By Poppy Cumming-Spain
This afternoon, Rory Sutherland gave a fascinating talk on human behaviour and what he called ‘innervation.’ It got me thinking about why I decided to get into the business of advertising ‘stuff’ to people. You might expect that sentence to be followed by an existential crisis about the morality advertising, yadda, yadda, but fear not. I don’t think I’ve ever doubted my desire to work in this industry (although I regularly doubt my ability). I decided on advertising because I like people.
Disclaimer: When I say like, I mean that I find them interesting. I actually spend a large proportion of my time disliking people, as opposed to liking them. But, I spend the other half wondering why they do and say the things they do.
Rory’s talk reminded me how beautifully imperfect the human race is. We’re pretty extraordinary. Our behaviour defies logic. The way we act is weird and unpredictable. We make decisions based on ridiculous assumptions and too easily take people and things at face value. This is something worth bearing in mind when we’re advertising, as we’ll likely be up against first impressions of the brand we’re working on.
I do my best to look beyond top-level facades when it comes to people. What I’m really interested in are all the layers which are hiding underneath. And that’s why I chose this industry. I want to be in the business of people. A business which has a developed understanding of people and changes how they feel about themselves, their friends, their colleagues, or their world.
The reality is that it’s hard to understand people as individuals. All too quickly, we subconsciously categorize or characterize each other. I suppose this makes it easier for us to make sense of humanity? Making associations based on similar behaviour we’ve experienced in the past seems a fairly logical choice. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always produce the right result. Humans are full of surprises. Some bad, and some good. And we’re complicated. We change, we break, and we grow.
Think about some of your oldest friends, or your parents, or your partner (and your ex). Or, maybe even that stranger you’ve seen on the train a few times. How has your understanding of them changed over time? Was your first impression of them, right? Are they the same person they’ve always been? If you answered yes to the last question, I’d suggest you haven’t spent enough time figuring them out.
I don’t think I understand anyone I know in the same way that I did when I first met them. People seem to morph into new beings as you ‘log’ more experiences of their behaviour and character, although you never notice it while it’s happening.
Sometimes, I wonder if it’s actually possible to fully understand other people; especially when we rarely understand ourselves. I’d like to think it is, as the alternative makes for a fairly lonely human experience, in my opinion. Nonetheless, it’s something I’m committed to exploring. And, armed with a list of books recommended by Rory, I’m going to give it my best shot.