Friday, 14 February 2014

negativity bias : no such thing

Negativity Bias is a term that sometimes crops up in creative circles. Negativity bias is sometimes cited as the reason clever people stomp on new thinking. It’s a term that we think needs to be treated with caution as it’s all too easy to over simplify things and allow good science to become poor science and then turn into even worse advice. The heart of the argument is thus: our capacity to weigh negative stimulus more heavily than positive most likely evolved for good reasons —to keep us out of harm's way. From the dawn of human history, our very survival depended on our skill at avoiding dangers. The brain developed systems that would make it unavoidable for us not to notice danger and thus, hopefully, respond to it. Those caveman that stepped outside the cave when they saw a sabre tooth tiger rarely came back. We thus treat new thinking in the same way; with huge caution and we quickly crush exploratory ideas as threats;  it’s un avoidable.
Genius says ‘rubbish!’
In today’s world we think this is bunk. It’s an excuse NOT to do things and ignores that we live in the 21st century. Excuses for our poor behaviour can’t be attributed to dodging danger as caveman.
Consider the rebuttals from our clients…
1.        Our minds are not fixed as cavemen. Seriously? Is this a solid argument? The human species evolved over millions of years and latterly in the tens of thousands we’ve accelerated our development amongst socio and contextual settings of our own design. With the shift of our ancestors from roaming hunters in isolation, that feared prey, we grew to agricultural masters of our environment, grew into large communities, extracted energy from the land and fended off sabre tooth nasties in groups using rocks, sticks and a bit of yelling. We now find ourselves at the top of the energy and food chain. We evolved languages in parallel to the discovery, trade, storage and harvesting of grains and developed metaphysical cognition that manifested in religions, rituals and worships as a result of such farming practises.
The human species has not got a caveman brain.
We do not get hijacked by fear when new ideas are presented in brainstorms and meetings at work.
We do not fear new thinking.
If it were the case, then nothing around us that we’ve created would exist now would it. Despite all the intellectual rock throwing, the mavericks still get through. And despite all the shitty process and procedure in business that we consultant agency types hate, work still carries on. Coke sells itself, interest rates fluctuate, mums buy soap powder & egg free cake mix and marketing managers make PowerPoints.  Same today. Same tomorrow.
2.       Proposing that we humans have a negative bias as default can’t be the case when citing the opportunities children see over adults. There is no shortage of opportunity in a primary school classroom and no sense of wonder when we’re 5. Negativity bias is simply the register of intensity that negative things have over positive. We remember the shitty stuff more so than the good. But we can also remember the good. Our perception of time and positive emotion is warped. Look up the studies for yourself. It’s important to invest in the positive to counter act the visceral experiences of the negative, but it’s all fluctuated and all behaviour, after all is learned. We don’t crush ideas and new thinking in business because we’re negative, we crush ideas in business because we have learned to do so by copying others. Mostly our boss, his boss and the person we’d most like to be liked by in the room. “I agree with what Simon says”…( a phrase commonly heard at Canary Wharf).

3.       Finally we don’t like negativity bias as a concept as in the world of instructional design, LTROD and innovation, it’s a “gotcha”. For example “hey there’s no such things as negativity bias, that’s’ bunk”, “see, you‘re being negative, so we’re right and thus proved our point”. And so on. You can’t defend an argument by using the argument in and of itself as your proof point. Brilliantly put into humour by Douglas Adams when a talking fish explains to God that as he, the talking fish exists, is evidence and proof that a divine creator exists; and of course with proof, there is no need for faith and without faith God can’t exist and so God disappears into a cloud of logic…
Smart. If a little too clever.
The point is it’s ‘bad’ to explain to clients who stamp on ideas that they are negative and their actions will perpetuate their behaviour inevitably to the vice.

So this leads where?

Yes, subconscious forces come into play. Edward Bernays famously took the powdered egg out of cake mix in the 50’s to stop mums feeling guilty about baking without making an effort (it still stands to this day)  and lipsticks sell in tandem with the cycles of the moon. But we’re not negative to new thinking because we once got eaten by tigers as cavemen.


