Red Associates “The Moment of Clarity” | Talks At Google

Red Associates “The Moment of Clarity” | Talks At Google

name is Mikkel Rasmussen and this is my partner,
Christian Madsbjerg. And tomorrow we are
launching a book called “The Moment of Clarity.” It’s a pretty exciting book. It’s about people. It’s about how to
understand people, how to understand
who we are as people, really understand your
customers– not so much what they think they want,
but what they really want. But the book is also about
how you can sometimes get people dramatically
wrong, really misunderstand who we are. And it happens all the time. And I would like to start with
a little story about kitchens. And most of us cook. A couple of years ago
I went to a conference called Kitchens of the Future. It was a super
exciting conference where people are showing lots
of new technologies coming into the kitchen. And there was one
presenter from Ikea together with a couple of
Japanese technology companies. And they presented this
vision of a future kitchen, I think it’s supposed
to be in 2040. And if you imagine you go
into this kitchen in 2040 it’s what’s called
a smart kitchen. So it recognizes you, it
has face recognition, voice recognition, there’s
laser beams guiding you to how to cut the fish. There’s a fridge
with herbs in that’s grown to your health
profile that’s in the cloud. And if you look up in
one of the corners, there’s a little thing called
a nanobot, which is basically a machine where you go and you
say, I would like a tiramisu, for example. And it basically,
out of nanomaterials, makes that cake for you. And I was completely
energized by this vision. I said, this is so great. There are still people
having big ideas. Until somebody
noticed that in 1956 there was a couple of
people from General Motors, actually, doing
the same exercise. But they were thinking, how
will the future kitchen look? But seen from the
perspective of 1956. That means, how will the
kitchen look in 2006? So now we can evaluate, really. So I want to pay a
little film that they made about the kitchen
of the future in 1956. Can you play the movie? [MUSIC PLAYING] -But this was a kitchen
like none I’d seen. Put a card in the slot
and onto the screen pops a picture of just
how your dish will look plus all the
ingredients you need to cook. No need for the
bride to feel tragic. The rest is push-button magic. So whether you bake
or broil or stew, the Fridgidaire kitchen
does it all for you. Don’t have to be chained
to the stove all day. Just set the timer and
you’re on your way. [MUSIC PLAYING] Tick tock, tick tock, I’m free
to have fun around the clock. [MUSIC PLAYING] Jeepers, I’m exhausted. [RINGING] The kitchen of
tomorrow is calling me. My cake is ready. [MUSIC PLAYING] -Time for the show. Everybody on stage. MIKKEL RASMUSSEN: I think
what’s really interesting to think about is if you look
at the core idea of the kitchen of tomorrow as Ikea
thought about it and this idea it’s
exactly the same idea. And the idea is
cooking is slavery. Technology can free
us from making food. It can do it for us. It can recognize who we are. And simply, we don’t have to
be tied to the kitchen all day, as they sing in this movie. And it’s the same vision
you see again in 2006. When we imagine the
kitchen of the future it’s still a kitchen
that’s automated. We don’t have to think about it. And it has a lot
of technology that actually takes the
human condition out of the whole thing of cooking. Now if you’re an
anthropologist– we work a lot with
anthropologists– they would tell you
that cooking is perhaps one of the most complicated
things you can think about when it comes to the human
condition or human behavior. That if you think about
your own cooking habits, that they probably come from
your childhood, the nation you’re from, the
region you’re from. It takes a lot of skill to cook. It’s not so easy. And actually, it’s
quite fun to cook. There’s also a lot
of improvisation. I don’t know if you ever
tried to come home to a fridge and you just look into
the fridge– oh there’s a carrot and some milk
and some white wine and you figure it out. That is what cooking is like. It’s a very human thing to do. And therefore, if you think
about it, having anything that automates this for you or
decides for you or improvises for you is actually
not doing anything to help you with what you want
to do, which it’s nice to cook. And therefor if you
make technology, for example, that has
that core idea about who we are as people that cooking is
slavery and the idea is wrong, then your technology will fail. Not because of the technology,
but because it simply gets people wrong. And this happens all the time. And you cannot swing a cat
these days without hitting one of those refrigerator companies
that make smart fridges. I don’t know you’ve
ever seen them, like the intelligent fridge. There’s so many of them
that there is actually a website it’s called fuck
your internet fridge– I’m sorry– and is a guy who
every month he tracks failed prototypes on
intelligent fridges. And here you have
April, 2011, May, 2000– you can actually
go in today and see are there any failed
internet fridges today? My guess is, there probably is. Why? Because basically, the idea
is wrong– not the technology but the idea about who
we are, that we do not want the kitchen to
be automated for us. We want to cook. We want Japanese knives. We want complicated cooking. And so what we are
saying here is not that technology
is wrong as such. It’s just you need to
base it, especially when you innovate
really big ideas, on something that’s
a true human insight. And cooking as slavery is
not a true human insight and therefore the
prototypes will fail. There are many
interesting ways to think about technology and cooking. For example, molecular
cooking like this, where people experiment
and broaden what cooking is, and make it
more complicated, expands what we can
do with cooking, as opposed to automating. So we’re not saying there’s
something wrong with technology but we’re saying,
sometimes it’s a good thing to understand what your core
idea about the human behavior that you want to attack. Now, this is not
relevant all the time. This is only relevant
sometimes in a company. We have been working
with really big companies for over the last 20 years. And sometimes
