Our Most Unhelpful Blog Post Of 2013!

It’s the end of 2013. Are you all making New Year’s Resolutions? You’re very unlikely to keep them, as Charles Duhigg, author of The Power Of Habit, could tell you. The basic problem is that when you make New Year’s Resolutions, you’re vowing to change habitual behaviour, and habitual behaviour isn’t something you consciously decide to do or not. It’s much more a product of environmental and unconscious cues and triggers – which mere willpower can’t do a lot about.

Habits are easiest to change when circumstances change. A big change in personal circumstances can reset and shift a lot of those environmental triggers, allowing different behaviour patterns to take hold. So if you really want to stick with the gym or stop snacking, one way to do it might be by losing your job, being evicted from your home, and divorcing your partner.

We did warn you this was an unhelpful blog post.

The good news is that writing resolutions down – making a social commitment – DOES increase your chances too. And there are a few other things you can do to improve your likelihood of keeping resolutions. Charles Duhigg himself has even written a handy guide to how to keep your resolutions – go and read it.

Oh, and whether you keep them or not, have a great 2014!

A Research Christmas Carol: Chapter Four

The end of our special Christmas research story. In Part One, data-obsessed Insight manager Ebenezer Brand had a ghostly visit warning him to change his ways. In Part Two, he learned to look at real not claimed behaviour. In Part Three he was brought up to speed with new technology, and is confident he can change. But there is one ghostly visit to come…

Ebenezer Brand’s happy and determined mood was not to last. He first began to notice a steady drop in temperature in his room, then a certain clamminess to the atmosphere, and the emotional disturbance this caused was certainly not helped when a grey-robed, cowled figure emerged from the plain wall of his room, and extended a frankly skeletal finger at the terrified researcher.


“A-are you the G-ghost of Research F-Future?” asked Brand.

The spectre’s cowl dipped briefly in acknowledgement.

“Bit of a rough year for the industry, then?” said Brand. But the Ghost was not one for small talk. Continue reading

Moving The Elephant

We love Daniel Kahneman’s ideas about System 1 and System 2 – so much that we’ve only got one slight problem with them. The names.

Kahneman uses the systems, he says, as a “metaphor” for how people make decisions – our implicit, fast mode of decision-making (System 1) is way more powerful than our explicit, considered mode (System 2). But System 1 and System 2 don’t really trip off the tongue. At least at first, you have to keep reminding yourself which is which. They’re not particularly intuitive. They are – whisper it – not very System 1….

So we’ve seen – and adopted – a few other metaphors, most of which do a pretty good job at making the theory live. There’s Rory Sutherland’s “the Oval Office and the Press Office” (one makes the decisions, one interprets them). There’s “autopilot” and “pilot”, which is straightforward but doesn’t quite capture how difficult it is to override implicit decisions.

And there’s our current favourite. Let me introduce you to… the Elephant and the Rider.

Where we got it from.

Continue reading

Five MORE Things To Ask Before Reporting On Survey Results

Here’s a great piece from the MRA’s Alert! Magazine last year – Five Things To Ask Before Reporting On Public Opinion. It covers things like who commissioned a poll, whether it was self-selecting, and who was included in the sample. If every blogger (let alone newspaper) followed these rules the conversation around research might be a lot more useful.

But this isn’t the whole story. Here are our suggestions for a few more critical questions you ought to ask before analysing survey results.

1. How long was the survey?

 Asking questions in a five minute telephone poll is likely to give different answers from asking the same questions at the end of an hour-long omnibus. To be honest boredom is but one visceral state which can dramatically affect survey answers – tiredness, hunger, arousal and more can have an impact, but we tend to assume those will even out across a given study. The tedium of dealing with a huge questionnaire, on the other hand, may not. Continue reading

Mirror Mirror

I saw an interesting bit of behavioural jiggery-pokery on PSFK last week – digital mirrors in clubs which delay their mirroring effect slightly, the object being to simulate the slow reaction times of drunk partygoers. Go look at the video here.

It got me thinking about an effect we’ve discussed at BrainJuicer quite a lot – the way you can get very interesting results by confronting participants with their own behaviour, not asking them about it.

We took to calling these tactics “McKeith Moments”, after the presenter of a British TV programme, You Are What You Eat. Gillian McKeith would get participants to keep a food diary, then – at the crux of the show –  present them with a table laden with everything they’d eaten all week. The shock of coming face-to-face with their own behaviour was the programme’s hook.

Big data: a classic “McKeith Moment”

Now, we aren’t in the business of making participants feel bad! But we do think their surprised, delighted or horrified reactions to their own activities – and the probing into them we can then do – are useful sources of insight in their own right. As behavioural data becomes easier to capture – and the notion that you can understand yourself better via aggregate than anecdote spreads – this could be a way of reinventing the researcher-participant relationship. Instead of asking people to draw pictures of themselves (with blunt crayons, all too often), we can hold up mirrors instead.