Good for nothing’s latest gig at Hyper Island

Hyper Island was the rather lovely venue yesterday for the latest gig from Good for Nothing‘s girls crew. As always, it was fantastic to meet so many new people, coming together over just a few hours, and getting through an amazing amount of stuff to help budding social enterprises.

As a collective, we worked on all sorts of stuff from branding to marketing, research, strategy, target markets and finances. We even had a bash at graphic design, as we didn’t have a designer (do you know one? Get them to sign up for the next gig!). I don’t think any of us will be taking up logo design any time soon after that, but at least there’s now a brief for a designer to work from.

Vegetarian community cafe Cowherds provided a a hearty curry lunch for us (thanks guys!) and it was great to see Paula and Jon again after meeting them at a previous gig. I’ve booked a table for one of their upcoming Bistro nights and am really looking forward to it, their food is amazing and it’s great to see them going from strength to strength.

It was a good opportunity to designate myself as official photographer, and it was and nice to practice photographing people – something I enjoy and do a fair amount of on Market Street in Manchester but it’s quite different when you’re having to be sneaky 🙂

Good luck to both ventures, Shapeless and Modst Fashion – hope what we did was helpful. And thanks to Jo, Rach and Bex for organising another great event – hope you’re feeling better Bex!

It’s all in the detail

Have you ever noticed how the Circle line on a tube map looks like it changes colour part way around?


When it’s next to the pink Hammersmith & City line it looks orange, but next to the green District line it looks yellow. So what colour is it?

It usually appears yellow, although we don’t always see it as yellow; our perception of colour changes depending on the context. The colour of the adjacent line changes the way we see the yellow line. Weird. But true.

I was lucky enough to be at a workshop a couple of years ago run by neuroscientist and fantastic speaker Beau Lotto where he talked about how our perception is different from reality, and how context, including colour, lighting and the position of objects, affects how we see and respond to the world. I knew context was important in understanding how we behave and think, but I’d been thinking in terms of social factors, emotions or even the weather. Not about how something as basic as light can affect how we see the world.

Beau demonstrated quite a few visual illusions  including the cube one (featured here, amongst others) where the same coloured square appears to be a different colour depending on the lighting conditions. It’s strange to think that what we think we see, or what our brains interpret as ‘real’, is sometimes a trick of the mind or function of how our brans are wired, rather than ‘truth’.

Another example of something really simple affecting how we see patterns, which I use in the consumer psychology course I run for the MRS, is to write a selection of letters of the alphabet – about 15 or so – on a flip chart and ask someone to spend about a minute making as many words from them as they can. Give someone else the same letters, but written in a different order, and the words they’ll each come up with tend to be different.

People make different patterns in the letters based on the order they’re presented in. Adjacent and nearby letters are put together to form new words, so when the order changes, so do the words created. This is also why writing ideas or concepts on cards and jumbling them up can work well as a creative technique – you make new connections between cards which you might not otherwise put together. Context, right down to the order something’s presented to us in, really is key to understanding how we interpret and interact with the world around us.

It’s no wonder it’s so difficult to understand or predict how people behave. Not only do we walk around on autopilot most of the time, and not only are we more influenced by our emotions than we tend to give credit for, but it turns out that even something as seemingly innocuous as light affects how we see the world. And most of the time, we’re probably not even aware of it. Here’s to trying to figure people out anyway.

Want to study behavioural economics online – for free? Dan Ariely’s course has just re-started

A fair amount of traffic coming to my blog is through searches for ‘studying behavioural economics online’. So if that’s why you’re visiting, have a look at Dan Ariely’s free online course through Coursera which started again earlier this week. I did the original course last year and can recommend it as a great introduction to what is a really interesting (and increasingly high-profile, especially in business) school of thought on how we make decisions and how context influences us, in ways which we might not realise, but which are often quite predictable. And it’s free (an area he discusses in the course – why is anything ‘free’ so appealing?) – what more could you ask for?

On a related note, I’ll be co-running the MRS’s consumer psychology course next Friday too; my colleague runs the morning session where we look at the roots of psychology and cover some of the key schools of thought, while I run the afternoon session where the focus is modern thinking including behavioural economics and how market research is responding. It’s a nice introduction into this area so if you’re interested in finding out more about it, come and join us!

Doing something useful: a bit of good for nothing

What happens if you stick a bunch of creative people who’ve never met before in a room, give them a brief to come up with a brand identity and marketing strategy for a social enterprise, and tell them they have until the end of the day to finish it, but that there are no leaders and everyone should self-manage?


