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What Super Mario Bros teaches us about motivation

in Editor Pick/Media Psychology/Work Psychology by

People who were around during the moon landings often tell me what it was like that day. I don’t really have a moon landing story. But I can tell you about the time I was a kid and I first witnessed the launch of the video game, Super Mario Bros, on my friend’s television.

There were the obstacles, jumps, magic mushrooms and endless falls down bottomless pits. Quirky sounds triumphantly proclaimed growth, progress and victory. Goals were signalled with flags and celebrated with fireworks.

Enemies came from below and above. Each one had its own personality. You could jump on the head of one enemy and squash it but the next one would be covered in spikes. Another would duck its head in its shell, which would then ricochet off a wall and return to knock you over.

Kids all over the world were hurling their controllers around the room desperately trying to get this tiny little Mario sprite to reach the goal of rescuing the princess. Nobody really cared who the princess was or why she was even captured in the first place.

There was no genuine reward other than the pure satisfaction of getting to the end. Forget all the textbooks on motivation. Nintendo had captured it in a bottle, like lightning.


Gamification…not that gimmick again!

Let’s jump forward say, 20 years or so. The term ‘gamification’ took hold and spawned some innovative ‘game-based’ problem-solving approaches as well as setting millions of eyes rolling. It was gimmicky, like a typical management fad and seemed to trivialise our important day-to-day jobs.

My eyes weren’t rolling, though. The eight-year-old in me was grinning. I suspect I wasn’t the only one. Somewhere between adolescence and adulthood—whenever that transition is finalised—we all shift from embracing fun to becoming very serious about work. Work isn’t a video game. It’s business. And business is a serious affair, Dr Duck.

For those of you unfamiliar with gamification, the idea was to use the elements that make a video game so engaging and apply them to the way we go about work. The best gamification has already been applied without you realising it. There are the subtle movements and sounds your phone makes when you activate it. The various apps you use have adopted gamification principles, like including avatars, scores and rating systems.

Fortunately, gamification doesn’t have to be a management fad in my line of work. As a psychologist, I became curious as to the underlying mechanisms that make video games so engaging. Here are a few observations:


Meaningless scores and progress

Video games are addictive because they provide an ongoing sense of progress. I remember adults observing Super Mario when I was a child. They seemed to link the objective of the game to the score in the corner.

The score, however, was never the goal. Unlike earlier video games, like Space Invaders, where high scores were presented on a screen, in Super Mario Bros the score was never compared to other users. It was the mere feeling of progress that was motivating.

Adults filtered the goal of the game with their own orderly logic. There had to be some reward in reaching the end. However, like any good job, the work in of itself was the reward.


Power mushroom sounds

In a recent job I was informed by the IT professionals that office computers shouldn’t have sounds as they are distracting. No doubt this was correct but I grieved the lost possibility of using sound as subtle motivator.

Think about how often sound enriches our experience. There’s the sound of unwrapping a present, the crunch of fresh popcorn at the cinema, the satisfying click of the mouse, the music the pumps through your headphones on the train or when you go for a run.

Think of how much less impact a film like Star Wars would have without the blaring themes of John Williams or Darth Vader’s creepy breathing.

Super Mario Bros was known for its joyful tune as well as little blasts of sound effects for everything you did. Grab a mushroom and the game makes a satisfying sound signifying augmentation. Get hit by a bad guy and the music makes noise representing sorrow and misfortune.

The sounds are like a commentary on the drama and reinforce positive performance.


The bottomless pit learning curves

Super Mario teaches us a lot about learning too. When you first play the game, you die…a lot. It’s annoying but with every new try, you make it a little bit further and there are milestones that help you on the way. Doesn’t that sound like how a workplace should function?

Unfortunately, with most workplaces, we hire ‘qualified’ and ‘competent’ people so we don’t have to go through all that. Human beings are sometimes treated like assets that are installed and then simply operate as per specification.

Imagine what our environments would be like if they were designed to allow people to make lots of mistakes so they could upskill and learn? Think about how you really learn. It’s usually through experimentation, trial and error and asking people. How many workplaces embrace, let alone tolerate, errors?


Nintendo Controller Simplicity

It’s often assumed that when we introduce a new system or procedure, we need to train people and give them documents. This, to me, is a sign we probably haven’t designed the new solution to be as simple as it needs to be.

I recently overheard a conversation in a workplace where someone said, ‘I feel like we are designing everything around human error and that’s just not right.’ I resisted the urge to butt in and say, ‘Yes it is!’ Design is everything.

When I played Super Mario for the first time it was simple. The controller had a few buttons, clearly labelled and designed for your thumbs. You pressed start and off you went, learning along the way.

When was the last time you used a workplace system that worked as well? It was probably your Smart Phone, which was designed with the same mentality as a video game.

