Assume that when people think of you, they will store your name, a mental picture of you, a few words they associate with you and a few stories about your behavior. From this they will make all the decisions they have to make about you.
Name association is a good start for promoting yourself because you can do it in a self-deprecating way. Decide what you want people to remember when they think of you. Then say things about yourself that create those images.
You can say,
“I’m just an old war-horse. I’ve been around here forever.”
“Back in 1967, when I started managing in this division …”
“I can look at this issue from several different perspectives. I started out in engineering, then went through marketing, and now I’m in product development. I can tell you, they look at the world differently in all those places.”
All of these are ways of linking your name to experience.
When we want permission to indulge, we’ll take any hint of virtue as a justification to give in.
To see this in action, you don’t have to look any further than dinner. Studies show that people who order a main dish advertised as a healthy choice also order more indulgent drinks, side dishes, and desserts. Although their goal is to be healthy, they end up consuming more calories than people who order a regular entrée. Dieting researchers call this a health halo. We feel so good about ordering something healthy, our next indulgence doesn’t feel sinful at all. We also see virtuous choices as negating indulgences— literally, in some cases. Researchers have found that if you pair a cheeseburger with a green salad, diners estimate that the meal has fewer calories than the same cheeseburger served by itself. This makes no sense, unless you believe that putting lettuce on a plate can magically make calories disappear. (Though judging by what people order at the movies and restaurants, I’d say many of us believe diet sodas have a similar calorie-negating effect.)
What’s really happening is that the salad is clouding the diners’ judgment. It’s giving them a feeling that the meal they’re eating is virtuous. Those lettuce leaves come with a health halo that casts a glow on the burger, making it more likely that they will underestimate the health “cost” of the meal. Dieters— who in theory should be the most likely to know the calorie counts of foods— were the most susceptible to the halo effect, taking 100 calories off their estimates when a salad was added.
Halo effects pop up all over the place, whenever something indulgent is paired with something more virtuous. For example, studies also show that shoppers who buy chocolate for a charity will reward their good deed by eating more chocolate. The altruistic donation shines its halo glow on the candy bars, and the do-gooders enjoy them, guilt-free. Bargain-hunters who get a good deal may feel so virtuous for saving money that they buy more than they intended, and gift-givers may feel so generous that they decide they, too, deserve a gift. (This may explain why women’s shoes and clothing make up the largest percentage of early holiday shopping.)
New research shows that when consumers share “incidental” traits like a birthday, name or hometown with a salesperson, they’re more likely to open their wallets.
If your waitress happens to mention her birthday is the same day as yours, or you discover a clothing store clerk grew up your hometown, chances are you’ll order an extra beer or buy that second pair of jeans. …
“Those incidental similarities can actually shape the situation in terms of your desire to buy and associate with the product or company, your attitude toward the product,” says Darren Dahl, a marketing professor at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business. “It overflows onto the purchase experience — even though, rationally, it really shouldn’t.”
The reason is that we’re hard-wired to seek social connections with other people, he says, and even though these small similarities have nothing to do with the product or situation at hand, they make us more open to persuasion.
Companies already understand this.
Employees at Disney theme parks and Hilton Hotels wear name tags emblazoned with their hometowns, the researchers note, and many fitness centres display detailed biographies of their personal trainers, right down to the high school they attended.
A recent article in the WSJ, “Hidden Ways Hotels Court Guests Faster”, focused on how hotels are trying to dazzle guests with first impressions.
Jeremy McCarthy, a hotel executive, argues this is why “upon arriving to a luxury hotel, you are often greeted in the lobby by a friendly face, an offer to assist with your luggage, and sometimes a welcome beverage or a refreshing chilled towel to help wipe away the stress of travel.”
Research, however, seems to show that, while we remember people by first impressions, we don’t really remember experiences the same way. With experiences, we seem to remember the peak moments and how they end. McCarthy writes:
An example of the research that supports this “peak-end” theory, is the work on colonoscopy patients done by psychologist Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman found that after a painful colonoscopy treatment, patients would forget about the overall duration of the pain they experienced and would instead remember their experience based on the peak moments of pain and on how it ended.
