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Nuggets of Knowledge from Nudgestock 2018

Advertising Agency
London, UK
Ogilvy’s sixth conference on behavioural science was ambitious in its broad scope, as you can tell from some of these choice snippets
“At Ogilvy we recognise that behavioural science and behaviour change is that core of every brief that we receive as an agency,” was Ogilvy UK CEO Michael Frohlich’s explanation for the existence of Nudgestock - the agency’s annual festival of behavioural science. Last week Nudgestock headed to the British seaside for its sixth annual instalment, and took place in the grandeur of Leas Cliff Hall in Folkestone, on the UK’s Kent coast. 

Bringing together speakers from disciplines as diverse as economics, forensic science, architecture and internet dating, the festival gave a rounded view of the practical applications of behavioural science.

LBB’s Alex Reeves sat in the audience of inquisitive minds and attempted to soak up the knowledge that came in a torrent from the stage. Here are just a few of highlights - some of the day’s most thought-provoking moments.

Rory Sutherland
Vice chairman at Ogilvy and co-founder of Ogilvychange

“Sometimes the logical economic assumption isn’t true. If you’re in a fairly hurried state, having to choose between 27 different jams isn’t going to happen. On the other hand, if you’ve driven 27 miles around the North Circular to visit a place called World of Jam, you’re probably not going to walk in and go ‘Oh Jesus! There’s just too much jam.’”

“Once I landed at Gatwick and the pilot said, ‘I’ve got bad news and good news. The bad news is we’re not going to get air bridge because there’s a plane blocking our gate. The good news is that the bus will take you all the way to passport control, so you won’t have far to walk with your bags.’ I was actually glad there’s a bus. But you never before gave me the context to post-rationalise it as a plus. So how you present something can change something from being shit to being a bit of a bonus.”

“You don’t want a creative experimenter or a game theorist in air traffic control. But equally you don’t want a procurement person in marketing. It’s impossible, in military strategy, to be strictly rational or efficient because as soon as you do that, you’re predictable. If procurement had been in charge of the D-Day landings they’d have insisted that they took place between Dover and Calais to minimise fuel costs.”

“‘Iceberg dead ahead’ is only one data point. The fact is it’s just quite an important one.”

Michael Pawlyn
Founder of Exploration Architecture

“I think nudges, at their best, are examples where, with a small intervention, you can achieve really substantial change in behaviour. My favourite example of this is from Oadby and Wigston Borough Council. About 10 years ago they had a serious problem with posters. They were spending a lot of time and money taking down these [posters]. Someone came up with the brilliant idea of instead of paying thousands of pounds to take these down, they spent about 10 quid on printing ‘cancelled’ stickers to stick across them. This was so successful that people started taking down their own posters because they didn’t want word to get around that the gigs had been cancelled.”

“I believe we have all the solutions we need to shape a truly positive future. Sometimes a nudge will do. Sometimes it’s going to be a shove that’s required. Either way, I think we’ll find a lot of solutions are to be found in biology and through understanding more about our human biology.”

Ruth Morgan
Professor of crime and forensic sciences at UCL

“We are experts at detecting traces, whether that’s gunshot residue or DNA. But to address this problem of misinterpreted evidence, we need to know what the evidence means.”

“We need a change that moves our focus away from technology that will get us an understanding of what a substance is and who it belongs to. We need to get serious about getting the answers we need to those questions of how and where do those materials transfer. We also need to increase our understanding of all the varying factors that are influencing decision making on a crime scene, in the lab and in court.”

John Kay
Economist and author

“Humans are able to build Airbuses. And that’s extraordinary if you think about it because nobody in the world actually knows how to build an Airbus. But tens of thousands of people working together do know how to build an Airbus. That’s the nature of human intelligence.”

“We didn’t evolve to do sudoku problems. In fact, the reason people find sudoku problems interesting (I don’t) is that they are difficult for people and easy for computers. We didn’t evolve to be like computers.”

“We need to look less to these economic, postulated rationales and rather more to evolutionary psychology to understand why it is that we behave the way we do.”

“Economics ought to be about looking for practical knowledge. That is, economics is more like medicine and engineering than it is like physics.”

Caroline Webb
CEO of Sevenshift

“Selective attention is about a way of determining how you experience reality [...] We filter out most of what’s around us most of the time. We don’t know that we are because it’s happening automatically and subconsciously.”

“When your brain receives a threat it launches a defensive response which we sometimes know as ‘fight, flight or freeze’ and when that happens there’s less activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that’s responsible for higher thought. [...] So what happens when you’re feeling uncomfortably, unpleasantly stressed, is that you are dumber! Excellent! Just at the moment when you need to rise to a challenge, you can’t think straight.”

“Even if a day was really shitty, we can think about what was good. And that will pull up our average memory of the day and change the way the day is stored in our memory banks. And if you think about it, the way you remember your days is eventually the way you think about your life.”

Nicholas Christakis
Sol Goldman family professor of social and natural science, internal medicine and biomedical engineering at Yale University

“If you have Tom, Dick and Harry in a room, whether Dick is friends with Harry, it depends not just on Dick’s genes or on Harry’s genes, but on Tom’s genes.”

“Visually and mathematically, the social network structure of the Hadza hunter gatherers are just like ours. So despite the fact that in the intervening 10,000 years, we’ve invented agriculture, cities, telecommunications, the structure of our social networks is indistinguishable from this population that lives like we did during the Pleistocene.”

“If you take the same carbon atoms and connect them one way you get graphite, which is soft and dark. Or you take the carbon atoms and connect them a different way you get diamond, which is hard and clear. These properties of softness, hardness and clearness are not properties of the carbon atoms. They’re properties of the collection of carbon atoms. And which properties you get depends on how you connect the carbon atoms to each other. [...] It’s the same with human social groups. You can take a group of people and connect them one way and they are very kind to each other, they start to smoke, or they quit smoking, or they spread fake news. You take the same people and connect them a different way and they have none of those properties.”

“The gist of the experiment [one of many he presented] is the following: I can take you people and connect you according to one set of rules and you’re real sons of bitches to each other. Or I can take you people and connect you by a different set of rules and you’re really sweet and kind to each other.”

“People put their best selves forward [on social media]. If you have a thousand friends and every day one of them’s having the time of their lives and you are living a normal life, it imiserates us.”

Mark Brooks
Founder and president of the internet dating excellence association (IDEA)

“Halo effect in the context of internet dating: When you look at a profile on an internet dating site, you’ll see some information. You’ll probably see some positive things that you like about that person. If it’s a fairly short profile you fill in the blanks - you give them the benefit of the doubt. The fact of the matter is people are very eliminatory when it comes to dating profiles. Shorter profiles are better.”

“If we do a good job, we wave goodbye to our customers. How does that incentivise us to do a good job?”
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