This frustrated employee didn’t like the idea of continually designing the system to work around the quirks and limitations of people. People needed to work around the system.

But that’s why video games are so much fun. You aren’t spending all your time trying to work out how to play. Someone’s already spent the time working that out for you. You just start playing.


‘Your princess is in another castle’ humour

What makes something funny? It’s when we expect an outcome but are surprised by an alternative. Video games are often surprising and have a good sense of humour.

Super Mario has various castles to conquer and when you reach the end, you are informed, ‘The princess is in another castle.’ The anti-climax is amusing and triggered many kids to scream and laugh at the television with frustration. Get to the end of the entire game and the princess says ‘…but our princess is in another castle…just kidding.’The developers had fun making this and have designed it so you will have fun too.

In workplaces, we are careful to strip out the jokes and humour from the products and solutions we develop. Sure, we make jokes along the way and have fun. But why do we want to sanitise our documents, systems and surroundings from good old fashioned fun? When was the last time you read a communication from an executive or CEO that wasn’t carefully crafted and devoid of any humour?

Gamification re-introduced some of these ‘fun’ elements to work. When it is done well, the fun and gaming elements are integrated seamlessly. When it’s done badly, it results in gimmicky trophies, medals and scores being slapped on a dashboard. As with any workplace initiative, gamification also needs a lot of attention and effort to make it work. Humour can be a part of a solution. It just needs to be done well.


Pokemon Go…back to work

I’ve never really liked the term work-life balance. It implies work is something we have to do so we can enjoy our real lives.

People like to quarantine fun and work. Video games are fun and need to be limited. Growing up, we had time limits on how long we could play a game. After all, the game was robbing my time that could have been better spent on more important stuff like exercise and school. Who would have thought that as an adult I would be able to use and apply all those wasted hours on Super Mario?

Today, I’ve noticed the same fear of smart phones and tablets. There was the probably the same fear of television and no doubt radios and story books. Recently, there was world-wide enthusiasm as well as condemnation of Pokemon Go. Although I didn’t jump on either bandwagon my only thought on it was the eight-year-old in me—‘That looks like fun.’

Meanwhile, I watch as my daughters learn from YouTube and effortlessly navigate their Ipad. They’ve learned to create incredible playdough, beautiful artwork and craft from the online media.

Like video games, I’m not so fearful that they are wasting their time. I am more curious as to how all of these amazing technologies will be further integrated into our lives in the future. My eldest has already started to ask me to show her how to create drawings using the computer.

The technology isn’t a distraction. It’s progress.

Thank you for reading this blog but my insights are in another castle…just kidding.

Seven Dwarf leadership styles. Which one are you?

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

My first job ended with a triumphant walk out. I threw my Safeway name badge on the ground and never returned (except to buy things later).

This was not to be a trend in my career nor was it a sign of my immature youth. It was in response to a manager who lost his temper and decided to grab me by the arm, drag me across the store and berate me in front of customers. Let’s call him Grumpy.

Grumpy had an up and down personality. He was volatile one day and gregarious the next. Research suggests that an unpredictable personality is worse than someone who’s just difficult or unfair all the time. Uncertainty is the best friend of anxiety and worry. At least with a bad tempered person, you know you’ll be unhappy.

On this particular occasion, he was grumpy because someone had been stealing all the painkillers from Aisle One. When I approached him, he was standing in the corner of the aisle on a covert operation to catch the thief red handed.

Apparently, when I interrupted the critical mission, he thought it was appropriate to drag me across the store and give me a dressing down in front of the customers. I walked away, a little shook-up and a bit angry and proceeded to go back to work.

Grumpy wandered by a few minutes later with a jovial smile. ‘False alarm’, he said.

It was only when a younger colleague joked about the incident and Grumpy’s temper, that all the lightbulbs in Aisle four went off. ‘That wasn’t right!’, said a young pre-doctor/pre-psychologist (i.e. me). The badge fell to the ground and I only ever returned to stock up on bread and milk.

Then the phone calls came through. Grumpy was terrified I’d report him to Safeway management because he was under probation for sexually harassing a female colleague at another store.

In retrospect, it may have been appropriate to report him but, like most people, you just want to move on to something new and forget the past.

The only benefit of being man handled and embarrassed was Grumpy gave me a glowing recommendation when I applied for my next job.

It would be easy to think that Grumpy was the exception. With all the managers—senior and otherwise—across the globe, true leadership is a pretty important but is hard to find. Here are a few leadership styles that I’ve observed.


Sleepy leaders are those that are essentially asleep at the wheel as the workplace and world around them changes. They are personified by the worst kind of decision—indecision. Ideas are brought to them to improve their business and they fail to see the potential. Poor performers pass under their radar and may even be promoted. The sleepy leader is uninvolved and inspires apathy from their followers.


