I, like most technologists, believe in the ideal that those with the most merit should benefit the most. Also, probably like most meritocratic believers, it means that merit and merit alone will get you ahead. Sadly, I’ve found this largely to be untrue.
I recently wrote an article on my blog here that garnered a lot of attention. It was called “Increasing Productivity is a Load of Bullshit” This article had the following characteristics:
- Poorly written/edited (there were grammar errors)
- Very hyperbolic
- Elicited a variety of emotional responses (“ya I definitely agree!” and “You’re an idiot”)
- Reached the frontpage of Hacker News
- Resulted in roughly 6,000 pageviews (which far surpassed any article I’ve written)
- Had evidence to back up some of the theory (but not enough)
- It was probably the shortest time I’ve spent writing an article.
I felt very weird after writing it. I don’t regret writing it, nor do I dispel the themes in it. But, I learned something very valuable about today’s information-packed world – marketing is as important, if not more important today than it ever has been. Dually, the most effective marketing techniques are those that exploit our brain’s system 1, or automatic system. The problem is I don’t see the merit in this, but it works, and it makes me sad.
To take this a step further, I believe this largely has to do with heuristics and our mind’s natural biases towards processing information. We do so many things that don’t follow logic and I believe this largely is due to our brain wanting to use it’s system 1 as much as possible. The theory, as stated in Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” is:
Many people are overconfident, prone to place too much faith in their intuitions. They apparently find cognitive effort at least mildly unpleasant and avoid it as much as possible.
This theory can be taken even further to say that system 1 uses a lot of less energy and therefore the brain tries to be efficient as possible with it’s energy consumption. Ultimately, I think this whole concept makes me feel sad because it feels like exploitation and therefore triggers a negative response for me. But, hey, it works, right?
If you’re interested in this topic, here a few good resources:
- Using Behavioral Economics, Psychology, and Neuroeconomics to Maximize Sales
- Nudge by Richard Thaler
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- Dual-Process Theory
- List of Biases in judgement and decision making