December 2008

The way to make people happy in two simple steps: Underpromise, overdeliver.

Here’s Louis CK on Conan talking about how everything in our world today is so AWESOME that when the slightest thing goes wrong we feel DESPAIR.


One of my friends, Dan, worked at a discount retailer when on hiatus from his PhD program. I still remember his rant about how cheap a box of Ralph Lauren shirts were, and how stupidly marked up the prices were. A $20 dress shirt is made in Bangladesh for 20 cents. A $200 dress shirt is also made in Bangladesh for 50 cents, and then they mark the price down by 50% and you think you’re getting a fantastic deal.

Fashion is bullshit, and everyone in the fashion industry knows it.

What seems inevitable is that the pain will worsen as the price reductions provoke questions among consumers of how stratospheric profits must have been when the economy was riding high. How great, really, was the surcharge to consumers for participating in fashion fantasy?

“I was in Saks last week, and there were these staggering discounts and it’s not even Jan. 1,” Tim Gunn, the “Project Runway” host and chief creative officer of Liz Claiborne, said Tuesday, before a discussion on “Redefining the Rules of Fashion in Today’s Economy,” sponsored by the textile manufacturer Dow XLA. “I was told by easily half a dozen sales associates that if I opened a Saks credit card, I’d get another 15 percent off. What I wonder is, “What are the real margins?’

All right, it’s been a while since I last posted. The reason is that our class was supposed to work on a blog for class. Once that assignment was finished, we moved on to a new assignment. I don’t think the others are even updating, since they work us like dogs in this course and it has finally let up a bit.

However, the more you suffer to get into something, the more valuable you find the experience or the group. This is why aboriginal peoples have rites of passage to adulthood, and why fraternities haze new recruits.

The new assignment Hein gave us is to reinterpret Edward Bernays’ 1928 book, Propaganda, as a website. Bernays was the father of Spin and PR, and he was the first to translate the psychological theories of his uncle, Sigmund Freud, into advertising and propaganda. Bernays helped companies adapt the tools of mass communication to benefit mass production, and gave them the tools to turn needs into wants, turning America into a nation of consumers. Bernays is responsible for the success of IHOP and Denny’s, because he cast ‘bacon and eggs’ as the quintessential American meal and sold it to the public.

On November 20th, my colleague Melissa and I went to the Creativity World Forum in Antwerp, Belgium. It was a good set of speakers, particularly with David Heath and Chris Anderson.

I also discussed my ideas and background with Arjen Mulder in Amsterdam last week, in preparation for the December presentation of our thesis topics.

In short: I am interested in why people make choices. Logical self-interest, it turns out, is not the determining factor in decision-making.

For that, we go to James March’s Decision-making tree:

  1. What kind of person am I?
  2. What sort of situation is this?
  3. What does a person like me do in a situation like this?

Identity is the most important factor. So if you change the person or the situation, you can change the effects.

Body-Swapping as Psychotherapy

The evidence that inhabiting another’s perspective can change behavior comes in part from virtual-reality experiments. In these studies, researchers create avatars that mimic a person’s every movement. After watching their “reflection” in a virtual mirror, people mentally inhabit this avatar at some level, regardless of its sex, race or appearance. In several studies, for instance, researchers have shown that white people who spend time interacting virtually as black avatars become less anxious about racial differences.