We stomp on ideas because were smart, clever people with high standards that are unique and special to ourselves. People that don’t match the same pattern as us are immediately attributed with labels by association. It’s how our mind works. It does so automatically, subconsciously and at speed. It takes seconds for us to work out whether new thinking is useful or not useful to us. Does it fit our path for the day? will it help my meeting? Will this half-baked idea actually solve my issue or get in the way of my next promotion? Do I want to be associated with chaos or a clear plan my boss wants…


We live in a built environment that pampers our immediate and long term needs and we’ve a growing distance between that around us and an appreciation of the efforts, magic, skill and energy it took to create such. We need to remind ourselves that new thinking created it.


Those reading this far done the article may have already found fault with what’s written. You may have thought “not so, sonny” (or different words but same sentiment). You’ve done so not because you’re bias to the negative, you’ve done so as our map, doesn’t fit your map of the same territory. It’s not a bad thing. In fact, we’d rather we have some adversarial discussions and it all helps challenge one perspective against another. It’s important however to let go the ‘right’ over ‘wrong’ argument as all that creative energy is put on proving one point of view over another.


The how will argue for itself.


Those that succeed in pushing through innovative thinking and creative process in business need not worry about our innate ability to create the ‘new’. We can do that. What leaders and sponsors of new programmes can do is grow better awareness of is the systems, structures and processes that recognise, isolate and correct the behaviours that  make for better idea generation and better creative culture.

Making our excuses and blaming our ancestors won’t get you far.

Taking initiative and embracing opportunity with get us much further.

A copy of this blog is found on our website

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

We have moved!

thanks for following the blog, dear reader.

Catch us on from now on.  We've even split things up into categories of LEARNING, DOING and THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT.

expect updates soon.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Quick 6 point test to make your Innovation Conference rock.


Send absolutely no pre-work to any of the delegates (all of whom should be chosen at random). This way everyone arrives with little or no idea about the overall purpose of the event and thus their attention and focus can wander at will.  Remember innovation and creativity is all about experimenting. A free mind will be the best learner.



Have a stack of lengthy biographies on each of the speakers to hand out on the day. Specific emphasis made to their early career is important. Obscure qualifications and affiliations to places you’ve never heard of, is essential. Make sure to include a low-res image of your speaker in a suit; looking sincere and chewing on a pen or arms folded in a reassuringly professional manner.  Speakers with no connection to the topic and preferably those who have to fly long distance to talk about CSR are particularly good value.



Make no use whatsoever of social media, live interactions, current news, video, film, illustration or music. The best conferences are ones where the audience sits in darkness whilst watching an 8 hour PowerPoint presentation using the conference template.  Numerous bullet points and illegible charts are a pre-requisite, as is a black and white A4 print out to stack in the foyer by the coffee machine. Running over time progressively as the day moves on is acceptable. In the world of innovation, it’s important to break the rules, so squeezing or cancelling the final session is living that value authentically.



Cram as much borrowed interest and distraction as you can on the outside of the auditorium. Jugglers, flame throwers, motorbikes and popcorn are well liked. Those dudes who bang on biscuits tins and oil drums are a particular hit too. Nothing puts your conference content into business context more than a branded pen, mouse mat and bag with your logo, so spend as much as you can here. The bigger the gift bag the better.



Spend 45 minutes at most on open discussions, brainstorms, breakouts groups and Masterclass sessions. This is best done between 3.30 and 4.15 in the afternoon. There is no need for anyone to facilitate these discussions, land output in a useful form or capture in a meaningful way that’s shareable. A conference is about boundary breaking and after all, Rome wasn’t built in a day so best to manage expectations.


Finally, six.

Get everyone to sign their name on a wall of commitment on exit. Nothing says “I want to make our world a better place” more. This can be the last thing that’s pulled down at the end of the day and dumped in the skip as it’s important people see their commitments through to the end. Following up is important, so emailing a set of photos of the audience looking glum-as-fuck throughout the day really hammers home the impact your innovation conference has had.


Enjoy your planning.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Keep the main thing, the main thing.


I was sent this image earlier in the week by a member of the extended Genius family… it’s self evident what the brief is, what’s expected and even has some political and behavioural guidelines around getting the project done.  Smart it is. Simple. Elegant.

