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