How Trust Affects Creative Collaboration

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Control freaks and psychological safety — We brought Eric Olive on the podcast as a guest to talk about the science of decisions and we ended up talking about control and safety. How do you create an environment of psychological safety? And how does that encourage creative collaboration?

Eric has also offered a list of articles and books for more reading which we’ve added below.

You can reach Eric at:


A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making by David J. Snowden and Mary E. Boone HBR November 2007

Fooled by Experience by Emre Soyer and Robin M. Hogarth

Leaders as Decision Architects by John Beshears and Francesca Gino— Harvard Business Review. Structure your organization’s work to encourage wise choices.

“Organizing and the Process of Sensemaking”, Organization Science, vol. 16, no. 4, pp. 409-421.

“The Identification of Solution Ideas During Organizational Decision Making,” Management Science 39: 1071–85. Paul C. Nutt (1993),

“Surprising but True: Half the Decisions in Organizations Fail,” Academy of Management Executive 13: 75–90. Paul C. Nutt, 1999.

Only for HBR (Harvard Business Review) Subscribers

Before You Make That Big Decision by Daniel Kahneman, Dan Lovallo, and Olivier Sibony. Harvard Business Review.

The Hidden Traps in Decision Making by John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney, and Howard Raiffa. Harvard Business Review, January 2006.


A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger

Beyond Greed and Fear by Hersh Shefrin

Decisive by Dan and Chip Heath

Educating Intuition by Robin Hogarth

Focus by Daniel Goleman

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

Intuition at Work by Gary Klein

Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein

Seeing what Others Don’t by Gary Klein

The Art Of Thinking Clearly by Rolf/Griffin Dobelli

Winning Decisions by J. Edward Russo and Paul J.H. Schoemaker’


Human Tech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

iPhone X? Yes or No? It Might Come Down To Which Part Of Your Brain Is Active.

Picture of iphone tenThis week Apple announced the iPhone X. Some of you have decided you are definitely NOT going to buy it, others have decided you definitely are, and others are on the fence. Whether you go for it or not at least partially depends on whether you are making a habit-based decision or a value based decision.

Two parts of the brain for decision-making –– It turns out that there are two different parts of the brain that make decisions. One area is in the basal ganglia, deep in the brain, and is based on habitual responses. The other is in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) which is behind your forehead. If you are making decisions in the OFC area those are value based decisions.

Habit decisions take over — Research by Christina Gremel shows that if the OFC is quiet, then habit-based decisions take over. If the OFC is busy, though, then the habit area is over-rided. What does this mean? If you are comparing features, thinking logically, reviewing data, then you can’t make a decision based purely on habit. But if you aren’t evaluating which product is best for you, then it is likely your habitual responses will kick in.

Always buy the latest iPhone? — So if you are someone who loves Apple products and you always buy the latest iPhone, then chances are you will buy the iPhone X.  The only thing that might stop you is if your Android-loving friend starts bombarding you with data comparing the new iPhone with his or her Android phone. As soon as you start doing a side-by-side comparison your OFC is engaged, making it impossible to make that quick habit-based decision.

So, which type of decision are you making?

Research citation: Christina M. Gremel, et, al, Endocannabinoid Modulation of Orbitostriatal Circuits Gates Habit Formation. Neuron May 2016.

The Buying Brain

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Is there anything specific that triggers the “buy” decision? Can you predict whether and when someone will buy? In this HumanTech podcast episode we talk about the research on the “buy” decision in the brain.

HumanTech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

The Science Of Decisions

Logo for HumanTech podcastHow we really make our decisions may surprise you. In this HumanTech podcast we explore the newest research on decision-making.

HumanTech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

You can subscribe to the HumanTech podcast through iTunes, Stitcher, or where ever you listen to podcasts.

The Next 100 Things You Need To Know About People: #102 — The Best Way To Process Big Data Is Unconsciously

picture of David Eagleman wearing his sensory vest
David Eagleman wearing the sensory vest

Jason is 20 years old and he’s deaf. He puts on a special vest that’s wired so that when it receives data, it sends pulses to his back.

The vest is connected to a tablet. When I say the word “book” into a microphone that feeds into the tablet, the tablet turns the word into a signal that is sent to the vest. Jason now feels a pattern on his back through his sense of touch. Initially, he can’t tell you what the word is. I keep saying words and he keeps feeling the patterns. Eventually, he’ll be able to tell me the words that he’s hearing. His brain learns to take the pattern and translate that into words.