there’s a situation where things become
really uncertain. We talk about it in the
book as navigating in a fog. Here’s an example– this is
one of the biggest sports companies in the world. And I was attending
a workshop where we talked about the future. And they were presenting sport
shoes and tennis catchers and all kinds of technology. And all of a sudden, in the
midst of this big discussion about design, product
innovation, consumers, markets, there was a creative
director who raised a question that made
the room go completely quiet. And the question
was, is yoga a sport? And it’s a really weird
question to ask yourself. But think about this company. This is a company–
one of the biggest sports producers in the world. And if you work there, you
are surrounded by sport. People are doing
sports all the time. They wear sport shoes, they play
sports, they talk about sports. Even their language has sports
metaphors built into it. And the core idea behind
that type of thinking is that sport is
really about winning. It’s about athleticism. It’s about winning in
the marathons and so on. And that’s an idea that
this company has also when they discuss in a
workshop like this. I could clearly see it. So they would take
up a shoe and say, so what should the consumer
get out of the shoe? And they would talk
about that this shoe will make the consumer run a
marathon two minutes faster. And that’s super great. I remember there was even
a swimming technology with some stripes
on that supposedly would make you do a crawl
a little bit faster. Things like that–
and it’s great ideas if you want to win gold medals. But what this guy
was discovering, slowly it was dawning on
him and the [INAUDIBLE] is there’s something big
we are not getting right. There’s something– I
can’t put my words to it, but the best way he could say it
was to provoke these gentlemen and say, is yoga a sport. And what he was talking
about was not yoga. It was the whole
phenomenon around sport that he was questioning. He was seeing that there are now
more fitness centers than post offices in every
town in the world. He was seeing people
doing 24 hour bike races. He was seeing the marathon
times coming down, with one hour on average,
because everyone now does a marathon. And he was basically seeing that
sports was being democratized. And it’s not only about
winning gold medals. It’s also about
slimming yourself, feeling good about yourself,
and things like that. But he had no way to
say that to the company because he didn’t really
know how to voice it. And it was such a
big problem for him that he really didn’t
know how to do it. And then in this
situation– that’s the situation
where we would say, this is the most
important point where you need to get people right. If you get people
right on this question, you get people– wrong,
sorry, about this question, you get them wrong
all the way through. So if you think about your own
business– now we are in Google but you could think about
any other business– and you have problems that you
deal with in your everyday, we would say there are
three types of problems. Some of them require that
you get people right– you’re really strong in
that– and some of them require that you can
just use your intuition, especially if you’re really
familiar with the problem. So if you look at the
three types of problems, we can start in the
bottom and say, there are problems where it’s
not really so uncertain. We’ve tried it before. We are pretty predictable. And those are called knowns. You can basically put an
algorithm to those problems– things like, if we put
money from this channel to that channel we’ll
sell this much more. And that’s something
you can just use an MBA kind
of thinking to do. They’re good tools
and good methods and you don’t have to get
people so right, really. You can base your decisions
on assumptions about people. Then it becomes a little more
difficult, more unpredictable, and you go to what we
call hypotheticals. And those are you know
what the problem is but there are various ways that
you could solve the problem. For example, we are
putting more money into R&D but we’re not selling more. Why is that? And there could be
various reasons for that. Also here there are some
good tools and methods that you can use from a
business school, for example, calculating your way
through it, figuring out how big are things and so on. And then we get to
the yoga question. Is yoga a sport? That’s not a known and
it’s not a hypothetical. It’s what we call a
big unknown, that it’s something big you’re
uncertain about. And this is the point
when you don’t even know what the answer is and
you’ve never solved it before. And in the case of
the sports company, this was the situation. That to deal with
this problem they just couldn’t calculate their
way through the problem. They had to figure out well,
how is sports changing as such? When you’re in this
situation there’s something happen that we have seen in
a lot of businesses, which is that we have
assumptions about people that we’re nearly born
with or we learn somehow and they’re really
difficult to take off. And one of the biggest
assumptions about people is this– sorry,
I’ll just go on– that we can be understood
as the smallest substances, like atoms. So here’s a physician
that once said, “Everything is made of atoms,
there’s nothing living that you cannot understand from the
point of view that they are made of atoms according to
the laws of physics.” And I just have to say, really? Are we sure about that? If you take your own company I
could provoke you a little bit and say, could you take
this quote and put bits in? Everything is made of bits. There’s nothing living that
you cannot understand from the point of view of a
bit or a calculation. And there’s nothing wrong with
thinking this way if you’re familiar with what you’re doing. It’s by far the most efficient
way to think about people, that we are basically
atoms and you can reduce people to
the smallest substance and then understand
the totality from that. But when you’re in a big
unknown this is toxic. Because what will happen is that
you get people completely wrong and then your ideas will
end up as smart fridges that nobody wants, nobody
buys, and nobody uses. Now we have seen that there is
many assumptions about people. There are five I just
