Book News – YANSS Now Available in the UK

The You Are Not So Smart book is now available in the UK and all the places that can get things shipped from Amazon.co.uk. Here is a link.

The video above is the launch trailer we used for the US edition, but the cover has been changed to match the absolutely spot-on UK version.

Also, the US edition will soon be available in paperback. I’ll post a tiny reminder when that happens. Look for versions in Brazil, Thailand, Korea, Germany, China, Hungary, Turkey, and Poland as well.

Finally, as I mentioned at the YANSS Facebook page, a second YANSS book is done and that’s all I can say about it right now other than it will probably find its way into bookstores sometime in 2013.

Thank you for being awesome. I will now post the latest episode of the podcast. Thanks so much for all the support. You are the best.

About these ads

Formal Sweatpants Procrastination Comic

Josh Mecouch over at Formal Sweatpants created a new comic based on a YANSS post a while back on procrastination. Thanks, Josh. This is great. That post discussed the concept of future self vs. present self, and how present bias affects your ability to predict how you will behave and make choices over time.

You may see some future collaborations between YANSS and FS, stay tuned. Until then, here is the comic:

Links:

Formal Sweatpants

Procrastination

Procrastination Video

The Overjustification Effect

The Misconception: There is nothing better in the world than getting paid to do what you love.

The Truth: Getting paid for doing what you already enjoy will sometimes cause your love for the task to wane because you attribute your motivation as coming from the reward, not your internal feelings.

Office Space – Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

Money isn’t everything. Money can’t buy happiness. Don’t live someone else’s dream. Figure out what you love and then figure out how to get paid doing it.

Maxims like these often find their way into your social media; they arrive in your electronic mailbox at the ends of dense chains of forwards. They bubble up from the collective sighs of well-paid boredom around the world and get routinely polished for presentation in graduation speeches and church sermons.

Money, fame, and prestige – they dangle just outside your reach it seems, encouraging you to lean farther and farther over the edge, to study longer and longer, to work harder and harder. When someone reminds you that acquiring currency while ignoring all else shouldn’t be your primary goal in life, it feels good. You retweet it. You post it on your wall. You forward it, and then you go back to work.

If only science had something concrete to say about the whole thing, you know? All these living greeting cards dispensing wisdom are great and all, but what about really putting money to the test? Does money buy happiness? In 2010, scientists published the results of a study looking into that very question.

Continue reading

Free Signed Bookplates – Free Kindlegraphs

You guys

Concerning the book – the bookplate offer has been a great success (as evidenced by those beautiful faces up there), so now you can get a free, signed bookplate just by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope to…

Signed Bookplate
P.O. Box 15792
Hattiesburg, MS 39404

…and I’ll send you back one of these with my scribbles on it. Sorry, U.S.A. only.

If you would like a free chapter, Kindle owners can download a free sample chapter from the Kindle store at Amazon.

If you would like your Kindle copy of YANSS signed, just head to this link.

You can also read excerpts at Boing Boing, The Atlantic, Gawker, and the New York Post. If you want a review, check out this one at Brain Pickings or this one at the Onion A.V. Club. Lastly, I’m partnering with the awesome and popular Now I Know newsletter – subscribers will now be getting fresh YANSS content in addition to the other cool stuff Dan Lewis puts out.

 

The Sunk Cost Fallacy

The Misconception: You make rational decisions based on the future value of objects, investments and experiences.

The Truth: Your decisions are tainted by the emotional investments you accumulate, and the more you invest in something the harder it becomes to abandon it.

You can learn a lot about dealing with loss from a video game called Farmville.

You have probably heard of this game. In 2010, one in five Facebook users had a Farmville account. The barrage of updates generated by the game annoyed other users so much it forced the social network to change how users sent messages. At its peak, 84 million people played it, a number greater than the population of Italy.

Farmville has shrunk since then. About 50 million people were still playing in early 2011 – still impressive considering the fantasy megagame World of Warcraft boasts about a quarter as many players.

