Liar liar.

Many people believe it’s possible to quickly spot a liar through eye movements, nose touching or some other ‘micro-expression’.

In fact, these methods are quite inaccurate and can be very misleading, particularly across different races and cultures.

Numerous studies have shown that even trained police officers fail to spot lies this way any more than if they had used pure chance.

Thomas Ormerod is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Sussex.

He has particular expertise in security screening and how to spot liars.

He works with airports and border officials who need to have robust measures in place and helps train their security teams.

Ormerod uses a different method that’s been found to be 20 times more accurate, identifying liars over 70% of the time in one study.

The secret lies in good, old fashioned conversation.

For example, by gently encouraging the deceiver to provide detail to their story, they tie themselves up in knots and holes start to appear.

Even novice security officers had up to 80% success by simply asking open ended questions and slowly building the pressure.

Yet why would this simple approach be so much more successful?

The secret lies in our basic human desire to be considered honest.

Humans are highly sensitive to the fear of disapproval and shame, depending upon the context.

When you know this, it becomes easier to leverage in others.

The need to be honest overwhelms the desire to lie when the potential loss or shame is too great.

This has some implications for the conversations brands are seeking.

Brands are trying to create relationships and ‘dialogue’ with consumers, particularly via social media.

This is great when there’s something positive to talk about.

When the story is less flattering then conversation mysteriously starts to dry up.

Clearly then, if you enter into dialogue you need to be prepared to tell the truth.

Or be prepared for the consquences of being less than forthcoming.

After all, spotting liars is pretty simple when you ask the right questions.




Pokémon Go: 5 Reasons Why It’s Brave

There’s just a chance you may have heard of Pokémon Go by now…

The new, reinvented mobile app game based on the 90s pocket hit, was downloaded so many times from launch, it became the number one app within just 5 hours.

It’s a great example of a Brave brand. Everything is in place to ensure long term success. The brand stars are aligned.

Why do we think that?  Here’s 5 reasons:

1) It’s Bold. By utilising Google Maps and overlaying gameplay, players can hunt for Pokémon in their own physical world whilst simultaneously enjoying the fantasy of the game. This subverts the idea that video games equal sedentary behaviour at home – it’s encouraging exercise instead, for an average of 43 minutes per day.

That’s a big shift in what has previously constituted a mobile game.

2) It’s Relevant. The astronomic number of downloads show that interest levels are sky high. This is a new way of gaming and has caught the imagination of a global audience.

3) Pokémon Go! is A player. The app’s developer Niantic are playing the long game. Free download gets it on as many handsets as possible. Then the fun will really begin with other consumer brands falling over themselves to pay to be part of the gameplay. It’s almost limitless in terms of reciprocal marketing potential.

4) It’s Visible – a Google search reveals 35 million results. It’s almost impossible to avoid such is the hype and news coverage. If you can’t find Pokémon Go then you’re doing it wrong.

5) It’s Easy. As a free download it’s laughably accessible to any one of the 8 billion people with a smartphone. No distribution issues (except when demand exceeds server capacity) and it’ll update itself with every iteration.

With all 5 Brave factors in place we predict a very bright future for Pokémon Go.  Provided it can maintain relevance in the face of inevitable competitors, who knows what it’ll offer in just 12 months from now.


Sparks 8

Welcome to Sparks – our regular digest of thought-provoking ideas and thinking from around the world.  This month our theme is disruption and upsetting the status quo.  Don’t get comfy…



Why real disruption must be uncomfortable.



Lessons learned in innovation from an ex-Apple insider.



Why best practice is just average



Why it’s more rational to design for emotion.



What we can learn from Britain’s greatest test pilot.



Why digital technology is useless at creativity.



Stop waiting for perfect

February 21st of this year saw the passing of one of the greatest pilots who ever lived, aged 97.

Eric Brown – or Captain Eric Melrose ‘Winkle’ Brown to give him his full name – was an extraordinary man, even for the heroic wartime generation.