want to talk about and then I’m going
to hand it over to Christian who will
give you a little bit of a philosophical
background before this. And then we will
give you an idea of how to get out of this mess. But there are five assumptions. So think about when you
talk about users, consumers, customers, what are
you talking about? Very often there’s an
idea that human beings are first and foremost
thinking beings. That means you can understand
people by scanning their brain. That’s one very, very common
assumption about people, that everything there is to
know about you is in your brain. Another assumption is
you know what you want. You know your intentions. That means you can go
and ask a consumer, so would you like
this in red or green? And they would actually know. A third assumption
is that consumers– they’re all about
options and choices. So what you study is,
how do you make choices? So when you go out
down to the supermarket and you want to
buy a juice, do you want the juice
with the things in or the juice without
the little things in. And that’s the very,
very important thing about consumers. The fourth thing that’s
toxic is the assumption that your consumers, your
customers, your users actually know what they want. So you actually become
a slave to their needs. You just ask them,
what do you want? Oh, I want a red car. Hey, let’s produce a red
car– that kind of thinking. And the fifth one
is that people– because you can understand
them from their brain and have access to
their inner minds– that they are the
same, regardless which social situation
or mood they’re in. These five assumptions–
you may think that this is pretty
banal or stupid or something like that–
but these assumptions are at the core of many,
many business decisions every single day that we make. When we ask people in a focus
group to evaluate a product, for example, it’s based
on these assumptions. When we go and scan
people’s brains to figure out whether they like
the red logo or the green logo, it’s based on these assumptions. When we ask people,
can you just evaluate what you want on a survey? It’s based on these assumptions. And I would even have
to say, sometimes when we do these
big data analyses, it’s based on these
assumptions, that you can take people and pull
them down to what they need to put it together
to a bigger question and then here you have the
understanding of people. Now this plays out in
many interesting places. And here’s an example
of what can happen. So in many companies
what they do is they do these big surveys about
what people need and then they try to data analyze
their way through this. And they end up with
what’s called segments. And here’s an example. This is actually a
spirits producer. They get us drunk. That’s what they do. And they looked at the
Asian market and women. And they did a
huge data analysis to figure out how many women
there are, how old are they, what do they need. They did surveys, focus
groups, everything, and boiled it down to
four types of people. I’m not going to go
through all of them. But one of them was called
the modern life seeker. And they figured out
those were the people who had the most money, who
loved to drink the most, and who we wanted to go for. And we were asked to go
out in the supermarket and help them identify these
people to study them further, get deep inside
into who they were. But we didn’t
understand– my mom, she’s not a modern life seeker. I know that. And my sister is not. And my daughter is not. I just couldn’t figure out,
what is a modern life seeker? And we went out to the
supermarket in Bangkok. And in this supermarket–
it’s the biggest in the world– it’s the most
instagramed, sorry, shopping mall in the world. There are thick women and thin
women, clever, smart, dumb– there are all types of women. And we asked, could you point
out the modern life seeker? And they kind of started
sweating and said, she’s not here. And you know why she’s not here? Because she does not exist. Why does she not exist? Because it’s based on wrong
assumptions on who we are. And it becomes a tool where
you as a company can say, oh our consumers are
out here in a nice model and we don’t really
have to be part of that. We can just analyze them and
tell them what they want. And there are many other
examples of this going on. Maybe you should take over here. CHRISTIAN MADSBJERG:
So what we see is the same research project
in many different ways. So the research
project is basically, as we try to write in the
book, a Cartesian– a Rene Descartes-inspired project. Which is that we have
access to our inner states. We can see what
we want and need. And the mind is us. And the mind is the
brain– so a set of reductions about who we are. And if we look at the
world it’s different. And we’ll show you a
little bit about that. But there’s a couple of baseline
things we see all the time. The first one is that you can
get it down to algorithms. You can create systems
for understanding the data that people generate
in their activity. And if you take me– where
I work, what I click on, where I’m with my phone, where
I drive, and so on– that’s me. That’s a very good
picture of who I am and the kinds
of decisions I make. The second one is
atomized, that you can think of people as
self-contained entities, that we are basically
individual subjects that stand against objects
and give meaning to the world in that way. And the last thing is
that we’re rational. Everybody knows that we’re
not rational all the time. But it’s something– and
there’s been economists that go a little further and
say that irrational might be a category we
could use as well. But basically, it’s the
rational irrational model. And we think that’s wrong. And I’ll show you a picture here
to explain what it is we mean. This is a picture from a project
by a guy called Paul Radcliff. And he asked people to take
pictures of the best moment in a week, the time in
the week that was best. And it’s this lady– she
sends a picture of umbrellas. And I think you know
this kind of day in New York City where
it’s soaking wet. And she lost her
crappy umbrella. Her umbrella was
destroyed by wind. And she tried to trash it. And when she tried
to trash it she saw that that happened
to others as well. Which meant that the most
