so what

so what

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Belonging Becomes Believing: What Religion and Cheesesteaks Have in Common.

Pilgrims waited ridiculously patiently for hours to attend the Papal Mass,
Two weeks ago I spent three days inside the Black Zone.

The Black Zone is what the City of Philadelphia chose to call the secure area on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway where Pope Francis would, among other things, celebrate an open-air mass for up to a projected million pilgrims. They apparently called it the Black Zone because, when first outlined on a map, they used a black marker.

That loud sound you just heard:  all our colleagues in marketing, advertising, and public relations simultaneously slapping their foreheads in disbelief.

But surprisingly, a missed marketing opportunity is not what I’m going to focus on in this post. The reason the name was so inappropriate? The pilgrims inside the Black Zone were the least psychologically dark people I have ever seen – and there were over eight hundred thousand of them packed onto the temporarily car-free Parkway.

Still waiting patiently
They were camped out on the grass, side by side, without any noticeable regard to race, age, or class: church youth groups from Central American villages and American suburbs, families with camp chairs and picnic baskets, Spanish-speaking families spread out on a blanket with lunch in a paper bag. Nuns from other countries wearing habits I hadn’t seen in the US since high school. Senior citizens side by side with young family groups, old hippies and young tattooed hipsters with babies, Midwesterners and Canadians, Vietnamese and Guatemalans – far too many cultures and ethnicities to enumerate. 

To the surprise and dismay of our upscale restaurants, these weren’t free-spending tourists. They were pilgrims, and many had made sacrifices to get here; the family that drove thousands of miles from Argentina, the kids who worked all summer to raise the money for their family trip, the three ladies who spent 16 hours on the bus from Indiana... everyone had a story. 

All on a pilgrimage to see their Pope, they were happy to be here, and they were – to use a word I haven’t used since the 1960s – mellow.

How mellow? After dealing with crowds of nearly a million over the long weekend, the police announced they made only three event-related arrests.


So what made this crowd unique?  The Parkway has hosted huge crowds before – everything from concerts to fireworks to festivals—July 4th is the big one here. Why was this crowd so casually indifferent to the social, racial, and class distinctions that usually divide us?

The answer lies not in the Catholic faith, but in the larger question: why people choose to join an organized religion in the first place.

It was long thought that those who volunteer their time for church activities are those with the strongest belief. That assumption turned out not to be true.

Fundamentalist Christian trying to convince
Catholic Pilgrims of the error of their ways.
Yep. 1 Timothy 2:5 ought to do it.

Church authorities usually cite three principal motives for joining religious groups: Belief, Behavior, and Belonging, although they may prioritize them differently.

Most Christian churches put believing first – they think people join to validate their faith. That’s why certain Christian sects punctuate their sermons with Biblical quotes. Jews and Muslims, on the other hand, traditionally give first priority to stressing behavior as the pathway to stronger belief.

There has been a lot of research on this question over the past two decades. And the evidence is now clear: when it comes to belief systems, behavior and beliefs are outcomes of belonging, not the reverse. 

We join first to belong, and a strong sense of belonging affects our behavior and beliefs.

That shouldn’t be surprising. As social beings, we all exhibit a compelling preference to be among people like ourselves.  We don’t do well on our own, which is why school shooters and serial killers are inevitably described as “loners.”

We not only want to be with others, we need to be with others. But we don’t want to be with just anybody. This tendency to associate and bond with others similar to ourselves is called homophily or affinity

The beauty of a belief system is that people don’t have to look like you – they simply have to share the same values. Thus the apparent blindness to race, class, and social markers of the Parkway pilgrims.

The days when the priest told the congregation to pray to save their immortal souls are over. This Pope asked the congregants to pray for him

Today belief and behavior are recognized as outcomes of a social bonding process. It turns out that people don’t leave their church because they no longer believe. They leave when they feel they no longer belong.
Buddy Pope.

In the marketing world we recognize that brand loyalty can disappear when the manufacturer changes the product so much that the values customers originally saw in it can no longer be recognized. Vatican II started the first exodus when they changed the structure of the mass so much that it no longer evoked the rituals and traditions so central to belonging. The child molestation scandals and cover-up sparked another mass exit.

