Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Don't Eat that Marshmallow!

In Psychology related fields, some great experiments - yeah, I mean those strange tests performed by people wearing white lab coats - were carried out. Among the more interesting we can list Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment (1971), Milgram's Obedience Experiment (1963), Festinger and Carlsmith Experiment on Cognitive Dissonace (1959), Asch experiments on conformity (1950s) the more recent "jam tasting" Experiment by Lepper and Iyengar (2000), and so on and so forth... These experiments were great because they were able to tell something about human nature in a very simple way.

Today I want to briefly describe one of these very famous experiments: W. Mischel's Marshmallow experiment; here is what happened. Children were invited in the laboratory and given a Marshmallow. Then the experimenter would tell the little kid: "Now I have to go away for some time. You can decide whether you want to eat your marshmallow now or when I come back. If you can wait till I come back I'll give you another one, so you can have two". Some kids would eat it right after the guy left the room, others tried for a while but could not resits the temptation. At the end, it turned out that only one out of three kids was able to wait the twenty minutes before the researcher would come back. (if you want to give a look at how children behaved in a recent reproduction of the experiment watch the video below; it's hilarious trust me).

Now comes the interesting part. The children were tracked down years and years later and it turned out that those who were able to wait were on average more successful adults and apparently more intelligent (they scored, on average, 210 point higher on the SAT test) Incredible isn't it? From such a simple experiment it is possible to predict whether a child has more or less probabilities of being succesful. Self discipline - the ability to delay gratification in exchange for long-term goal achievement - would be therefore an important factor in determining people success (according to the experiment).

This example can be used to discuss an important aspect of our lives with which we have to deal on a daily basis: self control. Think about it, how many times every day you have to deal with it? Here are just a couple of situations we find ourselves continuosly: shall I wake up and go to class or sleep another hour? Am I having another beer? C'mon another slice of cake is not going to kill me! (this was for girls) I can't eat out every day. I am spending too much! from tomorrow I'll stop! Yeah, I'll have another cigarette; the last one for today... I have to go to the gym... and so on and so forth... I bet you can recognize yourself in at least one of the examples I provided above. If not... Congratulations! ...or better: start enjoying life a bit more!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Leadership and Orchestra Conductors

Some time ago I had written a post on the paradigm shift we are assisting to in the world of leadership. It just happened to me to find this fascinating talk, performed by orchestra conductor Itay Talgam, on the lessons we can draw by simply observing the leadership style displayed by a certain conductor.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

From Experience to Transformation

Today we have the great honor of having the first guest post here at Lonelydonkey! The author is my (almost homonym) friend Simone Moriconi. Enjoy!

For a firm, to create an experience means to make the product alive, to make its identity visible through a sensorial and emotional involvement of customers (Pine and Gilmore, 2000). We know that some product categories are suitable in nature for experience strategies, such as sport activities, travels, cars and motorbikes and so on…Some products and services have a real experience DNA. That means that after having used it, we remind that experience positively, we tell other people with fervour what happened to us and we keep those happenings in memory for a long time. The fact is that in our everyday lives we often find ourselves facing advertisings that present something as “true experience”. It is noticeable that a lot of companies just use this approach to enrich their value proposition, as every object or action could basically be “experientiable”. But we know that, for instance, it’s impossible to have an experience in using our hair shampoo, or wearing our brand new shoes. We can feel positive sensations but it’s not something that change us.

A real experience is a big change, it’s something that transforms us, since after having tried it we don’t feel the same as before. Furthermore, an experience is something absolutely specific, which is lived by a definite person in a well definite moment (Codeluppi, 2007). So, each experience is lived differently according to the single customer, since we are diverse, we have different mentalities, background and past occurrences.

Then, we must switch the concept: what a true experience must give is not a simple feeling, but a real transformation of the individual. According to Pine and Gilmore (2000) firms should create “positive changes in the individual’s sphere” (physical, mental, aptitude) through the development of strong and long-time relationships with customers. The more is possible to generate proximity with them, the more companies have the basis for building authentic experiences.

In business we find a lot of actors which don’t present their products as an experience, but actually offer it. Facebook is the most emblematic case: people have found new ways of communicating, playing, contacting friends and organizing meetings in a very efficient way (less time and less money). They spend their time doing different activities than before. Their life is no longer the same. They have been revolutionized by it. Is it not a real transformation?