So, it must be really, really fun. A game with this many players must promise potent, unadulterated joy, right? Actually, the lasting appeal of Farmville has little to do with fun. To understand why people commit to this game and what it can teach you about the addictive nature of investment, you must first understand how your fear of loss leads to the sunk cost fallacy.

Continue reading

Procrastination

The Misconception: You procrastinate because you are lazy and can’t manage your time well.

The Truth: Procrastination is fueled by weakness in the face of impulse and a failure to think about thinking.

Netflix_Logo

Netflix reveals something about your own behavior you should have noticed by now, something which keeps getting between you and the things you want to accomplish.

If you have Netflix, especially if you stream it to your TV, you tend to gradually accumulate a cache of hundreds of films you think you’ll watch one day. This is a bigger deal than you think.

Take a look at your queue. Why are there so damn many documentaries and dramatic epics collecting virtual dust in there? By now you could draw the cover art to “Dead Man Walking” from memory. Why do you keep passing over it?

Psychologists actually know the answer to this question, to why you keep adding movies you will never watch to your growing collection of future rentals, and it is the same reason you believe you will eventually do what’s best for yourself in all the other parts of your life, but rarely do.

Continue reading

Anchoring Effect

The Misconception: You rationally analyze all factors before making a choice or determining value.

The Truth: Your first perception lingers in your mind, affecting later perceptions and decisions.

You walk into a clothing store and see what is probably the most bad ass leather jacket you’ve ever seen.

You try it on, look in the mirror and decide you must have it. While wearing this item, you imagine onlookers will clutch their chests and gasp every time you walk into a room or cross a street. You lift the sleeve to check the price – $1,000.

Well, that’s that, you think. You start to head back to the hanger when a salesperson stops you.

“You like it?”

“I love it, but it’s just too much.”

“No, that jacket is on sale right now for $400.”

It’s expensive, and you don’t need it really, but $600 off the price seems like a great deal for a coat which will increase your cool by a factor of 11.

You put it on the card, unaware you’ve been tricked by the oldest retail con in the business.

One of my first jobs was selling leather coats, and I depended on the anchoring effect to earn commission. Each time, I figured it was obvious to customers the company I worked for marked up the prices to unrealistic extremes. Yet, over and over, when people heard the sale price, they smiled and wrestled with their better judgment.

The prices you expect to pay, where did those expectations originate?

Continue reading

Fanboyism and Brand Loyalty

The Misconception: You prefer the things you own over the things you don’t because you made rational choices when we bought them.

The Truth: You prefer the things you own because you rationalize your past choices to protect your sense of self.

The Internet changed the way people argue.

Check any comment system, forum or message board and you will find fanboys going at it, debating why their chosen product is better than the other guy’s.

In modern consumer cultures like America, people compete for status through comparing their taste in products. (You can read more on how that works here: Selling Out).

Mac vs. PC, PS3 vs. XBox 360, iPhone vs. Android – it goes on and on.

Usually, these arguments are between men, because men will defend their ego no matter how slight the insult. These are also usually about geeky things that cost lots of money, because these battles take place on the Internet where tech-savvy people get rowdy, and the more expensive a purchase, the greater the loyalty to it.

Fanboyism isn’t anything new, it’s just a component of branding, which is something marketers and advertisers have known about since Quaker Oats created a friendly logo to go on their burlap sacks.

There was, of course, no friendly Quaker family making the oats back in 1877. The company wanted people to associate the trustworthiness and honesty of Quakers with their product. It worked.

This was one of, if not the first, such attempt to create brand loyalty – that nebulous emotional connection people have with certain companies which turns them into defenders and advocates for corporations who don’t give a shit.

In experiments at Baylor University where people were given Coke and Pepsi in unmarked cups and then hooked up to a brain scanner, the device clearly showed a certain number of them preferred Pepsi while tasting it.

When those people were told they were drinking Pepsi, a fraction of them, the ones who had enjoyed Coke all their lives, did something unexpected. The scanner showed their brains scrambling the pleasure signals, dampening them. They then told the experimenter afterward they had preferred Coke in the taste tests.

They lied, but in their subjective experiences of the situation, they didn’t. They really did feel like they preferred Coke after it was all over, and they altered their memories to match their emotions.