absurdly annoying situation of getting completely soaked
and losing your umbrella became delightful
because it was funny. It’s funny that other people
were in the same situation. And I think you can also imagine
what that situation is like because you’ve been there. So you’re connected to
humanity in a bigger way than just
rational processes. You’re connected to
humanity in the way that we understand each other. I was at an art
museum in Los Angeles not long ago when
I met this guy that was sitting on a bench crying. And he looked at a big Syrian
tapestry from the 1600. And I asked him, so
why are you crying? And he said, because I
don’t feel lonely anymore. I feel that somebody, in a place
I don’t know, 400 years ago, felt exactly the same as me. So the picture was
about paradise. And he’d just lost his mother. And he was thinking,
where is she? What’s going to happen to her? And somebody in a place
completely distant, 400 years ago, had the
exact same feelings as him. So he felt connected
to humanity and he didn’t feel atomized anymore. He felt connected to something. And that’s a fairly deep
insight, if you think about it. It is that we are, first and
foremost, not thinking things. We’re social things. We’re geared into worlds, and
if you strip us of our world, we make no sense at all. We’re not interesting at all. It is how we are in the
world that is meaningful. And we navigate our world
through familiarity. You know this, I
guess, when you go to a city you’ve
never been to before. Everything looks new. Right now the street
you go down looks like the street to the baker
or to the cleaner or something like that, because you’re so
familiar with your own city. But when you move to someplace–
I moved to New York City from Denmark five years ago. And it’s only now I understand
how extremely Danish I am. When I lived in Denmark
I didn’t see it at all. It wasn’t at the
forefront for me. I couldn’t see it. In the same way, when you
stand in line for coffee, it’s only when somebody
breaks the rules of standing in line that you
understand that there are rules for standing in line, right? So our familiarity
with the world is how we find our way around. And that whole layer
is not in the data normally– the understanding
of how we act upon the world and how we make sense of it. In the philosophical
tradition they call that understanding,
as opposed to knowledge. Knowledge is data
in the way that you have a fair bit of data. But understanding is
how you interpret that. In the philosophical
tradition there’s also been the
debate about how do you make sense of lots of data. And Francis Bacon,
400-ish years ago, said that the conclusions will
fall out of the data itself. If you look to the
big data people, they will often say that we
don’t need theory anymore. We don’t need
interpretation anymore. Because we have so
much data now that it will conclude by itself, OK? If this is true,
you can’t do that. You do it based on something. And it’s only when you don’t
have familiarity with something that you need this kind of
analysis that we are proposing. We basically are in
the world already. We’re always already
in the world, and we’re always already
making sense of it before it even happens. So we know that’s a chair
without taking our subjectivity and looking at the object
and then seeing what it is. We just know it’s a chair. And we’re very
familiar with chairs. So what we say that there
are three building blocks you need in order to
be in situations where the business doesn’t work,
where you’re not making sense. So if you systematically launch
products that gain 1% to 2% market share, you might
want to think about it. So the first thing is
a humanized mindset. So, a mindset about
humanity that’s different than the rational one. The second one is what
we call thick data, which is data about our
familiarity with the world. And the third thing
is what we call non-linear problem solving. And I’ll give you a
couple of examples fast. The first one is we
say, the differences. There’s a big difference
between properties about something and
aspects about something. The property of a woman
is that she’s a woman. You can say it like that. It’s biological. It’s pretty clear that
you can analyze that. You can use natural science
methods to see that. The aspects about whether she’s
feminine or not is an aspect. It’s a human thing. It’s layered into our
familiarity with the world. And what we are proposing
is that lots of people miss the aspects by only
focusing on the properties. And that’s what you get
when you use natural science methods understanding humanity. Thick data is trying to analyze
what does something mean? How are things layered
into our behavior? So for instance,
if you go to a bar, and you see an attractive person
winking to you at the bar, you would know within a second,
without even thinking about it, whether it’s suggestive, ironic,
critical– whatever kind of all the options a small movement
with the eye can be. Understanding that and the
understanding of how you easy gauge whether that wink is
suggestive or not– means, let’s leave together or not–
is important for your success at that situation. And it’s something
you all know but it’s hard to analyze unless
you get thick data. And the way we do
that is we import it from the human sciences. So that is sociology,
anthropology, and so on, that have methods
in order to do this. And it analyzes what’s below
the threshold of awareness. Now Mikkel told you
before about sports. At the time, when we’re
talking about this company that is in the sports
industry, they called fitness “sports preparation.” If think about that for
a moment the reason why it’s called sports
preparation is, of course, that you prepare yourself
to win gold medals. The only reason for
going to the gym or doing yoga or anything
like that could only be– if you are in the mindset
that sports is about winning– is to prepare yourself
for something real, instead of just
going to the gym. And what we found when
we looked at these things was we found what
in this case we call it the little
black dress phenomenon. But it was basically a fitness
measurement tool for women that we found across
generations, across geography, which was a dress that was
a little bit too small. So it was an
ambition, and it was layered into– the
whole reason they did what they did was