These people didn’t lose their faith, they just lost their sense of belonging.  I know, because I talked to many people from both groups on the parkway while they waited for the papal mass to begin. Like I said, everyone had a story.

As social beings, shared rituals and traditions are central to reinforcing our sense of belonging, no matter what the group. For example, colleges and universities with strong and deep rituals and traditions have the most loyal and supportive alumni. My old Catholic high school, which was big on rituals and traditions, has a larger and more loyal alumni organization than many universities. Belonging is believing.
Rituals also drive customer loyalty for products. Do I have to even explain Disney? It’s the gold standard for a values-based company.

Coca-Cola, like Disney, is another values-based company. Their advertising traditionally has been based on family events and holidays—high values-based cohesive moments, and basic to memory. Coca-Cola has one of—if not the—highest levels of brand loyalty in the world.

Coca Cola ads defined what Santa looked like in the 1940s and 50s.
Coke drinkers don’t drink Pepsi, and Pepsi drinkers don’t drink Coke. Most people cut back or stop drinking carbonated soft drinks altogether around age 50.   But research shows that brand loyalty remains strong even among people who no longer drink the product!

For my generation, Coke advertising pretty much defined what Santa Claus looked like. That left Pepsi and other cola brands to focus their advertising on youth, a key demographic but a diverse and proximity-driven audience with lower rates of engagement and community.

And as the ultimate example, you’ve probably heard of the Philadelphia cheesesteak, considered the city’s signature sandwich.

A few blocks from our home in South Philadelphia are two famous cheesesteak takeout joints, Pat’s and Geno’s, each with legions of loyalists. And the basis of that loyalty is that the “best” place is the one your family first took you to.

Cheesesteaks are a social food, they are a food designed to celebrate - and you don’t celebrate alone. You go there in groups, where years of tradition and ritual made their mark on the believers.

In Philly, cheesesteaks are not just food - they are a belief system.

Now you must understand, these places have a particularly South Philly style of rivalry. They are right across the street from each other. They use the same meat, the same ingredients, the same bread, the same equipment, the same cooking style - and whenever one shop is extremely busy, some of the employees of the other will walk across the street to help out.

They’ve been doing this for years. There is no earthly way you can tell the difference between a cheesesteak from Pat’s and one from Geno’s. You couldn’t even do it with a laboratory analysis.

But you could never, ever, convince their customers of that. Both groups believe that their choice is the best, and they demonstrate that belief, over and over again, by standing in long lines rather than cross the street to the less busy joint to buy the exact same sandwich.

Whether it is a religion, a theme park, a product, a university, or a cheesesteak, it’s the feeling of belonging that inspires strong belief and loyalty, not the other way around.
Source: Flickr user Yuri Long

Monday, October 12, 2015

That’s Entertainment! Why I Write the Way I Do.

“I don’t remember the last time I read a piece that combined scholarship with wit and  tantalizing sequences of intellectual ‘peek-a-boos’ that keep the reader enthralled”
-          Herb Adler, M.D. Ph.D.

That’s an actual review I received for one of my posts.

It’s flattering, and way more effusive than I am used to, but that’s not why I cited it. I cited it because his phrase “…tantalizing sequences of intellectual ‘peek-a-boos’” makes me suspicious.

I think he is on to me.

You see, that's pretty much sums up how your brain processes information, and those initials after his name are a damned good indicator that he knows it.

So I'll tell you a secret. That’s why I write the way I do. 

I’m not writing for you—I’m writing for your brain.

Let me explain.  
Your adult brain weighs about three pounds. That is, on average, about 2% of your body weight. However, it consumes 20% of your energy.

Most of that energy is spent connecting neurons to one another, thereby connecting thoughts and ideas. Reading burns a lot of calories; so does sitting through a class. And you burn even more when you are trying to comprehend unfamiliar information.

Familiar information is easier to integrate because the neural links involved are already in place. Think of your brain as an enormous file cabinet, brimming with folders. If you already have a file folder for the category, it’s a simple task to slide any related information into it. No sweat.