They had been branded somewhere in the past and were loyal to Coke. Even if they actually enjoyed Pepsi more, huge mental constructs prevented them from admitting it, even to themselves.

Add this sort of loyalty to something expensive, or a hobby which demands a large investment of time and money, and you get a fanboy. They defend their favorite stuff and ridicule the competition, ignoring facts if they contradict their emotional connection.

So, what creates this emotional connection to stuff and the companies who make doo-dads?

Marketers and advertising agencies call the opposite of fanboys hostages.

Hostages have no choice but to buy certain products, like toilet paper and gasoline. Since they can’t choose to own or not to own the product, they are far less likely to care if one version of toilet paper is better than another, or one gas station’s fuel is made by Shell or Chevron.

On the other hand, if the product is unnecessary, like an iPad, there is a great chance the customer will become a fanboy because they had to choose to spend a big chunk of money on it. It’s the choosing one thing over another which leads to narratives about why you did it.

If you have to rationalize why you bought a luxury item, you will probably find ways to see how it fits in with your self-image.

Branding builds on this by giving you the option to create the person you think you are through choosing to align yourself with the mystique of certain products.

Apple advertising, for instance, doesn’t mention how good their computers are. Instead, they give you examples of the sort of people who purchase those computers. The idea is to encourage you to say, “Yeah, I’m not some stuffy, conservative nerd. I have taste and talent and took art classes in college.”

Are Apple computers better than Microsoft-based computers? Is one better than the other when looked at empirically, based on data and analysis and testing and objective comparisons?

It doesn’t matter.

Those considerations come after a person has begun to see themselves as the sort of person who would own one. If you see yourself as the kind of person who owns Apple computers, or who drives hybrids, or who smokes Camels, you’ve been branded.

Once a person is branded, they will defend their brand by finding flaws in the alternative choice and pointing out benefits in their own.

There are a number of cognitive biases which converge to create this behavior.

The Endowment Effect pops up when you feel like the things you own are superior to the things you do not.

Psychologists demonstrate this by asking a group of people how much they think a water bottle is worth. The group will agree to an amount around $5, and then someone in the group will be given the bottle for free.

Then, after an hour, they ask the person how much they would be willing to sell the bottle back to the experimenter for. They usually ask for more money, like $8.

Ownership adds special emotional value to things, even if those things were free.

Another bias is the Sunk Cost Fallacy. This is when you’ve spent money on something you don’t want to own or don’t want to do and can’t get it back.

For instance, you might pay too much for some takeout food that really sucks, but you eat it anyway, or you sit through a movie even after you realize it’s terrible.

Sunk Cost can creep up on you too. Maybe you’ve been a subscriber to something for a long time and you realize it costs too much, but you don’t end your subscription because of all the money you’ve invested in the service so far.

Is Blockbuster better than Netflix, or Tivo better than a generic DVR? If you’ve spent a lot of money on subscription fees, you might be unwilling to switch to alternatives because you feel invested in the brand.

These biases feed into the big daddy of behaviors which is most responsible for branding, fanboyism and Internet arguments about why the thing you own is better than the thing the other guy owns – Choice Supportive Bias.

Choice Supportive Bias is a big part of being a person, it pops up all the time when you buy things.

It works like this: You have several options, like say for a new television. Before you make a choice you tend to compare and contrast all the different qualities of all the televisions on the market.

Which is better, Samsung or Sony, plasma or lcd, 1080p or 1080i – ugh, so many variables!

You eventually settle on one option, and after you make your decision you then look back and rationalize your actions by believing your television was the best of all the televisions you could have picked.

In retail, this is a well-understood phenomenon, and to prevent Buyer’s Remorse they try not to overwhelm you with choice. Studies show if you have only a handful of options at the point of purchase, you will be less likely to fret about your decision afterward.

It’s purely emotional, the moment you pick. People with brain damage to their emotional centers who have been rendered into Spock-like beings of pure logic find it impossible to decide between things as simple as which brand of cereal to buy. They stand transfixed in the aisle, contemplating every element of their potential decision – the calories, the shapes, the net weight – everything. They can’t pick because they have no emotional connection to anything, no emotional motivations.

