Rory Sutherland on Perceived Value

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Rory Sutherland is one of my favorite TED Talkers (ahem, "Speakers"). He's a former advertising executive who is concerned with psychology -- specifically, how people perceive what is valuable, and how that perception can actually become tangible value. This makes for some interesting quotations, like from this talk: “Where economists make the fundamental mistake is they think that money is money.” Sutherland is talking about how it matters to us where the money we spend is going: if we spend money thinking it's going to good people doing good work, we're more willing to part with it than if we think it's going to incompetent buffoons. And he's right.

In this eighteen-minute talk, Sutherland leads us through a series of examples in "re-framing" situations. Some of these are simple and obvious, like the observation that retired people are, as a group, happier than unemployed young people -- despite similar circumstances (not much money and not much to do all day), retired people are generally retired on purpose. Their frame of reference is different, so their experience of life is different. Some of Sutherland's examples are much more subtle, like his observation that a main reason Google initially succeeded at being a search engine was because it just did search, rather than take the "portal" approach all other Internet companies tried. (And people like single-purpose services; we think companies tend to be best at doing one thing well.) Frankly I think there's something to that, and his point is further proved by Google's current attempt to do "everything" and its growing creepiness.

For: anyone interested in how we think, or looking for a few interesting anecdotes. (For example, apparently South Korean red lights have a countdown timer, which has been shown to reduce traffic accidents and incidents of road rage -- when you know how much longer you have to wait, the waiting is less painful.)

Language alert: Sutherland drops a single f-bomb around 1:20. I think it's hilarious, but your mileage may vary.

See also: Turning Squares into Diamonds, from our Lectures for a New Year series in January.

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May 9, 2012 - 6:23am
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