Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Business decisions based on sentiment

Photo credit: Paul Ekman's facial expressions,
Every executive I've spoken to since 2005 has been tantalized by the promise of using social media sentiment as a KPI. Sentiment was hyped to be the most actionable of all social media data, a tidy shortcut to business decisions, not too unrelated from perception-based metrics of old with massive scale.

This continues to be a promise, with examples cropping up of campaigns being tweaked, products reintroduced or discontinued, all based on sentiment. Real business decisions.

At the same time, more scrutiny is being placed on sentiment-- how it's calculated, whose sentiment it reflects, what data it needs to be validated by, and why it fluctuates, in the context of vertical norms and benchmarks.

The market appears to be maturing rapidly about the different ways it's calculated, as witnessed in part by listening platform differentiation based on sentiment technique. Often it's a make-or-break decision to have the possibility of customized sentiment rules in a platform. Academia mirrors this trajectory with papers in psychology, computer science, and communications optimizing algorithms and language processing techniques.

We've fixated on how closely we can mirror sophisticated human judgment. And incremental improvements arise frequently. So much so, it's made me wonder whether accuracy is the most important part of this equation. What about the relationship between sentiment (emotion, incl.) and behavior? Or more precisely, how much of (the variance in) purchase behavior can be predicted by sentiment? In order for executive decisions to be based on sentiment, we need to know which behaviors are reliably tied to sentiment. The academic literature runs sparse (and/or wild) here-- as do publicized business cases. 

Structure (amidst big data) does not necessarily beget (revenue yielding) behavior.  Our hopes are only partially fulfilled; our work, only partially done-- in order to enable business decisions based on sentiment, we need more research on the behavioral relationship.

If you can make it to San Francisco next week, I'll be discussing this topic at the Sentiment Symposium. Until then, I look forward to hearing from challengers here. Executives, tell me your greatest examples of business decisions based on sentiment. Academics, share your research on the relationship between sentiment and behavior. Together we'll derive hypotheses as to when we can and cannot act on sentiment.  

Friday, August 31, 2012

The fear, laziness, ignorance, and plain old difficulty of getting out of our own shoes

"I think that we’re so caught up in our worlds that if we want to make these quantum leaps we have to step out of the world a bit. It opens your eyes to the possibilities."

"The more you look outside the more you realize that some of the ways that we have defined what we study within the field aren’t necessarily getting at the right thing."

I'll leave these quotes anonymously sourced for now. They're from two psychologists-- the first, a personality psychologist, the second, a cognitive one. They're reflective of a growing appreciation of working in a cross-disciplinary fashion-- specifically going outside of psychology into business, computer science, and politics. 

The problem is the classic Rumsfeldian "unknown unknown"-- a now tired way of saying we don't really know that there is an outside of our field, or how to get there. 

It's hard to stray from a given path
  • Often you don't look for comparisons, because it doesn't occur to you that things could be another way. "Normal" is typically hard to define without comprehensive data. 
  • Other times different cultures (used broadly) speak different languages-- progress is challenging when we call the same things different names.  
  • Sometimes we're stubborn and resistant to different or dissenting views. 

How do you consciously take on a new perspective? Bob Metcalfe often gives the advice of taking a new route home-  consciously getting out of your routine and trying to notice something new.  My approach has always been proactively questioning definitions-- recognizing that concepts can be operationalized differently to prevent assumptions. 

Often in psychology experiments (and contextual inquiry), participants will be asked to wear cameras affixed on (not IN) their foreheads. This helps the researcher understand life from another perspective, very literally. 

Maria Montessori, whose birthday it is today, asks parents to think about life from the child's perspective by getting down on your hands and knees and exploring your home. 

Try it. I love how such a literal example can have such a huge impact. It's more surprising than it seems. Imagine if you did the equivalent of this with your work. What does your work look like to a psychologist? To a doctor? To a marketer? To something/ someone you're not? 


