Lectures for a New Year: Turning Squares into Diamonds

Today, a lecture that's funny and a bit geeky around the edges. In this talk, adman Rory Sutherland tells a series of funny anecdotes about history, advertising, and the perception of value. That may not sound entertaining, but it really is -- it's a rollicking good time, and it's really smart stuff, without going over anyone's head. Alternating between historical examples and modern ones, Sutherland pokes fun at trends (for example, calling a shared plate of pub fries "Food 2.0"), but eventually gets to the heart of his point: advertising is largely concerned with creating intangible value, which actually is valuable, despite being highly notional. Further, intangible value (and thus enjoyment, or a sense of wealth) can be found in things you already have -- you just have to look for it.

The most hilarious part of this talk comes around the 13-minute mark, when Sutherland shows focus group footage of people eating Shreddies, a square Chex-like cereal that was in the process of being rebranded by rotating it 45 degrees to make "diamonds." Wonderful.

Topics: how to improve train travel with booze and models, placebo education, rebranding the potato, veiled prostitutes, smiling street signs, Prussian high-value iron jewelry, Warhol on Coke, the portability of food, contextual alcoholic drinks, a button to save money, rebranding Shreddies, and the nature of poetry.

For: students of history, and people who enjoy funny anecdotes.

Representative Quote: "Every country has a contextual alcoholic drink. In France it's Pernod: it tastes great within the borders of that country, but absolute shite if you take it anywhere else."

Further Reading and Viewing

Sutherland also gave a TED Talk called Sweat the Small Stuff, which is well worth a look; there's also a TED Q&A which contains some delightful profanity. He also has a book out, though actually purchasing it seems a bit tricky.

Transcript

TED provides an interactive transcript, as well as subtitles, downloads with subtitles, and so on. I watched this talk on the TED site via the "Download" button (which basically just leads to a much better-looking video).

Suggest a Lecture

Got a favorite lecture? Is it online in some video format? Leave a comment and we’ll check it out!

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Yoga and Meditation May Lead to an Inflated Ego

If you’ve been exasperated for years by that one self-righteous, yoga-obsessed friend, take note: Regular yoga practitioners experience inflated egos after a session of yoga or meditation, according to a forthcoming study in the journal Psychological Science.

Researchers found that yoga and meditation both increase "self-enhancement," or the tendency for people to attach importance to their own actions. In the first phase of the two-part study, researchers in Germany and England measured self-enhancement by recruiting 93 yoga students and having them respond to questionnaires over the course of 15 weeks, Quartz reports. Each assessment was designed to measure three outcomes: superiority, communal narcissism, and self-esteem. In the second phase, the researchers asked 162 meditation students to answer the same questionnaires over four weeks.

Participants showed significantly higher self-enhancement in the hour just after their practices. After yoga or meditation, participants were more likely to say that statements like "I am the most helpful person I know" and "I have a very positive influence on others" describe them.

At its Hindu and Buddhist roots, yoga is focused on quieting the ego and conquering the self. The findings seem to support what some critics of Western-style yoga suspect—that the practice is no longer true to its South Asian heritage.

It might not be all bad, though. Self-enhancement tends to correlate with higher levels of subjective well-being, at least in the short term. People prone to self-enhancement report feeling happier than the average person. However, they’re also more likely to exhibit social behaviors (like bragging or condescending) that are detrimental in the long term.

So if you think your yoga-loving friends are a little holier than thou, you may be right. But it might be because their yoga class isn’t deflating their egos like yogis say it should.

[h/t Quartz]

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Have You Heard? Trading Gossip Can Be Good for You
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Like picking your nose or re-using a dirty coffee cup, trading petty observations and suspicions about others is a function of life no one takes any particular pride in. You might have been told by parents not to say anything about someone "behind their back," and gossip often involves some degree of schadenfreude. In terms of keeping a positive outlook, there's not much to be said for chattering about whether someone got a facelift or if a divorce might be imminent.

Or is there? Ben Healy of The Atlantic recently aggregated compelling data that points to gossip having surprising benefits. When two people discuss negative feelings about a third, they tend to bond over the shared hostility more than if they were sharing pleasant thoughts about him or her. The badmouthing parties also tend to enjoy a sense of accomplishment by reflecting on their own positive traits compared to the failure of others. They might even take a "lesson" from an anecdote about someone's catastrophic life, using it as a cautionary tale. If the gossip has a positive slant, it might be used as inspiration to pursue self-improvement.

That's the other surprising thing about gossip: 96 percent of the time or more, it's not overly negative. Among adolescents, it's usually used to vent about frustrations or to create conversation in pursuit of a bonding experience.  

If gossip truly is good for the soul, most of us are in luck. Talking about an absentee third person is what accounts for two-thirds of all conversation.

[h/t Atlantic]

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