How to Use Psychology to Gain Success in Any Job

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show, we look at the topic of psychology and why every digital professional should pay attention to it whatever their role.

This week’s show is sponsored by Testing Time and Digital Project Management Masterclass.


Paul Boag: This week on the Boagworld Show, we look at the topic of psychology and why every digital professional should pay attention to it, whatever their role. This week's show is sponsored by Testing Time and my own online course on improving on how you run projects.

Paul Boag: Hello, and welcome to the Boagworld Show, the podcast about all aspects of user experience design, digital strategy and working in digital. My name is Paul Boag and I'm joined by my co-host, Marcus Lillington. Hello, Marcus Lillington.

Marcus Lillington.: Hello, Paul Boag.

Paul Boag: There's something about your name that just cries out to be said in that way.

Marcus Lillington.: It's quite hard to pronounce if you don't-

Paul Boag: Enunciate.

Marcus Lillington.: … properly say it. And, yes, enunciate. You have to say Lillington, and then it's okay, but if you just sort of stumble over it, it sounds stumbled. But there you go. I've got some new glasses, there a bit whoo!

Paul Boag: Oh, they're nice. Whoo.

Marcus Lillington.: Whoo.

Paul Boag: Of course, the people listening to the audio podcast don't get to enjoy. Nice tortoiseshell glasses, very stylish.

Marcus Lillington.: But on the front they're just like plain.

Paul Boag: Yeah. I know.

Marcus Lillington.: Ooh. Oh-ooh.

Paul Boag: Yeah. And you know, talking of vanity, right, have you noticed my new quality web cam? Yeah, do you like my new quality web cam that nobody can see on the audio either?

Marcus Lillington.: Is it…

Paul Boag: You can't see any difference, do you?

Marcus Lillington.: Well, you're often very blurry for me, Paul, but I think that's connectivity, right?

Paul Boag: That's connectivity. Yeah, yeah, but I shouldn't be as burnt out now, you know. I haven't got big white blotches on my face, except for obviously here on my forehead, which shines like the sun because of my big bald head.

Marcus Lillington.: This is so exciting for the listener.

Paul Boag: I know. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely boring. Boring. So I tell you one little thing. This will make you laugh. This will make everybody in the chatroom laugh. All right? I'm going to post it into the chatroom so they can see it. It's a Tweet that I received this week. Right? "This book just sent my five-year-old to sleep." Not sure what this means. He finds the UX field boring or comforting, and it's my freaking book. My book sends children to sleep.

Marcus Lillington.: Well, therefore it is magic, because we all know how hard it can be to get children to go to sleep.

Paul Boag: Which was exactly what I said. I actually think that could increase the sales of the book crosstalk 00:02:52.

Marcus Lillington.: By a million-fold, Paul.

Paul Boag: Exactly! Much bigger audience, right, of people interested in getting their kids to sleep, than there is people interested in user experience. So they inaudible 00:03:02.

Paul Boag: So I want to thank you, Lizzy, for sharing that on Twitter, because that made my day. That really amused me. So there you go. crosstalk 00:03:15

Marcus Lillington.: Anything else happen this week, Paul?

Paul Boag: I've been desperately trying to finish the next chapter of the book to get it out in time for the … to meet my deadline. I have a deadline tomorrow, and I've just finished the chapter.

Marcus Lillington.: Ooh.

Paul Boag: So I was thinking good about that. And I'll tell you something else that I've done, which is interesting. I've moved away from Mailchimp as my email … that I send email crosstalk 00:03:43.

Marcus Lillington.: Yeah, I saw you talking about something else, but I can't remember what.

Paul Boag: Yeah. It called ConvertKit. It's really good, actually. It's really powerful, got great user interface. Shows you the importance of a user interface, because it's not that it does really anything that you couldn't, in theory, do in Mailchimp. But if you did it Mailchimp, you'd have to jump through a lot of hoops and it's complicated, while this thing makes it really easy. So, you know, interesting. A cool case study there somewhere, I think. Something.

Marcus Lillington.: Yes. Okay.

Paul Boag: I'm sorry.

Marcus Lillington.: Drinking Guinness there, Paul?

Paul Boag: It does look like Guinness, doesn't it? No.

Marcus Lillington.: In a pint, a pint glass.

Paul Boag: No, it's just … it's Coke. Honestly. Right. What we're talking about this week. Oh! We're going to be talking about psychology this week, which is my pet subject, so this could be a really long show. I need to rein it in, because I really have seriously got into this. But more importantly, before that, we've got to … We've got to. I love the way I word that.

Marcus Lillington.: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Boag: We've got to ensure Marcus's for the day.

Marcus Lillington.: Yes. crosstalk 00:04:50

Paul Boag: What do you got for us, Marcus?