But unfamiliar information is much harder to integrate. Your brain can’t stand random data. It has to make sense of it by comparing it to what you already know and discovering the relationships between the new information and the information already stored in your brain.

In other words, the first question your brain is trying to answer about incoming data is “So what?”

First your brain has to compare it to what it already has on file, then, on failing to find a simple match, it must then decide whether the new information is important enough to take the trouble of opening a new file. If your brain can’t answer the question “So what?” new information simply gets dumped in the trash – immediately forgotten.

But if it does seem important, the brain has to decide where the new file should fit into the existing system.

That’s a lot more work, so you burn a lot more calories. The brain runs exclusively on glucose – that’s high-test fuel – which is why we get the urge to consume sugary snacks when we’re working on the computer.

Thinking is hard work, so you get tired simply from reading or sitting in a classroom. The average time tolerance for sustained attention is about 20 minutes. The average college class is 50 minutes.

Your brain gives up well before the rest of your body does, but since it is controlling your emotional state, you feel fatigued even though you haven’t been doing anything more physical than sitting and reading or listening to a lecture.

 So what does all this have to do with how I write for this blog?

There is a word in English that means “to capture and hold the attention.”  Writing for the internet is all about capturing and holding your attention, and doing it fast.

It has to be fast. Because the average attention span in 2000 was 12 seconds.  The average attention span today is just 8.25 seconds.

By way of comparison, the average attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds.

That doesn’t mean what you think it means.

It doesn’t mean that people are dumber than goldfish. It means that people are getting smarter than previous generations. Because we now have generations raised on smart technology, we have a lot more practice than our parents and grandparents in absorbing and evaluating chunks of information.

That requires instant grasp of theme, scope, and importance across the vast terrain of Internet content. And anything the brain does a lot of, it learns to do faster and more efficiently.

Which means we are getting better at evaluating information based on smaller samples. Your average web page is 593 words. We read about 28% of them.  We can scan 100 words in 4.4 seconds. This means we spend just under seven seconds assessing the average new website.

Not read, scan. We don’t read every word, we scan for significant clusters of words. When we read for information, we scan for concepts and themes (including visuals), rather than focus on individual words. (Reading for pleasure is a totally different system.)

So what is the word that means “to capture and hold the attention?”

The word is “entertain.” People confuse that word with “amusement”; there is a huge difference. 

Entertainment is serious. 

We entertain ideas. Ideas capture and hold our attention. To amuse means the polar opposite: to divert or distract, as in diversion. Completely unlike activities.

So I write in a style that slips information into your brain in the most efficient way possible. Your brain likes that and, not only does it not make you feel tired,  but rewards you by releasing chemicals that make you feel great.

This is how it works:

To start with, my subject is the most important subject in the world. I am writing about you.

There is nothing more important to the brain than YOU. Your brain is constantly scanning at the subconscious level for anything that either enhances or threatens your survival.  It’s so fine-tuned that it will pick up a mention of your name across a crowded, noisy, room—while you are in the middle of a conversation with someone else.

So my topic is that very thing your subconscious brain is already the most interested in. 

Second, I am releasing this information in short, easily integrated bursts. There are no paragraphs longer than three sentences.

Each chunk of information slides into place with a minimum of fuss, making it easy for you to continue reading. After all, it’s just another three sentences – and then another three, and another - no sweat.

Third, the brain likes novelty, so I try to couch information in ways you might not have thought of before. It helps that I am a bit of a smartass.

And finally, there are those drugs I spoke of. Besides building neural nets, your brain manufactures its own neurochemicals. You may know the names of the more popular ones: serotonin, epinephrine, and dopamine.

Dopamine acts as a neurotransmitter and plays important roles in motivation, arousal, cognitive control, reinforcement, and reward.

To your brain, a reward is a stimulus it uses to modify your behavior. Your brain actually likes learning new stuff, so when you connect up a new neural pathway, it rewards you with a shot of dopamine, and that makes you feel good (this is sometimes called the Aha! moment).

What you reward is what you get more of. You’ve heard of adrenaline junkies? Same thing. The clinical name for adrenaline is epinephrine.

