The Future of Business is Understanding Cognitive Science

Two years ago when I moved to NYC I was able to find my NYC roommate randomly through a Craigslist roommate search. My only reasoning to give him a chance was because his craigslist posting basically said “Guy from Cincinnati looking for roommate” and nothing more. Personally I found it much more interesting than half of the other typical posts that state “I’m clean, responsible, quiet, etc”. Anyway, he ended up being a great guy to live with. Interestingly, his father is the Chief Creative Officer at Proctor & Gamble. I would consider both he and his father to be what we call “certifiable geniuses”. Many of the things he spoke about in day to day conversation resonated that of his fathers profession. One of the things that his father, and arguable himself, fixate their work and lives around is understanding why people (and particularly businesses) do things. This is commonly known as the field of Cognitive Science and I believe it’s ripe for growth. To understand what Craig Wynett believes there is a short interview on YouTube which I think is worth watching:

I believe the large takeaway is that he states that most people see creativity today as alchemy and not chemistry. In that for some reason we tend to see the quality of creativity as something that is naturally bestowed upon certain individuals. To portray this point he uses the example of the pilot: “Can you imagine the pilot that comes on the loud speaker and says ‘Welcome everyone, I’m Captain Wynett and I’m the most creative pilot we have’. People would be reaching for there bags almost immediately.”

Why do I think this is important to business? First, whether you are in B2C or B2B, at the end of the day, we are all human beings working together in institutions to service other human beings. Second, I believe the success of a business largely relies on understanding on how this interaction works. Interestingly, I think this goes for every department of the firm and is never limited to just what we consider “creative” departments. Craig talks about this and explains how his role at P&G is not only to just serve the marketing department, but also sales and manufacturing. If we extrapolate this, let’s look at some other very large scale examples:

1. Coca-Cola – Coke is actually just a huge marketing department. If you look at their marketing expenditure they spend nearly $2.9 billion a year (more than Microsoft and Apple combined) . In reality Coke doesn’t sell bottles of liquid, it sells happiness, and it’s marketing department is largely responsible for its current success. If you’ve ever seen a Coke ad you’ll notice it rarely talks about the taste of the actual physical product it sells (which is hard to objectify anyway). Rather it shows people being happy. So really, Coke doesn’t sell soda, it sells happiness. The cognitive science behind this is that Coke has properly understood what it’s audience wants: happiness. Do you think if Coke’s advertising only talked about the flavor of it’s soft drink they would be as big as they?

2. Toyota Production System – Largely regarded as the base for the concept of Just In-Time Production, it’s one of the most subsantial business systems created in today’s world. Guess what? It’s not a technical system, its a socio-technical system, which means it’s not just a set of instructions or business processes for manufacturing but a set of standard for how people interact with other. Most of what is considered “lean” or “agile” is a result of the success of the birth of the Toyota Production System. It’s important to understand why this is successful. If you analyze the main points of the TPS you would realize that a majority of the system is in line with Daniel Pink’s theory on motivation: that people seek Mastery, Autonomy and Purpose.

I think the larger question here is: Is it possible to create a either a department or company who’s total focus is understanding the behavior of the people that interact with the company? I personally believe it is possible and many of today’s UX teams or companies are doing just that. Businesses today understand that it is all about building good user experiences. There are loads of examples such as Coca-Cola, BMW, Twitter, Apple, Toyota, Starbucks and many more. If we can scientifically understand what good user experiences are, then we will end up winning. I believe this is the future of business.