Rory Sutherland is a British advertising executive and one of the most influential advertising men on the planet. At present he is the Executive Creative Director of Ogilvy One whilst also having served as vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK. Ogilvy and Mather, of course, being one of the top advertising agencies in the world. Rory is also the author of ‘The Wiki Man’, solidifying his place as one of marketing’s most original thinkers. In this seminar, which is considered one of the best TED talks for business, Sutherland hysterically explains why viewing everyday situations from a fresh and unique perspective is so significant in not just advertising but also living a successful life with rationality.

Rory’s speech is eloquent and his delivery is charismatic, which is what makes this one of the funniest TED Talks. He starts with a criticism of classical economics, something he believes is ‘pre-occupied’ with reality. Reality does not promote human happiness. Which is why Rory argues that reality is simply how you view it. We, as a species, have the power to re-brand our experiences. One thing that Rory said early on which really stuck with me was, and I quote,

“The circumstances of our lives may actually matter less to our happiness than the sense of control we feel over our lives.”

This cannot be overstated!

Rory addresses psychological value and its benefits next. He states how psychology has been widely ignored in day to day practical life. There is no psychological framework which means that ‘solutions’ for real-life, professional problems and projects are based on technicalities. Engineering and Newtonian frameworks completely ignore the human psyche, something which can provide better, more ingenious solutions.

This is a battle between:

“creative, emotionally driven psychological ideas versus the way we treat rational, numerical, spreadsheet-driven ideas.”

For all creative solutions, there needs to be approved based on a technical framework. For example ROI study and cost-benefit analysis need to be considered on all ideas. However, there is an imbalance. There is no creative or psychological framework for economic or engineering solutions. Sutherland advises these ‘mechanistic’ professionals to show their idea to some ‘really crazy people’ who will look at these solutions from a different perspective. A perspective based on psychology is a fundamental requirement in today’s complex world.

Rory Sutherland wants one thing. Economics, technology, and psychology should have equal weight when dealing with real-life problems. Rory gave the example of Google and how, in spite of being a tech company, it uses economics and psychology to become a household name. Google was founded at a time when all major sites were trying to become portals. Other than being search engines they also hosted news, weather updates, and celebrity gossips. Google, on the other hand, continued being a search engine and capitalized on it by associating the word ‘search’ with Google. A common phrase for looking something up on the internet now is ‘Google it.’

Rory gave another example of how the medical industry can use psychology to ensure that patients finish their courses. Instead of prescribing a dozen white pills, doctors can ask their patients to finish 6 white pills first and then six blue ones later. The result? Almost all of the patients will follow the prescription just because there is a milestone to achieve in the middle of it. The interesting bit? Nothing except for the color of the pill is different.

Rory goes on to talk about praxeology, the study of human choice, action, and decision-making. Economics needs to be guided by human choice and action because…

“If economics isn’t behavioral, I don’t know what the hell is.”

Human praxeology, Rory believes, guides, or rather should guide, the economic structure.

Rory Sutherland concludes by talking fundamentally about marketing and advertising i.e. his specialty, and how perception is key in this field. One thing is fundamental in marketing, creating value. However, even value comes in different packages. According to Rory, there are two types of value.

1. Real value

When you produce or provide a product or service

2. Dubious value

The value you associate with it by changing the way people look at it.

Sutherland mentions Von Mises, a French psychologist, to help prove his point. Von Mises takes down the idea of value creation. Contrary to popular belief, the value does not lie only in the primary product but also in the context in which the product is functional or enjoyed by the customer. None of these values should have priority over the other!

Sutherland backs this up by giving the example of a restaurant. The primary product of a restaurant is food and the context in which the product is functional or enjoyed is the restaurant location, its service, and ambiance. Five-star cuisine next to a garbage dump equals zero value. The value here will be created not by improving the primary product but rather its context.

Rory says that perception is leaky and changes upon circumstances. Tell the British that they are efficient and they will hardly care. Tell the British that they do it better than the Germans and they will probably be celebrating all night long. It’s all about how you brand it because a brand’s job is to cater to its audience.

Try to view the world from a perspective other than your own, you might discover something fantastic! Rory Sutherland, I salute you, sir!

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