During his career he flew 487 different types of aircraft, more than anyone in history.

He also held the world record for aircraft carrier take-offs and landings (2,407 and 2,271 respectively)

It’s also very unlikely these records will ever be beaten.

There aren’t enough aeroplane types still flying and the last pilot who tried to beat the carrier landings record had a nervous breakdown at 1,600.

There’s a good reason for this.

Landing on an aircarft carrier is incredibly difficult, dangerous and mentally demanding.

Even now, with advanced radar technology, electronic guidance and radio communication assisting, it’s really tough.

Eric Brown had none of those things when he was the first person to land a twin engined aircraft on a carrier in March 1944.

An aircraft that theoretically couldn’t land on a carrier because it’s stalling speed was too high and it was too heavy for the arrestor gear.

It was also discovered that if either engine failed on the approach, the plane would go nose first into the sea within two seconds.

Everyone expected it to drop like a stone in to the sea, or destroy the arrestor gear and crash.

But Eric Brown did it anyway. Having never flown the aircraft just 2 months before.

It was wartime and it wasn’t possible to wait for perfect conditions.

He had to get on with it.

As a test pilot, he always prepared as well as he could.

But eventually he had to just climb aboard and fly to see what would happen.

The imperative of war produces extraordinary leaps in progress and technology.

It’s probably fair to say that most of what we all work on each day, isn’t quite so life and death.

We worry about things that are bold, different or a bit risky.

We find reasons not to, have lots of meetings and generally procrastinate until all risk can be removed.

Except it can’t.

So let’s take some inspiration from Eric Brown.

Stop waiting for perfect and just fly the thing.








Do it on purpose

When my eldest son (3 years old) whacks his little brother (18 months) with something plasticky or fist shaped I quickly have to decide “Did he do that on purpose? Or was it an accident?”

It usually doesn’t take more than half a second to realise when it’s deliberate. There’s a look in the eye. A purity of intent. Nothing will dissuade him from getting his Lightning McQueen car back.

He has purpose. He’s there to prevent his little brother playing with his stuff.  End of.

Legendary England manager Alf Ramsey knew all about purpose. He had clear roles for every player on the pitch and why they were there.  Nobby Stiles was under no illusions about his: “My job was to win the ball, give it to Bobby [Charlton] and let him get on with it”.

Yet it’s remarkable how many brands don’t know what they’re for.  Why they’re there.  The have no defined purpose.

This is a problem.  Brands without purpose lack direction.  More importantly they make less money.

Or to put it another way , brands with a clear purpose are more profitable and return more to shareholders.  Six times more in fact.

Why would this be?

Because purpose keeps focus on who pays the bills. Customers. When you know what your brand is for then there’s a much better chance you’ll sell what your customers want or serve them better. Customers buy into brands that stand for something.

Companies who just focus on metrics lose sight of what their customers think and see them as further metrics to be managed.  They then try and sell stuff no one asked for.

Nearly 20 years ago I worked with a recently privatised water company.  They thought it’d be a good idea to sell washing machines and other white goods.  They thought it would be a nice little money spinner.  Much more profitable than boring old regulated water.

Unfortunately, they were quite a bit more expensive than the well-established competition and customers couldn’t understand why on earth they were doing it.

Sales were, as they say, sub-optimal.

They forgot what they were for.

Work out your purpose and the rest will follow.

From Fat to Finn


In Japanese culture, the martial art of Aikido uses the energy of an attacker to the defender’s advantage.

Try and punch an Aikido master and you effectively throw yourself on the ground.  You do most of work.

Contrary to popular belief, Finland had a massive problem with coronary heart disease.

In fact, Finland had the highest rate of heart disease in the world during the early 1970s.

Finns, especially men, liked to smoke a lot, drink a lot and eat fatty meat. Lots of dairy, salt and bread smeared in butter, washed down with full fat milk.

In Finnish culture, ‘being a man’ was about tough, physical work and that meant eating lots of fatty food to give them energy.

