Monday, October 5, 2015

Influencers from Around the World – Paradox of “The Bridge of Life”

Hoh Kim has been a guest blogger for Influence PEOPLE since I began the Influencers from Around the World series more than five years ago. I met Hoh when we went through the Cialdini certification training together. At the time Hoh had his MA but it’s with great pleasure I can now say Hoh now has his doctorate, as well! Hoh received his Ph.D. in Culture Technology from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology; his dissertation title was "Psychological and neural influences of public apology on audience responses in corporate crisis situations." I know you’ll enjoy his post on the paradox of “the bridge of life.”

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Paradox of "The Bridge of Life"

On September 1, 2015, Seoul city metropolitan government announced that they would discontinue "The Bridge of Life" which was established in August 2012 by cooperation between Seoul city metropolitan government and Samsung Life Insurance. Cheil Communication, the largest advertising agency in Korea, a subsidiary firm of Samsung Group, developed the idea. The idea and project received positive spotlights from both local and international media. "The bridge of life" received more than 30 international awards including Titanium Lion winner at Cannes Lions and Clio Awards in 2013.

What is the bridge of life? It is an interactive storytelling bridge and as you walk across the bridge, the bridge talks to you. Click here to watch a short video.

For your information, Korea has unfortunately been the number one country among OECD (The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) in terms of the number of suicides for more than a decade.

Mapo Bridge is one of the 31 bridges crossing Han River in Seoul, and it has a notorious nickname -- "the bridge for suicide" -- as more people tried suicide on this bridge than any other in Seoul. That's why city government made the bridge of life. What were the results? In 2012, 15 people "tried" suicide on the Mapo Bridge. Then, "the bridge of life" was established. Surprisingly 93 people "tried" suicide on the bridge. There is an argument. In 2012, 60% of the people who "tried" suicide on the Mapo Bridge were saved, but in 2013, 94.6% (85 out of 93) was saved from the suicide attempts. In 2014, 184 people "tried" suicide on the bridge (I don’t have the number of people who survived in that year). Regardless, the survival rate, it was clear that many more people tried suicide in "the bridge of life."

What was the problem? A possible explanation can come from "side effects" of social proof principle. When Dr. Cialdini explained the principle of social proof – i.e., people follow the lead of many/similar others – he warned to be careful not to use it with negative information. Even though I have lived in Seoul for more than 40 years, I came to know the fact that more people tried suicide on the Mapo Bridge than any other bridge in Seoul through the "Bridge of Life" campaign. I think the side effect of social proof influenced the surge of suicide trials on the bridge. However, to be honest, when I first heard about the campaign around 2013 from TV News, I thought the idea of the bridge was fascinating, and could not predict the side effect of the social proof principle.

What are the lessons out of it? Two things. First, when we design a campaign, we have to look at closely at whether there are any side effects of the campaign. How can we do that? The "red team" from the American soap opera "Newsroom" might help. Red team is a sort of Devil's advocate. Red team intentionally attacks an idea so that we can cross check whether there is any downside of a project.

Second, the Bridge of Life project was a persuasion project where the campaign tried to influence to reduce actual suicide and suicide attempts. When there is any persuasion project, the best reference would be six principles of influence by Dr. Cialdini as he reviewed influence psychology of more than 60 years and found six universal principles. By applying and checking against the principles, you can create a better persuasion campaign and avoid any pitfall of the campaign. When I first heard about the Bridge of Life, I should have carefully thought about the campaign against the principles, both their applications and side effects. 

Hoh Kim, Ph.D.
Founder, Head Coach & Lead Facilitator, THE LAB h

Monday, September 28, 2015

Will the Price of Cubans Rise or Fall?

There’s a Seinfeld episode in which Kramer orders some Cubans. Jerry thinks he’s ordering cigars but Kramer actually brought three Cuban men over so they could roll cigars for him. He didn’t get cigars because they were illegal.

When America cut ties with Cuba after Fidel Castro took over, it became illegal to do business with Cuba. Whenever something is banned or difficult to get all of a sudden people want the banned or difficult to get things even more. That’s the principle of scarcity at work on the human psyche.

