JUDGING On patterns VS Understanding People

“You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the LORD your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment”

– Deuteronomy 16, New American Standard Bible

When I was a kid, I often asked myself –  why the world is like this? We all have this automatic system which tells us the difference between right and wrong. When we are doing something wrong, we know it. But we do it anyway maybe because we are able to justify it with some made-up reason.

Take a hypothetical example where:-

  • 65% of the thoughts in the brain are self-centered – Thinking about My goals, My life, My feelings, My problems!venn Diagrams
  • 25% are into relationships to the extent of how it affects me. What does Scarlett think of me? Did I impress my boss enough for the next appraisal meeting?
  • But what fascinates me are the remaining 10%. These are the pure thoughts of empathy. It happens in rare events and situations where one think about problems and pains of others. Would you risk your life and jump in the river to save a poor soul?

Therefore, I understand saying that everyone is completely selfish or everybody is super compassionate would be a wrong statement. Different combinations and ratios which are influenced by situations and inherent attitudes give rise to different behaviors which generally fall into following:-

  1. One way Benefit – I want it all
  2. Transactional – exchange of benefits (money vs goods)
  3. Bonds – care for your loved ones
  4. God and status – Doing good, help others and earn God’s favor or status in society
  5. Reciprocity – Hoping that you will help me someday when I need it
  6. Selfless Altruism – Heroes living and dying for causes

The last one is my favorite but it’s so rare that I have only heard stories of it. I am sure you have experienced most of them. But don’t worry. There is nothing good or bad here, just behaviors which form people’s perception of you. And these perceptions could be correct, incorrect or may be outdated. This is what I am interested in. With the infinite amount of information, symbols, expectations, and situations are bombarded on to a person every day which could easily change its personality, then how can others depends upon the yesterday’s judgment about him. He may behave in the same way with others as always (despite in the inside he has changed completely) to avoid confusion but that’s not who he is.


‘All That We Share’, a 3-minute film created by Danish TV station TV2, reflects how quickly we put people in boxes based on cultural stereotype biases. The social message had gone viral on the very day when Trump signed an executive order of banning Muslim countries from entering the United States. It shows that there are a lot of differences that could segment people into different groups,  but they also have a lot in common which binds them together and which could only be understood if one tries to go into depth. Have a glance at the below 3-minute video below to understand:-

It’s impossible to judge based on plain sight. Commonly used theories like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, Segmentation, positioning, Ps of Marketing, game theory etc. all attempt to provide results based on human behavior. But as you read on, you will realize this article questions our blind faith in the effectiveness of such mathematical models and try to throw some light on the importance of subjectivity.

HR Perspective

Patrick Vermeren (President of evidence-based HRM) in TEDx event talks about his mission to find out theoretical soundness of some of the most common HR models and practices. He found that Maslow’s hierarchy of Needs, stages of grief model by Elisabeth Kubler Ross, practices in recruitment-graphology & brain scans, MBTI (Myers Briggs Personality Types) model, 70-20-10 model by Charles Jennings, a practice of giving scores to employees and applying forced ranking etc. are all wrong. While using a tool in a situation, we can either go for custom made or can buy a standard one. But its relevance needs to be checked first in terms of applicability. If employed, is it going to give meaningful results? But here the very existence effectiveness of such models is questioned.

Economics and Marketing Perspective

Rory Sutherland (Executive Creative Director of OgilvyOne) often talks about the power of irrationality. From his arguments in TEDxOxford event, one could easily rule out the usage of scientific models of economics for this purpose as rarely a business hires a chief economics officer. Such models make dangerous assumptions about rationality and human behavior which can never be true in reality – Everybody is a rational actor maximizing its own utility without reference to powerful emotions of mistrust, regret etc., have access to perfect information and are unaffected by the actions of others.

It’s like making an assumption that you really don’t have fashion in clothing. Everybody gets up in the morning everyday and decides personally, without referencing to anybody else of what is fashion – he said.

Can Neuromarketing answer! Or Graphology!

Roger Dooley (writer of Brainfluence: 100 ways of Persuade and convince consumers with Neuromarketing) favors the usage of Neuromarketing to understand emotional reactions instead of relying on market research. But Vaughan Bell (clinical psychologist in NHS and a clinical lecturer at the University of London where she specializes in neuroscience) said:

The idea that the bran can reveal the hidden truths about consumers is misleading

It should be better than the existing ways of measuring opinions and behaviors for it to be useful, which is far fetched right now. This dreamy world was shown in a Porsche ad a few years ago. Here is the video for persuasion based on irrationality.

Don’t you think that such ads should give some sort of disclaimer as are a lot of wrong in this ad with the usage of neuromarketing? Refer NeuroBollocks.

And then there is graphology, which tells the type of person you are, by looking at the spaces in your handwriting or where do you put your dot above the letter ‘i’ or whether you are an introvert based on how you write the letter ‘o’ etc etc. Sounds interesting!! Nothing but a pseudoscience.

Market Research

Well, if existing models won’t work, what if somebody starts from scratch. Could he have a better understanding of people and their behavior? It could work but the math of taking account of every human emotion is very difficult. Using data analytics for simple facts makes more sense and meaningful instead of questions like would a 20% discount make them buy ‘A’ right away? You can’t ask such questions and expect an honest answer at the same time. This would lead to horror stories like the ones of Classic Coke case. This could be tested, rather than asking i.e. ask simple questions based on which you can form a theory and test it in the market to reach a conclusion. This conclusion could be relevant to that market and some similar ones for some time before it gets outdated.

Also, a lot of people fail to articulate their behavior and its reasoning (which could be irrational & unconscious). Sometimes people say something but actually feel the opposite. The key here is ‘empathy’. Steve Jobs in 1997, told Business Week:

“A lot of times, people don’t know what they want……”

Throughout his career, he deliberately avoided market research and relied upon his intuition. And he wasn’t alone! Henry Ford also said it best:

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Therefore, I believe it’s very difficult to have a deeper connect by studying data in an old-fashioned way. From the blog of Seth Godin (author, marketer, and entrepreneur) we understand that:-

Data is essential. Data lets us incrementally improve just about anything. That keyboard in front of you, the sink in the bathroom down the hall, the supply chain for the food you eat—they were all improved 100,000 times over the years, data-driven evolution toward efficiency. It’s not enough.

We also need you to leap. To leap without sufficient data. To go with your humanity and your instincts and your hunches.


My motto is to use insight to make decisions but use data, experience, and knowledge to build insight.

Patrick Dixon (chairman of the trends forecasting company Global Change Ltd) in a conference lecture at premier Google marketing event said:

“Big data = Pattern, Little data = Person; and the most important thing while dealing with people is emotion.”

Hence, data brings you one step closer to understanding and therefore more companies are installing data analytics systems. Even a little data shares a vast amount of information. But instead of blindly following, it should be viewed from different angles and passed through people with different perspectives and backgrounds first. Then, find out which part and how could it be used to create magic.

Let’s not forget we are talking about humans here who have heart and feelings which they don’t reveal to the outside world. Therefore, studying patterns to have a deeper understanding makes sense. But the aim is not to know the item they have bought most but to understand why they have bought it in the first place. What he/she might be feeling at the time of purchase and consumption? To understand this, ‘Data’ is just one of the factors but insight is the key to really understand and connect with people.

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