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On Inchworms and Nightingales, or measuring social media

My son has a tendency of having me read him the same five books every night for a a few weeks. So on, about, our 40th reading of Leo Lionni's Inch by Inch, my mind wandered as I read about the clever inchworm who inched away from the nightingale, when challenged to measure her song. You see, the inchworm had already won over the likes of the crow, flamingo, toucan, pheasant, etc. - simply by measuring their tails, beaks, or legs. I was frustrated with the inchworm-- why would he inch away like a coward, when he could be creative and attempt to measure the nightingale's song in an unconventional way, even if a song is difficult to measure.

I immediately thought of marketers in social media-- running from challenges like measuring customer satisfaction or advocacy, engagement, simply because they're kludgey in social: people express them in different ways, they're ambiguous concepts with specific methodologies, the sample isn't representative...  These constructs are indeed complex, but not impossible to measure.

In psychology, they measure love, well-being, hope, personality-- really ambiguous constructs. But they do it systematically and so it's repeatable and testable, or adheres to basic measurement criteria. 

This is what I'd like to discuss at SXSW, with Sam Gosling, personality psychologist extraordinaire and author of the book Snoop, What Your Stuff Says About You.
Sam studies how personality is revealed in everyday life. He systematically measures:
  • The environments we select and create - physical (bedrooms and offices), virtual (webpages, FB), aural (music), and social (places);
  • Personality - our own perceptions, others' perceptions; and,
  • Accuracy of the relationship - things that really do reveal personality, things that people judge our personality based on, etc.  
Of course I have a bias that almost all answers to business questions have roots in psychology. This time, it's an obvious fit. Some of the measurement challenges that marketers are grappling with today could really benefit from understanding the way psychologists have developed common coins to help draw general conclusions (read: measurement standards) and creative means of going beyond standard assessments with more innovative methodologies (read: proxies) to capture different levels of behavior.

I hope this post will start a conversation to surface some of the measurement challenges you're working through-- particularly those where you're interested in how a psychologist would approach them. Please share your questions and vote for our session if you're curious to hear and discuss more. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

on knowing people

People are interesting.

Interesting, as defined in many ways and identified in even more. But this 'interestingness' is:
  • Casually applied - assuming people do/want things and, for example, designing programs or products to fulfill needs we don't really have, 
  • Sometimes misapplied - misunderstanding findings; overly simplifying complex concepts; and,
  • Often spectacularized - media coverage of psych studies, for example, showing how irrational people are.

Usually, it's ignored.

Last week my Knowable intern, Nicole, and I completed our first round of interviews with psychologists - mainly social psychologists, but also including cognitive, personality, developmental, and evolutionary psychologists. The main goal of the interviews is to begin to catalog some of the ways in which we people are interesting, how we know it, and why it's interesting, or where - outside of academia-  it can be applied. An important and unique component of these interviews is that they're meant to be accessible to a non-academic audience. We want to have these conversations in a way so that anyone and everyone can better understand what's known and start to think about better harnessing it.

The project, which you can begin to read about below, is meant to be a first step in the longer-term goal of connecting academic psychology with business. I'll start to use this space to talk more about what we're finding and how we're planning to make this connection in the short- and long- term. In the meantime, if you're a psychologist and would like to be involved in the project, or are a product designer, developer, or storyteller in business with a particular interest in psychology, let us know.

The gist:

I've been out of academia for nearly ten years.

Working at a start-up, a market research firm, and a consultancy, with many of the largest global brands, I've identified a big opportunity to generate more awareness of psychological findings. From marketing to product development, businesses are hungry to understand why people do what they do; yet they act in absence of the wealth of research that psychologists have amassed.

I'm trying to identify the right way to bridge these worlds of academic psychology and business. Involvement in business for academics can lead to expanded funding opportunities, a new perspective on current research questions, and identification of additional, unanticipated applications. As businesses become aware of the relevance of this research and the minds behind it, they can, in turn, better design their services to meet the needs of users and consumers.