Another example is the university. Students start their studies at the early age of 19 and graduate at 24/25. University is their point of reference for at least three or four years of their lives. They enter in the process without having clear ideas on their future and they go out (luckily) with a job, or anyway with a precise idea of how their existence will go on. Academic and life experiences shape them, changing their view of the world and inserting them in a life-long network of people. Professors teach them how to analyse articles, books and speeches. They give them a method and new perspectives to evaluate happenings around them. Travels abroad and exchange projects catapult them in a completely new environment where they discover new cultures and languages. Universities transform students following them through an irreversible path of life. From this point of view, the student becomes the product to be transformed, with all its strategic implications.

However, it seems that few universities realized to have this huge potential so far. Some of them do a lot of communication activities and initiatives in order to involve students and grow them up - especially for what concerns contacts with companies and career opportunities - but none of them implement a complete and explicit strategy of experiential marketing. The guidelines of the Customer Experience Management suggested by Schmitt (2003) should be applied even by that big range of firms that provide experiences without having consciousness of that. And those that sell commodities should choose a softer line of communication in order not to create great expectations that they will never be able to fulfil.


Codeluppi V. (2007), “La dimensione spaziale della marca”, in M. Ferraresi, P. Parmigiani (a cura di), L’esperienza degli spazi di consumo, Franco Angeli, Milano, pp. 11-18.

Pine B.J., Gilmore J.H. (2000), L’economia delle esperienze, Etas, Milano.

Schmitt B.H. (2003), Customer Experience Management, Hoboken John Wiley&Sons, NJ.

Sunday, 8 November 2009 the Definitive Solution Against Boredom?

I am sure this has already happened to you: you are sitting in front of your pc and want to surf the web, but you have no idea on where to go... Inspiration is lacking... You start getting bored... You probably end up wasting time in Facebook by looking at pictures of people you barely know. Does it happen to you? Well, it happens to me! The interesting thing is: I may have discovered the definitive solution against boredom. I mean, I haven't really discovered it, I just found it by chance. It is called Stumbleupon. According to Wikipedia:

"StumbleUpon is an Internet Community that allows its users to discover and rate Web pages, photos, and videos. It is a personalized recommendation engine which uses peer and social-networking principles."

Apart from the definition, what you get is simply a random walk through the web with the high probability of stumbling on something interesting. You can download the toolbar or simply go to and start by clicking on the Stumble! button. Every time you click on it you are redirected almost randomly to a new website. I said almost randomly because you can set your preferences (e.g.: music, art, culture, technology, etc...). When you stumble on a page you can rate it. You don't have to subscribe, but if you think you are going to use it more than once you'd better to, in fact if you start rating pages, after a while, you get more tailored results. I think it is definitely an interesting way to navigate the web; it allows you to discover pages you would never discover otherwhise.

Here are some of the sites I have found. Incredibly useless, but worth visiting:

A wonderful little game. You just have to click around and try to understand what you can do. The aim of the game is to get the little men to complete the mission. Nerd satisfaction guarantee!

Here you can write yourself an email and decide when you want to have it delivered.

I don't know what this site is about, but it is totally sick.

...and many other nice (actually more useful) pages! Hope you can discover something interesting yourself. Enjoy!

Marriage: a Romantic view...

Betsey Stevenson, economist at Wharton, shares her view on love (click here for the full article):

[...] Economists simply can't believe in one soulmate. There are too many people in the world and the odds of finding that one person in five billion are, well, you can do the math.

So if economists don't believe in soulmates, why do we think people get married?

Searching for a spouse is very similar to searching for a job. There is not one perfect job for each of us, but there are clearly better and worse jobs. So we hunt, for a spouse and a job. When do we stop? When the offer in the hand is better than the likely offer in the bush.

At a wedding I see a relationship that is good enough to settle down and start investing in.

If you get a reasonable rate of return, investment in your relationship will make it truly better than any other relationship you could have. And that's why I listen to people's vows: to understand what they want out of their marriage or in economist-speak, what they are contracting over.

How important are fidelity, loyalty, generosity, kindness? As an economist I think that a good marriage, like a good employment relationship, has shared vision, common interests, complementary abilities, and gains from specialization. [...]

Shall we really look at it from this perspective?

Friday, 6 November 2009

If the World Were Perfect...