Marcus Lillington.: What I've got, right. Well, I think I … In your notes, Paul, I called it, "Listen and hear." But my title here is, "Bloody listen, you idiot." So yeah, this is just kind of talking to myself about experiences over this year. But anyway, I was looking back through old thoughts of the day, two or three years ago, and I was talking … And this is from an old thought for the day, so I'm just going to quote myself here, briefly, when I was talking about responding to a brief that somebody sent you. So I said … No, it was the reason why you might have not won something. So in this case, as you suggested an alternative solution that you think, and probably is, better. But it simply wasn't what they thought they wanted. It wasn't what they wanted. So sometimes this can win you work, but often it doesn't, so it's a perfectly reasonable thing to do. And if you lose by doing it, then that's reasonable too, I said.

Marcus Lillington.: I then went on to say, "Trying to recognize when to do this and when not to is hard, and I might talk about that in another show." So here's that other show.

Paul Boag: Right.

Marcus Lillington.: It's kind of the connection to it anyway. I'm talking about it because I think I've been a bit guilty lately of not really listening to what I'm being briefed. Maybe that's a bit too harsh. I think it's more a case of I'm hearing something in a particular way that I want to hear it, and then I go with that hook, line and sinker. It's like crosstalk 00:06:14, "So if that's what they're telling me they want, and we can do that brilliantly. These are all the case studies of when we've done that thing." Because I think, I've got this great story, but it wasn't really right in the first place.

Paul Boag: Was it the story people wanted to hear?

Marcus Lillington.: Yeah. crosstalk 00:06:30

Paul Boag: Partly.

Marcus Lillington.: It's me hearing something and translating it to something that's only 80% of it, maybe.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington.: Anyway, so the point of all this is to say, "You need to hear and listen to what people are telling you." And then you, and this is the real point, I guess, is that you need to be really, really honest about whether you can deliver on that, or whether you want to deliver on that. Obviously, if you can discuss these things of what you can offer, or maybe that alternative that you really want to push before you put loads of effort into responding to a proposal, then all the better. And it might be that the right thing to do at that point is to walk away. That's a really hard thing to do when work's been tight, and it appears that work has been tight pretty much across the industry, talking to various people. So I think that's been a kind of case for me, lately.

Marcus Lillington.: So what I'm saying is, we need to stick to our principles. Things that I've been talking about on this show for, I can say decades, and that's true. A decade, anyway. Things like not doing speculative design, or being careful about doing speculative design. Not discounting too much. And in the case of this particular thought for the day, lose your happy ears and really hear what people are saying.

Paul Boag: I think that doesn't just apply to those of us that run agencies, mind. I think that applies in-house, as well. Someone's just mentioned in the chatroom that meetings are another place where that happens all the time. You could get a group of people to go out from a meeting, and they've all heard different things.

Marcus Lillington.: Oh yes.

Paul Boag: You know, and interpreted what we said in very, very different ways. That's actually one of the reasons why I love prototyping. Because, you know, if you have a meeting and discuss something, then you can easily go inaudible 00:08:24 different opinions. But if you create something together, then you've got something tangible to look at. And when I say prototyping, that's a bit kind of grandiose. You know, doing some sketching in a workshop. But you know, that kind of crosstalk 00:08:40.

Marcus Lillington.: Well, it just applies to everything that you do. Any kind of conversation, I suppose. But in this particular case, there was a particular piece of work we went for where there was … I was briefed very strongly about a certain aspect of it, and I kind of heard what I wanted to hear, rather than listened.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Yeah.

Marcus Lillington.: Sometimes you have to kind of face up to these things.

Paul Boag: Yeah. And it's sort of … The trouble is, it's very difficult, isn't it? Because … well, to bring it back to the subject of today, because of our psychology and our make-up, that we have these cognitive biases where we hear and see things in different ways. I'll give you a great example I was going to give later on in the thing, but I'll give it to you now because it's relevant. If I said something to you like, "Jill is going to the bank." Right? You tell me, Marcus, what would Jill be going to do at the bank?

Marcus Lillington.: Well it wouldn't be give sperm, would it?

Paul Boag: Ah! Now that's the first time. That's the first time anybody's gone that route, but you've got the basic principle.

Marcus Lillington.: No … You and I have had this conversation before.

Paul Boag: Oh, have we?

Marcus Lillington.: That's why-

Paul Boag: Oh okay.

Marcus Lillington.: … I'm playing with you.

Paul Boag: So normally you would say things like, you know, "To take out money. To rob the bank." Or whatever else. But it can, that word can mean different things in different contexts to different people. So for example, if you're an angler, you might think about the river bank. Only Marcus would think about a sperm bank that you go, take some inaudible 00:10:14. But it's true. That shows you how easy it is to misunderstand one another, doesn't it? You know.

Marcus Lillington.: Yeah.

Paul Boag: So it's terrible. Yeah. How do you get around that one, Marcus? You've said-

Marcus Lillington.: crosstalk 00:10:29

Paul Boag: No, you didn't actually, you didn't give us any solution about how to get ready, because it's a really hard thing to do. I guess it helps in your situation because you've got a partner in the business. And you know, if Marcus doesn't … Sorry, you are Marcus. crosstalk 00:10:45 If Chris doesn't interpret it … Yeah, I get confused. I'm getting old. If Chris doesn't interpret it in the same way, then maybe you want to pay particular attention. Is that how you solve it?