As an effort to begin connecting these worlds, we're creating a quarterly newsletter with an accompanying analog experience, or "box of research" that highlights select psychologists‚ research interests, tastes and perspectives to pique the interest of this different audience. Rather than using published research as our  starting point, we've been conducting interviews for two main reasons:
  1. So that I rely on my own experience in "both worlds‚" to ask mutually relevant and interesting questions
  2. To make the content more approachable (i.e. create a casual, personable context).

In the future, we'd like to help establish more direct links between academics and business people to ask and answer more focused questions. The tagged database of interviews we maintain will help us act as brokers of these relationships.

We're open and eager for feedback. Please contact us with your design, development, or storytelling quandaries. Psychologists, if there are particular applications outside of academia that resonate with you, let us know!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Publicly living in the implied presence of others

I will reserve POVs on the $104B valuation for other platforms, but want to praise the conceptual winner today: the validation of the social psychological being.
Today, we celebrate the IPO of the company, entity, and social force that has made explicit the previously invisible ways we communicate our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. I realize this isn't the case for everyone, but saying "thoughts, feelings, and behaviors" is a scripted schema in my book, as memorized from the classic definition of social psychology,
The scientific study of how people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are affected by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. (Allport, 1954)
In other words, when I think about Facebook and this script rolls off my tongue, I realize a less scandalous and/or money-making version of The Social Network might have depicted (a less entrepreneurial) Zuckerberg interviewing all social and personality psychologists, understanding the plight of observing people in labs, and deciding to revolutionize the way experiments are done.

The little code-- brains, and momentum that motivated 900M people to hop on and interact for us all to observe and engage with is social psychology's moment in the sun.

Facebook is a petri dish of social psychological experimentation. It's us proclaiming our identity to others as we are and as we want to be seen-- the seeds of social desirability, self-verification, social comparison. It's us leaving and perceiving behavioral residues as cues to our personalities. It's us demonstrating our psychological orientation to the world through language. It's a constant reminder of our need for belonging.  

Whether we have an illusion of transparency or control, suffer from the imposter effect, have egocentric biases, need social validation... some of my favorite psychological concepts, Facebook lets us express our social psychological selves and celebrate in others' expression.
Congratulations, Facebook!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Listening for stories, a uniquely human, unautomated response

Photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar

Sometimes I find myself wandering in conversation. I get distracted by peripheral cues on speakers (tattoos, verbal mannerisms) and hypotheses of my own I'm continually testing (building a case).

In light of my past post on storylistening in business, I've started thinking more specifically about what it means to be a good listener, without technology. The other night a friend (who happens to be a preeminent communications researcher) suggested "patience" and "imagination." Patience for a story to develop, imagination to string it together.

Imagination has stuck with me-- and might be the perfect concept to help turn storytelling on its head (to story listening). We naturally think about the ability to capture people's imagination with stories we tell, but what about using your own imagination to capture other people's stories, as listeners?

This reminds me of what Robert Sapolsky highlights in his book Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, about the role of stress making us vulnerable to disease. Sapolsky explains that an unfortunately unique human ability to worry is what predisposes us to stress (thus illness) over Zebras, for example, who focus on acute physical stressors (e.g. running from predators, asap!).

Worrying, in some ways, is about being imaginative-- thinking about the future, letting our minds wander as we play with potential scenarios. It's the downside of imagination. In listening for stories, we have to learn to harness the ability to be imaginative without wandering aimlessly, or ruminating. We have to imagine characters for whom who we may not have faces to place, we must infer emotions, deduce feelings, 'form images not perceived through our senses'. But we have to do this in a focused way.

To listen for a story strikes me as a uniquely human thing to do; yet, something we don't naturally slip into as automatically as our stress response kicks in with 'worry.' If we hone our imagination as we listen, I think stories will more easily emerge.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Listening for stories, storytelling's analytic stepsister

Loud speaker, credit:
It's hard to tell a good story.

But storytelling is very hot-- big organizations commission storytellers to story their brand or events.

Storytelling is not just hip to do. It's become a marketing mandate: Don't message, story! Facebook, naturally, has played a role in its mainstream adoption. There are also TED videos on storytelling. And blog posts abound with tips to create suspense and tension, or use storytelling vocabulary like "themes," "formulas," or plain old "plot." 

