I. INTRODUCTION: OF EPIPHANIES AND INFLUENCE
Last night I had an epiphany.
They say that all good epiphanies strike in unlikely locales. Mine occurred in a car, in the garage, as I realised I’d just successfully piloted a potentially deadly missile of iron and glass for fifteen minutes home from the gym, without remembering a single thing about the journey.
So, there I sat: sweating, suckling at the teat of a protein shake, Googling “why don’t I remember driving home”. And, amongst the usual gems on Reddit, discovered this diamond:
Your mind is made up of two minds. You have the big daddy who is you and your conscious thoughts. He's slow, but very smart. Then you have your lizard brain. He's not so smart, but he's fast. He's the guy that catches a ball thrown at your face. Your big daddy brain likes to think about new things and big things. Once he starts to get bored he likes to pass tasks off to the lizard brain. This is called forming a habit, or learning a skill. When you first started to learn to drive a car, or travel a new road your big daddy brain had to pay attention to make decisions and control your muscles. But now you've driven so much your lizard brain knows how to do it. If your big daddy brain wants to monitor what your lizard brain does that's okay, and probably good from a safety point of view, but it's not necessary any more. — kc7wbq
Evidently, on this drive, big daddy was not at the wheel.
I delved deeper…
Turns out, I wasn’t alone. Unremembered drives, living below flight paths and no longer hearing the planes, tuning out ads while watching TV — it seems that somewhere early in our evolution, our brains wired themselves to filter out the familiar.
The more I dug, the more I wondered: if it’s possible for our brains to operate on autopilot — pulling puppet strings to navigate our meaty mannequins through potentially life-threatening situations with very little conscious awareness — how much of an average work day might be spent in a similar state?
I spend most of my day, with my team, helping leaders influence people. We use the word ‘influence’ because, frankly, it sounds much more civilised than ‘manipulate’, or ‘make people do what we want them to’. We use ‘influence’ to describe the process of informing people, teaching people, helping people, changing people’s opinions, and changing people’s behaviours.
We see the ways that big organisations attempt to influence their people. Corporate memos; hundred page manuals on policy; emails by the million. And when design is involved: reach for the style guide, copy and paste.
I get it, I do. When we’re busy, we lean on the defaults. The quick and easies. Policy, and the status quo. But might it be, by delivering things in the same ways, attempting to influence people with the same methods and mediums, using exactly the same visual style, day in and day out, leads those things to become much like the backgrounds of our daily commute — blurring by, blotted out?
A somber thought: those big ideas, the life-changing messages, the work we bleed for, could be quietly sabotaged simply in the way we communicate. But the flip side — possibilities! An opportunity to learn: to craft communication that seizes attention, engages, excites, and influences, might be intrinsically linked to understanding, and conquering, a phenomenon known as habituation.
If that sounds like a tune worth dancing to, let’s get at it then.