On Saturday I went along to Good for Nothing where we did just that. I wasn’t really sure what to expect but the whole idea is to give some of your time and use your skills to do good for a social enterprise. The social enterprises come along with something they want help with, and they get access to a diverse group of people who want to do some good for nothing – in this case, most of whom hadn’t met before – and who aim to turbocharge a project by completing it in a day. There’s a briefing the night before to get you thinking about the problem, then you spend the whole of Saturday doing. Solving the problem. Coming up with ideas and doing stuff.

In this case the two organisations pitching their ideas to the group were Cowherd’s, a healthy vegetarian cafe which will run as a social enterprise in Salford and which wanted help with creating a brand and strategy, and Levenshulme market which was looking for a new website to better reflect the market and its stallholders. I opted for the cafe, not only because of my vegetarian leanings (which made this an easy choice), but also because I do strategy and brand a lot more than I do website building – I don’t really do code!

It was a great day – loads of creativity, working quickly with a lot of new people, all keen to help the organisation whose team we were supporting, and all just getting stuck in rather than debating or spending ages deliberating. And the results were fab – our Cowherd’s team created a logo, menus, business cards, paper bag designs, website wireframes and a marketing strategy in a day, while the Levy market group created an actual website – well, almost, I think they finished it on Sunday (as I’m writing this, it’s not live yet, presumably they need to transfer the domain over etc.) but come on, one day or a couple, it’s still pretty amazing! It’s ridiculous how much we got done, and Paula Maguire from Cowherd’s seemed genuinely really impressed with the designs and ideas she took away. As did the lady representing Levy market.

So people who are doing good (the enterprises) got something useful from a bunch of other people (us) doing good for them, and we got to solve a problem, meet a load of new interesting people and make some new contacts, as well as doing something more useful than what we’d usually do on a Saturday – we made a difference to someone just by sharing our time, which is a great feeling. I met a couple of ladies who work literally seconds away from my office, so we’re planning to do some ladies-who-Christmas-lunch soon, sounds like a good excuse to meet up again to me.

Big thanks to the guys at Good for Nothing who organised the whole thing, looking forward to the next one!

Fancy doing a bit of good for nothing? They’re on twitter and that, have a nosey.

Why we should be more playful and tell more stories at work

When I was about six I decided I wanted to do an English degree and then be a writer. I had my life all planned out, until the realisation hit me in the second year of my degree that I might actually have to get a job and earn some money rather than just sort of announcing ‘ta dah, I’m a writer’. I also lost some of my passion for reading during my degree (which is pretty sad really, after looking forward to it for over 10 years), and didn’t write anything, except the obligatory essays, pretty much throughout it. Hence market research beckoned*, and the rest is history. I still don’t read a huge amount, but more than I did a few years ago. Mainly work-related books though, I must admit.

Anyway, as part of my day job I’m looking at how we can incorporate storytelling techniques into our research communications and deliverables (presentations, reports etc.). As a precursor to this, I went to a workshop a couple of weeks ago organised by the MRS (Market Research Society, our industry body) about storytelling – in other words, I basically had a day out in London to attend a workshop on something I find really interesting (i.e. stories – whether I read much or not, I still like a good story), and called it work. I’ve also done a bit of my own reading and research, and now I have to make up my own story about storytelling and tell that to everyone internally so they use storytelling in their work. I know, tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

So I’ve done quite a bit of thinking recently about stories. In business, we tend to think telling stories is too playful, too much like fiction (and we’re in the business of DATA, not fiction) and too far away from the way we’ve been trained to analyse and report information. We think of stories as being childish and not for serious, grown-up business people who would be outraged if we told them a STORY for goodness’ sake. But isn’t this assumption questionable at best, when you think about it?

When we think of storytelling, we should probably remember that being researchers – or marketers, or whoever – we’re used to cutting through numbers, verbatim quotes, expert and client reports or whatever information it is we’re using, and finding a thread to link it all together, something to hang a narrative on, a way of presenting something our audience is (we hope) going to want to read or listen to for the whole time it takes to tell them our findings. This is just like being a storyteller. But rather than having to come up with the whole idea yourself, you get given material to use to turn into something interesting. A bit like an A-level English Language case study (or like they were when I did my A-levels anyway.) And even better, you get to make it into a visual, as well as a verbal, story, so you can really create your own story, from the words to the images. You might even get to tell the story yourself in person. Complete artistic control.