Like most 'big things' in business, there isn't an algorithm for creating stories. But even from a very removed stance, we know a good story requires a good listener; a listener who gets to know the characters, buys in to the premise, and becomes totally absorbed. With the race to capture the 'signals from the noise,' I often worry this skill of listening to and *for* stories is dying.

Tandem to the trend in telling stories must be a trend in listening for stories; think of it as the analytic stepsister.  

If you-- or an organization-- is too focused on creating and telling your stories, it's only an incremental improvement from creating messages and telling them on a 'one-way-street'. To really embrace storytelling, you need to incorporate elements of the audience-- listen to their cues, their digital body language.

Here's where some of what we know from psychology can be helpful (e.g. cues taken from person perception, relationships, 'the self', narrative psychology) :

  • Listen for context - Context is already a big word in listening-- typically it refers to the category within which a brand/ product sits. Instead, think of the context of your customers' and users' lives. Listening for the roles they play, their goals, the skills they have, their values. Many contextual cues can be aided by technology. Think about new queries you might run with sample roles, for example (i.e. aunt, teacher, photographer, geocacher). 

  •  Listen for facts and feelings. Our industry is obsessively focused on sentiment. While sometimes emotion-laden content signals an impassioned customer on her way to checkout, a lot of the good stuff happens in neutral (content and moods) and is conveyed through other types of words (pronouns, anyone?). Stories are rarely all drama, or exclusive positive or negative sentiment. Don't ignore content that doesn't contain strong opinions.
  • Listen for plot - Abandon preconceived notions so you're open to twists and unexpected story development. Self-defining moments are rarely borne out of habits and routine. It's easy to miss out on seminal, story-building momentum (i.e. unintended product use) by trying to confirm your expectations. This leads to the most labor-intensive advice: you must be inductive and deductive. Use specific queries, but more importantly explore freely. Become intimate with the data, qualitatively. Read. Read. Read. 

  • Listen for rhythm. You can't listen for stories in snapshots (i.e. one-time audits). You need to understand the order of events and how incidents are layered over time. People go through stages-- not just from awareness to intent, desire, and action; nor do they reliably visit, engage, share. They follow winding paths with firsts and lasts and several moments in between. David Armano often refers to the "rhythm" of a story akin to the soundtrack in a movie. Rhythm is another area where a taxonomy of stages and incidents can support your thorough qualitative scrutiny of the data. 

Listening for brand mentions-- and even doing customer service in a limited and transactional manner, will only buy you the "psychology of a stranger." That is, it won't take you very far in getting to know your customers. Advocacy, by any name, has reciprocity at its heart. You must listen to their stories if you want yours to be remembered and retold.

*Apologies to any readers unfamiliar with the industry term "listening"-- a technical term referring to the monitoring and analysis of social media.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Open Questions

Continuing along the vein of design vs. science, here are a few things on my mind that will hopefully evolve into posts one of these days:
  • Developing a framework for varied 'methods toward action' across discipline including "business decisions" "empirical questions" and "sense-making problems." What other terms live in this category?
  •  Exploring the merit of personas as design tools vs. personality types as aids in understanding and predicting future behavior.  Many have strong reactions against each/either of these methodologies. What is the best way to paint a picture of someone to anticipate needs? 
Please let me know if you have related thoughts...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

You know what I mean?

Jersey Shore star Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, MTV
We tend to be overconfident. As people, as brands, and as products.

Sometimes this manifests in the expected ways of chest-thumping, ego-traps, and braggadocio, but every now and then our overconfidence acts in more subtle ways.

We don't listen because we think we already know. We don't take other people's perspectives because we think we're right. Sometimes it's more complicated, we assume other people understand us - especially close friends, romantic partners, customers, or users-- even when we don't do a good job explaining.  

As a result, a joke might flop-- or worse offend a close friend, because we assume our friends fully understand our intentions to be humorous. Or in the business world, a product falls flat, because we assume our users understand our intentions to meet their needs.