Racing forward nearly 70 years later, we don’t see a great of this anymore. We get pitch documents, and proposals and white papers. These sometimes needlessly over complicate. The summary advice feels a bit obvious from time to time. And less we forget the agency and clients involved, they neatly place both logos at the foot of each page. Handy.

Before the world of latte drinking consultants developed, briefs like the above were ambitious and open enough to invite debate and question, but more often than not, shit happened and stuff got done. Perhaps the same sort of wishes are sketched out today in boardroom meetings and then handed to the procurement people to get into finer detail (and maybe there was indeed a more lengthy set of specifications for the floating barges) but the main objective was common to all. Everyone knew what was expected, what wasn’t, what to do and intuitively what to avoid. Call it a strategy if you like and type it up – but you still don’t make things happen. I like the idea of all our projects following the same format.

If it isn’t on a page – it won’t get done.

Next year represents a massive opportunity to spread more growth amongst our client base and spread even more genius thinking around.
My challenge to everyone on the books both within and outside of our business is to start 2014 with the key objective on a page. Let's all keep the main thing, the main thing. Think about that over the festive season.
See you in 2014.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

get a point of view and stick to it...

Been super busy of late - sorry reader.

Here's the best piece of genius I've seen in ages. I hope this guy is still working and hasn't quit as I think the language is brilliant:

I get it.
I love it.

some people get it.
and won't love it.

and that's just brilliant as it saves everyone a lot of time needlessly sitting on the fence...


Friday, 11 October 2013

car design : no innovation.

Here's and aesthetic ponder for you.
What colour is your car and why did you choose that colour?
Black?, silver?, gun metal grey?, a washed out metallic green? In shot BORING COLOURS. Why.
Go to a B+Q or a Wickes and you can get 2000 colours+ for the inside of your home. In fact with a colour match technology it’s possible to mix almost any shade form the three primary colours right?
Why then are car designers short on palettes. Are they exhausted from the years of development in getting the lines of the outside ‘just so’. Most cars are now (dare I say it) the same.  They’ve all got the same spec. and performance and equally as forgettable in shape as the next – unless you experiment.
But that’s the challenge – how can you experiment and express your personal style and brand when the choice is poor in style and colour? Surely the insight people at 'cars inc.' are aware that almost every other part of our material lives is open to personalisation... phones, fabrics, clothing, holiday choice, home d├ęcor, food, lifestyle, reading choices. it's all up for grabs.
Unless you want to buy a car.
any colour and shape you want as long as it's a shade of crappy grey or black and looks like a BMW.
I also heard how it might cut car crime. Consider this…
“and the getaway car madam?”
“looked like a saloon. Black I think, but it was dark…”
“and the getaway car madam?”
“oh, long, 6 wheels, mint green with dots…”

Friday, 27 September 2013

Our want for immediacy kills getting things done.

Long one this week - and rightly so. If you're in a rush. Stop and read.

I listened to the radio whilst driving into London last night. The topic was on broadband connection and speed of downloads.  People ringing up and complaining that they couldn’t download podcasts, songs or films without ‘unacceptable periods of waiting’. On hearing how long these people had to wait, I hear that in some circumstances they’d endured (wait for it) 20mins.




The world is in a rush to get things done fast, but I’m unclear as to WHY? There seems no benefit to accelerate waiting activity and reduce bottlenecks as observing behaviour after the fact simply doesn’t add up.

Let’s look at some examples.

I fly a great deal. I spend a great deal of time on planes.  Some long haul flights are 13 hours.  13 hours cut out of a day makes any productivity a right off. So either side of a 13hour flight you should concentrate on getting too the airport and enjoying the journey away from the airport. That’s it.

There are a proportion of business class flyers (and you know who you are) whose interpretation of hand luggage is grossly distorted. These people who are usually three gins to the wind upon boarding are the first to ‘tut’ when the pilot announces after a 13 hour flight that we’ll be an additional 20mins in the air to allow for air traffic clearance of something; like the world owes them a favour! Once down, no sooner have the tyres stopped moving – and in some cases still moving – these people are up out of the seats, grabbing their overpriced TUMI’s and marching up the aisle. They adopt a semi jog/walky stride (akin to a child with a loose bowel) up the HSBC ramp off to arrivals.  Of course without luggage to collect they can then breeze through passport and off to their destination ahead of everyone else.  WHY?

