Seeing the Future of Mobile at Digital Atlanta

by Sean Wood on October 11, 2012 · 0 comments

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Crystal Ball, Photo Credit: Dan Queiroz

Atlanta has a growing amount of activity around digital, mobile and social technology. From the large established corporate headquarters — to the startup companies popping up — and the strong university systems, the future looks very promising for the city. At the recent Digital Atlanta conference, I spoke on a panel with tech leaders creating the future of mobile. The session, called “Crystal balling: Looking into the future of mobile,” discussed where we see things headed the next few years.

Panelists included:
Doug Busk - Director, Mobile Technologies & Strategy, The Coca-Cola Company
Jim Donovan – Mobile & Connected Device Solutions, Turner Broadcasting Systems
Matt Jones – General Manager of Mobile,
Larry Williams - VP for Technology Industry Development, Metro Atlanta Chamber
Sean Wood – Strategic Advisor & Founder, FreeWorld Media

Doug Busk kept the energy high as the moderator with his quick wit and interesting questions that kept the conversation moving forward. Matt Jones talked about the consumer insights Home Depot is learning.  He touched on how how they are maximizing the retail experience and how that fits into their overall digital plan. I also enjoyed hearing from Jim Donovan about how TBS Mobile is spreading their reach across multiple screens. His team recently won an Emmy for their social TV app, Team Coco.  Larry Williams brought it home with his input about how Atlanta is uniquely positioned as an international hub for new technology  growth.

My forecast for the future of mobile, involves two things for certain:

  1. Technology continues to change faster than most businesses can keep up with
  2. What doesn’t change is the consistency of human nature.

As a panel, we also discussed “the internet of things” (M2M) where physical items in your life are connected to each other and to you.  Doug brought up the Nest thermometer which is a perfect example of how everyday “things” in our life will become networked and able to make decisions for us.

By having a deeper understanding of how people behave and respond, businesses with a customer-centric approach will have an advantage over their competition. My prediction is that as technology becomes more complex, it will also help us manage the increased information by making common decisions for us. Over time, we can expect more Big Data, more powerful computers, and better predictive algorithms to personalize retail and media experiences. By taking over daily repeatable tasks, it will allow us to use our minds for bigger decisions and ultimately help propel our society forward.



Retailers form new mobile payment system

by Sean Wood on October 1, 2012 · 0 comments

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Making in-store purchases with smartphones instead of credit cards is catching on as “digital wallets” become more popular. It’s still early in the mobile payment game so an industry standard has yet to emerge.  Since a universal platform has not been adopted — now is the time for Retailers to take charge and lead the way.

“The best way to predict your future is to create it.”
–  Abraham Lincoln

For businesses with the courage and foresight to increase their marketing and innovation spend, there’s a tremendous opportunity to expand long-term market share. That’s exactly what leading retailers like Walmart, Best Buy, and Target (and others) have in mind with their newly-created mobile payment company, Merchant Customer Exchange.

Although still in development, the MCX smartphone app promises to offer mobile payments and deliver targeted promotions. This puts MCX in a crowded field with such giants as Google (“Google Wallet”), the big Telecom group, Isis (Verizon, AT&T Deutsche Telekom and T-Mobile) as well as credit card companies, Visa and MasterCard. Just recently, Starbucks announced a partnership deal to invest $25M with Square with plans to roll this out at their 7000 locations across the US.  The 15 retailers that have invested in MCX represent a trillion dollars in annual sales.

The Retailer Advantage

The MSX Retailer consortium has two big advantages over Google and the telecom providers.

  1. The amount of rich data they have on their customers to drive loyalty and more targeted offers. (Think about how powerful it will be to deliver real-time, personalized messages in response to a customer’s in-store behavior.)
  2. Retailers are the final decision-makers on what mobile payment systems they will accept.

“One finding that was surprising was how much POS purchases people reported making,” Aaron McPherson, financial insights practice director at IDC, Framingham, MA. “Over a third of the people that had made a mobile payment said they had done it at the point of sale.”

Deeper Customer Loyalty?

Retailers are betting that the younger generation will be as comfortable using mobile at the register as they are using credit cards.  “MCX will leverage mobile technology to give consumers a faster and more convenient shopping experience,” said Wal-Mart corporate vice president and assistant treasurer Mike Cook. However if privacy and security concerns aren’t addressed in the beginning, any convenience factors will be outweighed by the public fear factors.