My point: in general we think our 'people' get us better than they do. We're overconfident in predicting how well other people understand us, and how well we understand them.

This is a perfect example of how the close-relationship literature is relevant to businesses who believe they're "in relationship" with customers. Especially brands who try to fluidly translate what they 'Listen' to into content or product developers/ designers who synthesize what people say into experiences. 

From one of my clever college psychology profs in a press release about a particular experiment he conducted on overconfidence and the "illusion of insight" we have with our well-known acquaintances:
"Although speakers expected their spouse to understand them better than strangers, accuracy rates for spouses and strangers were statistically identical. This result is striking because speakers were more confident that they were understood by their spouse."
In other words, think about the last time you said "you know what I mean" to your partner... He/she probably didn't!

A common exercise in couples therapy is to have a spouse go into "listening mode" and repeat back what he heard his partner say in real-time. Often he 'repeats' something quite different than his partner thinks she articulated. Imagine the analog in business. Try spontaneously repeating back what your customers/ users are saying.

Make sure you actually understand, and don't just have an illusion of understanding or insight. A lot of the changes made to our communications and products are based on the *presumed* knowledge about our acquaintances.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Pinning to tell our stories

Hans Christian Anderson Statue, Central Park
My streams were filled with links to the Column Five/Flowtown infoposter "Why is Pinterest so addictive" last week. This only added to the traditional and social media conversation about the conversation. Naturally people are hungry for answers to this question, given the accelerated growth Pinterest has seen and it's enviable ability to cultivate attention. According to ComScore, we're now talking ~18M Uniques spending about 3+minutes per day!

But what I got from the infoposter is really*how* Pinterest serves as a vehicle for the addiction. Flowtown does point out attributes like "refuge" and "get popular" and as Mashable says, posits a hypothesis around "digital hoarding," but for the most part, the infoposter is centered on the site's design and simplicity, which enable participation. What's missing is an analysis of the psychology of its active participation to explain the 'why'.

To me, its stats are the manifestation of a great value to users-- some need being met and/or other fundamental psychological processes at play.

Taking "addiction" lightly, pinning is a way of expressing who we are and the stories we tell. Pinterest = Narrative construction. It's an easy-to-use instrument to establish our identity --to ourselves and others.

I realize it feels comical or to some, superficial to think of how pictures of home goods, arts & crafts, style, and food, are helping us make sense of ourselves and communicate that to others, but these are the exact collections of artifacts we've used to tell our aggregate historical and cultural stories time and again. As an aside, spending money is also a means of emotional regulation, particularly (albeit with limited evidence) for women.

The idea I'm drawing from is Dan McAdam's "Life Stories," from his integrative theory of personality. While some personality psychologists endorse models of fixed traits, McAdams sees traits as the outline only-- he explains that we're constantly stringing together traits, fleshing them out, and personalizing by adding to our 'story'. This, in turn, evolves our identity, guides behavior and helps orient ourselves socially. It gives us purpose.

To McAdams, we're constantly creating, telling and revising our stories. It's an ongoing process that, in my view, Pinterest facilitates. Check out McAdams' book, read the review, reference his papers. If nothing else, think about your unfolding story, or your role in your customers' stories as you pin.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Reading-and-sharing: nurturing the ties that bind

Photo credit:
My friend Amanda was talking me through the woes of reading a(n actual) newspaper from her hotel bed. Despite being free, she had become so accustomed to the immediate gratification of sharing content during/ after reading that it left her news-intake experience incomplete.

This shouldn't be foreign to anyone.

While some "bumper-stickering" occurs with certain article-sharing (people making identity claims via social readers, for example), we can all relate to the idea that some content makes us think of specific people that we want to reach out to in real-time to experience the content with. It enhances the experience: a primitive form of augmented reality, maybe.