We should also remember that whether we’re in a business context or not, people are people, and people respond to stories. They respond to characters, to heroes and villains. To dramatic tension. To provocative views. To humour and playfulness. They respond to metaphors which conjure up vivid images we remember – and ultimately act on (at least hopefully, in a business context). There’s a reason most of us enjoy watching films or drama on TV, or reading books or newspapers, and it’s because we all love a good story. We remember particular characters or events, especially those where we make an emotional connection (positive or negative) with the people in the story. But we don’t often push ourselves at work – or at least I don’t – into a slightly uncomfortable place where we deliberately create themes and characters, or push metaphors further than we’d usually consider for a ‘business’ presentation. But why not? We don’t stop being people when we walk into the office in the morning. A good story is still a a good story.

I’ve been lucky recently to work on a client project which involved us compiling lots of their internal business information with trends reports to help shape their future strategy. We delivered a presentation which included, among other things, spaceships, jet packs and shopping lists – we were really fortunate that our client gave us licence to do something a bit different with what could have been a mass of uninspiring data, which was great (and very trusting of her!). We used big themes, dramatic language, asked provocative questions, made use of futuristic and slightly tongue-in-cheek visuals, and hardly quoted any specific numbers. And we got some great feedback after the event, because people within the business are using our metaphors and visuals to talk to their teams and think about their strategy in a memorable way. Job done, I think!

I’m sure the purists out there will criticise dramatising things in a business context. But if you want to inspire someone, you’re hardly going to bore them into action with a deck of 200 charts are you? To be fair, it’s been a push to go a bit out-there with some of our ideas, because even when you’re up for the idea of including rockets and jet packs, something nags at you, is it too flippant? are we trivialising things too much? But if our story of spaceships and the future engaged and inspired the audience to build something exciting and shape the future of their business (and apparently it did), then as far as I’m concerned, it’s all good. (And the client was happy. So I’m happy. Everyone’s happy, yay.)

I think where I’ve got to then in my thinking about stories, is that we should be more playful at work, especially in how we communicate, and we should go out on a limb every now and again. And even if that limb’s a bit uncomfy for a while, people will start to see we’re onto something, and at some point they’ll come and join us, so we might as well get the best view by being up on that limb first.

So are you coming to join me up here then or what?

*Of course, like most people who work in market research, I fell into it as a career rather than looking for it. But I’m glad I did, I might still be an out of work author who-can’t-be-bothered-to-write if I hadn’t. And I get to do storytelling as part of my job, which is pretty cool. 

Behavioural economics for market researchers

So the Behavioural Economics course has finished (and I got my certificate, wooo), and it’s about time I reflected on it to see what I think market researchers can learn. Maybe there will be a follow up blog post, as there are loads more things I think we can take from the discipline, these are just a few thoughts.

We rely on contextual information to make all sorts of judgements and decisions

In-situ research (facilitated to a large extent by smartphones), combined with observation, self-reportage and reflection is probably going to be key to getting closer to people’s decisions as they make them. That’s because understanding the context in which a decision is being made is much more important than traditional research has given it credit for, but also much more complex to research overall (what parts of the context do you look at – which parts might be relevant? How do you measure the contextual stimulus, defaults, or relative choice sets? If you do measure them, how do you aggregate and analyse them?).

We need to re-think the way we approach research design to help get us nearer to the ‘truth’, and figure out new ways of analysing the information we collect to find insights. It’s worth remembering though is that there are some things we’ll never be able to really predict about people’s behaviour, but we can certainly get cannier about how we try to understand as much as we can.

Experiment with experiments

One thing I’ve reflected on since the course is that much research is about asking people to predict their own behaviour, while much of the data cited in the course is based on experimention and testing hypotheses in ‘what if?’ scenarios, to see what actually happens. One of the criticisms I’ve heard people make about the course is that it wasn’t very commercial. So why don’t we test some of our hypotheses in a commercial environment?

Do we experiment enough in the real world to see, for example, whether people do actually notice the new packaging of our product on the shelf in the hustle and bustle of an actual supermarket with kids in tow, versus completing a survey with a pack stand-out test when they’re having a cup of tea at home? Which way of testing is likely to be closer to ‘the truth’?

(Okay, so both methods might still be survey-based – though I didn’t say they have to be – but something like eye-tracking kit could be a useful additional data source in store, and in store you’re at least getting people in the right emotional ‘state’.)