Preemptive planning programs must include a robust security response to mitigate backlash caused by negative stories released in the press and social outlets.  Ask any company that’s had a recent PR nightmare and they’ll tell you how much damage can be caused by a sudden social media crisis. It is expensive to overcome and can take years to recover.

Responsible Consumer-Centric Design

The best — and the worst part — about mobile payment systems is how easy it is for consumers to spend money with their smartphone. In a responsible free market society, we have to consider the impact on consumers. The mobile payment industry could suffer the same backlash that credit card companies experienced as the economy tanked and the public became increasingly vocal about their mistrust towards the big financial institutions.

In the new economy, Trust is most valuable commodity.

I suggest that transparent product information be built into new payment systems to help shoppers make ethical and responsible buying decisions.  Existing services like SourceMap is a crowdsourced directory of supply chains and environmental footprints to show how far the products traveled to be on the shelf.  Other consumer app makers are building in the social effect of the goods they buy (politcial, environmental) and the human effect of products on the shelf (child labor, local community impact, etc).

Adding a responsibility component will appeal to an influential group of conscious consumers that will be among the early adopters of the new mobile payments systems.  These shoppers vote their values with their wallets and are quick to share their experience on social networks.  And while it’s true that not all consumers want or need to know about the life-cycle of the products they are buying, if you don’t address this early opportunity to help people, your chance to build trust will be lost.

So Retailers, now’s your chance to take over the mobile payment industry. Just make sure you think through the potential pitfalls and understand the responsibility you have to your customers and you’re sure to succeed.



Crowdsourcing and “The IKEA Effect”

by Sean Wood on April 19, 2012 · 0 comments

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What is it about crowdsourcing (ideas, products, etc) in social media that makes people want to get involved and offer their input?  One of the best recent examples was the Doritos “Crash the SuperBowl” Contest.  Fans were asked to submit a 30-second video, with the prize being a $1 million if their idea hit number one on the Facebook / USA Today AdMeter.

Brands that sponsor crowdsourcing contests open themselves to receiving valuable input from their fans.  ”First of all it’s a lot cheaper, and secondly you get a lot more diversity of ideas, so those are the big advantages, and the speed – you get hundreds of ideas in a matter of four or five days” says John Winsor, author of Spark: Be more Innovative through Co-Creation. ”Great ideas come from the edges.”

Why Crowdsourcing Works – The “IKEA Effect”

People increase their belief in the value of the product when they’ve had a hand in creating it. When you buy something from IKEA, you gotta put it together yourself.  Because people are actively involved in the creation, they have the tendency to value things they made themselves more than something made by another person… even an expert. This phenomenon helps explain the psychological connection that people make with crowdsourcing contests. There is an emotional value wrapped up in the building process that instills a desire to see that a positive outcome is achieved.

Creating a social media-enabled crowdsource contest should be approached with the hand of an artist. Understanding the nuances of human dynamics require that the experience should be neither too easy or too hard. It’s the classic “Goldilocks Paradigm” where the best solution must fall somewhere between being “difficult-enough-but-not-too-difficult.”

“When instant cake mixes were introduced in the 1950s as part of a broader trend to simplify the life of the American housewife by minimizing manual labor, housewives were initially resistant: the mixes made cooking too easy, making their labor and skill seem undervalued. As a result, manufacturers changed the recipe to require adding an egg; while there are likely several reasons why this change led to greater subsequent adoption, infusing the task with labor appeared to be a crucial ingredient.”  – Norton, Mochon and Ariely[1]  The Journal of Consumer Psychology

How to create a successful social media crowdsource program:

  1. Create the System - Set boundaries that will lead an audience down an enjoyable path towards a positive final goal. Start with what gets people interested in the output. Ask yourself, “What incentives drive behavior towards the goal?” With American Idol, you call in and vote so you have to tune in the next time to see who wins the competition with anticipation, hoping that your vote counts toward the outcome.
  2. Selection Process – Whether the winner is chosen strictly by crowd votes or in conjunction with a panel of judges, make sure the process is clear and transparent.  Shine a spotlight on each step of the process so that the audience has the opportunity to build an emotional connection in anticipation of the outcome.  Everyone wants their “team” or their idea to win which helps capture the audience’s attention and feedback along the way during each step.
  3. Reward- A successful campaign should end with an attentive audience that has been actively engaged throughout the process from start to finish. Highlight the winner among the brand community and encourage the celebration of their victory. Make sure that you prepare post-contest plans to maintain the audience’s attention and keep the momentum going for the next event.