Marcus Lillington.: Sorry, Chris. Sorry, Chris. I wasn't listening. crosstalk 00:11:03 No, because I was just thinking … It was a comment about you getting old. Lee Howells 00:11:07, who has been on this show many, many times, and co-hosted, was 50 years old yesterday. Bless him. Happy birthday, mate.

Paul Boag: Oh, congratulations, Lee.

Marcus Lillington.: And he does listen, so happy birthday.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington.: Sorry. What you've got to do is constantly question, and sometimes we don't. Sometimes it is, it's happy ears. That's exactly what it is. It's like, "Oh, this is great. We've done something like this. We can show them blah blah blah." When actually it wasn't really what was asked. If you're trying to mold your solution or your response to what you think is being asked, then chances are you're going to regret it. So you need to ask the question, and be honest and say, "We haven't got experience with doing that. We've done something like it. Is that what you're after?" Have a conversation and constantly question yourself.

Paul Boag: And it is that whole thing of … Every human does it. We fall into patterns of behavior. Right? And I do it all the time. I had an example of it recently where somebody came through to me. They were looking to better understand how they can communicate and keep their customers engaged over their life cycle so that they renew at the end of a period of time. It's like, "Oh, we need to do customer journey mapping." Because that's what I always say these days. And you just say … It's like, what's the phrase about hammers? You know, when you've got a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Marcus Lillington.: Nail, yeah. Exactly.

Paul Boag: You know? It's that kind of mentality you've got to be really careful about, actually. Yeah, I'm with you. So yes, all of this comes, actually, back to psychology which is our subject for today. And I want to start off by talking a little bit about why I feel psychology is something that we all need to pay attention to, no matter what part of the digital world we work in. We've pretty much covered one of them already, which is that if you have a good understanding of psychology, how people think, how you think … Not just how other people think, but how you think as well, that's going to help you with sales.

Marcus Lillington.: Yes.

Paul Boag: We've just kind of covered that. And by extension, it also helps usually with marketing. So if you understand what makes people tick, what resonates with them. I was running my workshop up in London a couple of days ago, which was encouraging clicks without the shady tricks. You have to have a cool title. I thought it was cool, all right? Get off my case.

Marcus Lillington.: I was going to say, yeah, that's not that cool, Paul. But anyway. It rhymes.

Paul Boag: crosstalk 00:13:57 Yeah, there you go. That counts. Well to be fair, originally, that is actually Vitaly from Smashing Magazine. That's his title. My title was going to be, "Encouraging clicks …" No. "Don't be a dick." No, something about being a dick and encouraging clicks. I can't even remember now.

Marcus Lillington.: Which was funny. Yeah.

Paul Boag: Which is funny. But no, we had to go with the PG version of it. Ah, why was I talking about that? Oh yeah, because a lot of what we were talking about is persuading people to take action and stuff, and a big part of that is psychology. You know, it's really, really important in marketing. It's also really important in design, because a lot of the reason people struggle with a website is down to things like psychology. Why, just because your website's logical, just because it's well-structured, doesn't mean people are going to understand it. That goes back to the mental models things. We like labeling of UI sections. Sorry, information architecture sections, and things like that.

Paul Boag: It also is very useful if you have to deal with stakeholders. I have found it absolutely invaluable for that, as I've learnt how to deal with people. And team dynamics as a whole. I mean, remember, we talked … Do you remember? We must have talked on the show before about when we did those personality tests for whatever it was called?

Marcus Lillington.: Oh yeah.

Paul Boag: Get insights, wasn't it? No? That was somebody else.

Marcus Lillington.: It's just insights.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington.: Yes, crosstalk 00:15:37. Yeah, they were great.

Paul Boag: They were. Actually, you know, you joke and mess around. Basically, these personality … a bit like the Briggs-Myer personality tests they were, but actually much better in my opinion. I've done both. You get this big report back. It also covers not just yourself, but how you interact with other people. Right? So me and my working relationship with Chris, it made a big difference to me personally. I don't know whether it did to Chris. But I got … Because I used to find Chris incredibly frustrating, because he always felt very slow in his decision-making. He was always a bit negative about it. But learning a little bit about his personality type and my personality type made me realize, "Okay, yes, we are opposites, but actually that works and is very beneficial as a result."

Paul Boag: So things like that are really worthwhile. So it's team dynamics. Also, as a result, understanding yourself better. You know? I'm much more … I've never been particularly self-aware, let's be honest. But I'm more so, now I've understood a bit about psychology, than I ever was before.

Marcus Lillington.: The only thing that I can remember from the results of the test I did is that it said, "Throws a good party."

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington.: That will live in me forever.

Paul Boag: And it's very true. It was scary-ingly accurate, wasn't it? crosstalk 00:17:06

Marcus Lillington.: It's like you're reading literally about just you, and it's … yeah. crosstalk 00:17:12 25 questions, and they said they could do it within 12. But people didn't trust it as much if they only did 12 questions. It was staggeringly amazing results.