The same with serotonin. It's the neurotransmitter that maintains mood balance, fights depression and anxiety, and underlies general well-being. Ecstasy and LSD boost serotonin levels, which is why they are popular.

Your brain, the drug dealer.

So that’s it. I write the way I do to fit the way your brain naturally takes in information. 

(1) Write about something the brain is predisposed to pay attention to.
(2) Give information in sequential, easily integrated chunks.
(3) Mix in a little novelty and humor at regular intervals to keep things interesting.
(4) Organize the flow of ideas to make it easy for the reader to make new connections in a way that the brain will reward you with a shot of happy juice.

And you will notice that at no time did I “dumb down” anything.

And you just read 1300 words.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Your brain lives in a Transactional Reality - and it can read minds.

I predict it's going to cost more than 99 cents
Part of what we do in our client work is predict the future. How we do this is a subject for another post, but we are ridiculously accurate.

The fun bit is hearing someone inevitably declare, “No one can predict the future!"

”Our response? “Billions of people do it every day.”

And they are good at it. 

This is because humans are social primates. We don’t just want to be around other people, we need to be with other people.

Because of this compulsion to mingle we enjoy thousands of years of evolutionary experience in reading the signals others send. These signals we constantly monitor—dress, body language, family interaction, voice tone, eye contact, familiarity level—are the cultural cues that fix our position relative to the group and our environment.

All of us are sending and receiving constantly and unconsciously. We are blissfully unaware of the process - until our unconscious mind spots something that demands directed attention, like a possible threat, an attractive potential mate, or simply hearing our name across a crowded room.

We live in a Transactional Reality: the steady but invisible exchange of information. It’s why we behave differently in groups than as individuals.  Far from isolated units, we are born, raised, and live our lives within a shared cultural matrix. Just as the “empty” space between the particles of an atom are alive with forces (such as gravity) that shape its behavior, the space between people is a dynamic cultural communications network.
We can do this because the human brain is essentially a pattern-seeking device. Among the leading patterns our brain searches out is human intention, based on repeated patterns of emotions, body language, context, and a myriad other variables.

Certain emotions are universals – every culture shares them and expresses them in the same recognizable way. Basic emotions are so easily profiled that we can mimic them with a few strokes of a computer keyboard to create emoticons that our brain will instantly recognize even if it is sideways. :-)  

And it appears that not only can other people read our emotional expressions, but simply making them affects our own mood. Make a frown and you will feel a bit sad; force yourself to smile and your mood will lighten slightly. Weird but true, we can change our own mental state just by faking it.

All this happens in the service of the Hidden System that enables complex social relationships that are the hallmark of human societies. This skill set is understanding the mental state of others. It’s called Theory of Mind: the conscious understanding that we each have mental states expressed as beliefs, intents, perspectives, knowledge, experience, motives, and desires.

What’s more, we understand that others also have mental states and that those states may be different than our own at any time and place.
The most astonishing fact is that we don’t think of this as astonishing at all. We just proceed to play our part in this vast transfer of subconscious information without ever realizing we are mind reading.

But we are. Constantly projecting ourselves into other people’s minds, deciding what they are thinking and feeling (and why). Even more boldly, we predict what they will do in the immediate future. The incredible reality is that our predictions so often prove correct.

Or, rather, it would be incredible if we actually thought about it. Which we don't
We aren’t born with this ability, it’s an outcome of that pattern-seeking brain of ours. what takes us a while to learn is that other people may have knowledge, feelings, motivations, and desires separate and distinct from our own. Children don’t develop full Theory of Mind until around age seven.

The outcome is empathy - the ability to understand the emotional state of others.
And that’s exactly where our little mind-reading act can go all pear-shaped.

Emotion-reading makes you powerful, but at the same time, it also makes you vulnerable. Not everyone has your best interests at heart. Some people are more empathetic than others. Besides highly empathetic people, there are two other groups who score just as high on reading emotions. Want to guess who?

Narcissists and sociopaths.

People who score high on the type of narcissism called exploitativeness find it easy to manipulate people into doing what they want. Where empathetic people can see caution and thoughtfulness, exploiters read uncertainty and low confidence. That makes those people targets.
Empathy is a powerful weapon in the wrong hands.  The world is full of manipulative types: emotional abusers, self-declared psychics, hucksters, pitchmen, and other skilled empaths, all trying to sell you something, from a new household appliance to investments to a belief system.