To combat postdecisional dissonance, the feeling you have committed to one option when the other option may have been better, you make yourself feel justified in what you selected to lower the anxiety brought on by questioning yourself.

All of this forms a giant neurological cluster of associations, emotions, details of self-image and biases around the things you own.

This is why all over the Internet there are people in word fights over video games and sports teams, cell phones and TV shows.

The Internet provides a fertile breeding ground for this sort of behavior to flourish.

So, the next time you reach for the mouse and get ready to launch an angry litany of reasons why your favorite – thing – is better than the other person’s, hesitate.

Realize you have your irrational reasons, and so do they, and nothing will be gained by your proselytizing.

Links:

Barry Shwartz on choice at TED

Radiolab on choice

Bruce Everiss on fanboys

10 Golden Rules of fanboyism

Coke vs. Pepsi in the MRI machine

Selling Out

The Misconception: Both consumerism and capitalism are sustained by corporations and advertising.

The Truth: Both consumerism and capitalism are driven by competition among consumers for status.

Beatniks, hippies, punk rockers, grunge rats, metal heads, goth kids, hipsters – see a pattern forming here?

It goes back farther than these examples, the baton of counter culture – the mantle of anti…whatever the mainstream is doing – it gets passed from generation to generation.

Whether you lived through Freedom Summer or “Jem and the Holograms” – somewhere in your youth you started to realize who was in control, and you rebelled. You started to discover the paradigms of censorship and consumerism – and they repulsed you.

You needed to self actualize, to find your own way, and you sought out something real, something with meaning. You waved your hand at popular music, popular movies, and popular television. You dug deeper and disparaged all those mindless sheeple who gobbled up pop culture.

Yet, you still listened to music and bought shirts and went to see movies. Someone was appealing to you despite your dissent.

If you think you can buy your way to individuality, well, you are not so smart.

Since the 1940s, when capitalism and marketing married psychology and public relations, the market has been getting much better and more efficient at offering you something to purchase no matter your taste.

See the punk rocker up there? Yeah, he bought all of those clothes. Someone is making money off of his revolt.

That’s the strange paradox – everything is part of the system. There is no such thing as selling out, because there is no one to sell out to.

Every niche opened by rebellion against the mainstream is immediately filled by entrepreneurs who figure out how to make a buck off those who are trying to avoid what the majority of people are buying.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there were many stabs at trying to thwart this through artistic gesture  – “Fight Club,” “American Beauty,” “Fast Food Nation,” “The Corporation,” etc.

The creators of these works may have had the best intentions, but their work still became a product designed for profit. Their cries against consumption were consumed.

Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Kurt Cobain, Andy Kaufman – they may have been solely concerned with creating art or illustrating academic principles, but once their output fell into the marketplace it found its audience, and that audience made them wealthy.

Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter, both philosophers, wrote a book about this in 2004 called “The Rebel Sell.” It’s available in the United States as “Nation of Rebels.”

The central theme of the book is you can’t rage against “the system,” or “the man” or “the culture” through rebellious consumption.

Here’s the conventional thinking most counter cultures are founded upon:

All the interconnected institutions in the marketplace need everyone to conform in order to sell the most products to the most people. The media through press releases, advertising, entertainment and so on works to bring everyone into homogeneity by altering desires.

To escape consumerism and conformity, you must turn your back and ignore the mainstream culture. The shackles will then fall away, the machines will grind to a halt, the filters will dissolve, and you will see the world for what it really is.

Finally, the illusory nature of existence will end and we will all, finally, be real.

The problem, say Heath and Potter, is “the system” doesn’t give a shit about conformity. In fact, it loves diversity and needs people like hipsters and music snobs so it can thrive.

For example, say there is this awesome band no one knows about except you and a few others. They don’t have a record contract or an album. They just go out there and play, and they are great.

You tell everyone about them as they build a decent fan base. They make an album which sells enough copies to allow them to quit their jobs. That album gets them more gigs and more fans. Soon, they have a huge fan base and get a record contract and get on the radio and play on “The Tonight Show.”