embodied in that dress. And that’s the kind of data
that we call thick data. It’s not the kind of data I
guess you work with the most, and we’re not saying that
that’s in any way wrong, we’re just saying this is
another type of data that can be very helpful if you don’t
have familiarity with an area. So what we call
default thinking, hypothesis-based inquiry,
answers what and how much, research on what is and has
been or is happening right now– and what we’re saying is
that there’s another type. And we call it sense
making in the book. It’s an exploratory inquiry. You’re not basing
yourself on– you’re not trying to test a hypothesis. You are trying to cast
a net and understand patterns of behavior. And in the bottom you
can see the difference between correctness and truth. This is a classic Martin
Heidegger distinction. It’s that there’s lots of
things that are correct but that isn’t true. So for instance, if
I ask my daughter, could you please put
six plates on the table, she would go and put
six plates on the table. And I’ll come in and
they’re all in a stack. And I’ll say, well
that’s not what I meant. I meant around the table with
forks and knives and stuff. And she will say, well six. So it’s completely correct. There are six
plates on the table. But that’s not the
truth about how you eat together in a sense. And what we’re
trying to get to say is that there is a
method for getting to that shared, common
humanity truth about us. You want to say something? MIKKEL RASMUSSEN: Yes. And I just want to show you how
one company works with this. It’s a company that
many of you know well. It’s Lego. And many years ago
they were in trouble because they were losing money. But also they were
expanding into territories that they didn’t know so well. And somehow they
got people wrong. At that time, when
we met Lego, they had some pretty
strong assumptions about what’s going
to happen to play. And one of them is, we’re
to die because PlayStation is going to take it all. Another one was a phenomenon
called instant traction. Have you heard about this? The idea is that kids these
days– they have no attention, you can’t get them
to do anything. So when you go into
a toy store, the toy needs to be very noisy and
very easy to play with, because that’s the only way
you can get their attention. They also had a
creativity idea which was called crisp, cool, wow. And that was, anything
was evaluated on is it crisp, is it
cool, or is what– nobody knew what it meant. Is it crisp, cool, or wow. So that means you
can just do anything. That boys wanted evil– so you
can see when they did Bionicle that there’s dark and
red and blood and death. And that girls
wanted pink– and you can see that it’s pink princess,
everything was pink, and so on. And basically they assumed
that because of this the brick has no future. We have to head in
another direction. And they did that by launching
a lot of new innovations that was beyond the
brick– software and toothbrushes and violent
toys and all kinds of things. And it basically got
them into trouble. They got a new CEO
who at one point said, I think we
need to understand, before we take any
decisions, why do kids plays and what role do
we play in that? And the first step in getting
the human condition right, like Christian
was talking about, is not really doing
any research or meeting any consumers or
anything like that. It’s looking at the
assumptions you have and trying to
change the question. We talk about this as framing
your problem as a phenomena. And that’s a very
academic way of saying it. A simpler way is, try to ask
your business question in a way that a person can experience. So for example, the big business
question for Lego at that point was, how can we sell more toys? It’s a very natural,
very good question. It’s just that it’s not
something anybody experiences. And what they did is change that
around to a question which was, why do kids play? It’s a very simple little
trick but it does wonder. Because you start looking
at very different behaviors when you look at
why do kids play. It’s actually a little
tricky, if you look at a kid, why do they play? Jesus, I don’t
know why they play. They just do it. Yeah, but why do they play? And what Lego did was they spent
half a year going out to kids, living with kids, observing
kids, figuring out what’s their world like,
figuring out parents, figuring out how school works,
and trying to go down to that thick data that
could reveal why do kids play and then try to make sense of
that to find their own future. Now this was a really
interesting experience and lots of interesting stories. Here’s one of them. This is a shoe worn by a
boy in Germany, I believe. And the shoe is 1,000 times more
worth for him than a new shoe. And we asked him why. And he says, because it’s
worn in the right places it shows that I can
do a kick flipper. This shoes is worn
in the right places because he has tried
a million times to do the trick on the
skateboard that makes him stand out in the hierarchy
among his friends. And if you look
at that, it really means that he does not
suffer from attention span or loss of mastery or
de-skilling or anything like that. This kid is deeply
into one thing and he does it everyday for
hours and hours and hours and hours. And what Lego found
was all the kids that they met had this
deep mastery of something. They met one little guy who
knew everything about sharks. So he was building
a shark in Lego and they asked him so what
shark is the one with 23 teeth? Because there’s one
shark that has that. And he knew the whole
history of sharks. Now they also found
another interesting thing, which was that a lot of kids,
when you play with them– not talk to them– they reveal
a big world of inside knowledge that we don’t know as adults. We call it under the radar. We don’t know it’s there. So here’s an example. It’s a German boy who Lego met. And his mum told them that this
boy was really bad at maths. He was not good at school,
probably had ADHD, and so on. And she was kind of
worried about him. And to show that, she
had given him a trumpet. Do you think he was
playing on the trumpet? Not really. But what he was doing
was he was doing something called
fantasy football. And we observed that. And he was sitting with
a big piece of paper. And then he was in like