Paul Boag: Yeah. So you can understand yourself better. It improves your inaudible 00:17:29, and that in turn will improve your career prospects, if you understand how the boss thinks and how other people think. But basically, what all that boils down to, every single one of those things in the list boils down to the same thing which is if you understand psychology, you become better a communicator. Whether it's communicating through design, whether it's communicating in sales, in marketing, whatever else. So it's an absolutely crucial area to pay attention to. That's why we're looking at it on this show. Sorry, go on.

Marcus Lillington.: I was just going to say, I have a mantra, and I'm going to go off on one here a bit, about the current … Well, not the current, for the last 30 or 40 years, the state of our education system and what we focus on.

Paul Boag: Oh yeah.

Marcus Lillington.: We focus on English and maths and science. I think we should focus on critical thinking, history, and psychology and sociology. I think everyone should learn about those things from when they're little, because it's so important to understand how yours and how other people's brain works.

Paul Boag: Yeah.

Marcus Lillington.: So yes, I'm agreeing with you, Paul. But it's massively important. It's not just about-

Paul Boag: Manipulating people.

Marcus Lillington.: Yeah, it's not about getting more clicks. Okay, it is about that, but it's about being effective as a human, I suppose.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, my encouraging clicks thing is obviously taking a particular angle where it's conversion rate optimization, basically, which psychology plays a part in. But my interest in psychology goes way beyond that, because it's helped me in everything. I mean, to be honest, there' a big phrase that flies around a lot, which is emotional intelligence. I don't know whether you've heard that. It's basically a phrase that's been made up for techy people, saying, "You may be intelligent, but are you emotionally intelligent?"

Marcus Lillington.: Oh right, right.

Paul Boag: You know what I mean?

Marcus Lillington.: Yes. There's a big tech company has just been in the news about something like that. I shouldn't say things like this when I can't remember who it is. Oh, it's the people that do the big project management software. Atlassian.

Paul Boag: Oh yeah.

Marcus Lillington.: Yeah, they've been in the news for basically not just judging their staff on their effectiveness at their job. It's also about their effectiveness at getting on with each other, and things like that.

Paul Boag: Yeah, absolutely. All of that is based … you know, emotional intelligence really is about developing an understanding of how other people thing and how they behave.

Paul Boag: Anyway, before we get into what I think you should be looking at in particular in this area, let's stop and talk about our sponsor. Because actually it's a very relevant sponsor if you happen to be somebody that is looking to understand the psychology of your users, and how they think. It's called Testing Time, which is a service that helps you recruit users for testing. Which is absolutely invaluable, because one of the biggest problems you always have is recruiting users. It's really interesting. I'm going to be using their service probably next week, actually. It was very convenient. I suddenly thought, "Oh, I know about a company that does that."

Marcus Lillington.: This is a classic example of what I was talking about earlier on the thought for the day, where people say … Somebody could ask us for, "We want you to do user testing, and want you to recruit real users, and we want to have across five different user types, and all this kind of thing." We might sort of think, "Well we've done loads of user testing." We can point to when we did this, ignoring the kind of … crosstalk 00:21:25 It's actually really hard to find the right people to recruit. So that's a good example of it.

Paul Boag: Yeah. So anyway, there's this great company that basically helps you do it. They'll find people for you for usability testing, focus groups, interviews, surveys, whatever you need really. You can do both online and remote kind of testing with people, or you can do offline. They'll even help you recruit for on-site studies. All kinds of stuff, really anything you need. They've got a pool of something like 350,000 people, so they can recruit pretty much anyone from different types of requirements. It's all very simple and straightforward to do. Basically, you go through an order process, which gives you a price that's calculated in real time. It's not like a, "Contact us," then they sell at you forever, if that makes sense.

Paul Boag: So you just go to their website, which is You select the number of people you need, the type of study you're doing, your standard requirements that you require, and anything particularly special or unusual. They normally deliver within 48 hours, which is a really quick turnaround. There's a kind of customer support, or customer success teams is what they call them today, isn't it? Customer support there to help you from the beginning to end of that process.

Paul Boag: If you do decide to check them out, if you could use the URL, then I would get some credit for that. I will be using my own URL this week, so they're going to get at least one person out of it. So that's something.

Marcus Lillington.: I got a bit cross with one of their competitors. It was just last week.

Paul Boag: Oh, did you?

Marcus Lillington.: Yes. crosstalk 00:23:20 You mentioned that you end up talking to somebody that just constantly sells at you. I was trying to get an idea of price out of their website and failed, and then tried to-

Paul Boag: Yeah. I mean, that's so annoying.

Marcus Lillington.: Yeah. And then I got onto a chat, a person on chat. "Oh no, no. Give us your contact details and somebody will talk to you about it." So I just said, "Sigh." And left.

Paul Boag: Yeah. I don't blame you. Because you know, you know where that's going to go if you hand over those contact details. Anyway.