Now THAT is one grumpy cookie!
And there is another issue with empathy. We can also fool ourselves.

Our brains are designed to read faces for key information such as emotional state, possible intention, and potential threat.

However, we have only a single model to compare those to – our own human emotions.

Which would be ideal, if we experienced empathy just with other humans.  But our brain is so primed to detect and interpret faces that we see them everywhere, a phenomenon called “pareidolia.”

This means we see faces in clouds, rocks, trees, and flowers, and we assign precise emotions to those faces. We post their pictures on the internet. A quick search will find grumpy cookies, astonished electric sockets, happy household appliances, and hundreds – if not thousands – of other anthropomorphous objects.

It’s even easier to do when what you are looking at actually has a face.  So we apply human face-reading to animals. We read their faces as if they were human, and Angry Bluebird, Grumpy Cat, and Stoner Dog becomes internet memes.
Complicating the problem is that vision doesn’t work as we think it does. That’s a story for another post, but the short form is that we don’t always see what’s actually there. Instead we see what we expect to see.

There is speculation that empathy plays a part in human spirituality. The thinking is that since the brain is programmed to find meaning and intention in people’s behavior, it also can find intention in everything else – from natural disasters like floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes, to accidents, illness, business failures, social unrest, and even the ultimate disruption – death.

It’s not too surprising, then, that psychologists have found that the religious are more prone than atheists to see faces in ambiguous photos.
There are well-documented reports of Christians seeing images of The Virgin Mary in a window of a bank in Clearwater, Florida,  the window of a private home in a Chicago suburb, and burned into a piece of toast. But Christians never see Buddha in a cloud bank or a piece of toast because they don’t expect to.

Neither do Buddhists. Buddha was not divine but simply a man who had found enlightenment and taught others the way. He didn’t do miracles, therefore Buddhists don’t expect to see him in a vision. And they don’t.

We see what we expect to see. For American Christians, that includes Jesus, Mary, and occasionally Elvis, but we never see Henry Ford or Isaac Newton. It wouldn't even occur to us.

So What?

Given the intuitive nature of empathy itself, it is very hard to avoid breaking the species barrier. But when we attribute human motivations to nonhuman species and events we enter into dodgy territory.

Which is important to remember since empathy is highly functional, allowing us to form social networks, comfort the afflicted, avoid conflict, negotiate across diverse cultures, feel the pain of abused animals, and share grief – in other words, do what makes us human.

Empathy drives our emotions.  And our emotions drive our choices, our judgments, our buying habits, and our public policy.

And we can get empathy very wrong.

Just thought that may be something you'd like to keep in mind.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What Would Don Draper Do? Five reasons people don’t see commercials.

I know a lot of people in the advertising industry who miss Mad Men.

Jon Hamm as Don Draper was every ad man’s favorite dysfunctional role model.

Draper got away with horrible behavior because, ultimately, he understood how advertising really worked in people’s minds. Not how people thought it worked, or believed it should work, but how it actually worked.

He famously said, “I don’t sell advertising. I sell products.” Remember the Kodak Carousel pitch? “This isn't a space ship... it's a time machine… Good luck at your next meeting.”  No wonder Kodak never took that next meeting.

We’ve been dealing with ad agencies for over two decades.  Our expertise is human behavior, not products. We’ve advised them on how people find value in their client’s products and how they intuitively recognize that value when they see it.

We’ve shaped pitches to prospective clients. We’ve worked on campaigns. We even provided the information to help one agency dramatically increase their client’s sale of diamonds – on the radio! Try selling jewelry the buyer can’t see.

We’ve also sat on the other side of the table, working for the agency client. The ones who actually produce the products they advertise. We’ve listened to the pitches and have been surprised by what some professionals appear not to grasp about basic human behavior. 

One of the hallmarks of humanity is that we use tools to extend our natural capabilities - hand tools to enhance our physical strength, information technology to increase our mental abilities. Television is a tool like any other. The question is, how do people actually use television?
So, in the spirit of Don Draper, for our agency friends, and for everyone’s general amusement, here are five basic facts about how people actually use television as a medium.