As a wrap-up to any extensive social media program, the organizing sponsors should take ample time to review what worked and what lessons were learned so that they can make adjustments for future programs.


Seeing the Future @CGIU

by Sean Wood on April 2, 2012 · 0 comments

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Clinton Global Initiative University 2012
In Washington DC this past weekend, the Clinton Global Initiative University brought together 1,000 college students from 80 countries to make service commitments that will change the world.  The event was hosted by former President Bill Clinton at George Washington University.

Cynthia Koenig, Founder of the Wello Water Wheel, spoke on a panel about “Creating Opportunity in an Unstable World” — moderated by Chelsea Clinton. Freeworld has been a proud supporter of Wello over the past few years and Cynthia did a great job on stage.  After her talk, she left the auditorium and was treated like a rock-star the line of young adults wanting to talk to her.  Even walking down the sidewalk, people would get her attention and say “great job!”  (Video: Cynthia Koenig on C-SPAN talking about the Wello Water Wheel)

Leaders of Tomorrow

It was inspiring to meet the CGI University students brought together to share entrepreneurial ideas about service-based leadership.  These young adults are looking beyond traditional career paths so that they can prosper and make a positive impact.  They aren’t waiting for opportunity to knock on their door — but instead, they’re making commitments to change the world through science, art and technology.

The message I kept hearing was one of self-determinism and “if you want a job, create your own.  According to the CGIU’s website, 20 percent of Millennials have started their own businesses and 40 percent envision doing so in the future. It’s an empowering idea and these Millennial leaders have a strong desire to do what matters in the personal and professional lives.

“Young people have a greater ability to enact change than ever before and CGI U is a global network of young people seeking to use the resources at their disposal to make a difference in the world.” Bill Clinton

There is hope on the horizon for the Millennials.  With new “crowdfunding” legislation gaining traction, it could become easier for startups to raise capital in small amounts.  Being at CGI University this weekend felt like being in a slowly boiling pot of  water.  You could sense things starting to heat up and it was certain that it wouldn’t be long before these students hit a rolling boil.

(On Twitter: @CGIU)


No More Clearcutting!

by Sean Wood on March 11, 2012 · 0 comments

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Reaching people in social networks is like finding trees in a forest. Social ecosystems have natural-forming patterns; both in diversity and similarities. Modern messaging requires smart strategy and an understanding of the technology available. The cool part about all this “social media stuff’ is that you can track your success, measure your efforts, learn along the way and quantify your results. Rinse and Repeat.

Mass Communications Clearcutting

In forestry, there are several ways to harvest the trees you need — the clearcutting method and the selection cutting process. Mass media broadcasting taught us to clearcut a wide audience with hopes that a small percentage will be influenced to action.

This method remained in the early days of online marketing.  In the 2000s, the slash-and-burn method was used to clear-cut across the internet. Massive email “blasts” and banner advertisements were measured by CPMs impressions. Email lists are now sold by the millions for little to nothing because they lost value. Banner ads have also become ineffective after the modern web audience learned to just ignore them.

Talk to any web marketer around in the late-90′s / early-2000′s and they will usually shake their head and make some jokes as they recount how fast mistakes were made. The legacy of the Dot-Com era is filled with stories about explosive growth and devastating results. No longer is the ultimate measure of online marketing about the number of eyeballs you can count.  Even when you dig deeper into what social media can accomplish, you’ll find success goes beyond the number of “likes”or how many followers you have. The real question is “What is the engagement level of your brand within the community?” and “how do those conversations convert to business results?

Selectively Harvesting Your Audience

Selection harvesting chooses specific trees so that the integrity of the forest remains intact and the remaining trees are saved for future harvests. With social media, marketers have the information available to identify specifically which people they’re looking for — rather than wiping out an entire audience by blasting messages to them. Content marketing engages the right audience and builds strong communities around your brand.  Sustainable strategy for communications in the 21st century learns from the past to deliver more respectful, thoughtful and impactful messaging.