"We should often blush at our noblest deeds if the world were to see all their underlying motives."
La Rochefoucauld

"In science, as in love, too much concentration on technique is likely to lead to impotence."
Peter L. Berger

"Talking nonsense is man's only privilege that distinguishes him from all other organisms."
F√ędor M. Dostoevskij

"This is the course in advanced physics. That means the instructor finds the subject confusing. If he didn't, the course would be called elementary physics."
Luis Alvarez

"Can we actually "know" the universe? My God, it's hard enough finding your way around in Chinatown."
Woody Allen

"If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences."
W. I. Thomas

"I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member."
"I never forget a face, but in your case I'll be glad to make an exception"
"Military intelligence is a contradiction in terms."
Groucho Marx

"A cucumber should be well sliced, and dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out, as good for nothing."
Dr Samuel Johnson

"The future ain't what it used to be"
"If the world were perfect, it wouldn't be"
Yogi Berra

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Applying Sensemaking: the Amadou Diallo Tragedy

Yes, I know, I know: I had written that I was going to write only two posts on sensemaking. But the other day I was thinking: "Ok, I have written two very theoretical posts on sensemaking. Wouldn't it be nice to try to write a more "applied" one?" So, I started to think about possible examples of "sensemaking in action" and the famous story of the murder of Amadou Diallo came to my mind. I had previously read it in Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink, and I already knew Bruce Springsteen had written a song about it [American Skin (41 Shots)], but it is anyway easy to find a description of the events in the internet. So, I decided I would try to briefly apply the theoretical points we have seen in the two previous posts (first & second) to the Diallo murder case to better understand how sensemaking works. Actually, the following case is a case where sensemaking miserably failed, or, better didn't work in the right way. Here's shortly what happened (if you want a more detailed description of what happened you can follow this link).

February 1999. That night, four plainclothes officers of the NYPD were patrolling in the Bronx. Amadou Diallo, a 23 years old afroamerican guy, was outside of his building taking some fresh air. When the policemen noticed him, they thought that he was fitting the description of a suspect that had previously raped numerous women in the area. They stopped and got out of the car. Diallo, noticed these four big men coming towards him and probably got scared. They told him that they were police officers and asked to have a talk. He probably didn't believe them and started running inside, towards his appartment. Two of the four policemen started chasing him. As he was reaching for his door, he noticed the two guys approaching and pulled of his wallet out of his pocket . One of the two officers, noticing that Diallo was taking a black square object out of his pocket, started yelling: "He's got a gun, he's got a gun!". The two policemen, also scared, started fire. One of the two policemen, instintively backpedalling, fell off the stairs. The other guys, in the general mess caused by the yelling and the gunshots, thought he had been hit by a gunshot and opened fire too. After Diallo was lying death on the floor, the shooting stopped. One of the NYPD officers approached the Guinean guy to sadly discover that the thing he had taken out of his pocket was only a black wallet, not a gun. Diallo had thought that the four guys wanted to rob him or maybe wanted to show his ID card. 41 gunshots were fired, 19 hit the guy.

We can say that correct sensemaking failed in both directions. Both "parties", constructed and interpreted the situation in the wrong way. Take into consideration, that the whole event happened very very fast. For simplicity reasons I will analyze the case only from the NYPD department side (I will purposely try to avoid any judgment on the matter). So, the first important point to notice is, in my opinion, the situation (point 3: enacted environment) and how it interacted with the four policemen identities (point 1: the role of identity in "deciding" through which lenses we see the world): they were in the Bronx, notoriously one of the most dangerous zones in NY. Moreover, the four policemen were already looking for a suspect. Therefore as they noticed Diallo outside of his door, they immediately thought he was the guy they were looking for. As we have seen in the last post on the topic, sensemaking is focused on extracted cues (point 6): a black guy standing out of a bulding in the Bronx doing nothing in the middle of the night. In an immediate retrospective analysis (point 2) of the situation they thought that something was not right, so they decided to interrogate the black guy. The fact that Diallo started running as they asked him to have a talk, probably confirmed their beliefs (another extracted cue on which they focused on in making sense of the situation). The fact that they thought that the "black thing" Diallo was taking out of his pocket, and later, when the police officer fell off the stairs, that he had been shot, are two other elements going in the same direction of the previous one (extracted cues). You can also notice how all the other points that I haven't mentioned so far played a role: the social stereotypes about black people living in the Bronx surely influenced how the whole situation was enacted. Also the idea that sensemaking is driven by plausibility rather than accuracy is quite evident and doesn't need to be commented.