Sneezy represents the distracted leader who becomes so preoccupied with their immediate circumstances they are as effective as someone having a sneezing fit. I remember one leader who just couldn’t sit still in a meeting to hear a briefing. He’d wander around the room, interrupt you with side stories and even massage your shoulders. I used to liken it to trying to have a discussion whilst someone is juggling and swallowing swords in front of you.


The bashful leader is simply lacking self-confidence and steel. I worked with a colleague who felt deeply uncomfortable when their manager confided in them about how they didn’t feel like they could lead. This manager would worry, feel ineffective when they made decisions and were concerned that their team didn’t respect them. Every leader has doubts, nerves, and fears. A leader should be self-aware and honest but, let’s face it, we don’t want to work for someone who doubts themselves all the time.


The dopey leader simply makes poor decisions or does not have the subject matter expertise to have an educated opinion. I recall a manager who was facilitating a workshop after a major safety incident. The manager commanded the room and started writing a list of punitive and ineffective actions on the whiteboard. They were commanding from a place of ignorance. A sensible leader needs to defer to the experts and facilitate. A dopey leader makes the decisions from a place of complete ignorance.


Everyone loves the happy leader who inspires laughter and fun in the workplace. At best, these leaders can help motivate and promote a positive culture. At worst, however, they may not always be realistic and can even side-step issues that drain their energy levels. When I worked in the public service, I observed many a happy leader worn down over time by their worried, more conservative colleagues who wanted to tackle the difficult issues. They would sometimes joke or make light of a situation as their concerned counterpart was more interested in getting an outcome than feeling good about it.


Then there’s Doc, the natural leader. They don’t necessarily have any particular characteristics that stand out other than the fact that everyone listens and follows them. Workplace psychologists have long studied the various traits, styles, motivations, and thinking that goes into a ‘Doc’.

Docs don’t worry too much but worry just enough. They’re happy enough but happiness isn’t their priority. They’ve got the smarts but rely on their peers as well. They take action and have the guts to do the job without being too overconfident.

Oh, and they usually don’t man handle their employees.

Leadership styles may predict who will win the Game of Thrones

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology/Uncategorised/Work Psychology by

Game-of-ThronesLast year I blogged about the different leadership styles portrayed on Game of Thrones. Here’s an update for Season 6 now several leaders have been eliminated. Warning, spoilers ahead.

Who’s ultimately going to win the Game of Thrones? Using Goleman and colleagues’ leadership styles, this infographic displays the leadership characteristics of the Game of Thrones characters. It also shows their liklihood of winning the iron throne.

These leadership styles are adopted by most of us from time to time. We can also use more than one style depending on the circumstances. Here’s a summary of the different styles:

The Coach

Coaches build teams and make use of their strengths. They work on developing others, such as when Ned Stark arranges for his daughter, Arya Stark, to have swordplay lessons. Adopters of the coaching style are: Ned Stark, Rob Stark, Jon Snow


Democratic leaders seek and represent the views and opinions of others. For example, Jon Snow demonstrates this style when he protects the views of a perceived enemy–the Wildlings. Adopters of the demographic style: Jon Snow, Doran Martell, Lord Varys (possible misdirection).

The Pace-setter

The pace-setter takes the bull by the horns and leads the way. They show his or her followers how to achieve their goals. The pace-setter is represents a hands style of leadership. For example, when Ned Stark insists on personally delivering executions with his trusty sword. Adopters of the pace-setter style are: Ned Stark, Rob Stark, Jon Snow, Robert Baratheon (in his prime), Stannis Baratheon, Arya Stark


Affiliative leaders influence by building relationships. They are motivated to unite people to achieve their goals, such as when Robert Baratheon reunites with Ned Stark to merge their families. Adopters of the affiliative style are: Jamie Lannister, Robert Baratheon, Sansa Stark, Tyrion Lannister, Arya Stark, Daenarys Targaryen, Tommen Baratheon


In Westeros, all leaders need to adopt some level of command to control the chaos. Commanding leaders set directives and demand compliance. When it’s not present, such as with Tommen Baratheon, other characters manipulate and take advantage. When it’s too excessive, such as with Joffrey Baratheon, other characters plot their downfall. Adopters of the commanding style are: Tywin Lannister, Tyrion Lannister (as Hand of the King), Cercei Lannister, Joffrey Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon, Daenarys Targaryen, Ned Stark, Robb Stark, Jon Snow, Roose Bolton, Ramsay Bolton, Theon Greyjoy


Visionary leaders align people by setting an inspiring goal for the future. Daenerys Targaryen aligns the people with the prospect of freedom from slavery. Brandon Stark drives support with his prophetic visions of the ‘black crow’.Top adopters of the commanding style:

Daenarys Targaryen, Brandon Stark, Lord Varys (has a vision but is unclear), Littlefinger (perhaps), Tywin Lannister (the Lannister legacy drives him)

Failed leadership styles

Failed leaders largely adopted more commanding styles of leadership. Many of them, such as Ned and Rob Stark not only commanded but led from the front as coaches. Nevertheless, these styles appear to have short lived success in the world of Westeros where the politics demand a focus on relationships.

