Reading This Post Will Change Your Brain!

My actual personal brain!

Reading this post will change your brain

I’m not sure if the change will be good or bad, but reading this will change your brain. I’m sure you’ve heard the arguments about the internet – google is making us stupid, and even more alarming – using the internet changes your brain!  That must be bad, right? Well, not necessarily.  The problem with this argument is that everything you do changes your brain.

Using google changes your brain, eating a donut changes your brain, and yes, reading this post changes your brain. The correct question to ask isn’t “does doing X change my brain?”  but rather “what activities do the changes enable?” Nicholas Carr wrote the original article Is Google Making Us Stupid, and he understands this distinction.  His argument is that the rewiring in our brains caused by internet usage makes it harder for us to concentrate for extended periods, and that we are losing the ability to focus and follow complex arguments. Ironically, his argument is sophisticated enough that a lot of people seem to misconstrue it.

My actual personal brain!
My actual personal brain!

Interactions change us

So yes, using the internet does change our brain.  It makes it easier for us to do some things, and harder to do others. Personally, I’m not convinced by the evidence people have suggesting that internet use decreases our powers of concentration.  And as for google, well, we’ve been outsourcing complexity to various tools for centuries – I’m not sure how this is all that different.

It was Plato that argued that writing things down was causing a horrible deterioration in our ability to remember things.

That might be true, but it also means that the part of our brains that devoted to remembering stuff could now work on other activities – and some of those have turned out to be pretty useful.

Who do you want your customer to become?

The idea that interactions change us is the central issue driving Who Do You Want Your Customer to Become? by Michael Schrage.  Seth Godin outlines the implications of this question in his new book The Icarus Deception:

Everyone you interact with is changed forever. The only questions are: How will they be different? and How different will they be? Author Michael Schrage wants you to ask, “Who do you want your customers to become?” At first this seems like a ridiculous question. Your customers are your customers. Your coworkers are your coworkers. This isn’t true.

Connection creates change. Unless you are selling a standard commodity, the interactions you have with the market change the market. Zappos turned its customers into people who demand a higher level of service to be satisfied. Amazon turned its customers into people who are restless with online stores that don’t work quite as well or quite as quickly. Henry Ford turned his customers from walkers into drivers.

When you disappoint someone (or exceed their expectations), that interaction is going to color all the interactions that person has tomorrow and next year. Apple is talked about more than any other company for one simple reason: They have huge aspirations for who they want their customers to become, and they deliver on them.

… Answering Schrage’s question honestly gives you a chance to describe the change you want to see in the world. Not at the Henry Ford industrial-scale level, of course. No, but even if you connect with six people, you are changing them.

Changing them how? Whom do you want them to become? I’d like you to become an artist. To make connections that matter. That’s my mission.

By writing, Godin wants his readers to become artists.  And Schrage himself wants to change how we innovate:

Significantly, they should become managers and leaders who are justifiably more confident that they are asking the right questions when they look to innovate and create new value in new ways. They should have the courage to take smarter risks and the ability to learn faster because they know they’re committed to treating their customers with empathy and respect. Most importantly, they should become more successful. Why? Because successful innovators know how to ask the right questions and create the most value for themselves and their customers. The Ask of this book is that you become an innovator who gets the best possible return on the innovation investments you make in your customers.

Who will we become?

I think that both Schrage and Godin miss an important point though.  Yes, when we send our ideas out into the world, they change the people with whom they interact.

But sending these ideas out, and seeing how they interact with people changes us as well.

Asking who you want your customers to become is a great way to clarify your value proposition.  Changing your answer can help you innovate your business model. I think it’s a transformative question, and Schrage’s book is definitely worth reading.

But we need to pair this with another question – who do we want to be?  If we make our customers stupider, it makes us shallower.  If we make our customers more transactional, we’ll often end up greedier.

Here’s the change that I’d like to see from our interactions over ideas: that together we figure out how to make work work better.

For too many people, work is lousy.  Most organisations are mediocre, at best (maybe even 90% of them!)  We need to innovate how we manage, how we deal with our people, and how we deal with customers.

If my writing this and your reading this helps us take even a small step in that direction, I’d be very happy.

Reading this post will change your brain. Now let’s change our behaviour.


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Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

10 thoughts on “Reading This Post Will Change Your Brain!

  1. I like to think of the brain as being like a supercomputer wired up like a ball of steel wool. Electricity, like water, always takes the path of least resistance. That’s why it’s easier for us to deny new facts which counter our beliefs – it’s easier to deny than overwrite all those “files.” (Backfire Effect)

    You’re right about the importance of deciding how we want our customers to change. Deliver on promises, consistently providing a new kind of experience. People will come to expect it, but where else will they be able to find it?

    I’m getting there!

  2. Good article, Tim. It’s why I think the consumer marketing principle of “touch points” is such a good one. How frequently does your brand “touch” the consumer, both in messaging and use? When? Where? What impact does it have (the most important question in my view)? A thorough understanding of the psychology and practicality is a solid foundation for business growth and innovation.

  3. I find it interesting that a lot of the public discourse around psychological findings earns added validity if something happens “in the brain”. In a way that it wouldn’t if these same things happened “in people’s feelings” even though they are in many ways the same things. In this sense, I would think that not only is sending your ideas out important, but the language you use to frame those ideas is both revealing and transformative. I still do, and always will, recoil at being called a consumer.

    • I think you’re right Geoff. It’s also reflected in the trend of adding “neuro” to everything. I’d ban that, along with ending things with -onomics or -ology, if it were up to me.

      I think there’s a lot to the idea of thinking about things that happen “in people’s feelings” – in some ways that has been one of the key themes that Seth Godin keeps coming back to as well.

      I’m not a big fan of consumer, or user, either.

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