Now, they’ve sold out. So you hate them. You abandon the band and go looking for someone more authentic, and it all starts over again.

This is the pump by which artists rise from the depths into the mainstream. It never stops, and over time it gets faster and more efficient.

Unknown bands are a special sort of commodity. Living in a loft downtown, wearing clothes from the thrift store, watching the independent film no one has heard of – these provide a special social status which can’t be bought as easily as the things offered to the mainstream.

In the 1960s, it took months before someone figured out they could sell tie-dyed shirts and bell bottoms to anyone who wanted to rebel. In the 1990s, it took weeks to start selling flannel shirts and Doc Martens to people in the Deep South. Now, people are hired by corporations to go to bars and clubs and predict what the counter culture is into and have it on the shelves in the cool stores right as it becomes popular.

The counter-culture, the indie fans and the underground stars – they are the driving force behind capitalism. They are the engine.

This brings us to the point – competition among consumers is the turbine of capitalism.

Everyone who lives above the poverty line but isn’t wealthy pretty much has no choice but to work for a living doing something which rewards them with survival tokens.

Working as a telemarketer, for example, allows you to have food, clothing and shelter, but doesn’t put you directly in charge of creating, growing or killing those things you need for sustenance. Instead, you trade in tokens for those things. As a result, you have a lot of free time and some leftover tokens.

We don’t directly compete with each other for resources like we did for the millennia before mass production.

Before this setup, people were often defined by their work, by their output. The things they owned were usually things either they handmade, or were things other people made by hand. There was a weight, an infusion of soul, in everything a person owned, used and lived in.

Today, everyone is a consumer, and has to pick from the same selection of goods as everyone else, and because of this people now define their personalities on how good their taste is, or how clever, or how obscure, or how ironic their choices are.

As Christian Lander, author of “Stuff White People Like,” pointed out in an interview with NPR, you compete with your peers by one-upping them. You attain status by having better taste in movies and music, by owning more authentic furniture and clothing.

There are 100 million copies of every item or intellectual property you can own, so you reveal your unique character through how you consume.

Having a dissenting opinion on movies, music or clothes, or owning clever or obscure possessions is the way middle-class people fight each other for status. They can’t out-consume each other because they can’t afford it, but they can out-taste each other.

Since everything is mass-produced, and often for a mass audience, finding and consuming things which appeal to your desire for authenticity is what moves these items and artists and services up from the bottom to the top – where it can be mass consumed.

Hipsters, then, are the direct result of this cycle of indie, authentic, obscure, ironic, clever consumerism.

Which is ironic – but not like a trucker hat or Pabst Blue Ribbon. It is ironic in the sense the very act of trying to run counter to the culture is what creates the next wave of culture people will in turn attempt to counter.

“I think ‘sell out’ is yelled by those who, when they were selling, didn’t have anything that anyone wanted to buy.” – Patton Oswalt

Wait long enough, and what was once mainstream will fall into obscurity. When that happens, it will become valuable again to those looking for authenticity or irony or cleverness. The value, then, is not intrinsic. The thing itself doesn’t have as much value as the perception of how it was obtained, or why it is possessed, does.

Once enough people join in, like with trucker hats or slap bracelets, the status gained from owning the item or being a fan of the band is lost, and the search begins again.

You would compete like this no matter how society was constructed. Competition for status is built into the human experience at the biological level.

Poor people compete with resources. The middle class competes with selection. The wealthy compete with possessions.

If you live in a jungle and forage for food between spear-sharpening sessions, you compete for status with talent or prowess or…something.

If you get a paycheck, someone out there is buying what you are offering. You are selling – they are buying. So what? Your soul is not at stake if you deliver pizzas for rent money. But, if what you then purchase with that paycheck doesn’t bring you joy, doesn’t add to your life in any way other than to signal to others your status and your commitment to being authentic, that’s when it is time to pause and reflect.

Links:

Audio of a presentation given by Potter and Heath

Stuff White People Like

Great Interview with Christian Lander

White Whines

Look at this F**king Hipster