It is likely that top adopters of the commanding style, such as Cercei Lannister, and Ramsay Bolton will not persevere based on the trajectory of their characters on the show. Their one dimensional approach makes them powerful but unpopular.

Successful leaders in Game of Thrones

Top contenders of the iron throne are affiliative and visionary. For example,Tyrion Lannister tempers a commanding and forthright style with a warm and kind heart. Daenerys drives leadership through vision, compassion and a firm hand. Jon Snow balances his command with his relationships and willingness to get involved, like his brother and father.

Outside Chances

However, Game of Thrones author, George RR Martin, likes to surprise us. Some outside chances for success come in the form of true visionaries like Varys, Littlefinger and Brandon Stark. These characters are not traditional leaders. They work in the shadows and behind the scenes. But they operate as meta-players, seeing the game for what it is and adopting a longer term strategy.

Brandon is now viewing Westeros through the eyes of the trees. Littlefinger is manipulating entire families to feud so that he can use the chaos to his advantage. Varys appears to be preparing Westeros for a new leader from abroad.

‘Winner’ of the Iron Throne?

Jon Snow is the most rounded of the characters. He is democratic, affiliative, commanding, pace-setting, and coaching. My prediction is that now he is reborn, he will become more of a visionary, and lead the charge forward to secure the iron throne or remove it entirely.

To Russia without much love…why you need to be careful with freelancer websites

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

‘No, Nicholas, this will not do. Pay me my money now!’  I was being pursued by a tricky and unassuming Russian developer. I met him via one of the popular platforms Airtasker.

In my naiveté, I approached a freelancer online to do a job. I wasn’t sure how much it would cost but the Airtasker app demanded I enter a price so that the freelancer and I could get talking. So, I put in a tentative $300 and figured we could negotiate the price in person. The title: ‘Quotation to build an app’.

The Russian and I met for a coffee. He spent the session highlighting his amazing accomplishments in being able to expose frauds, fix problems caused by incompetents, and drain every last dollar from the customer.

One example he gave was building a simple app for a florist to use with their customers. He built it and the florist called, alarmed, and said it worked only once. The Russian smiled: ‘They never specified they wanted more than one customer, Nicholas…so they had to pay more for that.’ His cheeky grin reminded me of some strange character in a Coen Brothers movie.

When I inquired what he knew about cloud technology, he scoffed at my ignorance. ‘Nicholas, why do you want cloud? When you can have…THIS!’ Waving a flash drive triumphantly, he declared: ‘I always know where my data is, Nicholas.’

Shortly after my meeting with the roguish Russian, I received an email summarising his price. He would charge me thousands. I had already decided to avoid him altogether by this point.

A week later, he had closed the task and requested the $300. Apparently, the money is kept in a sort of website limbo where he can’t touch it but nor can I until we agree the task is satisfactorily delivered.

‘You haven’t even started the task let alone finished it. All you have done has sent me a quote,’ I replied. ‘But, Nicholas I gave you the quote. Now you have confirmed it with this message in writing that I have done so. The task was for providing a quotation.’

‘There’s clearly a misunderstanding,’ I retorted.

‘No, Nicholas, there is no misunderstanding. I am here to help you and I can’t say a task is not complete when it is.’

So, now I was in a pickle. The Russian had used my words against me, taking my task literally and pulled one of his shifty moves on me.

Then the threats began. The Russian informed me that he had now stolen my idea and sold it to many customers. He had contacted my ‘boss’ too, apparently, and would get his ‘300 bucks’ no matter what.

Meanwhile, the little Airtasker ads with friendly faces and Airtasker logo t-shirts continued to pop up on my Facebook account, promising low costs, great quality and such easy, friendly service. Clearly Dr Duck’s experience was the exception.

I then transferred the online debate to Airtasker, who forwarded me on to another group Promise Pay—an ironic name for either me or the Russian, whoever might win. Apparently, the Russian was technically correct. No doubt he had entered into his own online debate with Promise Pay and bamboozled them like the unfortunate florist.

Months went by and Promise Pay sent me copy and paste responses, often with strange cut and paste errors. They refused to discuss the matter over the phone. Evidently, a conversation is a service they do not offer.

The policy would change from time to time too. One time it was a 24-hour countdown style manoeuvre where my funds would be sent to the Russian as the decision was final.