So, I hope that with this example I have been able to give a quick flavour of how the theory I had presented on sensemaking can be applied to reality. Of course, the analysis I just suggested is very personal and superficial, but the aim of this post was not to offer a detailed analysis of a very complex case, but rather to offer an example of how the concept of sensemaking is useful in interpreting situations. If you are interested in such themes, and would like to read more, you can read K. Weick's analysis of the Mann Gulch disaster (a big fire in which 13 smoke jumpers lost their lives). In the article he provides a thorough analysis of the case and shows why and how sensemaking failed in that occasion.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Understanding Sensemaking, part 2

In this previous post, we discussed the idea of sensemaking and how this concept is different (in some aspects) from the concept of interpretation. Now, in order to really grasp the meaning of sensemaking we need to explain its seven distinctive features:

1. Grounded in Indentity Construction: when we define a situation and interpret it we do it according to who we are and how we see ourselves. Our identity (identities) influences how we interpret the world. "I make sense of whatetever happens to me by asking, what implications do these events have for who I will be? What the situation will have meant to me is dictated by the identity I adopt in dealing with it" (Weick, 1995). Therefore we "decide" which aspects of reality are relevant and then interpret it according to who we are.

2. Retrospective: time is basically a pure duration, a stream of experience, it has no end nor a beginning. It flows. When time takes the form of distinct events that have a beginning and an end it is because we are interpreting it. It is like if we step away from it and look at it from an observer position. Therefore the direct implication of this is that the creation of meaning is a process that can only be retrospective.

3. Enactive of Sensible Environments: the idea of this point is that reality is not already defined, we define it. We decide what are the aspects of it that are part of our interest. We produce the environment we face. Reality is not something that is out there, it is mainly defined by ourseleves. Again, our mental schemes, our culture, our identiy influences what are the sensible environmentsto be enacted. But, it is important to be aware that we have defined those environments and that, therefore, we have defined the limits of the situations.

4. Social: the way in which we see the world is socially defined. Basically, we can summarize this point with Donne's expression "No man is an island". In fact, there is no way in which we can think, speak or act without being influenced by culture/society.

5. Ongoing: here, again, the idea is that pure duration (time) never stops flowing. "People are always in the middle of things, which become things, only when those same people focus on the past from some point beyond it" (Weick, 1995). German philosopher M. Heidegger, created the concept of thrownness to describe the idea that we find ourselves thrown in the middle of ongoing situations. The idea is also that we are in the middle of different competing things (called projects); how we see the world in a given moment is determined by these projects. Therefore, sensemaking doesn't have a clear beginning, nor a clear end and is strongly influenced by emotions.

6. Focused on and by Extracted Cues: we extract "elements of analysis" (cues) from the experience we are leaving and then focus on these elements to "perform" our interpretative work. Weick writes, "extracted cues are simple, familiar structures that are seeds from which people develop a larger sense of what may be occurring". Context influences what is extracted as a cueand also how it will be interpreted.

7. Driven by Plausibility Rather Than Accuracy: The idea here is that, in order to make sense of reality, we do not need to have all the necessary "data". We only need enough of it in order to get to our conclusions. Therefore, the precedence is given to satisfaction and plausibility rather than perfection and accuracy. This is also because of our bounded rationality, we can't, in fact, store and later elaborate all the information available. We have to filter information and with what we got we create plausible realities.

Ok, now we have know all the elements of sensemaking (hooray!!). At this point, we can continue with the exercise that I proposed in the previous post on the topic and refine it with the newly acquired categories. Try to notice, for example, how your identity (at a given time) influences how you build and later interpret a situation (point 1); Try to appreciate how reality is a shapeless thing and how you desperately and continuosly strive to define it and extract cues on which to focus (points 3 and 6), and so on and so forth... With all the points in place, if you really exercise, your ability to understand the phenomenon will grow significantly. It is working with me so far!

A little summary: the idea is that we live in a senseless and shapeless reality. It is not exactly something that is out there ready to be objectively described. We live in a "stream of experience".Reality is enacted: it emerges from an ongoing interpreting and updating of our past experience that is inevitably influenced by our social selves (social identity) and by the context itself. This is sensmaking!

Monday, 2 November 2009

Why are We Happy?

Moreese Bickham spent 37 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. He later got exonerated through DNA evidence. He commented: "I don't have one minute's regret. It was a glorious experience." Glorious experience?! How is that possible?

Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University, tries to answer this and other similar questions in order to investigate on the secret of happiness.