After 13hours you can’t have been that stupid to have booked a meeting. You are either going home, where you’ll potter about the kitchen and walk about the house, have a shower and aloow time to drag on or you’re off to a hotel room to do the same mundane personal human tasks like unpack a toiletries bag and order a club sandwich. There is nothing urgent you have to do and if you did organise something shame on your intelligence to do so with moments after a landing – did your professional life and diary planning and this flight come as a shock?

You’re dicks.

On the subject of high speed downloads. Think about it.  If your downloading a film that’s 2 hours, then why the fuss that it takes 20mins to come down your fibre optic.  Surely you’ve set aside a ‘free’ evening where you can open a bottle of wine, plump some sofa cushions, turn down the lights, light a candle and enjoy Fast’n’Furious6? Why not… er.. download the film overnight or during the day – I’m a little , no I’m a LOT shocked that the basic ingenuity of a human being can’t do this simple trade off.

Remember the computer games of the 1980’s when they arrived on cassette. We used to tip toe around the player as vibrations would make the tape heads wobble and the whole loading process would have to be started again.  After loading game over a period of 15mins we’d play ALL DAY. Why the review that things take so long to load when the rest of the day was spent playing the game – doesn’t make sense.

Some of us will remember ordering tapes, records, books, games, furniture, photos and so on using order forms and postage. 4-6 weeks we’d wait for precious holiday snaps to come back from ‘Trueprint’ or go to Our Price and ‘order’ a Bangles CD to arrive in the next delivery (often a week or two later).

My final example is more personal. I used to play piano. I’m now VERY rusty. ‘Back in the day’, I’d order sheet music which cost a small fortune and had a lead time of about 8 weeks and then I’d collect from the music store across town. I’d go home and I’d practise and practise.

I’ve now You Tube. Someone has generously filmed their fingers play in slow motion and printed out the score for me and for a few dollars I can download and print instantly the piece I want to play. Wish is exactly what I don’t do. In fact, I’ve reams of unplayed music scores sitting under a bed gathering dust. The piano has become a quasi coat shelf in the spare bedroom and I still won’t play.

My childhood in the 1980’s consisted of a great deal of waiting and looking back it probably did me a lot of good. The experience of NOT getting what I wanted immediately must have taught me something. If it didn’t then at least I know what it’s like to feel that way and adopt a way of living with such emotions.

Let’s now look at business as it’s here things get really interesting.  If at a personal level, we want things NOW and we travel business class with over sized hand luggage to leave the airport earlier than everyone else, to race home and download a film in seconds so we won’t watch it until another day… then it stands to reason all that passion and power would amplify in the corporate environment right? It would add up that all those impatient people who bang doors to get on overcrowded trains, who run up escalator stairs, who want a skinny late on the go and speed across town in white Range Rovers NEED to get shit done at work. It would be the case that in agency briefings we’d get told were working toward objective lead and time oriented briefs and projects and the senior managers really see this as a priority… right?

It’s not so is it.

Thomas Homer Dixon talks of an ingenuity gap between the natural capacity as humans to deal with the ever increasing world in which we live and design.  I think he’s right. I think also there is a patience vs. immediacy divide in the leaders, managers, business class flyers and film downloading population in the world.

My solution is to focus business in NOT doing anything.

Let’s face it, if we achieve this little by racing around then perhaps doing the opposite and learning some patience would probably accelerate thins for us all.

I’d also like to see patience and waiting getting more praise. I appreciate we have a surplus of cognition as we can get stuff done immediately. Some of use our time making YouTube videos and uploading Wiki pages – but for the rest of us, I’d like to see you learn how to manage the impact you have on others when you don’t get what you want in the time you want it.

To ring up a radio station and say 20mins is too long to download a film is unacceptable tells me a great deal about the value you have on the material things.

That’s worrying for us all. Shame on such society.


Go think it over. All of you.


p.s. I don’t hate all business class flyers – just those with over sized hand luggage in a rush. Dicks.