We are very smart (when fooling ourselves)

badscience1Ben Goldacre has written an intriguing column for the Saturday’s Guardian.

The main premise: we’re very good at making ourselves believe that our own remedies work better than those of others.

Our system works (because we believe it does)

To prove his point, Goldacre refers to a psychological experiment where people were told they had to make sure that kids were coming in on time. So people designed all kinds of punishments as well as rewards to get the kids in at time. Since this was an experiment, all kids were randomly sent in but still most of the participants believed that it was their system of – mostly punishments – that did the trick.

Placebos work

We’re actually not that good at reading reality. What we’re good at is bending it. That can be an advantage though. Think about placebos. Whether you like it or not, placebos work (but only because we believe they do). It sounds like a paradox, I know. But sometimes we can actually fool our mind into ‘healing’ our body. But then again, maybe our mind has fooled our body earlier on into thinking we were ill.

Fooling the client, fooling yourself

There’s a more subtle manifestation of this make-belief at work when it comes to pitching a client. When putting together a pitch presentation, we basically say: ‘Do this, and you won’t regret it, because this, this will work.’ Since I’m in the communications businessand the deal is that you have to come up with something new every time, it seems like there’s no way to prove this but to make your point and stand for it.

When clienst refuse a solution, it’s easy to make yourself believe that they just weren’t ready for your way of dealing with things yet, that they weren’t prepared to take the risk. Basically, it’s their loss. But aren’t you fooling yourself here? Because how on earth can you say that you weren’t just making yourself believe that your ways of the world are the best ways to handle that world?

Creativity is foolisness used wisely

There’s no way to prove this but, well, to prove this. You can come up with some great examples from previous campaigns, you can test your campaignproposals in advance or you can just plead with your client to give it a go. If you do the latter, try to make sure that you’re really coming up with something new.

Because if you don’t and you make you’re client take the risk for something which isn’t that new at all, then you risk spoiling things for the real creatives who will need far more imaginative and persuasive arguments to convince your client afterwards.

Use your imagination, and your eyes

How to go about then? If you’re pitching a new idea, use your imagination to make it as visible and experiencable as possible. Come up with the greatest metaphors and make them as sensatory and sensational as possible.

And look out the window once and a while.

In his book The Ten Faces of Innovation, Tom Kelley of IDEO talks about the importance of the Anthropologist. For me, it’s a plead for looking out of the window more, for trying to understand the importance of fresh looks on life and how inspirational these can be:

“The Anthropologist is rarely stationary. Rather, this is the person who ventures into the field to observe how people interact with products, services, and experiences in order to come up with new innovations. The Anthropologist is extremely good at reframing a problem in a new way, humanizing the scientific method to apply it to daily life. Anthropologists share such distinguishing characteristics as the wisdom to observe with a truly open mind; empathy; intuition; the ability to “see” things that have gone unnoticed; a tendency to keep running lists of innovative concepts worth emulating and problems that need solving; and a way of seeking inspiration in unusual places.”

Have a nice Monday.

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One thought on “We are very smart (when fooling ourselves)

  1. The “Placebo Effect” is amazing, isn’t it. It relates to personal development and marketing as well. I liked the video a lot. Could say it’s funny, if it were not true. Expectations and perception are key factors, really.

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