Paul Boag: Right, so what area of psychology are most relevant? What should you be paying attention to? Well obviously, that largely depends on your role. However, what I want to offer you is seven areas of psychology that I most often make use of. And bearing in mind, I'm a bit of a jack of all trades, a master of none. I'm hoping that this list will be fairly useful for most people and most circumstances.

Paul Boag: The first thing that I spend a lot of time referring to when I talk to people is the concept of system one and system two. This is something that was introduced to me through a book called Thinking Fast and Slow, that I will reference again later when we talk about resources you can use. Essentially, system one and system two are two ways of thinking, if you like, within our brain. System one is the autonomous, fast, subconscious kind of procedural way of thinking, where you just recall or instinctively know. So for example, if I said to you, "What two plus two?" You don't have to think about that, you know. If I said, "What's the capital of France?" You know. It's those gut instinctive reactions. System two is the deliberate, considered, conscious mind. All right? So if I asked you what 27×3 is, you'd have to engage system two to know that. Right? So there's these two different systems. crosstalk 00:25:42

Marcus Lillington.: 81.

Paul Boag: That's quite impressive. I don't know whether you're right. I have no idea 'cause I'm talking. I can't do that at the same time. Which brings me on to the second one in a minute. But yeah, you worked that one too quick. It ruined my flow.

Paul Boag: So system one is pretty much limitless, while system two gets depleted and tired very easily, so we don't like using it. We tend to kind of shift tasks from system two into system one inaudible 00:26:18. A great example of that is driving. When you first learn to drive, there are so many things you have to think about: changing gear, indicating, looking in your mirrors, steering, not hitting that small child, those kinds of things. But when you do it enough, eventually your brain is able to move that across into system one, and that's when you arrive at work and go, "I have no memory of how I got here." You know?

Marcus Lillington.: Yeah, yeah.

Paul Boag: This has huge ramifications in all kinds of things. It has ramifications in design, because we don't want to make people think, because people don't like using system two. If you suddenly change the design on people, then suddenly you break their ability to just do things using system one. Right? A great example of this is, if I said to you, "What's your process to searching on a website?" You'd almost certainly say, "I go to the top right corner, step one. I look for an input field, step two. I enter my terminology, step three. And then I press the button that's next to the input field." Right? That's procedural knowledge. You don't need to think about it. System one deals with it. Job done. You move that search box, and then suddenly all that falls apart. Right?

Paul Boag: That's why it's so important for design. It's so important it lots of different ways, because … in decision making, generally. For example, if I asked you to judge priorities, or just probability of something. If I said to you, "What's the chances of Donald Trump getting reelected in 2020?" The complexity of that question is really quite challenging, right? We definitely have to use system two to think about how things are going to go, predict the future, and all of this kind of stuff. And because that's just too hard work, what we do instead is use system one, and we substitute the real question for a simple one, which is, "Is he popular at the moment?" Which is no actual indication of whether or not he will really get reelected. We do all these kinds of weird things.

Paul Boag: So system one and system two is definitely something worth reading up about. I can't go into all in detail here. As a kind of knock on from system one to system two, something called cognitive load, and again, it's really important for designers. The fact that we don't … If we start encountering something that is too difficult and too problematic for us, system two has to kick in to deal with it. Right? If we're busy, if we're stressed, if the interface is complicated, if we're in a bad mood, if it's inconsistent, all of these different factors increase our cognitive load. We have to think more and more. Right?

Marcus Lillington.: Yeah.

Paul Boag: But what's really interesting is when our cognitive load gets high, not only do we get overwhelmed and unable to process all the information that we're confronted with and we start missing things, also you have this other problem which is that you start to get grumpy. You start to get cynical. You start to find whatever you're dealing with untrustworthy. Right? All those things have negative impacts. So cognitive load, from a designer point of view, is absolutely key, and is the reason why we always go on about keeping things simple. That's the psychology behind it, something called cognitive load. Have a read about that, because that's really interesting as well.

Paul Boag: Then we've got mental models. That's the fact that we all structure and organize information differently, which goes back to that Jill in the bank thing we were talking about earlier. Just because your information architecture makes sense to you doesn't mean it's going to make sense to anybody else. Just because Marcus understands the terminology he puts in a proposal about user experience or design systems, doesn't mean that the person reading it will, which is why you have to use plain English all the time. So mental models is another huge thing. The fact that everybody kind of makes different connections in their heads, and that's why people hear different things when they're in those meetings, et cetera. Mental models, really worth looking into.

Paul Boag: Andrew has just pulled up a really interesting question in the chatroom where he says, "Talking about cognitive load and procedural knowledge and that kind of thing, is this why everybody hates a website when you start fixing it, when you start changing things on it?" And it's really true. This is why. You know every time Facebook redesign their website, everybody goes into meltdown. "Oh, they've changed it! They've ruined it! What on earth have they done? This is the worst thing ever." That's because you're breaking people's mental model. You're breaking what they know, what they've learned to do on that website. It's actually one of the big reasons why you really want to try and avoid big redesigns, because it will alienate your existing users that have learned to use it in one way, and then you've broken that procedural knowledge, that knowledge of where things are going. crosstalk 00:31:53

Marcus Lillington.: Andrew says, "Oops." He's obviously just done a major redesign.

