Tag Archives: Do Emotions Help or Hurt Decision Making

TMRE 2010: Injecting Emotion into Market Research–from by Dan Heath’s TMRE Keynote

By Kathryn Korostoff, Research Rockstar LLC

Our first keynote today was Dan Heath, a generally well known author and columnist, perhaps most well known as the co-author of ‘Made to Stick.’ His keynote focused on his most recent book, co-authored with his brother Chip, ‘Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.’
Dan acknowledges that “Change is hard.: and “People hate change.” Those were two of the most common things he and his brother heard when they began to work on the book.

But, he also observes that some change is good. Wedding photos are full of happy faces’and this is a HUGE change. Having babies, also a huge change.

So why are some changes hard, and others are easy’even joyful?
The answer comes from the fact that we have two systems in our brains. the rational/deliberative side, and the emotional/automatic side.

When these two systems align, change can happen. When they’re not, change can be painful.
So, how do we make these two systems work well together?

The Heaths’ thesis is reflected in a metaphor.

To switch or change, we need to recognize there are 3 parts of the system:

  • ?? The rider, our logical person, who is quite small compared to the elephant. May be a naysayer’who says stop and think. And who thinks he is in control, but he’s on an elephant. In a disagreement, who’d win?
  • ?? The elephant is our emotional person. Needs to be fed. It is big. Bigger than we care to admit. The elephant needs motivation.
  • ?? The path, which is the direction. The rider needs direction.

BTW, as Dan amusingly points out, the elephant doesn’t care about PowerPoint.

The elephant tells you to eat ice cream, check your email over and over when you should be doing ‘real work’, or to call an ex when you are drunk.

But the elephant is also good. It’s what gives us cool new ideas. It is the fuel to make progress, change.

But this all points to a problem. In a lot of situations, we have objective information’but a desired change is not happening. In market research, this can be that we have delivered some amazing data pointing to a new product opportunity, but we can’t get the management team excited enough to actually take action with it.

At this point, Dan made a transition, bringing in the topic of how we find out how to solve problems. His key point here is that we have a flawed approach:

We tend to ask what’s broken and how do we fix it, instead of what’s working and how do we clone it.

Why do we do this? Psychologists say bad is more powerful than good. We remember bad stuff longer. We look at negative pictures longer than good ones. When asked to recall experiences, people more readily recall negative things than positive things’whether about a place or a person.

Dan’s suggestion is that we need to study success as diligently as we study failure. He calls this, ‘finding the bright spots.’

We also need to be crystal clear that knowledge rarely leads to change. Lots of products have warnings’even cigarettes. Factual information rarely impacts us.

In businesses, we can deliver facts, figures’and it rarely leads to change. We need to produce a feeling. To illustrate this, Dan shared the case of John Stegner, a gentlemen who worked at a huge manufacturing firm, in the finance department. Stegner decided they could save a lot of money by centralizing purchasing, and he even had a spreadsheet that showed $1 billion in savings over 10 years. A billion dollars’anyone should pay attention to that, right? Apparently not. During his presentation, his colleagues nodded, they were polite. But nothing ever happened. So one summer, he hired an intern. He had the intern go round the company and go to every factory and collect a sample of a work glove purchased by that factory. Turns out the company buys over 400 types, with each site’s average cost ranging widely. Then, Stegner takes over a conference room, and dumps the 400+ glove samples, with average price tags attached, and brings in the colleagues. They come in, they see the gloves. They see the various prices. They have emotional reactions. They are shocked at the price variations. They are stunned at the number of different styles. Within months, Stegner had approval to centralize purchasing.

He had a spreadsheet that’s showed $1billion saving. Then he dumps gloves on a table, and they are ready to move. WOW.

Dan’s take away from this is that even for organizational change, we need to see and feel and that is what gives us the desire to change.

And then Dan did something many keynote speakers from outside of the research world don’t do. He tied this all into market research. Dan observes that in market research we don’t instill the emotion into the process.

He observes that our process is to focus on data, then insight, and hope for change.

He points out we need to inject emotion into the process: we need data, insight, emotion, and then CHANGE.

As an example, he cited a Microsoft research project where the researchers found that 6 out of 20 users couldn’t use a feature in a product they were testing. But the developers didn’t buy in to the results. So the researchers had the developers join the focus group process. By having the developers observe the research, they found inspiration (I also think of this as an issue with proximity to data, which I wrote about awhile ago here: ARTICLE ).

As Dan correctly points out, market researchers understand data. We all know how to collect great data. What can make us stand out, as researchers, is our ability to add the emotion so that actual change occurs. His bottom line?