1. It’s not a home theater, it’s a campfire.
TV is a social medium. People are hyper-social primates. We are biologically driven to group together.  TV is the 21st-century campfire – the place where people throughout history have been intuitively drawn to share stories about who we are, how we got here, and what is expected of us.

Sure, we live in an age of ever-expanding media alternatives and pretty much every member of a household has their own TV set or they watch everything online.

However, ethnographic research--the kind where you actually watch what people do--shows that no matter how many sets and computers in the home, members of the household (defined as people living under the same roof) still gather in front of the same set for at least an hour, at least four days a week.

No, it doesn't look like this, but it still happens.
Anything people have been doing for 35,000 years isn’t going to stop tomorrow. That means the household will choose a “consensus” show, one that everyone in the group can watch together.

Reality shows don’t just dominate TV because they are cheap to make. People have to want to watch, but it's even better if they feel compelled to watch. And the thing that our brains are hard-wired to pay close attention to is the emotional behavior of other people.

That's why the people who watch these shows say they are addictive. 

2. People don’t watch TV, they listen to TV.
Why do you think they invented the instant sports replay? Because a lot of people miss the actual play! They were doing other things – eating, drinking, socializing, working. They heard the roar of the crowd, but they caught the action on the replay.

We watch movies; we listen to TV. All the longest-running TV shows share one thing in common – the scripts read like radio plays. Once you are familiar with the characters, you don’t have to watch to understand what is going on. Most people literally don’t even see the beautiful art direction and expensive CG effects that win advertising industry awards.

3. The only people who “see” ads are people already interested in what the product does.
Forget about edgy ads and CGI for “cutting through the clutter.” Your brain does that automatically. It’s called selective attention. It’s the same mechanism that grabs your focus whenever you hear your name across a crowded room at a party.
Your unconscious brain is always scanning, and it knows what you need long before you are consciously aware of it. This is why people start noticing car advertising about a year before they even begin actively thinking about buying a new car.

If they’re in the market—even if they are unaware of it—they’ll notice your ad. If they’re not, you can’t convince them, because they won’t even connect with your ad.

4. Women are not in the room to watch the Super Bowl.
Yes, major TV sports events do show a spike in women viewers. Yes, some women actually like football. But most women aren’t in the room for the game.

This is because women are the relationship monitors for the group. For them, the game they are interested is not football, it’s the family dynamic. If there is a large social gathering, they’ll be there, watching the interaction between the family members, checking that everything is OK.

In the meantime they are multitasking, serving food, folding laundry, reading, and a hundred other things. You don’t need to create special sport-themed ads for women’s products. Selective attention works for women too. If they need it, they will see it. 

5. Humor is cheating.
People notice humorous ads, talk about them, post them on YouTube, and can turn the punch line into a national meme. The only thing they don’t do is remember the product the ad is supposed to be selling.

The only way that happens is when the punch line is the name of the product – the GEICO Gecko, Aflac--that’s about it. Using humor to “cut through the clutter” without tying it directly to the product is an easy sell - if the client laughs (has an emotional response)  they'll think it is a good ad. But the client already knows the name of the product. Trouble is, while humor is entertaining, it doesn’t sell products.

So What?

If you work for an agency, factor these into your thinking and you’ll sell products, which will make your clients happy. Ignore them and you’ll win industry awards which will make you happy – until the client fires you.

If you are an agency client, watch out for humor in your advertising. Does it directly link to your brand name in a memorable way? If not, the ad is aimed at you, not your customers.

If you don’t work in advertising, have a Martini anyway. Don would approve.

Your brain: Who’s in charge here?

“I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.”   -- Emo Philips

Like most people raised in the tradition of western culture, Americans like to think of themselves as rational thinkers, rooted in fact. However, the science is in on this one - and we aren’t.
Not even close.

Like most people of my age I was taught that our unconscious mind took care of the autonomic functions—breathing, pumping blood, digestion, and so on.  Thinking was the province of the conscious mind.

Except it turns out that it isn’t.