Paul Boag: Ah. Okay.

Marcus Lillington.: On Paul Boag's advice.

Paul Boag: Probably on my advice, at some point. Yeah. Ideally, you want to avoid those big redesigns. If you have to do them, because there are reasons. Sometimes you actually want to … it's right, in the long term, to do that. The key with it is to hold your nerve when you first do it, because everybody goes into … kind of starts complaining when you live. "What on earth have you done? This is the worst thing ever." Blah blah blah. But normally, after a couple of weeks, two or three weeks, they start to realize that they've … or they start to get used to the new system. Everything calms down, everybody kind of gets over it and moves on with their lives.

Paul Boag: Don't forget, this is only going to affect repeat users. If you're coming to the website first time, they're not going to know about it anyway. Anyway, yeah. It's a fascinating subject. Cognitive load, mental models, procedural knowledge. Look into it, it's all brilliant stuff.

Paul Boag: The next one is halo effect. This is the reason why you find Marcus more trustworthy than me. Because-

Marcus Lillington.: I've got a halo. Is that what it is?

Paul Boag: No, no. It's to do with your pop star genes, Marcus. With the halo effect, we make unconnected associations.

Marcus Lillington.: That's right.

Paul Boag: It's the reason why more attractive people are considered more trustworthy than less attractive people. I have just said that you're more attractive than me, Marcus. inaudible 00:33:40 Exactly. You couldn't be in a boy band if you were ugly, could you really? So you must have been at some point.

Marcus Lillington.: I'm old and gray and haggard now, though.

Paul Boag: Yeah, but you've still got that twinkle in your eye. Who is it that said that to you? Nevermind the inaudible 00:33:56.

Marcus Lillington.: What was her name? She's from-

Paul Boag: Somebody Pink, or something.

Marcus Lillington.: No, no. She was a singer from Norway or Sweden. I'll come back to you.

Paul Boag: Nevermind. Anyway, the long and the short of it is we make connections that aren't really there. What this means, this is why design actually matters. Aesthetics matter on a website, because if you see a website that's badly designed, you'll conclude that the company's crap. Right?

Marcus Lillington.: Yes.

Paul Boag: Even though those two things aren't really linked, we make that assumptions. It's the same thing as simplifying the question, like with the Donald Trump example. It's too complicated to make a real judgment, so instead we make an instinctive judgment based on the available information. What you see is all there is. Even though there are other things that we should consider, we don't consider those things and make a judgment based on what's right in front of us.

Paul Boag: I'll give you an example of that. If I said to you, "George is a studious, carefully considered person. Is he more likely to be a librarian or a farmer?" Our instinctive, everything in us cries, "He's a librarian." And that's because we're making a judgment just based on the knowledge that we've got there and then. We don't consider that there might be other factors we're not aware of, factors like there are twenty times more farmers than there are librarians. Right? There you go.

Paul Boag: So the halo effect is this transferring of feelings that aren't necessarily related to one another. Steve Jobs had this in abundance. People would go into a room with him. He was charismatic, he was charming, he was Steve Jobs, so everybody would come out thinking that his ideas were a good idea. It's only once they got a bit of distance from him that they realized, "Hang on a minute. They're crap ideas." That's the halo effect in action.

Paul Boag: Right. Next up is Hick's Law. This is really interesting for design, it's really important. The time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of the choices available. Yeah. This is choice paralysis. Have a little explore of the subject of choice paralysis. It's really, really fascinating. I'm moving a little bit faster now because I'm realizing that I'm spending too long about all of this stuff because I get really into it. Hick's Law is absolutely fascinating, especially when it comes to things like choice paralysis.

Paul Boag: The most famous example of this would be a study that was done in California grocery stores where they put out six varieties of jams, or preserve as they called them, and they basically said … they monitored how many sales they made. Then they put out 20 different varieties of jams and monitored how many sales they made. They made considerably more sales through six varieties than they did 20, because people were overwhelmed by the choice and they didn't make a decision. That is choice paralysis in a nutshell. So we need to make our choices very distinct.

Paul Boag: That kind of applies in all kinds of situations. Right? It doesn't just apply on your website. That's the obvious one. Don't have too many calls to action. But it also applies in things like writing a proposal. People want choice, but if you make that choice too complex, you overwhelm and they don't choose, or they go elsewhere.

Paul Boag: We do this with children all the time. You give them a choice because they want a choice, but you've really made that choice fairly obvious and fairly limited. Because otherwise, you're just going to overwhelm them with all the options available. Also with the children, a child, you basically trick them. But that's a whole other conversation. Bad parenting tips with Paul Boag.