Then it was a more conciliatory, ‘We will only ever transfer when you are completely satisfied.’

Eventually, I took the fight to the Supreme Court of social media, Facebook, and posted my disagreeable experience so that the rest of the world could see.

My friends chuckled that this shifty Russian developer had manipulated and run rings around a registered psychologist. Again, it was starting to play out like a Coen Brothers film. All we needed was a chase scene and for the poor florist to make a cameo appearance in the second act with an axe.

But it all ended with a whimper and not a bang. After months of posts to the Airtasker page, I received the first non-copy and paste response in months from Promise Pay. ‘Nicholas, how much would you be willing to pay to have this settled?’

I was happy to settle. The Russian got some of his bucks and they were well earned too. A coffee conversation, an email, and countless threatening messages. If it was his real job, you’d give him a raise.


Dr Nicholas Duck is a blogger and founder of Opposite


What I learned selling shoes at Myer

in Editor Pick/Work Psychology by

‘Hi, I’m after a pair of shoes. Preferably in black.’ I’d heard this one a few times. I was, of course, surrounded by black shoes in one of my first part-time jobs at Myer.

There were also many times when a customer would explain how his feet were different sizes…like almost every customer who came in. I also lost count of how many people asked me about the perils of foot odour. Fortunately, 99 per cent of the feet that walked through the department were odourless.

Although I did not realise it at the time, I had learned more than how to convert a US into a UK size. It was five years of workplace boot camp. Here are a few memories:

Corporate programs are not usually very good

Too often I sat in training and corporate programs highlighting impressive new changes on the way. There was the time I was instructed to look longingly into my colleague’s eyes for exactly one minute. We were being taught about the importance of eye contact. Unfortunately, my colleague was deeply uncomfortable with this activity and literally spent the awkward minute staring off to the side.

We were then instructed about the new ‘three metre’ rule where you must offer a customer assistance if they come within your radius of three metres. My fellow employees scoffed at this behind closed doors, saying it would make serving one customer impossible if they were stopping to offer every other customer help on the way back to the shoe reserve.

I kind of liked the idea of these activities but always found them a bit patronising and forced. In the past, I’d always preferred to work with leaders who got to know you and took to the floor with you rather than the ones educating you from a distance with elaborate programs.

Workplace protocols almost always end up getting in the way

One of the most annoying times in any workplace is where office protocols fly in the face of logic. We had one new Christmas casual rock up for work a few times and then completely disappear. HR called him and he’d say he was on his way in and then he’d never show up. He had decided to simply have a bit of fun with them, leaving us in the lurch.

The protocols and processes within the organisation kept him on the roster, even though it meant we’d be guaranteed to be a person down on our busiest days. It seems the rosters were automated and because this employee had technically never resigned, the roster would continue to allocate him hours.

Workplaces make innovation too hard

It’s the mantra of most organisations these days. Innovate! Disrupt! All ideas are good ideas! However, most organisations constrain new ideas by removing any kind of freedom to be innovative. In our trusty shoe department we were not allowed to touch the displays. This was the role of a ‘visual merchandiser’.

The chaos in organising and administering the shoes reserve during peak periods often resulted in large boxes of odd shoes every few months. Often, the different styles were differentiated by tiny graphics or codes, which meant they got mixed up and were harder to find.

On one particular day, I had an idea to colour code all the different styles in the shoes reserve so it was easier to tell the shoes apart. When shoes supplier arrived one day she was so impressed with how easy it was to find a style, making her job easier as well.

I took the idea further and renamed the shoes with long codes after Seinfeld characters. A ‘Kramer’ in a size 10 was easier to find than shoe 22034527728 when shoe 22034527732 was sitting right next to it.

Meanwhile, my own manager simply pulled me aside and said, ‘Can you stop scribbling on the boxes?’.

It’s not all about the customer

After another corporate training program, we were shown a video of a fishmonger’s shop where every employee was dancing, motivated and happy. The message wasn’t exactly clear but I guess management were trying to say, ‘Why can’t you be more like them?’

I’m not sure what inspired the fishmongers. I also agree it would be great to work somewhere with that kind of buzz (but perhaps not the smell). I remember the union loyalist muttering quietly under his moustache, ‘They just don’t get it do they?’ regarding the middle managers.

Another of my colleagues worked full time and after several years of Christmas ‘muzak’, like Jazz in the House, he had enough, asking management to turn the music down. They counselled him and suggested that maybe there was a deeper issue that needed to be addressed.

What my colleagues were trying to express was that they found the environment demotivating. Corporate programs were all about delighting customers but never about improving the morale of staff.

Choose recognition rewards wisely

In many ways, the old pat on the back is the best reward. If you try to provide a tangible reward it may simply draw attention to how much an organisation is willing to spend on its employees.