The interesting thing is that this happens unconsciously. He doesn’t have to consciously work at learning the patterns.

This describes an actual project by David Eagleman, a neuroscientist from the Baylor College of Medicine.

Sensory Substitution — Eagleman calls it sensory substitution. Information comes into your body and brain from your eyes, ears, touch, and so on. But did you know that the brain is actually quite flexible and plastic in this regard? When data from the environment comes in, from any of the senses, the brain figures out the best way to analyze and interpret it. Sometimes you’re consciously aware of the data and its meaning, but most of the time your brain is analyzing data and using that data to make decisions, and you don’t even realize it.

Sensory Addition — Eagleman takes the idea of sensory substitution a step further, to sensory addition. He has people (without hearing impairments) put on the vest. He takes stock market data and uses the same program on the tablet to turn the stock market data into patterns, and sends those patterns to the vest. The people wearing the vest don’t know what the patterns are about. They don’t even know it has anything to do with the stock market. He then hands them another tablet where a screen periodically appears with a big red button and a big green button.

Eagleman tells them to press a button when the colors appear. At first they have no idea why they should press one button versus the other. They’re told to press a button anyway, and when they do, they get feedback about whether they’re wrong or right, even though they have no idea what they are wrong or right about. The buttons are actually buy and sell decisions (red is buy, green is sell) that are related to the data they’re receiving, but they don’t know that.

Eventually, however, their button presses go from random to being right all the time, even though they still don’t know anything consciously about the patterns. Eagleman is essentially sending big data to people’s bodies, and their brains interpret the data and make decisions from it—all unconsciously.

Engaging the unconcsious for big data — Big data refers to large data sets that are combed for predictive analytics. The idea is that if you can collect massive amounts of data, even disparate data, and analyze it for patterns, you can learn important information and make decisions based on that information. Data sets of Internet searches, Twitter messages, meteorology, and more are being collected and analyzed. But how do you convey the information in a way that makes sense? How can you get the human mind to see patterns in what at first seems like meaningless data? The conscious thought process is not very good at this task. The conscious mind can handle only a small subset of data at one time, but the unconscious is great at taking in large amounts of data and finding patterns. If you want to see the patterns in big data, you have to engage the unconscious.

A Sensory Room — Other scientists are also working on the idea. Jonathan Freeman, a professor of psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Paul Verschure, a professor at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, have created the eXperience Induction Machine (XIM). The XIM is a room with speakers, projectors, projection screens, pressure-sensitive floor tiles, infrared cameras, and a microphone. A person stands in the room and big data visualizations appear on the screen. Freeman and Verschure monitor the response of the person in the room through a headset. They can tell when the person is getting overloaded or tired, and then they can make the visuals simpler.

Go direct — When you work with big data, consider the idea of bypassing complex visual analysis and how to represent the data analytically. It’s probably better to feed the data directly to sense organs and let the brain do the analytics.

For more information — Here’s a great TED Talk by Dr. Eagleman

If you liked this article check out my new book, 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People. 



5 Reasons We Make Poor Decisions

Woman standing in front of a blackboard with question marksI just read a great report from Eric Olive on how and why we make decisions, especially bad ones. Here’s a summary of the report and the trouble we can get ourselves into:

  1. People don’t like uncertainty. It makes us uncomfortable. So we tend to ignore important information and either make a bad decision or don’t make any decision at all.
  2. People tend to make decisions that are in line with what they already believe. We filter information and just don’t let in data that conflicts with our view of the world.
  3. People are overly optimistic about the future. Even though we have experience with things going wrong, or taking longer than we think they will, we tend to look to the future with rose-colored glasses.
  4. People are influenced by confidence. If someone is confident then we believe them. And if/when we are confident that’s when we take action.
  5. We think we can fool people but we often end up fooling ourselves. Eric gives an interesting example of how an executive in a corporation thought he could make it look like he was consulting his staff about some important decisions in the company, when he was really trying to manipulate the decision to go his way.