I think it also serves a more evolutionary purpose: social network management. This is analogous to the link between gossiping and grooming

I've blogged before about Wegner's notion of the transactive memory, a concept I love about how we get information into our heads (encode), arrange and add context (store), and eventually access when needed (retrieve) *as a group*. In my mind, this is underpinning of the success that Twitter is. It also helps explain this tendency we have to read-and-share as a means to coordinate our social network. That is, by sharing certain content with specific people, we more effectively encode, store, and retrieve information as a social network. Think of it like really effective curating. Simply by sharing links, we're making sense out of our expanding networks. 

But something else happens when we read-and-share. We create virtual spaces. As the great sociologist Ray Oldenburg might say, we create "a third place." Places, really. Salons. Sharing links creates places for us to meet and talk about our shared interests. Traditionally a "third place" is a place of refuge. It's not your home, not your job. So these virtual salons we create let us escape-- or augment our reality-- while performing social network maintenance: clustering and categorizing our network.

I mentioned this to Stowe Boyd the other week-- our tendency to create 'salons' by sharing links (and related information). He likened it to the new form of passing out business cards. A form of saying, "meet me there" rather than "shoot me an email!" This works-- think about what's running through your head when you tweet out an article.   

Like visualizing a race course before running it in order to be better prepared at racetime (i.e. to better predict and control differences in terrain and speed), reading-and-sharing better prepares you for future social interactions. I think it lets us escape while strengthening our metamemory of the knowledge that binds our networks.

Is that how you would characterize how you were feeling, @mercerthompson?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Measuring, changing behavior

With more people trying to crack the social media measurement nut, my focus has shifted to the study of behavior change. Because if I haven't made clear my beliefs before, Brian Solis seals the deal with his redactment: Social media is about social science, not technology. So often SM metrics are diluted by what *can* be measured-- and with that ever-proliferating (stories, pins, plans, highlights...), it's easy to lose sight of what most people are interested in: effects and impact, or in other words attitude and behavior change. 

This is what stuck out to me at SXSW 2012: the number of apps (and ideas) that have emerged to focus on changing behaviors: recycling more, exercising more, using public transportation, eating healthier foods. Each of them, through the ability to:
  1. Capture behaviors in real-time
  2. Track behaviors over time (sometimes with annotations)
  3. Gain context by comparing amounts relative to our network(s)
One of the more prevalent SXSW 2012 themes, crystallized by Amber Case, is that we are increasingly sentient beings, cyborgs in our own right-- thus more and more able to capture these behaviors seamlessly, starting with our mobile phones. However, I also appreciated David Rose's contrarian view that discouraged mobile usage toward more utilitarian incorporation of technology, e.g. into furniture and medicine containers.   

What's amazing to me, as a psychologist, is how unaware we are of our behaviors without external cues and how we really need these technological advances to inform us. Better awareness of our behaviors is critical. Some psychologists believe observing our behaviors is how we come to know ourselves. Perhaps it seems preposterous that we would be blind to our own behaviors, but often people go to extreme measures to better understand their 'daily footprint'. For example, 30-day Master Cleanses; not using a car for a month; walking around with all your trash for a few weeks.

Sometimes it's more simple-- mere awareness transcends deprivation- invisible metrics are made visible and put in the hands of users.

Using apps that facilitate this awareness is a great experiment for those (e.g. brand managers, product developers) trying to crack the measurement nut. Become aware of how your own behavior changes to start thinking about what really matters when you're measuring your consumers' behavior. I often find this is the best framework for measurement in addition to reporting.  

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

wicked problems and scientific design

What is the role of a social psychologist in solving wicked problems

Further, is she required to elect between the scientific method in which she is trained or the design process for which she has seen more popular reception? I hate to confuse the morass of types of reasoning that already exist (deductive, inductive, abductive...), but could there be a hybrid approach that causes the most disruption-- the most lasting behavior change-- in the context of wicked problems?

I'm fascinated by differences in the scientific method vs. the design process and am doing some research understanding the nuances in each-- the reasoning, process, and possible outcomes.

Intuitively, we perceive that design involves more creativity compared to science's falsifiability; more empathy compared to science's controlled objectivity. Several have more extreme and controversial views on which has more merit and the generalization that science aims to prove, while design, to improve.

