31 Aug

Rory Sutherland: Perspective is everything

Last week I did a moment of self indulgence and attended Fan Expo in Toronto.  There were celebrities, artists and a whole lot of people throwing money at vendors for things that the average person wouldn’t consider necessary.

There’s nothing wrong with this, except I often find myself as one of these wide eyed spenders that wake up the next morning with a hangover and a bankcard with speed marks on it.

So why is one thing important to one person and not important to another?  Why are there fans of horror who are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on what another person would describe as ‘Halloween’ decorations?

There is a very ‘big’ answer for this phenomenon that has many sidelines of thought but one possible starting point is perspective.

Enough with the questions, on with the talk about the power of Perspective.


Date Filmed: December 2011

Length: 18 minutes, 24 seconds

Total Views so far: 697,473

One Sentence Summary: “Applied psychology value can boost sales, add patience and is all around us already.”

Now when I first saw the title for this TED talk, I was hoping Sutherland would be using a hypothetical party room example, as opposed to the real world examples that he utilizes.  The very first example he speaks of, does indeed use a party but it is more in regards to third party perspective.  It slightly paraphrases upon a quote that was said by CS Lewis, “A pipe gives a wise man time to think and a fool something to stick in his mouth.”

In this particular case, it just reverses the situation and one becomes the wise man by having a pipe in hand.

I need to remember this the next time I have a debate with anyone.  Who can make a strong argument when the opposing view pulls out a pipe?  NO ONE, that’s who.  In electoral debates, what would happen if one of the candidates makes their comment and then starts smoking a pipe?   At that point in time, the debate is over!

Future debates will be decided on who could pull their pipes out first.

Ironically, at this starting point is where I immediately have a little disagreement in the back of my mind while watching this talk.  I dislike the idea of using the term perspective to explain the mental digestion of a situation, but I do understand the reasoning of why Sutherland calls it so.

My ‘party analogy’ is more along the lines of a hypothetical situation where one party guest is so drunk the owner of the location asks them to leave.  The drunk might be trying to be entertaining, the guests might be entertained or horrified, and the owner is taking what they believe to be the responsible action.

There are multiple perspectives on what’s going on that night, depending upon if you’re the drunk, a party guest, or the owner.  And if you happen to be all three, then you’re someone who is so drunk you think you’re a party guest at someone else’ house.

I bet that happens more often than it should.

Moving on to the actual talk, Sutherland uses some pretty sharp examples of how a description of something greatly impacts the judgement (or perspective) of the individual.  And he hits it over the fence right away, by using an economic example that combines with the preconceived notion of control.

No sense of control, people/dogs/cats become sad.

Damn, that is true.  Almost every example he gives afterwards echoes this principal, and it affects people at the society level, individual level and the dog level.

Another interesting insight is goal dilution, where people think specializing in something makes them better at it.

However, there’s a few things that really stood out to me with this talk.

What caught me off guard?

Did he fucking swear?!?!  (1 minute, 20 seconds)  That’s the first time a TED talker just starts swearing out of the gate.

I’d bet right away that Sutherland is a guy who is not only socially adept, but the kind of guy who gets a group around him while he tells dirty jokes and swears like a pirate.  (Or possibly in private while in front of a window while smoking a cigarette)  Yarr, I bet the more controversial the joke, the more he’ll like it.  In my mind’s eye, he’s like that dirty uncle that embarrasses the neighbors for daring to leave their houses.

9 minutes 5 seconds in, was that a RACIST joke?  At a TED talk!?!  (I knew he was the dirty uncle!)

Or wait, maybe this is an actual fact?

A quick search of the internet could not confirm.  On the other hand, it did find this, the world’s most confusing traffic signal.

11 minutes, 5 seconds in, Sutherland mentions another great term called chunking.   Or as the modern gamer would describe it, achievements.  People will go absolutely crazy to complete an achievement and this kind of mentality works.  His white pill / blue pill solution would actually work in raising the self pleasure of taking pills, but if a person is taking pills chances are it is in a dire need.

Now if people were to be given ‘achievement points’ or ‘titles’, for filing your taxes every year, then we’d have something even more applicable.

Sutherland seems to stare straight ahead much more than the typical TED speaker.  It actually made me look for for the prompter that he’s reading from.  (I don’t think he’s reading but that’s the ‘perception’.)

The joke at 17 minutes, 5 seconds (odd pattern here), aha, you are a.. er… person that is prideful of your country of origin.

Argh, so I was a window staring fool!

I’ll give him the benefit of doubt and say I miscalled the possible racist joke above, he is in actuality, a nationalist.  When he pokes fun at the German or Chinese, it’s in a national context.  I’m actually surprised these types of jokes still exist.    Sutherland mentioned the Greek banks bailout too (an interesting choice, given the TED talk was in Athens).

So now that its been discussed, what can we do?

Simple, look for the fancy restaurant that smells like poo and inform them that they have to stop trying to improve the food and instead focus on cleaning the place.

Actually, it is this kind of perspective discussion that we should be applying to others.  Not in the sneaky manner of quietly re-framing information to make sales, that’s for the advertisers to do.  People should discuss on how our day to day lives are being framed more often.

Reviewing perspectives, one talk at a time.


– Updates every Friday

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Posted by on August 31, 2012 in Uncategorized



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