Here are just a few examples.

There was a point in time when you could only get Coors beer west of the Rockies. As a kid I remember my dad and his brothers talking about how good Coors was when they could get it. None of them drinks Coors now.

Yuengling is another example of a beer that was hard to come by, at least in Ohio, until recent years. I recall traveling with a friend who made it a point to stop at a conveience store in West Virginia just to buy a case of Yuengling.

Twinkies started flying off the shelf when it was announced Hostess was discontinuing the cake-filled treat.

Back in 2001, Oldsmobile exceeded it sales goal by a higher percentage than better-known brands such as BMW, Kia, Porsche and many others, when it was announced the car line was being discontinued.

I’m a Scotch lover and asked an expert at a tasting event his thoughts on aged Scotch (25 years and older). He said he tries a glass but doesn’t buy a bottle because age doesn’t necessarily mean better taste. He said the reason the price is so much higher for aged Scotch is just because there’s less of it.

Why do we naturally feel compelled to take advantage of scarce resources or opportunities? From Influence Science and Practice:

“One prominent theory accounts for the primacy of loss over gain in evolutionary terms. If one has enough to survive, an increase in resources will be helpful but a decrease in those same resources could be fatal. Consequently, it would be adaptive to be especially sensitive to the possibility of loss.” (Haselton & Nettle, 2006)

Now here’s the interesting thing – once something is no longer scarce we don’t want it as much. There’s a good chance we’ll see this play out with Cuban cigars. Now that relations between the U.S. and Cuba have been normalized it’s a sure bet Cuban cigars will be easier to get. In all likelihood there will be a rush to get them when they initially hit the store shelves. However, as they become more commonplace it’s likely people won’t value them as much.

Humans are not always predictable so there’s no guarantee I’m correct in my assessment of what will happen with Cuban cigar prices. Only time will tell. However, given how scarcity works on the human mind and surveying similar scenarios from the past, if I were a betting man I’d bet on a price fall shortly after Cubans – cigars that is – hit the U.S. market.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer

Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Jerry Seinfeld: Following the Lead of an Expert

I’m a big Seinfeld fan. No matter how many times I’ve seen an episode I always laugh. I’ve watched reruns so many times over the past 25 years I feel like Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer are personal friends. What I appreciate most is how the show portrays everyday situations in such a humorous light. An episode I watched recently went right to the heart of one of the principles of influence, so I felt compelled to write about it.

In this particular Seinfeld rerun Jerry bought a fancy, very expensive tennis racquet from Milosh, the owner of the sporting goods store associated with the tennis club Jerry belonged to. A short time later Jerry discovered Milosh was a terrible tennis player while playing at another club with Elaine. Apparently Milosh was so bad he wouldn’t play at his own club because he knew it would kill his reputation and sales. The following conversation ensued between Jerry and Elaine later at Jerry’s apartment:

Elaine – “So he was bad. What do you care?”
Jerry – “Elaine, I paid $200 for this racquet because he said it’s the only one he plays with. He could play just as well with a log.”

What sealed the deal for Jerry was the thought of a tennis pro – an expert – playing with the suggested racquet. He thought if it was good enough for the pro then of course he should play with it too because pros only use the very best equipment.

Jerry’s actions go to the heart of the principle of authority – we rely on those with superior knowledge, wisdom or expertise, when making decisions. And the advice of an expert is even more effective when someone isn’t sure what to do.

Jerry had been playing with a wooden racquet and had no idea there was a better option available until the pro told him so. Any newer racquet would have been an improvement but the more expensive racquet must be better because, after all, “you get what you pay for,” according to the old saying.

This happens quite often, especially when someone takes up a new sport. They buy lots of fancy, expensive equipment because that’s what the best athletes use. Unfortunately the novices could have saved a lot of hard earned cash by going with good, but less expensive equipment, until they got much better. The very best equipment makes a difference for the very best players because sometimes the difference between winning and losing is a fraction of a second, a single stroke, or inches.