Paul Boag: Then it's familiarity bias. We are naturally predisposed to things we already believe. Where this gets really interesting is that it becomes quite hard to change people's default behavior, because they prefer to stick to what they already believe is true and what they already believe is right. This is the reason, this is a really important thing when it comes to things like interacting with colleagues and persuading colleagues. This is a great article by Jared Spool called, "Why I can't convince executives of anything, and neither can you." The article basically says, "There's no point in trying to persuade your executive to care about user experience. But what you can latch onto is what they already care about, what they're already familiar with, and frame user experience in that regard." So if they care deeply about cost savings, you talk about cost savings, and so on and so on.

Paul Boag: The very last one I want to mention is loss aversion. Loss aversion is the whole thing that we feel the sense of losing something twice as much as the sense of gaining it. What this means is that we're very connected to things that we've already got, and if you need to persuade people to give up those things, you've got to work hard to persuade them of that. Again, this applies in sales, it applies in design, it applies in dealing with stakeholders and colleagues. Because oftentimes you need people to do something or give up something, and you've got to have a very compelling case in that case.

Paul Boag: So what I'm encouraging you to look at is system one and system two, cognitive load, mental models, the halo effect, Hick's Law, familiarity bias, loss aversion. And boy, is that just the tip of a massive subject. It's so exciting and it has so much really cool stuff in it that can be really easily applied to your projects, to your work, to everything that you do.

Paul Boag: Okay. Before we talk about resources and where you can start to learn all that stuff, we come to our second sponsor, which is me! I am my own sponsor. I've purposely held back, because I find it really annoying where, you know, "Oh, two sponsors a show." And then actually what happens is crosstalk 00:40:44.

Marcus Lillington.: You just sell and sell and sell, all over the crosstalk 00:40:47.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Then there's your own selling on top of it, as well. It's like, "No, that's a bit much." So I thought I'll reserve one sponsor slot just to talk about something I want to talk about, so bear with me.

Paul Boag: We're going to be doing a master class, an online course considered a live course consisting of about four sessions over four weeks, one a week, where we're going to look at better ways of managing projects, basically. How to manage your projects in a more efficient way. We'll be covering things like how to run a better discovery phase; how to make use of prototyping, proof of concept, alphas, that kind of thing; how to iterate and test your way towards a final product, rather than just creating a specification and then going and building it. We're going to look at how to continue optimizing your project post-launch. We're going to look at how to avoid those really painful specification phases where there's hundreds of meetings with lots of stakeholders over months. We're going to look at how to make your projects more profitable and more predictable. Obviously, if you're in-house, the predictable bit really matters. But when you're running an agency or a freelancer, you need them both to be predictable and profitable. Then finally, we're going to look at how to create deliverables with the best chance of long-term success.

Paul Boag: So it's really ideal, whether you're running a small project or a big project, I'm pretty confident that any of the things I'm going to suggest can inaudible 00:42:21. Even like a discovery phase, which you think is this thing you're only doing with big proper projects, actually a discovery phase can be a couple of hours worth of work. You can really scale it, but have that underlying principle in place. So whatever size your project, I think it will be useful. You can use it whether you're an in-house team. If you're an in-house team you want to achieve more with less, which is a common problem that most in-house teams have, that they're expected to do more and more with less people. It's great for agencies, obviously, looking to make their projects more profitable. So you might want to check it out.

Paul Boag: It starts on Friday the fourth of October and runs for four weeks. If you can't make any of the live sessions it's not a problem. All of the sessions are recorded. You can get videos afterwards. If you want to find out more, go to, as in digital project manager. If you use the code "podcast," you'll get 20% off too. Never say I never give you anything. An incentive like that, it doesn't really feel like you're giving anything, does it? Because you're basically using it to persuade people to buy. You never know. crosstalk 00:43:36

Marcus Lillington.: I'm just nodding, Paul.

Paul Boag: I might give you a Porsche at the end. It could happen.

Marcus Lillington.: Really?

Paul Boag: No.

Marcus Lillington.: Is that West Country for push? crosstalk 00:43:46 I'm going to give you a push.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Exactly. I like it. Right, okay. Let's talk about resources, some more on psychology. I've got a whole load for you, so you're probably going to need to go to the show notes in order to get all of these. You can get to the show notes by going to I'm trying to remember what the URL is for our show notes. My brain has just gone blank.

Marcus Lillington.: Well, it's season 24, and this is episode 4. But what the URL is, I haven't got a clue.

Paul Boag: So that's You're not going to remember that, so just go to, hit on show, select the episode. What do you want from me? You can work it out. You're grown-ups. Right? I think I've just exceeded people's cognitive load crosstalk 00:44:46 that URL now.

Marcus Lillington.: They're all trying to remember it, and they hate you now because you've exceeded their cognitive load.

Paul Boag: They're really, they're not even trying to remember it. I know that damn well. Right, okay. So here's some resources if you're interested in the subject. If I've whetted your appetite. First of all, there's something called Bite-Sized Psychology Insights, which is a card set you can buy of 60 … really, this is for designers. It's for 60 design patents driven by psychology, and each card has got a different kind of psychological thing on it, and then how you can use that from a design point of view. So that's a really great resource to get if you're a designer. That's number one.

