Sunday, November 23, 2014

What Makes Things or Ideas Go Viral?

A recent book, "Contagious: Why Things Catch On" by Jonah Berger, lays out a road-map or a recipe for taking almost anything or any idea and making it go viral. This book completes a trilogy of books by different authors that look at different angles of this topic with the first being Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point" and the second being Chip and Dan Heath's "Made To Stick". In "Contagious" Jonah Berger presents six ingredients that contribute to the making things spread across a populous, describes why each aspect is significant, and gives numerous examples . He lists the pieces as Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Public, Practical Value, and Stories (STEPPS).

John Berger offers the STEPPS as a framework which he defines succinctly with the following list/acronym which really must be understood alongside the book's narrative on the research behind it and the examples described as well as on the paramount concept that word of mouth IS the vehicle that makes things, products, ideas, etc. (IT) viral.

  • (S) Social Currency - make talking about IT make people look good, appear smart, worth remarking on to others, feel like an insider, can game-like mechanics like points etc be employed to initiate competitive or habitual achievement type behaviors. 
  •  (T) Triggers - make as many associations or links to IT from other things as is sensibly or logically possible; other things that are themselves popular, common place, or commonly encountered often in everyday life.
  • (E) Emotion - make IT generate emotion when talked about, the more intense the type of feeling, negative or positive, the better as long as the negative type does not turn away people. 
  • (P) Public - make IT publicly tangibly visible when people use IT or talk about IT and if possible make IT reverberate over time after public use or exposure. 
  • (P) Practical Value - make IT help people and thus help people help others by sharing information about IT; make it easy for people to help others by spreading, sharing, or talking about IT
  • (S) Stories - make IT part of a story that can be retold in a way that cannot leave out IT; make IT integral to the narrative but make sure the story is itself worth retelling by making it broadly interesting while also making use of the other STEPPS if possible within the tale. 
The more of the STEPPS that can be applied to IT the better but they are not an all or nothing proposition and they are not sequential. This is just a quick smattering of the concepts in this book. To fully understand each the book should be read in its entirety. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Covering All Bets, Why American Politics Is Split Down The Middle

Many reasons are cited for the division in modern American politics. Reasons why almost every presidential election, where neither candidate was an incumbent, since Ronald Reagan has been won by a less than 8% difference in the popular vote. In fact however the divisiveness goes back much further with over 90% of the presidential elections, where neither candidate was an incumbent, since 1840 having been won by a 10% or less difference in the popular vote with the exception being during the Great Depression and when candidates had taken over due to an assassination.

The main reason for this even split is that the slate of candidates to be chosen FROM during any given election is not chosen BY the majority of the American electorate, not even BY a decent minority of say 10 to 10%. The choice of candidates presented to the American electorate is made by the very small number of wealthy individuals, corporations, and other organizations that contribute over 90% of all of the funds used by candidates and parties to run campaigns. This money is given with the intent of influencing a candidate's future behavior if they win office. And since these wealthy individuals, corporations, and other organizations are not in the business of gambling, they cover all bets by planning for all eventualities by giving funds and support to both sides in an election such that both sides are influenced in the same directions no matter what the candidates public discourse may indicate. Hence the American electorate is presented with candidates that represent a difference without distinction.

The choice then is between two substantively identical options which then really are not "options" and do not constitute a true "choice". A campaign finance overhaul must be implemented that changes the legal max contributions from political donors such that candidates are forced to get donations from a much larger number of individuals distributed across the population.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Stimulate Creativity in Yourself and Others

A few exercises and thoughts on being more creative:
1. Think of and write down as many uses as possible for an everyday object or define the function of something and then find other things that do or could perform a similar function.
2. Given a stack of similar shapes like squares or triangles, make as many things out of them as possible
3. Given an unfinished shape like an incomplete triangle or circle or stick house etc. complete the image.
4. Given three unrelated words try to discover a fourth that would connect all three.
5. Choose a random object word and connect it with a problem. Can this be used to solve or elaborate on the problem?
6. Six Thinking Hats - view a problem from different perspectives:
a. Managing - what is the subject? what are we thinking about? what is the goal?
b. Information - considering purely what information is available, what are the facts?
c. Emotions - intuitive or instinctive gut reactions or statements of emotional feeling (but not any justification)
d. Discernment - logic applied to identifying reasons to be cautious and conservative
e. Optimistic response - logic applied to identifying benefits, seeking harmony
f. Creativity - statements of provocation and investigation, seeing where a thought goes
7. Don't judge things right away, let them stew before making a conclusion
8. If you can't follow what makes you curious when it happens, take note of your own questions to be investigated later
9. Make mistakes and learn from failures, both yours and others, sound out crazy or absurd ideas
10. Make sure to define problems correctly, dissect the problem.
11. What can be modified, rearranged, and/or removed to fix something or find a solution?
12. Re-frame ideas within another context or situation.
13. Ask why something is done the way it’s done.
14. Challenge traditional views and constantly ask "What if" or "Why not"
15. Create new mindsets by being open to new experiences like new foods, tastes, music, arts, languages, crafts, fields of study, exercises, sports, locations.
Some material gathered from: 
Todd Anderson,
Saga Briggs, From:
Edward de Bon and Wikipedia "Six Thinking Hats"
Science Channel - "Hack My Brain"