Most of our decision-making happens unconsciously, so it’s difficult to prevent these errors. Eric says your best strategy is to put some procedures in place while you are making decisions that force you from automatic mode (what Daniel Kahneman calls System 1 thinking) into deeper consideration mode (Kahneman’s System 2 thinking). Here are two examples of what you could do: 1) Enlist a skeptic to walk you through all the reasons why your plan is not realistic, or 2) Use the “pre-mortem” technique where you get your team together and imagine a scenario where you implemented the decision you are currently debating and it all goes terribly wrong. You ask the team to write out what made it go wrong.

It’s not easy to work around our unconscious mental processes! These tips from Eric just might work.

Eric goes into a lot more detail in his report. You can download it here:

What do you think? Do you make any of these decision mistakes? Have a team member or supervisor who does?

365 Ways To Persuade And Motivate: #13–Talk to the unconscious

picture of an iceberg“We want them to type in their email and click on the “Join” button”, was the response from my client as I asked him what was the one action he wanted people to take on his landing page. Good. That was clear. But now the question was what else should be on the landing page to persuade people to click.

Like most of my clients the landing page was filled with lots of reasons why the visitor should click and join, but almost all of those reasons were “logical”, and most were about price. The people coming to the landing page didn’t have a relationship with this company yet — it was unlikely they would click and join based on a few weak logical arguments.

I started asking questions:

“What are your potential customers afraid of?”

“What makes them mad or frustrated?”

“Do they feel taken advantage of?”

“How could they feel like they were a hero?”

Silence. My client was ready to tell me all the features and benefits that his service would provide, but he didn’t really know about the emotional state of his potential customers.

That’s not uncommon. In my experience, many teams bringing new products and services to market know only the barest of information about their customers and potential customers, and rarely have done actual audience research on the unconscious needs, emotions, and feelings of their target audience.

Which means that their landing pages, marketing campaigns and advertising are hit and miss at best.

Research in psychology over the past several years shows us clearly that most mental processing occurs unconsciously. Most of the decisions we make are fueled by our unconscious. It is only after we’ve decided to act that we figure out a conscious, logical reason for why we did what we did. We use that conscious logical reason to explain our decisions and actions to ourselves and others, so it’s important to provide those logical reasons. But if you really want to persuade and motivate someone to take action you have to talk to the unconscious. The unconscious understands things like:

  • fear
  • loss
  • sex
  • food
  • love
  • belonging
  • being a hero
  • danger
  • challenge
  • mastery

The unconscious pays attention to words if they are short and evoke feelings. But it pays much more attention to pictures, music, and moving images (i.e. video).

If you want to persuade and motivate people to take action you need to know what they are afraid of, afraid of losing, how they feel they can “save” the day, and/or what will make them feel loved or part of the group. Then you need to use some of those ideas in your words, headlines, and have pictures, video, and music that matches. If you want to persuade and motivate people you have to talk to the unconscious.

What do you think? Do you know the unconscious factors and messages that persuade and motivate your target audience?

If you would like to learn more about the research on unconscious mental processing, I recommend:

Strangers to Ourselves: The Adaptive Unconscious by Timothy Wilson

or my book, How To Get People To Do Stuff

and consider attending my  seminar on The Science of Persuasion.

365 Ways To Persuade & Motivate: #2 Use The Word “Because”

picture of people waiting in lineIn the first blog post of this new “365” series I cited new research on eye contact. But sometimes I think it’s important to go back to “foundational” (i.e. old!) research. So #2 in the series comes from research conducted in 1978.  Ellen Langer (Professor of Psychology at Harvard) published a research study about the power of the word “because”.

Langer had people request to break in on a line of people waiting to use a busy copy machine  on a college campus. (Remember that this is in the 1970′s — there weren’t computers and printers. People did a lot more copying back then, so there were often lines waiting to use a copy machine). The researchers had the people use three different, carefully worded requests to break in line:

  1. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine?”
  2. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”
  3. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?”

Did the wording effect whether people let them break in line? Here are the results:

  1. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine?” [60% compliance]
  2. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine, because I have to make copies?”[93% compliance]
  3. “Excuse me, I have 5  pages.  May I use the xerox machine, because I’m in a rush?” [94% compliance]

Using the word “because” and giving a reason resulted in significantly more compliance. This was true even when the reason was not very compelling (“because I have to make copies”). The researchers hypothesize that people go on “automatic” behavior or “mindlessness” as a form of a heuristic, or short-cut. And hearing the word “because” followed by a reason (no matter how lame the reason is), causes us to comply.

