Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Motivated Reasoning

Prejudice is a great time saver.
You can form opinions without having to get the facts. 

— E. B. White 

Beliefs we’d label “stupid” don’t necessarily result from stupidity.

More often than not they’re the products of a phenomenon research psychologists call “motivated reasoning.”

While authentic reasoning recruits and weighs evidence wisely and independently, motivated reasoning is slave to a goal (usually a selfish goal) and ignores and distorts evidence willy-nilly.

Through the process you end up producing a patently biased belief.

It’s not that we’re blind to evidence, believing whatever the hell we want to believe (we want, in fact, to think we are rational creatures); but we’re content to make do with scraps of evidence, which we patch together to create a convenient and comfortable interpretation of reality.

We're lazy in that way.

Research psychologists who have studied motivated reasoning have identified and named a variety of unconscious mechanisms underlying it.

The Big 3 mechanisms are:
  • Biased information search—you seek and find only evidence that promotes your goal;
  • Biased assimilation—you give credence only to evidence that promotes your goal; and
  • Identity-protective cognition—you discredit evidence that causes you anxiety because it challenges your self-worth or contradicts the beliefs of your peer-group.
These three unconscious mechanisms explain why otherwise mindful people cherish biased beliefs—the kind of “uninformed” beliefs that propel them to smoke cigarettes; treat cancer with magnets or homeopathy; deny their kids the measles vaccine; donate to TV ministries; perpetuate vast-conspiracy theories; fear evil clowns—or vote one into high office.

But research psychologists have also found there’s a benevolent form of motivated reasoning: “accuracy-driven reasoning.”

When accuracy is made the goal of reasoning, we tend to expend more brain power on the gathering, sifting and weighing of evidence before forming any belief.

Unfortunately, we don’t reason in this manner spontaneously: we need to be prodded.

One of the most effective prods, researchers have shown, is to be told in advance of gathering, sifting and weighing evidence that you will have to justify your belief in front of a public audience.

Just imagine every Sandy Hook, Holocaust and climate-change denier having to face fifty people and justifying what they believe.

Good luck with that!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Event Shock

Brace yourself for Event Shock.

Working with event organizers, as my business partner and I do, I feel their anxiety.

They're constantly worried there's a glut of events. ("With so many events competing for audiences' time, will they pick ours?")

But we've entered uncharted territory.

Organizers once had to contend only with competing organizers.

Now they have to compete with every marketer.

This thought struck me when I received an email today from my neighborhood hardware store promoting an in-store educational event.

Marketerseven the one who works for my local hardware storehave learned that, if they want to seduce customers, sales pitches and discounts are no longer enough. 

They have to deliver educational content.

And their efforts are increasing the volume of eventsexponentially.

You thought there was a surplus of events before?

That was nothing compared to the innumerable iterations we're going to experience at marketers' hands in the coming years.

Event marketing has become the new content marketing

The event-flood may not rise to the same water-level, because marketers can't outsource events to India, like they can content; but it will feel like it.

The sheer volume of events will be unprecedented.

And overwhelming.

Event Shock is here.

HAT TIP to Mark Schaefer, who coined Content Shock to describe the "tremor" felt when content supply overwhelms content demand.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Artificial Intelligence: Now It's Personal

As the result of a podcast by consultant Mark Scheafer, The New Marketing Career, I'm inspired to deep-dive into the subject of Artificial Intelligence.

You might consider doing so, too.

AI is marketing's next big thing.

Experts insist AI won't make every marketing professional obsolete—not soon, anyway.

But my brief look into AI has already persuaded me otherwise.

London startup Phrasee, for example, is harnessing AI "to write better email marketing language than humans."

If accurate, that's bad news for copywriters.

Phrasee uses algorithms to generate "human-sounding, machine-optimized email marketing language that gets you more opens, clicks and conversions," the company's website claims.

Phrasee's software outperforms human copywriters because it evaluates "hundreds of emotions, sentiments and phrases" before recommending a line.

Human copywriters, if they could wade through hundreds of emotions, sentiments and phrases without soon falling asleep, couldn't assess them
unless they were wizards at Bayesian statistics (the algorithms' secret sauce). 

I don't know any who are.

If Phrasee's algorithms indeed outperform the human copywriters—and I have no reason to doubt they do—it's due to a computer's capacity to scrutinize vast piles of data.

There's at least some consolation in that for an obsolete copywriter. 

Scrutinize stems from the Latin scrutor, meaning "to search through trash."

I'd rather practice old-fashioned wordsmithery and leave the trash-sorting to the computers.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Square Pegs

Corporate cultures, by definition, restrict behavior. 

A few lucky workers find a corporate culture they can willingly conform to. The rest check their real selves at the door. 

But sooner or later (usually sooner) these misfits get detected and are forced out.

Severance is particularly grave for workers over 40, who are cursed by their age with experience.

Employers prefer inexperienced 20-year-old workers over 40-60 year-old ones, not only because they're less costly, but because they're more malleable.

Experience shapes you, robbing employers of the opportunity to do so.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Is Silence Golden?

Under attack, corporations used to hunker down.

Herbert Schmertz changed that.

Schmertz, who died last week at 87, as head of PR at Mobil in the 1970s pioneered use of the "advertorial” to confront critics of the company.

He bought space on the op-ed page of major dailies like The New York Times and used it to publish essays expressing his company's viewpoint.

Many of his peers said Schmertz took unnecessary risks by combating critics. 

Critics, they insisted, are best ignored; eventually, they go away; and, in the meantime, media reporting of their positions can be influenced privately.

But is silence golden?

No company wants to go on record at the risk of losing business. A slip can tarnish a reputation in an instant; customers sympathetic with critics' views can be alienated; and arguing in public can make management look callous.

But the lessons of PR failures today are plentiful. They teach that “no comment,” while a company's knee-jerk response to critics, isn't always the safe course.
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