Vegetables were something you gave to rabbits or farm animals. It was laughable that any self-respecting Finn would eat carrots.

So people simply didn’t eat vegetables. At all.

Despite the physical exertion, their unhealthy diet was killing them in droves.

In 1972, Dr Pekka Puska of the National Public Health Institute travelled with his team to Northern Karelia, a very rural, agricultural province in Eastern Finland. It had shown a particularly high incidence of heart disease compared to the average.

In Northern Karelia, people really liked to smoke, drink hard and eat lots of fat.

They reasoned if they could make a change here, they could probably change the whole country.

Most health campaigns just tried to nag people to change by pointing out their mistakes. However, the problem was not one of education.

These people knew they weren’t being very healthy.  They just weren’t bothered about it.

In short, a healthy diet wasn’t relevant so there was little motivation to change.

Dr Puska knew he needed a really bold approach to make a difference.

So he decided to change whole communities in one go and use their culture to his advantage.

He knew that civic pride came before a fall.  Finns – especially the men – were proud and tenacious.

So he pitted communities against each other to reduce their cholesterol levels.

They measured cholesterol in different towns and villages.  Two months later they returned and measured again. The town with the biggest reduction won a collective prize.

There was no need to educate anyone.  They all knew what to do.  Winning was far more important than the embarrassment of eating more veg.

Healthy eating became relevant.

They didn’t stop there.  Farmers were paid to produce high protein meat (not according to fat content as before).  Tobacco advertising was banned nationally. Dairy farmers were given strong incentives to produce low fat milk.  They even managed to get berries grown on a large scale.  Schools started to teach kids about vegetables and why they were amazing.

Gradually, healthier eating became part of the culture.

The effect was extraordinary.

In 30 years, the rate of death from heart disease in men was reduced by at least 65% and deaths from lung cancer were reduced to a similar level. Finnish men can expect to live on average 7 years longer and women 6 years longer compared to before the study began.

So when faced with the overwhelming strength of culture, he used the same cultural strength to his advantage.

The Finnish people did most of the work for him.


The Enemy of Thought


When Joseph Conrad wrote “Action is consolatory. It is the enemy of thought and the friend of flattering illusions” he was really reflecting on how keeping busy prevents the human mind thinking too much.  As a former merchant seaman, he knew all about long periods of being away from home and dwelling on things.

However, for most of us in the modern workplace, quite the opposite is true.  We’re all apparently ‘time poor’.  Too much to do, too many emails, not enough hours in the day.  The irony of all this rushing about doing things is that action really is the enemy of thought. ‘Doing’ pulls rank on ‘Thinking’ in almost every circumstance.  Action is consolatory – doing something feels so much better than doing nothing. This presupposes that thinking is inactivity and somehow means time wasted.  Worse, thinking is seen as passive and weak – a way of postponing decisions which are, ergo, brave and dynamic, regardless of their consequences.

The ‘getting stuff done now’ culture is pervasive – witness the stupidity on a show like the BBC’s “The Apprentice”.  The emphasis is on selling lots and doing it in a very short time.  The candidates are deliberately pressurised for our entertainment and most react badly – daft decisions, absent strategies and the belief that doing something – anything – is going to gain them brownie points with Suralan. The few who do fight the corner of thinking-it-through are often met with macho derision.

The uncomfortable truth is that many real organisations operate on similar lines; too many targets to hit, too little time and very little forethought or vision.  The unfortunate result is corporate headless chickens – numerous initiatives, actions and projects with no clear understanding of why they’re happening and what they’ll achieve.  The famous 1928  play ‘Journey’s End’ centered around exactly this sort of folly during WW1 but with fatal rather than adminstrative consequences.

Of course, there’s a balance to be struck here.  We can’t ignore the need for any action; rather we should always devote some time to thinking ahead and questioning before we make a costly mistake.

“Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” (Joel. A. Barker)

Don’t just pass the time, try and change the world instead.