In one particular year we had made some huge profit. I believe it was about $1million in one weekend. No doubt, this was across all stores in Australia.

As I exited the store that evening, the managers were standing there with party hats and handing out our prize: a mint lolly we could take from a basket. I think it was great to recognise and involve staff but the appearance of cheap mints being handed out was hardly a major motivational tool.

Next thing I knew staff were grumbling about how a $1million profit translated into a few dollars for mints.

Workplaces are filled with characters

I worked with a lot of characters. There was that union loyalist who stood cross-armed at the back of the shoe reserve only occasionally serving a customer. He knew his rights as an employee, always encouraging staff to avoid wearing the standard dress attire (‘They can’t make you.’) and to dob in managers who would state otherwise.

There was the quirky, long-time employee who had worked in shoes for what must have been well over a decade. He’d wander about laughing hysterically at his homophobic, sexist and racist remarks, sometimes occurring all at once or in combination.

One Christmas we had two trainee doctors sign up for the extra cash. One was easy-going, funny and a hard worker. The other thought the work was beneath him and was quick to cut people down with an arrogant comment. These attitudes probably told me much about the kind of doctor each would become.

As with all first jobs the most memorable things were the friends and the memories of working alongside them during the Christmas periods and over a few hundred weekends. Today many of us still stay in touch. The best man at my wedding was a guy I met at Myer.

The shoe department also supported many on their journey to their next careers, including two registered psychologists, a surgeon, a talented arts and craft entrepreneur, and a weatherman.

These days when I am working to improve organisations I always start at the point of the person who actually has to do the real work. If you can’t motivate the frontline everything else falls in a heap.

Oh, and I can easily convert a US size into a UK size.

Please forward this blog to anyone who passes by within three metres. And don’t forget the eye contact!


Dr Nicholas Duck is a blogger and founder of Opposite


5 times Disney used the force with Star Wars: The Force Awakens

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology/Media Psychology/Work Psychology by


A long time ago in a blog far far away…

Star Wars: The Force Awakens made one billion dollars at a light speed of 12 parsecs, sorry, days. In doing so, it has further expanded the Disney Empire to a size that would turn Darth Vader’s mask green with envy.

Not before too long, Stars Wars has obliterated Titanic’s record like a Death Star and is currently force choking the life out of Avatar.

Success like this comes along every few years for the movie industry. Depending on what figure you like to use—no. of tickets, prices adjusted for inflation—there’s no doubt Disney has been using the force in its production and marketing strategies.

Here are five simple strategies that must have the Disney execs fist pumping to John William’s force theme…



Disney’s goal was to make a ‘retro’ film. This term basically means they wanted to restore the connection to the original Star Wars trilogy.

Humans in this galaxy reflect on our past with nostalgia. It’s believed the emotions and thoughts associated with nostalgia, help us derive meaning from our existence.

The familiar faces, music, and even similar ideas and scripts has bought them kudos with Star Wars fans who celebrated the return of their favourite film franchise with multiple viewings.

Cultural Icons


Another way of connecting with our past is through cultural icons like Darth Vader and Harrison Ford’s character Han Solo. Director JJ Abrams was clever in introducing the melted mask of Darth Vader—who perished in Return of the Jedi made almost 30 years ago—in promotional trailers, toys, etc.

Cultural icons are believed to help us connect with our society and culture. The Darth Vader mask is symbolic of blockbuster films and the broader entertainment culture of Western society. In the film, the mask is a symbol for the martyred villain, Darth Vader.

Our celebration of such icons is much like a modern-day religion. Recent psychological theories suggest that they can go as far as to make us feel less anxious about death because they help us feel more connected with something bigger and more enduring than ourselves.

Basically, it’s Earth’s alternative to turning into an immortal blue force ghost.

Mystery & Surprise

One of the more recognised events in the Star Wars saga was the reveal in The Empire Strikes Back that Darth Vader is Luke’s father. At the time of its release in 1980, it was a lot easier to keep this secret to shock the audience.

The modern audience often walks in to a film having watched multiple trailers and read spoilers for films online. Disney was notoriously secretive about the Force Awakens, in particular about keeping the mysterious absence of Mark Hamill’s character, Luke Skywalker, under wraps.

Mystery and surprise are no stranger to successful companies that know how to intrigue their customers. For example, Steve Jobs enjoyed delighting audiences by declaring ‘just one more thing…’ during Apple announcements, before revealing a surprising new product or feature.


Surprise is considered to be one of only four core emotions we experience as humans. So it’s no surprise than when we experience this emotion, we find a special event even more memorable and are more likely to share our experience.



Star Wars branding is so extensive that there’s even a Darth Vader toaster that literally brands each slice of toast with the logo ‘Star Wars’.