Roger Martin argued a few years ago that the scientific mandate to *prove* things stymies innovation. Around the same time, design thinking was heralded for its breakthrough potential, led in part by the critical acclaim of Tim Brown's book. More recently, and ironically I might add, design thinking has been criticized as a "failed experiment" in its mainstream adoption and packaging as a business process, devoid of creativity. Funny enough, some of the original (popular) thinking on the scientific method-- by Einstein-- cites the role of "creative imagination" in science:
"To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science."
- Einstein & Infeld 1938
I point out these select examples only to emphasize this methodological quandary is a complicated issue.

Which do you perceive leads to more disruption? Particularly as wicked problems abound and we have no choice but to move away from reasoning and explanation toward diagnosis and behavior change. Which is more apt?

Back to my research. Let me know if you have thoughts.

Photocredit: Eadweard Muybridge,

Monday, March 5, 2012

Starting Up: Infusing business with social science

Over the past seven years I've become increasingly frustrated when people talk about things like influence, engagement, community, or collaboration (to name just a few) without enough of a nod to the wealth of data in social science.

I've blogged before about my concern that business is "awaiting igon valuation." This is the idea inspired by Steven Pinker's review of Malcolm Gladwell's “What the Dog Saw,” that there are solutions available to some of today’s more complex business problems, but they need to be made into banal generalizations before catching on.

Starting today, I've decided to apply myself to this 'cause'. I'm dedicating myself-- with a new professional venture-- to defy igon valuation and introduce more of the richness from psychology to business via research. KNowable Research, name courtesy of my former colleague, Peter Kim.

The origin of my idea is simple-- and you can walk through this from the perspective of an individual or a business:
  • Online and mobile platforms for social interaction and the resulting data have made the formerly invisible dynamics of human attitudes, cognition and behavior more salient.
  • This awareness has changed the ways we relate to people, places, and products.
  • To be successful, businesses require a deeper understanding of these 'ways we relate' and the underlying thoughts and attitudes, through known principles from social science.
In subsequent posts, I'll walk through the above in more detail. I'll also provide more information about my plan, as things unfold. I'll be developing my ideas again here(!) and look forward to your feedback, reactions, ideas, perceptions, and any other elements of your psychologies you choose to share.

More to come.

*Photo credit: Kurt Lewin, the father of social psychology. Image in public domain via

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Minding the gap: Academia and Business

After a 7-year hiatus, I've been back on the UT campus, teaching, for about two months now. Each week, I notice different aspects of the great divide between academia and business. Each week it seems larger, but I'm beginning to better understand some ways to bridge it.

I've been toying with the idea with respect to social science for a few months now. It began with a small frustration: Why aren't social scientists more involved in conversations about 'our' work with the general public-- the way some journalists are? For example, discussions of collective action and all things collaboration and co-creation show little awareness of the early work on the pitfalls of brainstorming, groupthink, social loafing, or even social identity theory to name a few.

Last week I spoke with UT Psychology alumni and proposed a few possibilities:
  1. Terminology: Academics and businesspeople speak different languages -- in content and style.
  2. Comfort: Academics have safeguards against going beyond the constraints of an experiment; businesses often make 'business decisions' with more directional insight.
  3. Information flow: (Right, chicken vs. egg.) There's very little flow of information from one world to the other. No means to efficiently access research (PsycINFO!) and firewalls that protect business questions.
  4. Currency: While everyone wants fame and glory, it seemingly comes in different forms for academics and businesspeople.
Or does it? Do they?

In his UT Game Changers talk this evening, Bob Metcalfe laid out three broad reasons as to why it's difficult to build an entrepreneurial culture at research universities. Paraphrased below, his reasons overlap with some of mine above, and otherwise extend the list:
  1. Stigma: Some believe commercialization is crass
  2. Reward structures: Participation in entrepreneurial activity is not aligned with incentives
  3. Means. Some researchers believe they don't know how
Why do you think the gap exists? How could the theories and ideas from social science have so much relevance to business today, yet play so minimal a role in the broader conversation?