Confronted with a gun

In the USA, where the right to bear arms is part of the constitution, gun ownership for many is an inalienable right.  60% of Americans believe gun ownership increases their safety and security in a dangerous world. However, evidence shows that quite the opposite is true.  So how do you begin to convince a nation obessesed with guns to give them up?  By being bold and confronting first-time buyers with the awful reality of a gun’s past. It’s powerful stuff:

Mental flags

Marketing and branding rely heavily on mental flags and signals. The first imperative of branding is to make people’s purchasing decisions easy. And because of the habitual nature of human behaviour, we rely on mental shortcuts, or heuristics, when making those purchasing decisions.

The effect of which is we assign greater importance to things that have ready mental availability and choose the most salient brand. That’s why it’s so important that brand messages are consistently reinforced at every opportunity, so brand associations become burned in our memory. But it’s important to understand that we remember the concept of the brand, not necessarily every last product detail.

Martin Weigel likens it to walking the same route across a grass field until an enduring path is created.

We remember concepts, not data. There’s a lovely experiment in Chip and Dan Heath’s book that illustrates this point. Study the letters below for no more that 10 seconds, then look away and write down as many as you can remember.


That’s 20 letters, most people remember between seven and ten because there’s only so much information you can juggle at once. Now scroll down and look at the same letters again in the same sequence, this time with the spacing slightly rearranged.


Chances are you remembered more second time around. In the first list you were trying to remember data, in the second list, concepts. Twenty pieces of data, but only six concepts. But in remembering the concepts you are actually remembering infinitely more information.

JFK for example triggers associations with politics, relationships, assassination, family etc., surely that’s harder to remember than three little letters? The answer of course is we’re not remembering all that information, we’re simply recalling it.

All the remembering work is already done; we’ve already walked that grassy path. The letters are just a pointer or mental flags, so in the end three letters are three mental flags and one concept is one flag.

You use what’s already there.

There is a word for that…

“I miss you loads. I’ve got an ache inside because I miss you so much. I wish you were with me right now. I remember that last time we were together with great fondness and miss that.”

Somehow, this doesn’t quite express what I really mean. According to my wife (who speaks fluent Portuguese), there’s a single great word for all of that sentiment. It’s saudades (sow-dar-jees) and basically crams all of the above into one handy expression. And the receiver immediately knows that it’s all there without you rambling on too much.

This got me thinking about how we naturally use language and adapt it to our needs. It’s not merely a communication tool but a complex reflection of culture.

English is a fabulous, expressive language but it can be a bit lacking in economy. We Brits spend far too much time being polite and modest. So when it comes to expressing a thought or idea, we have to borrow from other languages to get to the point.

Schadenfreude is a deliciously German way of expressing the pleasure you might feel over someone else’s misfortune. The French amuse bouche is a surprise little something from the chef with an unusual combination of flavours, literally “a mouth amuser”. I can’t imagine Brits coming up with that somehow. We’d complain there wasn’t enough on the plate. Ex pats in India spent many years borrowing language (amongst other things) because it just did the job a bit better.

Buckshee – apparently from the Urdu word baksheesh meaning money and indicating a bribe – has been widely used by the British army and according to the Army Rumour Service, has a complex meaning behind it:

“Buckshee kit is an interesting thing. Somebody can be in posession of considerable quantities of Buckshee equipment, without ever having bought it, or stolen it…Buckshee is a currency all in it’s own right similar to barter. No matter what you need, there will always be someone with a buckshee item.”

People have always been adapting language to suit and communicate more efficiently. Txt spk being an obvious example. Teenagers have for generations managed to create language that’s exclusive to them and makes other users look a bit er…lame? I mean, that’s like random right?

Which leads me on to wonder why so many brand owners resort to verbose and often meaningless mission statements/visions/aims or spend enormous amounts of time carefully defining what their brand is or isn’t? Who really cares that you “will become the first choice provider of widgets and first choice supplier partner by 2018 through an unrelenting commitment to quality products and excellent service….”?

