oliver to take his personality as the basis for all of his brands, many of which have his name attached to them: most recently, Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube – his primary YouTube Channel.

What are the elements of his personality-based leadership and management approach that can be emulated, if you put the work into them? I think there are five:

  1. Care
    Care passionately about what you do, whether it is your core business, your campaigns, or your appearances in public. And don’t be afraid to let your enthusiasm engulf those around you. This is charisma. And care also about the people around you. This attitude of Oliver’s has clearly rubbed off on many of the people who give interviews and quotes about him.
  2. Inspire
    Set out a vision that you truly believe in with a passion and you can engage people to follow you. Choose your fights wisely, but do be prepared to take on a big fight, if it is important enough to commit everything. You may lose, but Oliver shows that dedication and passion can mean that a catering college educated son of publicans, with little academic background can do better than win the ear of Prime Ministers, he can create an environment where senior politicians can barely afford not to take him seriously.
  3. Work Hard
    Without a doubt, Oliver works hard. His is not a glitzy celebrity without substance. He puts in the hours and models what he expects his followers to emulate. He doesn’t tell, he shows. He doesn’t enforce standards, he sets them for himself.
  4. Learn
    At every stage, Oliver has learned from his experience and grown with that learning. This is wisdom: to become more than you were yesterday, to learn from your mistakes, to shift your approach, and to come back again and again. He has made very commercial misjudgements, but when he has done, he has acted decisively, rather than hesitating, and moved on.
  5. Have Fun
    It is hardly possible to imagine Jamie Oliver without a smile. Even in the serious portrait shot at the head of this blog, he seems to me to be about to smirk. His sense of fun is a big part of his personality and his brand, but more than that, I suspect it is a major resource for him, in maintaining his resilience.

The Power of Food

Jamie Oliver being serious, passionate, and provocative about the impact of food on health: Teach every child about food.

Daniel Kahneman: Judgement and Bias

Daniel Kahneman has won many awards and honours, but none more surprising, perhaps, than a Nobel Prize. Why is this surprising? Kahneman is, after all, one the most eminent and influential psychologists of his time. It is surprising because there is no Nobel Prize for psychology: Kahneman was co-recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics ‘for having integrated insights from psychological research into economic science, especially concerning human judgement and decision making under uncertainty’.

In short, what Kahneman taught us was that, before he and his co-worker, Amos Tversky (who sadly died six years before the Nobel Committee considered this prize and so was not eligible), had started to study human decision making, all economic theories were based on the same, false assumption. Kahneman and Tversky taught us that human beings are not rational agents when we make economic decisions: we are instinctive, intuitive, biased decision makers.

And, if that sounds pretty obvious to us now, then we have Kahneman and Tversky, and their long walks together, to thank.

Daniel Kahneman

 

Short Biography

Daniel Kahneman was born in 1934 to Lithuanian emigré parents living in Paris (although he was born when they were visiting family members in Tel Aviv). When Nazi Germany occupied France, the family went on the run, ending up after the war in what was then (1948) Palestine under the British Mandate, shortly before the formation of the State of Israel.

In 1954 he gained his BSc from the Hebrew University, in Psychology and Maths, and joined the psychology department of the Israeli Defence Forces, helping with officer selection. Four years later, he went to the University of California, Berkeley, where he was awarded a PhD in 1961. He returned to the Hebrew University in 1961.

It was in 1968, while hosting a seminar, that he met Amos Tversky. They started collaborating shortly afterwards. Their fertile discussions often involved thought experiments about how we make decisions and judgements, uncovering in themselves a series of heuristics – or thinking shortcuts – which they went on to observe in controlled laboratory experiments. Their collaboration continued until Tversky’s death in 1996.

In that time, they collaborated with other researchers, most notably, Paul Slovic and economists Richard Thaler and Jack Knetsch. Their many insights into how we make judgements and the application to economic decision-making eventually led to the Nobel Committee recognising Kahneman with the 2002 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.

Kahneman’s 2011 book, Thinking, Fast and Slow is a summary of a remarkable life’s work. If the ideas are new to you, they may well rock your world. It is not an easy read, but it is remarkably well-written for an intelligent lay audience. Even if Kahneman’s work is familiar to you, this book will repay close reading.

Kahneman’s Ideas

There is far too much in Kahneman’s work to even begin to summarise it, so I want to focus on three biases that he discovered, which have a profound impact on the choices we make; often leading us far astray.

The Anchoring Bias

The first information we get biases any subsequent choices we make. Your father was right, or your mother or anyone else who told you at a young age that first impressions count. Systematically, the human brain takes the first information it receives, and creates an interpretation of everything else that is anchored in the inferences it draws from that first impression. In management terms, this accounts for the horns and halo effect, that biases us to seek and spot confirming evidence for our pre-existing assessment.

The Representativeness Bias

Who is a more likely person to find working in a car repair shop, changing your brakes? Is it A: a young woman with blond hair and pink eyeliner, or B: a young woman with blond hair and pink eyeliner, whose father owns the car repair shop?

If you think B, you have fallen for representativeness bias. The story makes more sense in our experience, doesn’t it? A young woman with blond hair and pink eyeliner is not a person you’d expect to see in that environment. But a young woman with blond hair and pink eyeliner, whose father owns the car repair shop, may feel right at home. But statistically, this is rubbish. For every young woman with blond hair and pink eyeliner, only a small proportion will also have fathers who own a car repair shop.

The Availability Bias

Recent events bias our perception of risk. They are more available to recall and hence have a stronger impact on our intuition than do counter examples. The classic example is perceptions of risk of train travel, after a train crash. Trains are safe: they rarely crash. Cars crash a lot: there are many accidents every day. But they are rarely reported, so we have no immediate intuitive sense of the statistics.

The Impact of Kahneman’s Work

Kahneman’s work has had a huge impact. Decision theory existed before he came along, but he and Tversky revolutionised it. But it was Kahneman, along with Tversky, Knetsch and Thaler who pretty much invented the discipline of behavioural economics – and perhaps the relationship that drove that development was the friendship between Thaler and Kahneman.

Now Behavioural Economics infuses much of public policy and social influence that corporations try to exert over us. Thaler’s book, Nudge (with Cass Sunstein) is a best seller and Thaler and Sunstein both advise Prime Ministers and Presidents. Next time you get a document from Government, or go into a store, and you find yourself complying with their wishes without thinking, there is a chance that you have been ‘nudged’. And the roots of these ‘choice architectures’? The roots are in understanding our heuristics and biases. And that was Kahneman’s contribution.

Kahneman at TED

Here is Daniel Kahneman, talking about how we perceive happiness and discomfort.