soccer– so he’s going and Luftkicker was going–
and he was coming up with these imaginary football
teams, imaginary players. And then he would
make a statistic, after 90 minutes of playing
the game, about who won. But not only that, he would
also make probabilities of, if you put your money on
Luftkicker against Litana, it’s probably a nine to one. So here’s a kid where his
mom and probably his school and all the psychologists
in the world would say, he suffers from attention span. He’s not good at math. We’re worried about him. But what LEGO discovered
was that behind all that, there was a kid who had so much
talent and so much mastery. It’s just nobody was seeing it. They took this insight
and really thought about, what does it mean for us. And basically they
saw three big things. One was kids have mastery
and they strive for mastery. Anything that’s difficult
and complex and deep is great for kids. The other thing–
this was the thing with the shoe and
the skateboard– is that a lot of kids these
days are looking for hierarchy. I’m meaning, if you
ask any kid, so who’s best at maths in your class? She will say, oh that’s Jim. And who’s number 17? That’s Jack. Ask any European kid,
so which Italian player scored the most goals
three years ago? They’d know. And so we found hierarchies
everywhere, everywhere. So mastery and hierarchy. And the last thing
was the sensation of building something big
and complex and challenging. If you looked at
those three things and just think about– we’re
moving into girls’ toys, we’re moving into toothbrushes,
violent toys, stories with a lot of storytelling,
and we’re move ourselves away from the core experience
of building something, creating something. And you look at the three
things that kids really need, which is– mastery,
hierarchy, and challenges. LEGO found, but maybe the
answer is just right here in front of us and
it’s called a brick. Because a brick can
give you mastery. A brick can give you hierarchy
if you’ve built something and show other people. And a brick can give
you a challenge. And if there was a way we
could put that idea into all of the things we’re
doing, all the innovations we’re coming up with, all the
products we’re coming up with, the way our shops look, the
way our digital tools are going to look– and they took
that very idea of back to the brick and mastery,
hierarchy, and challenges and put it into
their core offerings. So they created tools where
kids could design their own LEGO and get it printed, basically. They created LEGO games that
gave you skill and hierarchy and they went into the digital
universe with a much bigger precision than
they could before. And if you ask the CEO,
he says today they’re number two toy
company in the world. They’re really profitable
and successful. And not only because
of that but also because of that– if you
ask him, he would say, well there are two reasons. One is that we basically did
the hygiene on the company and we now have
cost control and we know where we’re making money. And all that you
can learn in am MBA. So that was one thing. And the other thing
was that now we understand why kids
play– hierarchy, mastery, and challenges. And we can put that
into everything we do. OK, so that’s the story
about how to do that. And in this book we say there
is a generic method behind this that any company could
learn, any company can do, if you do it right. If you start by framing your
question as a phenomenon, then you dig into
how people really are, how they really live, and
get a thick understand of that. Then you find the
patterns in that and say, what are the
interesting patterns? Then you say, what are the
consequences for our business? And then you frame
that as an idea that can create impact
for your business. That’s basically the
simple way of doing it. It’s really simple to say. It’s not so easy to do. But it is simple to say,
because I just did it. OK so really what
we are saying is, we think that in an age
of a lot of big data and a lot of rational
thinking, there is a need also for getting
a little bit of humanity into business again. And there is a science
of understanding people. It’s called human science,
anthropology, social science, political science,
parts of economics, literature, linguistics–
that has 100 to 200 years’ tradition of
understanding people. And all they’re
really saying is, there is something about us
that’s not on the surface, they can only be
discovered if we reveal it. And I think that one of the most
emotional moments of mine when I wrote this book was when
I was listening to a song– I write and listen to
songs at the same time– and there was a song
by Tom Waits which is called “San Diego
Serenade,” and he sings about how he
never saw the morning until he stayed up all night. And I can remember
that from when I was a teenager, the first
time I went out to a party and came home and the bird were
singing, it was in the summer, and I could just
feel the sensation of what a morning really is. I never saw that before. And that’s what
he’s singing about. He sings about, I
never saw the sunshine until you turned out the light. He says, I never
saw my home town until I stayed away too long. And then he’s saying,
I never heard a melody until I needed a song. And that’s the
very simple message that we have for you
guys, that there is a way to get both the top layers
of our experience as humans but also get to
the deeper layers. And both are needed
in the future. Thanks a lot. CHRISTIAN MADSBJERG:
What do you do now? Any questions? AUDIENCE: I have a question. Hi, thanks for joining us. Can you talk a
little bit about how you identify the
right question to ask? So sort of the process
of getting to the why do kids play– what’s that like? CHRISTIAN MADSBJERG: See, this
is a really good question. And it’s interesting because we
got that question a few times before. And the literature
doesn’t reveal anything. So our main inspirations,
which are German philosophers basically– so Martin
Heidegger– later on French philosophers,
have no method to this. The way we do that is
we turn it into a verb. So we say, what’s
the main, most banal, we call average, everyday
experience that people have here. And then say, what
might that be like? So we say, what’s the average,
everyday practice that people have, and are there