As successful as ticket sales have been, Disney have been especially dedicated to exhausting the pull of the familiar Star Wars brand and its beloved original cast.

It has been slapped on a series of spin-off films as well as the obligatory figurines and toy lightsabers. But it extends to canned corn, body wash, runners, band aids, mascara, Star Wars themed parks and bottled water. There’s even a Darth Vader watch for $28,500!

Disney knows that the ticket sales are only bought once or twice. The real game is in the long-term merchandising of their new brand, which is set to make $5 billion in its first year. The brand is currently circulating across the galaxy (or planet) like an army of Stormtroopers.

Customer Focus

As obvious and as boring as it is to highlight the importance of understanding the customer, it’s amazing how easy it is to forget and become overconfident like the evil Emperor from Return of the Jedi.

George Lucas showed us what happens when you indulge in your own creative ideas—as he did with the Star Wars prequel trilogy—instead of listening to the customer, the notoriously obsessive Star Wars fans.

The reviews and fan reaction were never kind. Fans weren’t interested in trade blockades, senate debates, and overly cheesy romance stories.

Although financially successful, the films never reached the cultural significance of his earlier trilogy and are still widely criticised today.

Disney, however, aren’t wedded to artistic integrity. It just wanted to make a crowd pleasing film. This difference in philosophies later had Lucas jest that he felt like he sold his children to ‘white slavers’.

I’m surprised he didn’t say he turned them over to the darkside or, at least Jabba the Hutt. Perhaps Disney also acquired the rights to his Star Wars jokes too?

6 times to try the opposite at work

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Don’t trust your anxious gut

It can often be difficult to differentiate between our gut—our intuition—and anxiety. Intuition helps us detect patterns and leads to moments of insight. It can guide us through difficult interpersonal and personal issues.

Many individuals, however, believe they are trusting their gut when they are really being manipulated by their internal worries and fears. Unlike intuition, anxiety narrows our focus, makes us fret about the near future, and leads to avoidance behaviour.

Anxiety keeps you in jobs that are making you miserable. It makes you avoid public speaking and standing up for yourself. It creates a wall between you and others out of fear of embarrassment.

When you experience anxiety, your best course of action is to do the opposite of what the anxiety is telling you.

You should go for that new career, speak up, and lower your guard with others.

Start the day with something challenging

Most of us ease into the year, the month, the week and the day like we are getting into a hot bath. It’s easier to email a few people or file some documents then move into something challenging once we’ve warmed up.

The opposite is to jump straight into something challenging.

Indeed, research suggests that when we start each day with a couple of tasks that are mentally demanding we are more alert and attentive later in the day.

Allow yourself to feel sad

I recently watched a video taken at my daughter’s kinder, summarising the year. The video solely focused on happy moments, as you’d expect. No parent wants to see a video depicting children crying, sitting alone, or looking sad.

We like to quarantine sadness as an anomaly or deviation from the norm. Mild sadness and dejection, however, serve a purpose to help us reflect on our shortcomings and plan a different approach.

Furthermore, forcing ourselves to be positive has the unintended consequence of making us feel miserable—called the ironic rebound effect, where the emotion we try to suppress returns more intensely than before.

The opposite here would be to use a flat mood to your advantage. Instead of fighting it, embrace it. Slow down, reflect and plan your next steps.

Stop monitoring people

Most organisations demand compliance but lose track of all the written and unwritten rules of the workplace. Workplaces become onerous and confusing places and before long individuals aren’t even sure what’s expected of them.

When individuals feel obliged to complete an activity or follow a rule they need to exert more mental effort.

This effort can ultimately lower motivation. This means that when the supervisor isn’t checking, employees bypass these boring and disengaging rules. Monitoring, therefore, increases to stamp out the non-compliance and around we go.

In contrast, when individuals truly value an activity they don’t need to expend as much mental energy. The task doesn’t require self-control.

So, do the opposite when you have a compliance problem. Reduce the monitoring and cut back on the rules. Instead, identify what employees value.

Two ears one mouth

It seems logical in the workplace to constantly strive to demonstrate your worth and ability. We might highlight our accomplishments or actively try to solve a business problem and show results.

But research shows that we are more influential when we shut up and listen. Additionally, when we adopt an open approach to learning, rather than performing, we appear less threatening and are liked more by our colleagues.

Importantly, we also learn more too. So, in doing the opposite, you should always be thinking ‘What can I learn?’ rather than ‘Look what I can do.’

Never worry…ever

Worrying is intoxicating. It makes us feel like we have more control over future events than we really do.

But debating with yourself and thinking about all the things that could go wrong is almost always a waste of time. Worries rarely come true and even when they do we learn more from the problems anyway.