Is expert advice worth listening to? Most of the time, yes, but just be leery when that advice might lead to very costly purchases that make very little difference in the end.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Anchors Aweigh on You More than You Realize

The human mind is a fascinating creation. With it we move, breathe, consciously decide what to do and subconsciously do things with little knowledge of why or how we do them. With the help of our five senses, our brains help us make sense of the world around us. Despite its wonder our brains can be easily tricked. Consider the following:

The Placebo Effect – Many studies show when people believe they’re taking medicine their conditions improve just as if they took the actual medicine.

Magicians – These clever folks use their understanding of how the mind works to fool audience members into believing objects miraculously appear and disappear. I saw it with my own eyes!

Physical Comparisons – Have you ever gone to pick up something anticipating it was heavy and suddenly it felt light? Or perhaps you went to pick up something you assumed was light and it felt heavy. Ten pounds is ten pounds but sometimes ten pounds feels heavy and sometimes it feels light.

Sales – We’ve all bought things on sale feeling we got a great deal because we saved a certain percentage or dollar amount off of the list price. That good deal doesn’t seem so good when someone else announces they got the same item for even less that we paid!

There’s something that impacts us every day, which we give very little thought to and yet it makes a big difference in how we perceive things and the decisions we ultimately make. What I’m referring to are anchors but not the kind dropped over the side of a ship into the water. In psychology, according to Amos Tversky and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, an anchor is “an initial value that serves as a benchmark or starting point for an unknown quantity.”

There are many things in life that we can’t accurately put a value on. For example let’s consider a house. A four bedroom, two and a half bath house with 3,000 square feet, a wooden deck, family room, dining room, kitchen and den might go for $250,000 in a small Midwestern town. The exact same home on an equivalent sized lot in Southern California might go for more than $500,000.

You might be thinking it’s because the market dictates a higher price in California than in the Midwest. No dispute there but the point would be this – the value you put on the home would be dictated in large part by the other values you learn about (the anchors).

Consider this experiment from Tversky and Kahneman.  A wheel with numbers 1-100 is spun and is set to “randomly” stop on either 10 or 65. Let’s say it stopped on 10. Participants were then asked if the percentage of African nations in the United Nations is higher or lower than 10%. Next they were asked to make their best guess on the actual percentage. Those who saw the wheel stop at 65 were asked if the percentage of African nations in the United Nations is higher or lower than 65%. Then they were asked to guess the actual percentage.

For most people, estimating the percentage of African nations in the U.N. is nothing more than a guess. However, those who saw the wheel stop at 10 guessed 25% of the African nations were in the U.N., but for those who saw it stop on 65 the average guess was 45! That’s quite a difference. Each group was heavily influenced by the anchor they were exposed to before making their educated guess.

So what does this have to do with you and me? Think about all the things we’ve encountered over time with little or no thought about how the value was determined other than market forces:

Long distance charges – I remember when 25 cents a minute was a bargain. When charges were dropped to 10 cents we couldn’t believe it! Now it’s practically free on a per minute basis.

Newspapers – Some people still pay to get the weekly and/or weekend edition of their favorite newspaper. Others go online and see the same stories…for free! You could argue the online version is more valuable because it’s portable, updated multiple times and day and doesn’t create any waste.

Movies – We used to drive to Blockbuster and pay $8-$10 to rent two or three movies for the weekend. Now many of us watch nearly unlimited movies and shows on Netflix for just $8 a month.

In each instance what we paid and what we felt was a good deal, or bad deal, was impacted by the anchor because it served as a comparison point.

There are some things we can’t change and have little room to barter on. That’s why most Internet plans are in the ballpark of one another. But when it comes to things like buying homes and cars you should recognize your purchase price will be heavily impacted by a list price for a home or the MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price) for a new car. You would do well to do some research beforehand and go into those situations with your own anchor to start bidding from. And remember this tidbit for negotiations; the person who puts out the first number sets the anchor and most of the time the negotiated price will be close to that number. Don’t let a good deal get aweigh from you.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT® 
Chief Influence Officer
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.