interesting and juicy questions that once you think about it–
once you think about play, I mean, I know kids play. But I don’t really know why. And if we don’t know
why, how can we ever, ever produce toys that
are helpful in that case? Why do people work out? So it’s so dumb and average,
everyday and intuitive that people, in the beginning,
feel, well what does mean? And the way that the
traditional talks about this is as a phenomenon. That’s also why the
philosophy behind this is called phenomenology. So it’s– what’s the human
phenomenon that we can all share and all experience and
that’s so close to us that we never see it. It’s like wearing glasses–
maybe not Google Glasses, but any old glasses– that
you don’t think much about. So like I said before,
when you go out to what is called a
mini kitchen– which is a fairly large kitchen–
but if you go out there and there are many people
around the coffee machine, there would be a line. There’s somebody that’s
next to get coffee. But you only see that
once somebody breaks it. So other than that, it just
works as our everyday dealings in the world. And that’s exactly what
we’re interested in. So we’re interested in the
things that are so everyday that we don’t see them. And there’s a German
filmmaker called Wim Wenders that made a movie
called, “Far away So Close.” And that’s the whole point. It’s so close to us
that it’s far away. And it’s because we can’t
think about those things all the time. You can’t think about
how do I stand in line? You just do it. Or how do you drive a car–
if you move to New York City– I moved to New York
City and I’m still trying to figure out
how traffic works here. People speed up at the
wrong times and break at– and they get annoyed with me. I don’t know why they
get annoyed with me. A space between two
cars is an opportunity to get ahead and get to the
red light as fast as possible. AUDIENCE: Just don’t drive. CHRISTIAN MADSBJERG: Exactly. Exactly. So places have styles. And I guess, in a
couple of years, I might figure
out how it works . And I’ll start get
annoyed with people when they break those laws. But I don’t think
any of the people in the system would
ever think about, what’s the style of
driving in New York City. It’s just what happens, right? And that’s exactly
the object of study. So we study familiarity, how
we are familiar with things. And familiarity withdrawals. In the sense, the classic
example is a hammer. Hammering– the
last thing you want to do when you hammer
is think about it. You want to be– you will
hit your hand and so on. And that is when hammers
are most hammers, is when they are engaged with
skillful people using it. That’s when hammers
reveal themselves. You can also look at
the properties and say, it has a wooden shank and
a metal blob at the end and so on. You can decode it from a
natural science perspective, how much it weighs and so on. But it doesn’t weight anything,
except if it’s too heavy. It’s just perfect
when you use it. In that sense, the hammer
withdraws from our experience. And hammering becomes the
experience, in a sense, right? Does that answer the question? OK, good. So again, familiarity. AUDIENCE: All right, so
a question from here. So when I was
listening to your talk, first with the example
of the kitchen and later with the LEGO example, I
noticed that the examples were all very male centric. They were about soccer. All the kids in
question were all boys. So which made me think, when
you’re doing this process and you’re asking
about the why, how do you guard against
your implicit biases finding only part of the answer. CHRISTIAN MADSBJERG: So that’s
a methodological question that you can’t get out of. And it’s called the
hermeneutic circle. It’s basically, in order
to understand something, you need to use yourself
and your own experience. A Shakespeare comedy
isn’t funny unless you use your own experience. Because– yeah well,
that’s obvious. So the way that
we try to do this is to work with our
biases, be aware of them and try to adjust for
them as much as you can, but accepting that you
can never– there is no view from nowhere
when you study people. When you study quarks and
atoms and bits and bytes or something like that,
there is a view from nowhere. And the natural sciences
is a pretty good example and a very successful
example of that. But for human
sciences, your insight, the interpretation yourself,
so you have to work with it and be honest, basically, about
your own biases and so on. Now we just did a study
about women and drinking, which are two very
exciting topics. And we found that women
are starting going out, in places like
Russia, China, Brazil, where they never, ever went out
with their friends and so on. And it turns out it
freaks out the men. They sit at home and don’t
know really what to do. And a whole new
culture is starting, especially in Asia
it’s quite prevalent and it’s a whole new
market and so on. So it’s not just men we study. I guess the examples were
biased in that direction. But in that case, you
need to, again, work with your own assumptions
and your own biases as much as you can. And there is no
view from nowhere. [INAUDIBLE] MIKKEL RASMUSSEN:
When Christian talked he talked about three things
you need and one of the last one was called non-linear
problem solving. And it basically means exactly
what you are talking about now, which is you cannot take your
own ideas out of the picture. That means this type
of analysis will never be a completely 100% percent
exact analysis of how it always will be. It will be a hunch about
how something works. Like when you go
in and see a movie, and you talk about
it afterwards, you have an interpretation
of that movie. But we are saying
is if a company can have a conversation about the
customers they are serving and start making interpretations
based on deep data, it’s much, much better
than having a numbers-based and very thin data because
it gives them an insight. But you have to place a bet. It’s not like a one-to-one
where you can say, oh they all have red shoes. Let’s make red shoes. It’s not like that. I hope that makes sense. CHRISTIAN MADSBJERG: Yeah, and
you can say that there’s– you can go to school. And anthropology is
a tradition that’s 100 years old which is
about understanding culture. And just like you wouldn’t ask