Long-Term Targeting Strategies

Long-term success in social media marketing depends on how you cultivate, grow and maintain your audience. Plan to navigate change by measuring your impact and use a feedback loop to learn what messages resonate with people.  The combination of social media monitoring and effective content marketing, will help guide your business decisions now and for years to come. Because technology will move faster than your organization can keep up, having an adaptable framework in place is imperative as consumers become more sophisticated.


B Corps: Conscious Companies

by Sean Wood on March 4, 2012 · 0 comments

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Freeworld Media is proud to be a Certified B Corp. Please take a look at this recent PBS story, Benefit Corporations Aim to Make Profit, Positive Impact to learn about other companies that also believe in the power of business to create positive social and environmental change.

“Seven states have passed legislation officially recognizing companies with a conscience. Called benefit corporations, or B Corps, the firms strive to make a positive impact on society while also turning a profit. Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports as part of his Making Sen$e of financial news series.”


Beyond Storytelling: Narrative Brand Marketing

by Sean Wood on February 2, 2012 · 2 comments

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Narrative Brand Marketing

Lately there’s been alot of talk about storytelling as the next big wave in brand marketing. Telling stories about the brand is a great way to encourage the audience to personalize the message, to make it more “sticky” with the listener and to make it easier for people to remember. Last year, Freeworld even released a report about how to improve your CSR Message Through Storytelling (PDF).

Brand marketers are beginning to think like media publishers and creating branded content that can be shared and spread across the web, some companies are even forming internal editorial boards to curate the flow of content about their brand.  So once you get a handle on brand storytelling, let’s take a look ahead at how this fits into a larger framework… the brand narrative.

Narrative Brand Marketing

“Stories” and “narratives” are often used interchangeably as synonyms, but I’d like to draw a distinction between the two terms and explain how a sequence of stories makes up a narrative. Let’s explore how thinking about narrative brand marketing will help guide your story-telling marketing efforts.

A story has a begining, middle and end. But your brand story doesn’t stop. It needs to be continuous and dynamic – allowing audience participation and encouraging sharing through different ways and platforms.

“Narratives, at least in the way I will be using them, are stories that do not end – they persist indefinitely. They invite, even demand, action by participants and they reach out to embrace as many participants as possible. They are continuously unfolding, being shaped and filled in by the participants. In this way, they amplify the dynamic component of stories, both in terms of time and scope of participation. Stories are about plots and action while narratives are about people and potential. ”
John Hagel, The Pull of Narrative – In Search of Persistent Context

To create a movement, a clear underlying narrative is needed to carry the momentum of the stories told about your brand.

Deeper Emotional Connections

The brand narrative resonates the deepest message of your brand… the purpose and reason why your company exists. Ultimately, your brand lives in the mind of the audience and their loyalty to your narrative determines their purchase decisions but you have to think strategically about the long-term effects of your branded content. Ongoing narratives take into account the deeper forces of society and taps into the deeper consciousness of what is shaping those surface events.

Narrative Brand Marketing requires a clear, long-term vision of success. Looking ahead, our lives are increasingly becoming more complex and companies that plant the seeds of a well-planned narrative will see their brand grow and spread throughout the social web, reaping the benefits in the unpredictable years to come.

Takeaway: Make sure the brand stories you share are memorable, convey an intentional message and fit into your overall brand narratives.

Image used under Creative Commons – Some rights reserved by opensourceway


Brand Marketing with Instagram

by Sean Wood on September 21, 2011 · 0 comments

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Instagram just announced some big updates at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. They have updated the appearance and re-engineered the app to perform faster.

So now with Instagram approaching the 10 million user mark, brand marketers want to learn how to use the platform to connect with their fans. Let’s take a look…

What Is It?
Instagram is a social photo sharing app that let’s you create and share pictures with your network via Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Flickr and Tumblr. It has an easy-to-use interface that encourages creative photos using vintage filters (similar to the popular Hipstamatic).

Rapid Growth
Instagram is growing twice as fast as Foursquare — which grew faster than Twitter — which grew faster than Facebook. According to “Zuckerberg’s Law of Information Sharing“… each year the number of people sharing information doubles in size. This is great news for anyone launching a new service wanting quick distribution. As the number of social platforms grows, there is exponential growth in the amount of sharing.