Making customers work can be a good thing (in moderation)

The IKEA effect theory suggests that if people put effort into things they own, they like and value them more. It’s like IKEA furniture, because you’ve had to put effort into creating it, so you appreciate it more than you would otherwise (apparently; I don’t speak from personal experience, DIY is not my thing). There is a reasonable tolerance here though; too much effort – and making customers work too hard – will count against you, so it’s about striking the right balance.

With that in mind, allowing a degree of personalisation to your products, requiring just the right amount of effort from the buyer to feel they have a personal stake in it could mean when people buy your wares, they become more attached to them than if they’d just bought an off-the-shelf version of your product. Linked to the idea of personal attachment to things is loss aversion (the posit that we over-inflate the impact of potential losses more than we estimate gains); if convincing consumers to switch to whatever you’re selling might make them feel they’re losing something by switching (even if they’re gaining more), you’re going to have to sell the benefits of switching really well to make it seem appealing.

Money is only one aspect of motivation

Okay, this isn’t new news if you’re a decent manager, and it isn’t even specific to research, but I found it interesting to think about how important meaning is to people in what they do and how this translates into a work context – and of course it makes sense when you think about it.

Making sure people’s efforts at work are recognised, even if that report they’ve spent ages working on doesn’t get presented to the client, or even if the project is cancelled and the brilliant workshop they’d planned never happened, recognising the effort and work put in by people can make all the difference to how people view a situation – as could re-deploying some of the original work so it’s used for something else. Certainly something I’ll be bearing in mind in future.

Google does a great job of this with its Labs project where employees are allowed to spend some of their working week devoted to their own creations. Apparently many of Google’s products came from this project, and it means people get to work on stuff they enjoy, stuff which has meaning for them. An interesting way of engaging people in a business and something I recognise in my own role, where I’m  able to explore new ideas I find interesting. And something I need to bear in mind as a manager – that I need to make sure the people I work with do things which have meaning for them. The BIG conference I attended this week suggested meaning is different for everyone, so this isn’t necessarily going to be an easy nut to crack, but if you can get it right at least some of the time, it’s definitely worth trying.

3 ways to be more creative

creativity screenshot

I had a play around with PowToon a few days ago to see how easy (or not) it was to create animated PowerPoint-type presentation videos. As I’ll be running a workshop at the BIG Conference in Brighton next week about being more creative, I thought I’d use some of the initial workshop content in it, hence the video being about ways people can be more creative. Only three ways mind you, it was designed to be a short video.

Here it is on YouTube. I actually started a PowToon video on behavioural economics based on the course I’ve just done, but because I decided I needed to think for a while about the content, it didn’t work as a quick experiment, so I switched to the creativity one. Maybe I’ll get back to the BE video another day.

I reckon it took me about three hours in total, having never used it before, and I don’t think the results are too bad. I’ve over-used some of the effects (e.g. text appearing in the same way throughout) but it was pretty intuitive to use, and very similar to PPT, just with timings for all the animations.

There are some limitations to having a free account, mainly the relatively small number of icons available (you’d soon tire of using the same ones over and over) but you can upload your own images, like I did with some of my photos – or you could use icons created in Illustrator etc. and upload those. I actually forgot to look at changing the background music, but I think there are more options with the premium accounts.

You also only get 30 ‘exports’ of whatever videos you create with a free account, which are exports to YouTube but don’t allow you to download the file. Presumably once you hit 30, you have to buy a paid-for account. And obviously the PowToon branding is all over it, which it isn’t with the paid accounts.

PowToon is still in beta but given how straightforward it was to use, I think we’ll see this kind of animation software quickly becoming more and more commonplace as a communication tool, both generally online (we are visual creatures after all) but also in the business world. In my day job as a researcher, we’ll see people increasingly using this kind of software as substitutes or companions to market research outputs; short, snappy and engaging ways of getting across key messages to busy stakeholders. If you can use PowerPoint, as 95% of people in the ‘presenting’ business pretty much do, then you can use something like this, so why wouldn’t you if you want to make an impact? (Unfortunately, many people who think they can use PPT, and I don’t just mean researchers, do a pretty awful job, so maybe there’ll be some pretty awful animations to look forward to over the coming months. Although more than likely these people won’t bother as animations will be too much of an effort and they’ll stick with the bullet-point and bar chart PPT default.)

I’m planning to suss out a few similar programmes over the next few weeks (this is only the first one, so I can’t say it’s the best, but it was certainly easy to use), so if you have any tips on what to look at next, suggestions would be very welcome.