Complete quests for riches and glory to help herald the paperback release of You Are Not So Smart

Photo illustration of Graham Clark by Brad Clark

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Sample Chapter | Get Your Digital Copy Signed | Free Signed Bookplates

Trailer One | Trailer Two

Below these words, you will find 10 quests, each offering a prize should you complete the challenges therein.

The You Are Not So Smart book was published and then released into the wild about a year ago. That means it is time for it transmutate into paperback form, and I’m proud to announce the paperback version is now on shelves just about everywhere books hide. Also, if you live in the UK or one of the many countries that buys books from UK marketplaces, you can now get the You Are Not So Smart book free of hassle with a new, dapper cover design.

To promote this wondrous occasion, I want to send you on some quests. Should you succeed, you will be handsomely rewarded. Some will be easy, and some will be trials of will and skill. Those proved worthy will be featured in a future posting. Here they are:

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YANSS Podcast – Episode Five – The Authenticity Hoax

The Topic: Selling Out

The Guest: Andrew Potter

The Episode: Download – iTunes – Stitcher – RSS – Soundcloud

Andrew Potter is the guest on this episode of the You Are Not So Smart podcast. He wrote the book The Authenticity Hoax and co wrote The Rebel Sell.

Both books present an upside-down view of the quest to avoid the mainstream and seek out the authentic. The books help explain how it came to be that so many people seem concerned about selling out both as a consumer and a producer. Most interesting though is Potter’s assertion that there really is no such thing as authenticity when you get right down to it. As he puts it, “there could never be an authenticity detector we could wave at something, like the security guards checking you at the airport.” Oh, and he says countercultures actually create the mainstream they rebel against.

According to Potter, a giant portion of modern people living in industrialized Western nations eventually notice just how much consumerism and conformity intrudes on their daily lives, and they seek release. The average person watching an interview of a reality television star on a 24-news-network following a musical performance by the latest winner of America’s Top Pawn Wife after a breakdown of what is trending on YouTube while commenting on an Instagram photo on Facebook on an iPad on a treadmill in the gym between advertisements for antidepressants and movies about mall cops who befriend talking ferrets will understandably feel a bit overwhelmed from time to time. The urge to walk away from all of that and get lost in the most obscure thing you can find, the most distant and untouched landscape you can visit, the least processed or marketed product you can put in your body, is strong and understandable and healthy, but Potter says it is ultimately futile.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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