Here’s a good infographic that visualizes the data around Instagram’s growth.

Benefits of Instagram for Brand Marketers

  • Gives a voice to your fans with user generated content
  • Highly Creative & Easy to Use
  • Built-in social sharing functions expand your reach

Five Global Brands That Have Experimented With Instagram
It seems Ideal for consumer brands, lifestyle & fashion companies and news organizations

  1. Starbucks – The coffee giant uses Instagram to enable their fans to share their everyday moments with Starbucks coffee. (hashtag #starbucks)
  2. ABC News – I like what they are doing by creating a Visual News feed. They post photos from the day’s news (hashtag #abcworldnews)
  3. Red Bull – “Whatever [marketers] do, they should not lose sight of Instagram’s core mission: sharing a passion for photography and stunning images,” said Red Bull spokesperson. (hashtag #redbull)
  4. Levi’s Brazil – Many Instagram users come from Brazil, so Levi’s created a profile (hashtag #levisbrasil)
  5. BMI baby – The low-cost UK airline (subsidiary of BMI) is using Instagram to announce company news. (hashtag #bmibabygram)

Lessons Learned From Those Experiments
It’s always good to watch the first movers and learn lessons about what they did well and what you can do to improve upon their experience. Instagram is an easy non-intrusive way to celebrate your brand in people’s lives.

  • Use a consistent hashtag to curate the rich range of photos.
  • Use it to share brand messages
  • Don’t be too over-promotional about your brand, but be sure to highlight the people in your community and let them be the collective voice for your Instagram feed.
  • Capture behind-the-scenes images and share them with your fans.
  • Activate you fans and encourage them to share.

Get access to the Instagram API by signing up for their Developer Program

Right now, it’s only available as an iPhone app, but CEO Kevin Systrom recently confirmed that the Android App is coming soon:

“It’s hugely important to us, but we’re only six people. Android is a major priority for us, but first we have to build the team, and find the best people in the world to work on these projects. The company is currently hiring engineers and designers to help it move more quickly on all three of these aims.”

Flickr has been a hugely popular social photo sharing site, but Instagram has taken the social photo sharing capability one step further by having the app built into your smartphone. Pretty cool stuff… what do you guys think?


Why Living Social scored big with Whole Foods

by Sean Wood on September 15, 2011 · 0 comments

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Earlier this week, you may have seen your social network friends talking about the Whole Foods promotion with Living Social. The flash sale created quite a frenzy by offering $20 worth of Whole Foods groceries for $10 with 5% of proceeds going to their charity group, The Whole Kids Foundation.

They sold 1 million deals on Tuesday and experienced heavy traffic that threatened to take down several of the company’s servers. That afternoon, Living Social spokesman Andrew Weinstein said “We’re currently selling more than 115k per hour, or more than 30 per second.”

So why did so many people get excited about this daily deal?

  1. Authentically Good Offer The simple recipe for business success is quality & value. The market responded quickly because Whole Foods offers a good product and Living Social provided the incentive for people to get a good value.
  2. Exclusivity This is the first time that Whole Foods has offered a daily deal. Their reputation as a high-end grocery store has earned them the nickname “Whole Paycheck” but in reality, they offer competitive pricing on many items. This is a smart move by Whole Foods to attract cost-conscious customers that otherwise may not step foot into their store.
  3. Strong Brand Value Whole Foods has created a set of Values that have guided them to become a trustworthy leader in their field. Many people are also attracted to their commitment towards local foods that offer better nutrition, higher quality and more sustainable farming methods.
  4. Word of Mouth This was social selling at its best. Influential people in the social networks were spreading the “act now” message to their friends and family that helped the promotion take off so quickly.
  5. Cause Marketing The company promised to give 5% of proceeds to their Foundation that supports schools and families that improve children’s nutrition and wellness. Cause marketing creates a stronger connection to the brand and builds goodwill within the communities that they serve. This passive giving component makes people feel better about the impact they are making with their purchase decision.