As Simon Sinek has argued, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Consider consumer brands that have (arguably) become part of the culture; Dyson, Apple, Facebook, Vespa, Marmite, Ronseal et al not only had strong products and great advertising ideas behind them, they were supercharged by cultural acceptance and became handy vehicles to express ourselves. Buying a Dyson was a statement of non-conformity. “A Marmite person” was quickly understood, “does what it says on the tin” a bluff rejection of complexity, Vespa is shorthand for a life of Italian cafe cool and 60s chic.

Customers rapidly join the semiotic dots and will “see” and use your brand accordingly. Make their lives easier, less complex and smoother running by plugging in to what they’re thinking about and what matters to them. Converse became the biggest brand on Facebook not by flogging trainers but through getting in flow with their buyers and their lives.

If your brand doesn’t become three dimensional shorthand for your raison d’etre and then you’re maybe wasting your time and company’s money. Spend time thinking about how your brand fits with the prevailing and specific culture of your customers. Why does it matter? Of course I mean to say, the zeitgeist. Handily, Google even measure it for you here.


Nudge, nudge


Nudge marketing is relatively a new phrase but the technique has been around since commerce began. Merchants have always known you can sweeten a deal by picking your moment. Knowing there was a last minute feast meant the king’s chef required plenty of fresh spices at short notice.  The key of course has always been knowing your audience and anticipating need.  Time it just right and you can encourage a sale with a well-chosen message or offer.  It’s almost guaranteed that lazy, badly organised men will probably respond gratefully to a Christmas Eve gift-wrapping service.

What has changed however, is the use of technology to be able to do this on a large scale but tailor a message to an individual. Through analysis of a customer’s progress through an e-commerce site. Therefore it’s possible to track and target those who leave before they reach the checkout then nudge them into purchase at a later date.

TNT recently launched phase 2 of their e-commerce tool and as part of the build Key Parker designed a module to allow the marketing team to devise and deliver nudge messages to customers who haven’t yet placed an order for parcel delivery.  They had seen that potential customers were using the site for a quote but not necessarily buying.  With the module it’s possible to analyse the destination of every delivery quote and then create a competitive, targeted offer to encourage a sale to groups or individuals.  We’ll be monitoring progress and will report back soon on how TNT have employed their own nudge marketing offers.

Car as Musical Instrument

I love this great app idea from our clients at Volkswagen. Developed with Underworld the app generates music accordng to the mood, style and direction of your driving, adding a whole new meaning to the expression ‘driving music’.


Ugly Duckling to Swan

One of my favourite examples of inspired thinking is from architects Studio Weave with their wonderful Lullaby Factory at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Quite apart from being a lovely idea on its own – piping soothing lullabies to sick children on each ward – its real cleverness lies in the function; to disguise and utilise ugly pipes and service ducts running up the outside of the building. There’s also a radio frequency that anyone can tune into and hear the lullabies at any time.

As they explain “We have designed a fantasy landscape reaching 10 storeys in height and 32 metres in length, which can engage the imagination of everyone, from patients and parents to hospital staff, by providing an interesting and curious world to peer out onto..”

A great example of design, creativity and communication expressed via architecture.

Cementing a relationship

Cement works are not usually associated with creativity.  In fact, they can often be an eyesore, causing controversy amongst communities living close by and a headache for management dealing with complaints.  Czech cement business Zapa Beton take a different view – if you must have a cement works at least think about how to lessen its impact and even engage people. These extraordinary installations and vehicle treatments have become tourist attractions in some locations.  It goes to show how even industrial brands can transform their public image with careful thought.


Seven minutes of terror

We like problem solving. So seeing NASA overcome all obstacles to deliver a robotic explorer to Mars is an inspiration for reasoned thought with creative thinking.

This 5 minute video is their story.

The interesting thing is that even the best brains and the best ideas don’t always know the return on investment. Luckily they only had seven minutes of terror.