Quirkology book review header

So, this month we’ve taken a wander through Richard Wiseman’s book Quirkology: The Curious Science of Everyday Lives.

Richard Wiseman is a truly interesting scientist and psychologist. He explains complex points on human interaction in an engaging and anecdotal way. He also really knows his stuff, having given lectures to the Royal Society and run experiments on Tomorrow’s World, as well as holding a doctorate in psychology and learning the ropes as a magician.

My feeling on finishing the book is that it’s definitely more about psychology than science. But for me that made it all the better.

For anyone who spends any time studying data and trying to interpolate meaning from it, this is a thought-provoking read. There are numerous examples cited by Wiseman, where it looks like Thing A is being caused by Thing B, and yet the causality actually runs the other way – in actuality Thing A is causing Thing B. I’ll go on to show some examples of this below.

It’s also very strong on suggestibility and lying, describing how a third of all human conversations involve some sort of deception. This strongly suggests that our customers are lying to us as well – critical to understand in the world of customer support and experience.

For today’s snack I’ve gone all fancy with a pistachio and date bar. So grab a treat, and let’s go…

Quirkology book review

Quirkology review: Top 5 takeaways

  • Beware of causality. One of the quirks that Wiseman covers is dates of birth. There are a number of studies showing that famous people seem to be born on auspicious days, or that people often appear to die in order to save taxes/or die from the stress of potentially having to pay taxes. In actual fact, Wiseman shows that many of these phenomena are being caused by people manipulating their dates of birth, and their families manipulating dates of death.
  • You can make your own luck after all. Wiseman has a long chapter on people who just appear to be ‘luckier’ than other people. He highlights how so much of luck is actually as much about how we think about what happens to us than it is about what actually happens. He describes a brilliant experiment whereby people who self-identify as ‘lucky’ and another group who said they were ‘unlucky’ were given a newspaper and asked to count the number of ads. One of the ads said in huge letters, “if you spot this ad, tell the researcher and win $100″. Many more ‘lucky” people spotted that, because they were open to opportunity and looking for it, whereas the unlucky people were just thinking it was another boring experiment.
  • Superstitions are much more deeply ingrained that we believed. Quirkology cites a huge number of superstitions and shows that they can actually be quite dangerous. Ranging from Chinese and Japanese cultures’ aversion to the number 4 to our own “Friday 13th”, Wiseman shows how these things themselves can cause nervousness and actually up the accident rates on those dates, thereby causing the superstition to ‘come true’.
  • People focus more on what they see than what they hear Really useful for any of us in the customer comms business, Quirkology describes how we are very much ‘taken in’ by what we see. Wiseman cites the example of the first ever televised debate, featuring Richard Nixon. When asked, the TV viewers thought Nixon came across badly and lost the debate to Kennedy. However, all the radio listeners believed Nixon did much better. This is because Nixon looked awkward and had refused TV makeup, meaning he looked sweaty and uncomfortable. But clearly what he said and how he said it was powerful for those who could only listen.
  • Getting agreement for small versus big requests. Finally, Wiseman highlights an experiment in which people were asked to display a large sign on their lawn asking people to drive safely. Most refused. Approaching a different set of residents, the researchers asked them first to display a small 3 inch square sign saying the same thing. Most agreed to do it. Then, when the researcher retuned with the bigger sign, they were more likely to agree. As Wiseman says “it is a striking example of how to create cooperation. Get people to agree to the small, and it is much easier to persuade them not to worry about the big.”

Quirkology review: Top 5 quotes

  • “…volunteers [make] as much of their good and bad lick by the way they were thinking and behaving… lucky people were optimistic, energetic, and open to new opportunities and experiences. In contract the unlucky people were more withdrawn, clumsy, anxious about life and unwilling to make the most of the opportunities that came their way.”
  • “…Experiments like the Born Lucky studies suggest that the month in which people are born exerts a small, but real, influence over the way in which they behave.”
  • “…[this] is just one of a long line of experiments showing that people can be manipulated into recalling events that simply didn’t happen… once an authority figure suggests that we have experienced an event, most of us find it difficult to deny, and start to fill in the gaps from our imagination.”
  • “…[there is] compelling evidence that lying starts to emerge the moment we learn to speak. Perhaps surprisingly, when adults are shown films of their children denying that they peeked at a toy [in an experiment], they are unable to detect whether their darling offspring are lying or telling the truth.”
  • “…The difference between a genuine smile and a fake smile is all in the eyes – in a genuine smile, the skin around the eyes crinkles; in a fake smile it remains much flatter.”

Quirkology isn’t a hefty business tome but a light read full of really good bitesize experiments and anecdotes. Easy to dip in and out of and definitely worth a read if your job involves making sense of people and data – Lindsay

More from the Customer Thermometer library is at your fingertips…

Our ever-growing book review list is available here:

  • Here’s our review of Rebel Ideas by the brilliant Matthew Syed. Learn how to make your team’s ideas even better than before through diverse thinking.
  • Brad Stone’s sweeping history of global phenomenon Amazon, The Everything Store is a scintillating read. Check out our top takeaways here.
  • We also recently reviewed Adrian Swinscoe’s How to Wow Which details his 68 practical ways to improve Customer Experience