They also repeated the experiment for a request to copy 20 pages rather than five. In that case, only the  “because I’m in a rush” reason resulted in compliance.

So what does this all mean?:

When the stakes are low people will engage in automatic behavior.  If your request is small then follow the request with the word “because” and give any reason.

If the stakes are high, then there is a little more resistance, but still not too much. Use the word “because” and try to come up with at least a slightly more compelling reason.

What do you think? Has this worked for you?

Here’s the research citation:

Langer, E., Blank, A., & Chanowitz, B. (1978). The mindlessness of Ostensibly Thoughtful Action: The Role of “Placebic” Information in Interpersonal Interaction.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(6), 635-642.

To learn more check out our 1 day seminar on The Science of Persuasion.

How To Get People To Do Stuff #6: Hot drinks, soft pillows & heavy objects

Do you think you’d make different decisions if you were holding something heavy in your hand than holding nothing? Or if you were holding a cup of hot coffee instead of a cold drink? Sounds unlikely, but it’s true: Here’s a video about “haptic sensations.” Or, if you prefer, you can read the summary text after the video.

Joshua Ackerman and John Bargh (2010) conducted research where they had candidates for job interviews hand in their resume one of three ways. One candidate handed in her resume on regular printer paper. Another candidate handed in her resume on regular printer paper, but had it clipped to a light clipboard. A third candidate handed in her resume on regular printer paper, but had it clipped to a heavy clipboard. Then they had interviewers rate which candidates were the best for the job. The interviewers gave higher ratings to candidates whose resume they were reading while the interviewer was holding a heavy clipboard.

Holding a heavy object while looking at a resume makes a job candidate appear more important. In fact, any idea you’re considering while holding something heavy (for instance, a book) you will deem to be more important. The metaphor of an idea being “weighty” has a physical corollary.

There are two terms that are used for this. Sometimes it’s called “haptic sensation” and sometimes you will find it referred to as “embodied cognition.”  We are very influenced by the meaning that our sense of touch perceives.

You may be surprised to find out all the ways that these haptic sensations affect our perceptions and judgments. Besides the effect for a heavy object, people also react to these other haptic sensations:

•      When people touch a rough object during a social interaction, for instance, if they’re sitting on a chair with coarse wool upholstery, they rate the interaction more difficult than if they touch a soft object.

•      When people touch a hard object, they rate a negotiation as more rigid than if they touch a soft object.

•      When people hold a warm cup (for example, a warm cup of coffee), they judge the person they’re interacting with to have a warmer personality than if they’re holding a cup of cold liquid.

You can use these haptic sensations to get people to do stuff. If you want people to have easier interactions with others, then you might want to have soft furniture, not hard chairs, in your conference room, and use a soft fabric covering for them rather than a scratchy tweed. If you have an important client coming to your office, and you want her to feel warmly about you, get her a cup of hot coffee or tea in a mug that will transmit the heat before you start.

Ackerman, Joshua M., Christopher Nocera, and John Bargh. 2010. “Incidental haptic sensations influence social judgments and decisions.” Science. 328 (5986): 1712-1715. DOI: 10.1126/science.1189993

How To Get People To Do Stuff: #3 — A Hard-To-Read Font Will Activate Logical Thinking

I am taking a chance here, because I know that the subject of fonts is always controversial, and if I say that you should use fonts that are hard to read I’ll be blasted by many of my readers! But I have to share this fascinating research on how mental processing changes in some surprising ways when people read text that is in a hard to read font vs. an easy to read font. Below is the video.

For more information check out:

Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast And Slow

and my new book (when it comes out in March 2013 — available for pre-order now at Amazon) How To Get People To Do Stuff

In a previous video on confirmation bias I talk about Daniel Kahneman’s idea of System 1 (quick, intuitive) thinking vs. System 2 thinking (slow, logical, analytical). Kahneman’s research shows that when a font is easy to read then System 1 thinking does its usual thing — makes quick decisions, which are not always accurate. When a font is harder to read, System 1 gives up and System 2 takes over. Which means that people will think harder and more analytically when a font is hard to read. I’m NOT suggesting you intentionally make fonts hard to read in the text you have at websites and in other places, but these findings do make me pause and think about whether we are all inadvertently or purposely encouraging people not to think about what they are reading.

Ok, let’s hear it! I know you will all want to weigh in on this one!