7 February 2020

Rory Sutherland and the surprising power of ideas that don’t make sense

Bristol Media have done it again, bringing yet another brilliant speaker to the city.

This time, it was the turn of Rory Sutherland, Vice Chairman of Ogilvy, UK, who came to town to talk about his book, ‘Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas That Don’t Make Sense‘. 

Previously a copywriter and creative director, Rory’s heart belongs to behavioural science: how we make decisions and why our decision making might not always be considered ‘rational’. As an internal comms agency with a behavioural science function of our own, we couldn’t wait to hear what he had to say.

A few of our creatives went along to hear all about it; here are our copywriter Becca’s 3 key takeaways from the day.


Logic won’t cut it if you want to change behaviour

According to Rory, and Professor Steve Peters who developed ‘The Chimp Paradox’ before him, we all have a ‘monkey brain’. And despite how rational or reasonable we may think we are, we’re all ultimately ruled by our emotional inner chimp. If you want to change or influence human behaviour, rational or benefits-led messaging won’t cut it. To connect with and move people, you need to create an emotional state.  

If you’re trying to change your company culture or nudge people to do something differently, don’t ignore the inner monkey. Make sure your comms trigger an emotional reaction, whether that’s making people stop and think about something, or it just makes them laugh. Don’t ask them to do something because it’s logical – impassion them and make them want to do it. 


No one likes the middle of the road 

Rory went on to tell us about his most recent bed linen purchase. Before setting off with his wife, he had just one rule: their new sheets were either a) really, really expensive, the best on the market or b) incredibly cheap. He wasn’t interested in the in-between and would only find joy in getting an absolute bargain or something top of the range. Because let’s face it, we’ve all been delighted by a bargain in Primark at some point, or indulging in luxury treats when we’re feeling fancy. 

It’s the same for your employee benefits. People don’t want a token effort or something that’s barely thought out, just thrown in there for the sake of it. Yoga in the lobby is not a wellbeing policy. Free pizza when people have to work through lunch is not a perk. When you’re approaching the perks, go hard, think it through properly, or people will – quite literally – go home. 


We don’t like being treated differently

Rory finished off by showing us the Capuchin Monkey Experiment, where two monkeys participated in a simple task. Every time they successfully completed their task, each monkey was given a piece of cucumber. They were both happy with this arrangement until one of the monkeys was rewarded with grapes instead. Within moments, the short-changed chimp started flinging its cucumber and protesting. Being treated differently wasn’t any fun at all.

This doesn’t just count for benefits and pay. Say you have flexible working; it could be brilliant on paper and officially available to everyone, but if it’s granted on a case by case basis, you could find some people are missing out. You may not have hit cucumber-flinging levels yet, but make your working practices fair and ensure your benefits and policies are available to everyone. 


Rory’s talk really made us think and was full of brilliant insights on how simple behaviour changes can go a long way. 

At Synergy, we’re helping more and more clients with behavioural science-based approaches to their employee engagement strategies. Check out how we can help and if you’d like to chat to us about behavioural science, get in touch with our in-house expert Chloe Foy.

Thanks for the image and brilliant talk Bristol Media!

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