Recent discoveries about the brain are leading to critical redefinitions of what the human mind is aware of, how we think about the world, what we believe about ourselves, our environment, and others — even our concepts of the past, present, and future.

Thanks to a combination of government initiatives and technological advancements, nearly everything we now know about how the brain works has been discovered within just the past two decades. It’s been a fun ride, and more than a little bit spooky.
It turns out that a set of hidden systems operate deep in our minds - hidden because they run beneath conscious awareness.  We use them every day. We use them to make decisions, choose our friends, find our way, plan our future, and find value in products, services, and ideas. These systems are powerful because we don’t even realize they influence every aspect of what we do and how we make decisions.

The amazing thing is that, thanks to new imaging technology, we can actually watch the brain thinking. The spooky part is that it nearly all our thinking is happening subconsciously – far beneath our conscious horizon. We’re making decisions all the time and we have no idea it is even happening.
Our subconscious mind filters and processes data, sets goals, judges people, evaluates products, detects danger, formulates stereotypes, sets priorities, and infers causes — all without our being aware that there even is a process taking place. It’s an elegant solution that evolved to prevent the mind from being overwhelmed by simple routine tasks.

The implications of a finding such as this are enormous. Our cognitive subconscious processes the world in milliseconds, far more quickly than our consciousness can even grasp. It’s been estimated that over 90% of our decisions are made at this intuitive level and the data the mind uses to reach those decisions resides deep in our subconscious.
The conscious process – what we classify as critical, logical thought — is, in reality, the weighting of data pre-selected by another thinking process that is effectively invisible to us, which then passes the results on to our conscious logic.

In short, it means that “facts” are what people use to validate decisions already made at a hidden subconscious level, forever beyond our conscious control.
Think about that.

Compared to our subconscious, our conscious, what we call “logical” brain, is relatively slow at taking in new information. For one thing, the sense don’t all process at the same speed.

So before the conscious brain can stitch sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing (plus all the sensory information we don’t think about, like skin temperature, pressure, and mood) into a coherent whole, it must wait for the slowest response to check in.

Basically, then, our conscious brain thinks at the Speed of Smell.

But while our conscious brain has a limited processing capacity, our unconscious mind has access to a huge database of information already processed and instantly accessible – our lifetime of experience all reduced to significant patterns, constantly updated and integrated, all encoded and stored in the memory.
With that much more brainpower at its disposal, it makes sense to leave the complex decisions to our unconscious mind, and hand over the heavily filtered and presorted results to our more limited conscious mind. It’s a bit like an adult solving a complex problem for a particularly dim child, then allowing the child to think he solved the problem by finishing the last bit of simple addition.

Well, that takes the human ego down a peg, doesn’t it?
Who is really in charge here? It seems backwards somehow – it is the reverse of everything we’ve believed for most of human history. It just happens to be true.
And yet our own experience tells us there is something to this. We all have seen - and done – things that make little logical sense in retrospect, but they just seemed natural at the time.

For example: market surveys of U.S. automobile-buying patterns reveal that more than one-third of all male car buyers deliberately stopped at the dealership when it was closed for the night  to “spy” on the cars when no one else was around.

Think about that. How much useful information can you get through a display window or a chain-link fence?  Not much, if the answer to why people choose one car over another is rooted in “facts” about handling or miles per gallon. But that’s not why we buy cars.
We don’t buy products, we buy the values that we associate with the product. In the US, cars are about freedom and mobility, status and power; expressions of who we are. Car buying is a complex problem that’s better left to our subconscious, hence the stalking.

So What?

That’s what this blog is all about--why we really do the things we do. 

We’ve been studying how people really make decisions at a subconscious level for over two decades. We’ve been swept along in the flood of new learning and applied work to make sense of it.
It’s impossible to get outside your own brain, but it is possible to make the invisible visible, bring some of these hidden systems out into the open. We’ll tell you things about how humans think that you’ve never thought of before – because you’re not supposed to need to.

We’ll tell you how to understand your subconscious in order to make better decisions within a visible process. And we’ll have some fun along the way. After all, what's more fun than human nature?
Don’t give up on your conscious brain just yet. You’re going to need it.