A patient whose colonoscopy lasted an agonizing 25 minutes, for example (Patient B), would rate the experience better and would happily come back a year later for his follow-up appointment, as long as the treatment ended with less pain. Another patient (Patient A), who only had around 8 minutes of total pain, wouldn’t come back next year because he remembers the pain of how the experience ended.
The implications of this are pretty clear. If you run a hotel, for example, you want to focus more on the departure than the arrival.
I’m left with more questions about this research than answers, so if you know of any good books/blogs/articles on this please pass them along.
Scientists have long cautioned that the brain is not a video recorder-storing perfect memory in a way that can be pulled out, rewound, and replayed over and over while remaining intact. Even the simple act of telling a story can modify memory.
This month, the Supreme Court heard its first oral arguments in more than three decades that question the validity of using witness testimony. “Rather than the centerpiece of prosecution, witness testimony should be viewed more like trace evidence, scientists say, with the same fragility and vulnerability to contamination.”
Why is a witness’s account so often unreliable?
Partly because the brain does not have a knack for retaining many specifics and is highly susceptible to suggestion. “Memory is weak in eyewitness situations because it’s overloaded,” said Barbara Tversky, a psychology professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College in New York. “An event happens so fast, and when the police question you, you probably weren’t concentrating on the details they’re asking about.”
Even questioning can lead people astray
Even the process of police questioning and prepping for trial can crystallize a person’s own faulty reconstruction. In 2000, Dr. Tversky published a series of experiments conducted at Stanford University in the journal Cognitive Psychology. In one, volunteers read profiles of fictitious roommates with both charming and annoying habits; they were then asked to write either a letter of recommendation or letter making a case for a replacement.
When later asked to repeat the original description, the volunteers’ recollections were skewed by the type of letter they had written. Their minds had shed qualities that didn’t match the first draft of their own recall and had embellished those that did.
“When we don’t remember, we make inferences,” Dr. Tversky said.
Sometimes we miss details because we weren’t paying attention, but sometimes we are concentrating too hard on something else. Nothing is as obvious as it seems.
Witnesses and the halo effect
In crimes that involve a weapon, Dr. Loftus and other scientists have found that witnesses will fixate on the gun barrel or knife blade but will fail to notice other details as clearly. Yet because they so starkly remember particulars of the weapon and may have the accuracy of parts of their memory affirmed by police officers and prosecutors, witnesses carry an air of assurance into the courtroom.
“Many people think if someone is confident, they must be right,” said Dr. Loftus.
Here is a wonderful excerpt on the pitfalls of hiring star performers from Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition:
What is the quickest way to improve your organization’s results? Many companies, sports teams, and entertainment businesses opt for the same solution: they hire a star. At first glace, signing a star seems like a great idea because of the promise of a quick performance boost. More often than now, however, stars fail to live up to expectations in their new roles. One explanation lies in our next system-related mistake, isolating individual performance without proper consideration of the individual’s surrounding system.
To be clear, reversion to the mean probably accounts for some part of a star’s fading performance. But that’s not the whole story. A star’s performance relied to some degress on the people, structure, and norms around him—the system. Analyzing results requires sorting the relative contributions of the individual versus the system, something we are not particularly good at. When we err, we tend to overstate the role of the individual.
This mistake is consequential because organizations routinely pay big bucks to lure high performers, only to be sorely disappointed. In one study, a trio of professors from Harvard Business School tracked more than one thousand acclaimed equity analysts over a decade and monitored how their performance changes as they switched firms. Their dour conclusion, “When a company hires a star, the star’s performance plunges, there is a sharp decline in the functioning of the group or team the person works with, and the company’s market value falls.” The hiring organization is let down because it failed to consider systems-based advantages that the prior employer supplied, including firm reputation and resources. Employers also underestimate the relationships that supported previous success, the quality of the other employees, and a familiarity with past processes.
All three mistakes have the same root: a focus on an isolated part of a complex adaptive system without an appreciation of the system dynamics.
For more information read the Harvard Business Review article: The Risky Business of Hiring Stars.
|Still curious? Check out The right number of stars for a team. Michael Mauboussin is the author of More More Than You Know: Finding Financial Wisdom in Unconventional Places and more recently, Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition.|