Intriguing nuggets from UCL’s “Perspectives on Human Cooperation” – Part 1
Living in what has been unequivocally dubbed a VUCA era; one that future generations will supposedly define as marred with volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, what conceivable reason would anyone have to try and help others, if their efforts are merely tear drop in a deeply troubled ocean?
You might assume the economists and scientists of this world may hold some of the bleakest outlooks on our society, but last week Givey attended a series of lectures hosted at the Anthropology Department at University College London and we’ve brought back a few positive behavioural nuggets about altruism. With insights from a variety of perspectives and people; from those that toy with and analyse the country’s purse strings to those that study our idiosyncrasies and evolutionary behaviours, there were some exceptionally interesting and valuable outlooks that we hope to harness and exploit to get one step closer to engendering a more altruistically-inclined societal existence 🙂 Interested? Read the next few blog posts for some of the headlines on what the speakers had to say!
Rory Sutherland: “Consumerism: The Galapagos Islands for Evolutionary Psychology”
A title that certainly gets your cognitive juices flowing, and a speaker that cannot fail to have you hanging off every word. Rory, Vice-Chairman of Ogilvy Group and firm advocate of initiating more conversations between politicians, marketers and evolutionary biologists, shared some enlightening perspectives on the sheer oddities of our human behaviour. Have you ever considered, for example, how and why Red Bull has become such a phenomena? Yet if you think about it, it contradicts almost all our logical thought processes – its price per ml sits at an exceptionally high index versus its competitors, it comes in a smaller can than almost all of its non-alcoholic rivals and in an unbiased taste test it was deemed ‘undrinkable’. Sometimes the nonsensical bizarrely wins in the race to dominant market share. Bu then, if we only ever thought about what we know and globalise those ecosystems, as Henry Ford once said; ‘If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.’ It would seem we are not always the best placed to vocalise exactly what we thin the optimum solution is.
Sometimes things just work, and the more we are able to conceptualise the future and the products of tomorrow in lateral ways that relate to our existing knowledge and how we function the better. Steering wheels were designed to utilise the abilities, shapes and functions of the hands; we created an ingenious tool that our physicality could simply adapt to use. Strange to look at in total isolation, but totally in sync with how our brains handle tools. More of this please.
Continually, the advertising and manufacturing giants of today must look to human nature itself, in its crudest and simplest manifest form, to design solutions that fit harmoniously (and progressively) with the structures and behaviours we’ve spent our entire homosapien history learning to develop. Anchor these solutions in the known; reassure the brain with clarity and simplicity, and you’re onto a winner.
Rory also delved into the world of Transactional and Relational Capitalism; think about when you might want the simplistic, clinical interactions of a Travel Lodge set up versus the warm morning welcome with your toast and tea that would come with a Bed & Breakfast. Under what circumstances do you value a solely transactional relationship, and when does relationship development hold greater value? DO you feel as though you experience more of one The idea of relational transactions also plays into the hands of Game Theory, and Rory invited us to consider the presence of this within a normal taxi journey. Often, you’ll find people repeatedly using one taxi company. Perhaps out of sheer practicality, but equally Rory theorises that there is an element of delayed reciprocation at play – ie, if I use your company frequently and display my loyalty, I will somehow be favoured if I ever needed out-of-the-norm help in the future as I am a valued customer with the prospect of long term financial gain for you. How might Uber factor this into its current business model? Could loyalty be rewarded with occasional cheaper fares during peak hours?
This paritcular example also made me consider something quite awesome I’d seen recently;
This perfectly fits into this model of delayed reciprocal altruism and longer term gain. By offering this incentive, Timpson are likely to recruit new shoppers and generate positive awareness through social sharing and traditional means of word of mouth. In turn, they are likely, on the provision of good service, retain these customers and build a meaningful transactional relationship borne from this relational enticement. It’s also just a really lovely thing to do 🙂
Frequency as a measurement that is valued by Givey above SIZE of donation really draws on these concepts – more so than most charity donation websites. By tracking the number of donations & a donor’s frequency rather than the quantity or size, a sense of loyalty and commitment to the causes through both relational and transactional means is progressively built up. This in turn instils a sense of community; fostering the desire to give and help those affected by a particular issue or set of circumstances. Our brains are programmed to engender community and societal companionship and whether we concern ourselves primarily with the immediate community around us or international causes further afield, in some evolutionary lights we could be ‘banking’ our good deeds across a variety of potential reciprocators. However, there are many further arguments and facets to this area of altruism, and a multitude of facts and correlations which speak volumes about our willingness and propensity to give – watch out for the next part of our blog for more about this with the biological scientists chipping in too!
I’ll leave you with a few lofty questions and thoughts from Rory to ponder over the week;
- What could a System 1 Pension Scheme look like? (Where System 1 thinking is intuitive, unconscious, effortless, fast and emotional, and system 2 requires deliberate and conscious thought and decisions; ie. needing to consider your future and the need to save upfront now)
- Do we have more transactional or more relational interactions on a day to day basis?
- Could you make people proud to pay tax?
- Will estate agents ever disappear?
Let us know what you think….