Paul Boag: Second one is also for designers. I'm biased. I tend to work in design. It's 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People, which is an excellent book. Very simple, very straightforward, very accessible to pretty much anybody. Yeah, I would encourage you to check that one out as well. Talking of accessible, easy to grasp stuff that's not too stressful, two books to recommend. The first is Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products. I haven't read this one, and if I'm honest, I'll tell you why. Because I'm put off by the title. Because basically, it's how to manipulate people into not leaving your product alone. But I hear it's very good, so I'm recommending it.

Paul Boag: The one that I will recommend personally, because I have read it, is a second book called Nudge, and Nudge is a really, really interesting book about how you can use psychology for good, basically, to encourage people to do things that they need to do. For example, had you encourage more organ donations. That kind of stuff. Really, really interesting book.

Paul Boag: The other book that you could check out if you're a designer and you want to kind of go a little bit further now, this is encouraging you to explore psychology a little bit more. This is a free book, free – that's always a good word – by Joe Leech called Psychology for Designers. What that's teaching you is not … it doesn't just go through a load of psychological principles, like I've done in this show. It actually teaches you how to learn about psychology, and how to validate what you're learning, and how to apply that. It's a lot more kind of thinking methodology. It's a really, really good book.

Paul Boag: Then, if you really want to kind of go into the deep-end, this is hard-going, this particular one. I'll be honest with you. But it's really good. It's Thinking Fast and Slow, the book I mentioned earlier. It's a really excellent book, really enjoyable, and applies whatever your situation. The last, I did want to just also mention one of my own posts, which is how to fix the devastating impact of cognitive load on your site. Because we were talking about cognitive load, I thought I'd throw that one in as well.

Paul Boag: So there you go. I've actually done all right, time-wise. I haven't run as long as I thought I had. I felt like I was over-enthusing about subjects and was talking to much, but there you go.

Paul Boag: Marcus, do you have a joke for us?

Marcus Lillington.: I'm still desperately trying to find the name of that singer. I'm failing. Nevermind. Yes. This one, actually, as I've told you on the first episode of season 24, I have so many jokes because I've been saving them up over our six months off. This one came in today, and I liked it so much I'm going to use it. It's from Darrell 00:48:33 Snow, again. That one used to do zillions of jokes for me, then he went away for a while, and how he's back again. crosstalk 00:48:40

Paul Boag: He's good.

Marcus Lillington.: Yeah. Anyway. "I started a business building yachts in my attic. Sales are through the roof." That's quite good, isn't it?

Paul Boag: That's the first one where I think, for a long time, where I've honestly laughed, without it kind of being more like to show crosstalk 00:49:03.

Marcus Lillington.: Ha, ha, ha.

Paul Boag: Well, some things you can think are funny but not laugh out loud at. Does that make sense? Oh, oh, Kat has just recommended another podcast. Apparently there's a podcast called Cognitive Bias by David Dylan Thomas. Short episodes, ten minutes each, each looking at a different bias. Wow, that sounds superb, Kat! I'll definitely check that one out. Thank you for that. That's good. She's even kindly sent me the link to it, so I will put that in the show notes so that it's all nice and neat for everybody.

Marcus Lillington.: Cool.

Paul Boag: Yeah, that was the first link … sorry, first joke I've heard in a while that's made me actually laugh out loud, so thank you. Who is it, Darrell?

Marcus Lillington.: Darrell. Yeah.

Paul Boag: Yeah. For that. Right, next week, Marcus is doing the whole show.

Marcus Lillington.: Am I?

Paul Boag: Because we took … No, I just made that up. Because we're talking about sales and marketing.

Marcus Lillington.: crosstalk 00:50:06 Panic.

Paul Boag: That was brilliant. That actually was just superb. "Am I?"

Marcus Lillington.: crosstalk 00:50:15 Yeah, whatever.

Paul Boag: Well, we're talking about sales and marketing, so I thought you might have quite a lot to say, at least on the sales side of it.

Marcus Lillington.: This one might be a longer show than normal. Because this, all the psychology stuff, yeah. I mean, I know most of the stuff you talked about, you talked about it in the past. It's fascinating, but it's not my pet subject, so I've just let you run. But next week, I won't be able to shut up.

Paul Boag: Yeah. Well, perhaps it's not an entirely silly idea if you drive next week and I jump in on you. I don't know.

Marcus Lillington.: Let's see what the notes are. See what you come up with, Paul.

Paul Boag: Oh, I see. Oh, I've still got to create the notes. Right. So even if you end up driving the show, I've got to create the notes for you. That's not fair. How the hell does he … I ask you to do one thing. He could barely manage his thought for the day. Anyway, we will continue our bickering off the air. Thank you very much for this end to the show, and we'll be back again next week when somebody will be talking about sales and marketing. But until then, thanks for listening. inaudible 00:52:00

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