Do the opposite next time you are stewing over a difficult problem. Try the opposite and enjoy the liberation when you realise you don’t have to worry anymore.

Dr Nicholas Duck is a blogger and founder of Opposite 

How do we understand our customers when we barely understand ourselves?

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What if you were running a busy café, churning through five customers every few minutes as they defined to you their very precise needs?

‘A really, really hot Chai latte.’

‘A long black with a dash of milk.’

‘Soy flat white, large.’

‘Just a latte, please.’

You would be excused for assuming that the key to success is ensuring you get their orders right in a timely fashion. If you could execute their orders faster and more accurately, then surely this would encourage customers to return again and again?

Starbucks had a similar idea but, obviously, on a much larger scale. In a memo that I read recently, and widely circulated around the internet, the CEO, Howard Schultz, reflected on a series of ‘mistakes’ he made regarding his customers.

‘When we went to automatic espresso machines we solved a major problem in terms of speed of service and efficiency. At the same time we overlooked the fact that we would remove much of the romance and theatre that was in play with the use of the La Marzocca machines.

‘The need for fresh roasted coffee in every North American city… moved us toward the decision… for flavor locked packaging…  We achieved fresh roasted bagged coffee, but at what cost? The loss of aroma — perhaps the most powerful non-verbal signal we had in our stores’


So, as another blog recently questioned, did process improvement destroy Starbucks?

Immediately, defenders of ‘Lean’ and other process improvement approaches zeroed in on the true failure of Schultz.

‘Another case of product-thinking leaders forgetting the experience-feeling customers.’

‘A humble example of the unintended consequences that can arise when organisations fail to connect process improvement to the voice of the customer.’


Yes, it’s the dreaded customer problem again. Schultz forgot that process improvement is only a genuine improvement if the customer is also happily purchasing.

Of course this is right. Yet how many of us would have predicted that a more efficient coffee machine would have affected the romantic experience of visiting a coffee shop?

Whose instinct would predicted that the fresher flavour in vacuum sealed bags would have the unfortunate by-product of removing the pleasant coffee aroma from the café?

Understanding the customer is hard. It isn’t about simply deploying good process improvement principles and greater vigilance in understanding customers.

For every customer wanting a coffee experience there’s also the backpacker who just wants a clean place to use a restroom. For every customer who loves the romance of the La Marzocca machine, there’s a tradie or corporate employee anxiously checking the time on their phone because they’ve got appointments.

If we were honest and reflected, like Schultz, we’d acknowledge that our own needs are difficult to understand let alone the needs of others.

For example, we may think we have an intrinsic desire to stay fit and healthy, but that weekly fast food and alcohol consumption reveals our hypocritical nature. We purchase novels that we never read, upgrade technology that collects dust, and change our minds about the colour of paint on the wall.

We start new, wonderful careers that never seem to fulfil us and start and stop relationships over seemingly trivial problems. We spend time in therapy or drown our sorrows with friends. On other days we feel on top of the world for no apparent reason.

Our own needs are tricky—often unconscious and paradoxical—and not all that apparent to ourselves let alone others.

How should Schultz have gone about introducing these new changes?

Asking people about their preferences is fraught with problems. A customer may like to think they are complicated and unique, thus deserving of a fine, complex beverage. In reality, the café may simply be in a convenient location.

In contrast, a customer may think they aren’t too influenced by smell and experience and will merely declare their coffee preference is based on some utilitarian cost and convenience.

Measuring satisfaction is also difficult. A customer may say they’re satisfied so not to offend. I occasionally visited a café where the barista was so committed to making me the perfect coffee, he kept insisting I didn’t need to go anywhere else.

‘Just try this one and if it’s no good, tell me and I make it better!’

This would appear to be a fantastic recipe to appeal to the customer as it’s all about getting to the heart of what I wanted.

However, he was so overly enthusiastic I simply felt embarrassed and bullied into providing positive feedback. I wasn’t after a romance. I just wanted my coffee.

We could shake our heads and point the finger at this barista for failing to understand me, the customer.

Perhaps he should have realised I didn’t want all that attention every time I ordered a coffee. He should have worked out that I didn’t want to feel pressured.

Truth is, I’m not really too sure what café I like or what he might have found if he kept peeling the layers away. I’m not really sure I want to have a monogamous relationship with a café anyway.

Upon reflection, like Shultz it might be easier in the long run to invest in an efficient coffee machine rather than the fluctuating and unreliable nature of the customer. At least the little experiment will flush out what your customer wants.

Dr Nicholas Duck is a blogger and founder of Opposite 

7 things Seinfeld taught us about work

in Editor Pick/Film & TV Psychology/Work Psychology by

Although often referred to as a ‘show about nothing’, I seem to have derived many life lessons from Seinfeld. