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Understanding irrational behaviors

What I love about Daniel Kahneman is that he's opened our eyes to the fact that just because behavior is irrational, doesn't mean we can't understand it. We CAN understand and control irrational behavior, and we don't have to control all of it... Just the part that's doing us harm. I recently discovered the writings of Chris Dillow, who's applying the principles to politics. What a relief.

Stumbling and Mumbling: Cognitive biases, ideology & control, 2016-July-3 by Chris Dillow

If people are subject to cognitive biases when they have big incentives to be right – when they are investing their own money – mightn’t the same be true in politics, where their incentives are less sharp? 

Some experimental research suggests the answer is: yes.

Some of these experiments have been done by Kris-Stella Trump at Harvard. She split money between subjects in different ways and then asked them what they thought would have been a fair division. She found that those who got a very unequal split thought that the fair division should also have been unequal. Those who got a more equal division said that a fair division would have been equal.

This suggests that as inequality increases, our perception of what’s fair becomes more unequal. That causes people to accept inequality. This is an example of a wider cognitive bias – the anchoring effect. 

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How to write a personal email that will get noticed, from the Boomerang App

I read many articles from mass email service providers about how to write more productive emails. Now I'm getting a fresh perspective from the GMail app called Boomerang. The application reminds its users if an email has not yet received a response, among other features, and is now available for Outlook as well. 

Boomerang decided to analyze the 40 million emails that used their application last year, and recommend...

  1. Keep the writing complexity down to 3rd grade level (use the Flesch Kincaid analyzer to measure)
  2. Include a couple of questions
  3. Write with gentle emotion (see below)
  4. 75 to 100 word-long emails do best
  5. Keep subject lines to 3 to 4 words (surprising, and counter to most ESP recommendations)
  6. Make your position clear because people are more likely to respond to opinions than information

Boomerang Blog: 7 Tips for Getting More Responses, 2016

Another significant factor in determining response rates is how positive (words like great, wonderful, delighted, pleased) or negative (words like bad, hate, furious, terrible) the words in the message are. Emails that were slightly to moderately positive OR slightly to moderately negative elicited 10-15% more responses than emails that were completely neutral.

Flattery works, but excessive flattery doesn’t. Response rates for positive emails peaked about 15% higher than neutral for emails with a slightly warm tone. After that, response rates declined as the amount of positive language exceeded what would look “normal” in an email.

Sentiment analyzers output a “sentiment score” that ranges from -1 (for piss and vinegar) to 1 (for saccharine), with 0 representing a completely neutral email. To give you some context, here’s what some positive emails look like:

  • Hey, I was thinking about you earlier. Do you want to get pizza? 0.0, true neutral. A little positivity would boost the response rate.
  • Hey, I’d definitely like to get together next week. Do you want to get pizza? 0.35 positive sentiment. Perfect! It’s easy to add positive sentiment to an email – this is all it takes.
  • Hey, it would be really great to see you and catch up. Do you want to get pizza?  Positive 0.55 sentiment. This will also work better than a neutral email, even if not quite as well as the version above.
  • Hey! It would be absolutely wonderful to see you! Do you want to get pizza? I’m so excited! Over 0.9 positive sentiment. This email would be about as effective as a neutral email – not bad, really, but not optimal.

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How to keep going when the project gets all tangled up

People tell us that good planning will lead to project success but that's a lie. Good planning can keep your friends on your side when the project is completely messed up. Good planning can help you track where things went off the rails. Good planning can lessen your guilt, but wait, maybe we have nothing to feel bad about... 

Psychology Today: Big Projects, Big Mood Swings, 2016-Jun-30 by Jim Stone

In general people feel far too much shame when one of their projects fails due to unforeseen complications. It happens to nearly everyone who bothers to take on large projects at all. And no one is so smart they can anticipate all complications from the outset of a project. Perhaps just knowing this will help you set aside that all-too-natural irrational shame that comes with a failed project, and you can get moving on to even greener pastures.

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How public schools can better speak for themselves

What I love about this story is that it offers a method for schools and other institutions to shift perceptions and behavior in their community. Lots of big city school districts have public relations departments, but few of them "work smarter" to make change the way this team does. It's very inspiring, and I recommend reading the whole story at David Meerman Scott's blog on www.WebInkNow.com

WebInkNow: Brand Journalism at Cleveland Metropolitan School District, 2016-Jun-29 by David Meerman Scott

The Cleveland Metropolitan School District serves some 40,000 students. [Chief Communications Officer] Roseann [Canfora]’s team not only focuses on reaching the families of students, but also those who attend other schools or are considering doing so.

I was surprised by the importance of positioning CMSD vs the other education options available to families including charter schools, parochial schools, private schools, and home schooling that serve children across Cleveland. Many people think would think that a public school system doesn’t worry about “competition” but they must. That was eye opening for me.

[Roseann:] "... The daily stories that big city journalists are drawn to include gang fights, low test scores, truancy, and weapons finding their way past metal detectors. These stories fall short of what I learned in journalism school was our social responsibility to tell the deeper stories, the root causes of these things, the incredible stories of triumph over those challenges that take place in schools every single day. Those are the types of stories we [Roseann's department] now tell....”

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Attention, engagement, other measurement myths

Some things are unmeasurable, at least in a practical, affordable way. David Ogilvy used to say, "We sell. Or else." It's not that all those intermediate steps aren't necessary... they're just not measurable. That's why mapping customer journeys help so much. Figure out the path from attention to engagement to interaction to sale... but don't stop working until you have a measurable sale. 

Canalside View: The Trouble with Engagement, 2010-Jun-21 by Martin Weigel 

Engagement is one of the most unhelpful pieces of language we bandy around. At best it is entirely meaningless. At worst, it encourages all manner of dangerous assumptions about how people consume communications.

Let’s get specific. What do we need to do for this specific brand, in these specific circumstances, at this specific moment in time, for this specific audience that achieves these specific results? What, specifically, are the triggers and barriers to effecting behavioral change?

We're just fishing...

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