somebody that’s not an engineer to build a bridge, it
can be helpful to have that kind of training if you
want to do cultural analysis. But that doesn’t give them–
anthropologists– a view from nowhere, either, in the
sense of natural sciences. Oh, sorry. AUDIENCE: Sorry. When you guys are
working with leaders who are so focused on the bottom
line, what’s the persuasion conversation like to say,
you’re focused on this question, but the actual one
is like, why play, instead of how to
make more money? CHRISTIAN MADSBJERG: So,
first of all, it works. That tends to help. But it feels
intellectual to them. It feels non-familiar. It doesn’t feel
familiar to start talking about lived experience
in this kind of complex way. But if they’re in enough
trouble, they tend to listen. So a healthy crisis
is always a good sign. And you can say that the LEGO
company had, at that point that we’re talking about here,
lost around $300,000 a day for 10 years. That makes people start
listening a little bit. And it’s a private company so
it’s– they were in trouble, so that tends to help. MIKKEL RASMUSSEN:
I also think we’ve experienced, when we talk
especially to people pretty high up, that there’s a kind
of fatigue with the tools they have available. There’s a fatigue with
the way strategy is done, the over-quantification
of everything, the million PowerPoint show,
how all the strategies end up with the same idea that
we need to fight our core, we need to go into
new areas, and we need to build capabilities. It’s always those three things. It doesn’t matter whether it’s
soap or [? tennis cases ?]. It’s the same strategy. And we can sense
that there’s time where those discussions– and I
think many leaders are looking for something new, something
that is deeper and more inspirational,
basically, I think. CHRISTIAN MADSBJERG:
And I would say, I’m surprised by how complex
thinkers some of these leaders are, actually. Which is a nice thing. That if you are at
that level, there’s a reason why you’re
at that level. And you have bandwidth enough
to deal with many things at the same time. So that’s very
positive, in a sense. Thank you. MIKKEL RASMUSSEN:
You have a question. AUDIENCE: Yeah, so my
question is around thick data. And I think guys describe
qualitatively what it was, I guess,
in your own style. But before you had
this dichotomy of it’s not focus groups, it’s
not explicit questions, it’s a little more tacit
or a little more subtle. And I was wondering
how do you go about collecting
that thick data? Or what’s that process like? Because it seems more subtle
and a little more responsive to the environment. And for example, with the
playing with kids example, it wasn’t just observing
them or taking notes but it was also the process
of actually playing with them and maybe putting yourself
in their shoes a little bit. So I was wondering if
you have any thoughts about that methodology
on a larger scale. CHRISTIAN MADSBJERG:
So anthropology has developed a tools set called
ethnographic data gathering from the 1920s and on. And it’s basically
largely misunderstood in business today. Because it means in-house,
in-context interviews. So interview is
one thing and what we say and so on is important,
but it’s also important what we do. And so what we
normally is say is, we’re not interested
in people, really. We’re interested in worlds. And a world has people
in it, for sure. So let’s say the
world of cooking, or the world of business,
or the world of Google. They’re all– or the art world. They all have–
it’s not a thing. The art world is not a thing. It consists of galleries
and artists and pencils and paper and canvases
and all sorts of things. And it has roles in there,
so people that feel they’re artists. And it has identities. And it has money. It has all sorts of things. In order to understand
a world, you need a hook into that world. And the way we do that
is through getting people and seeing how
they deal with things and how they do the
things that they do. So it’s not that
they can– I mean, they always lie to themselves. We all like to ourselves
all the time about, I need to cook for my
children all the time and then I can’t find
my pots and pans. That sort of situation. And we just try to cut
through that by saying, individuals are less
interesting than worlds, the worlds of people. So what we study
is not individuals. It’s world. So in a sense–
Margaret Thatcher used to say, there is no
such thing as society, only individuals. We say the other way around. We say there is no such thing
as individuals, only societies. You are what you do and
the way you do it, but also because of all these
other people that deeply influence you. And you might feel that you
have rational decisions on what you do. But you don’t. You make all sorts of decisions
because of your surrounding and because the world you’re in. Heidegger calls it the one. One does this and one does that. That’s most of the time. We do things because
that’s what one does. One gets up in the morning. One asks questions
when it’s uncomfortable that nobody’s asked questions–
that sort of situation. And that’s exactly
what we study. We study how people
live in worlds and how those worlds interact
with them, in a sense. So it’s observational, but it’s
with a theoretical framework behind it, in a sense. AUDIENCE: Thanks. CHRISTIAN MADSBJERG: Did
I answer the question? AUDIENCE: Yeah, thanks. CHRISTIAN MADSBJERG:
Great, thanks Good? Thank you.


  1. Refreshing perspective – bringing back the human element into thinking about businesses as opposed to just using well-proven tools to solve a crisis is indeed a great idea. Key is the ability to flip the raison d'etre of the business on its head.

  2. I recommend the book and this video, but the techniques are at least a hundred years old. Madsbjerg and Rasmussen are trying to alert the business world to the techniques of cultural anthropology applied to business–ethnographic research that reveals the assumptions of preferences and action of which people are themselves unaware because they are so commonplace to the people themselves. Business Anthropology is becoming essential for the business world, and Madsbjerg and Rasmussen are showing precisely why no company can be without this perspective.

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