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.