This was a positive story for Living Social — especially in the wake of their competitor, Groupon’s recent setback with their highly-publicized IPO being put on hold. Some have argued that consumers are beginning to suffer from Daily Deal Fatigue but stories like this prove that daily deals can work when the right ingredients are in place. Expect many changes in the crowded group deals space where smaller competitors will fade away or become absorbed by the leaders. But for now…. well done, Living Social!


Freeworld goes to TED Global

by Sean Wood on August 25, 2011 · 0 comments

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TED Global 2011

Attending a TED conference is an intense, immersive experience where the speakers distill a lifetime of experience into an 18-minute presentation on the TED stage.  When done well, their carefully-planned, well-rehearsed talks leave an unforgettable impact on the audience.

This is the third time that I’ve attended the TED Global conference on behalf of Freeworld Media. Each one has proven to be a life-changing experience and this year’s event was amazing.

The name, TED, stands for three of my favorite things… Technology, Entertainment and Design. The previous two TED Globals were held in Oxford, England and this one was hosted in Edinburgh, Scotland — home of the Scottish Enlightenment.

The Stuff of Life

The theme of TED Global 2011 was “The Stuff of Life” which asked the question… “How can it be better lived?”  This set the tone for the conference that challenged the attendees with a rich new perspective.  My big takeaway was that although there seems to be alot of problems in the world, there IS an answer out there and it’s up to all of us to rethink the life we want to create and question the systems that operate our world.

Taking a step back from the individual talks themselves, is a well-orchestrated event thanks to TED curators, Chris Anderson and Bruno Giussani.  They assemble a roster of speakers around a theme intended to create an intellectual journey for those in attendance.  By the end of the conference, people leave with their brains practically rewired as a result of their exposure to new ideas that challenge their worldview.

What happens on stage helps to accellerate the discussions that happen between the talks.  I had fantastic conversations with optimistic leaders from around the world that ranged from economics, world politics, environmental issues, the future of business, science, breakthrough mobile technology and urban planning.

Here are three interesting TED Talks that really stood out in terms the impact that I can bring back to our Freeworld clients.

Edinburgh Castle

1. Paul Bloom: The Origins of Pleasure

The opening party was held on Monday night at the Edinburgh Castle.  I wound up accidently hanging out in the speakers lounge where I met people scheduled to speak later that week.  One discussion that really stood out was with Yale Professor Paul Bloom where we talked about neuroscience and how it applies to marketing and communications.

During his presentation, Bloom explained how people derive more pleasure interacting with things that have an uniquely emotional story attached to them.  It’s been proven that our beliefs about the history of an object can change how we experience it.

Understanding the psychological connections that storytelling creates has tremendous implications for brand marketers and social media content creators.  At Freeworld we will use this knowledge to create better Content Strategy for our clients.  And by creating more engaging stories, we can enhance the relationship people have with a product or brand.

Many of his Yale classroom videos are available online.

2. Paul Zak: The Moral Molecule

Where does trust & empathy come from?  “NeuroEconomist” Paul Zak talked about his research with the human hormone oxytocin and it’s economic impact.  His research shows that when oxytocin is stimulated, it makes people more generous, empathetic and helpful. You may know about the importance of oxytocin in pregnancy but it can also be released during things like massage, praying and dancing.

I was thrilled to learn that social media produces a double dose of oxytocin!  It creates a better sense of trust and as he said…  “where there is more trustworthiness, there is more prosperity.”  

“Civilization is dependent on oxytocin. You can’t live around people you don’t know intimately unless you have something that says: Him I can trust, and this one I can’t trust.”  

Key Takeaway: Connecting your brand to positive, happy feelings is good for your bottom line.

Zak sprays Oxytocin on stage. (Photo: James Duncan Davidson / TED Conferences)

3. Tim Hartford: Trial, error and the God complex

Here “The Undercover Economist” talks about how people are not as smart as they may think they are.  This leads to huge problems when people jump to certain assumptions.  The arrogant “God Complex” is dangerous when people feel a sense of over-confidence in their decision-making ability.   The world is very complex — and complex systems are built through trial and error.

Key Learnings: Experimenting leads to success.  Don’t be afraid to make “good mistakes”.

The thing I love about the TED network is how it encourages people to share their ideas through what has become a new interconnected learning system.  This is promising and I hope it helps all of us develop a deeper understanding of the world.


Also be sure to check out the TED Conference App on iTunes.