When people change it is because they have clear direction, motivation, and a clear path.

BOTTOM LINE

Practically speaking, what does this mean? Well, based on this keynote, it seems we need to do at least 3 things:

  • ?? Pictures. Photographs that make a point’even if extreme, or humorous.
  • ?? Proximity. Keep research users close to the process, so they can experience the research’and not just get a slide deck three months later.
  • ?? Find our bright spots, and clone them. What was the last great project you did that had real impact? What was different in that project?

Do Emotions Help or Hurt Decision Making? Pt. 2

Yesterday we posted an excerpt from The Market Research Event keynote speaker Dr. Kathleen’s Vohs’s book ‘Do Emotions Help or Hurt Decision Making? A Hedgefoxian Perspective.’ As promised, here’s the 2nd portion of the excerpt from the book. Enjoy! Of course the foxes are right; each of these polar positions is simplistic in its extremity. But that observation doesn’t take us far. In the waning hours of the emotion research party, we have arrived at the point where debates between extreme and obviously untenable positions are not as productive as they once were. In short, we need answers to the when question. When do emotions or cognitions predominate? When are moral judgments driven by reflexive emotional reactions and when by logical thought? And, when are emotions helpful or harmful? The chapters of this book provide nuanced, synthetic, answers to these types of questions. Decision making is the other half of our topic. It too has seen explosive growth in research interest in recent years. As with emotion, its few early hedgehogs (e.g., groupthink, rational choice, framing) have had to withstand a stampede of foxes. Some decision-making researchers are starting to think that their field’s destiny is merely to develop lists of departures from rationality, without much prospect of integrative theory. Yet others are confident that new grand theories will emerge. The time is ripening for hedgefoxes to impose limited order on decision theory also. Are hedgefoxes born or made? Most likely, the latter. What emerges from reading this book is common language, a shared understanding of a number of issues, and most characteristically of hedgefoxism, a nuanced theoretical perspective that makes sense of, what had previously appeared to be contradictions. So what is the answer to the question of whether affect helps or hurts decision making? The hedgehog would argue either that it helps or that it hurts decision making. The fox would argue that both are true, or that the question doesn’t make sense. The hedgefoxes who make up the authors of the chapters in this book will tell you, however, that the correct answer is “it depends.” If you want to know what it depends on, read on.

Do Emotions Help or Hurt Decision Making?

Last Friday, we profiled The Market Research Event keynote speaker Dr. Kathleen Vohs. Now we have the opportunity to bring you an excerpt from her book Do Emotions Help or Hurt Decision Making? A Hedgefoxian Perspective. Here is Part One of the excerpt from her book. Look for part two later this week. In a perhaps overused metaphor, academics are sometimes classified as hedgehogs and foxes. Playing on a famous, albeit somewhat mysterious, statement by 7th century B.C. philosopher Archilochus that “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing,” the prototypical hedgehog is a “system addict” on a quest for a unified theory of everything. Foxes, in contrast, have an appreciation of the complexities of reality that prevents them from even entertaining the possibility of any grand unifying scheme. Belying their physical image, hedgehogs are the life of the party. They take outrageous positions and push their arguments to the limit, generating heated debate. Foxes, despite their slyness, are party duds; they stand on the sidelines shaking their heads and rolling their eyes at the naivety of the hedgehogs’ wild speculations. One more strike against foxes. As the party extends into the waning hours, however, the frantic repartee of the hedgehogs can wear thin, even to the hedgehogs themselves. That’s when the host begins to long for the arrival of a third species of party animal: the hedgefox. Hedgefoxes combine the best properties of their two mammalian relatives. Like the hedgehog, the hedgefox is a synthesizer, but like the fox the hedgefox cares about, and advances theories that take account of, and make sense of, the complexities of reality. If research on emotions is a party (and the explosive growth of the topic over the past few decades has lent the topic something of a party atmosphere), the time is ripe for the entry of the hedgefox. Research on emotions has made enormous strides, stimulated by debates between researchers who have taking extreme stands on a variety of central issues. There are hedgehog emotion researchers who argue for the primacy of emotions over cognition, and others who argue, instead, that all emotions are derivative of cognition. There are advocates of the idea that moral judgments are the product of emotion, perhaps justified ex post by reasons, and those who argue that morality is a matter of logic. And, most central to the basic theme of this book, there are hedgehogs whose research focuses almost exclusively on the destructive effects of emotions and others who focus as selectively as the first group on the vitally beneficial functions that emotions serve.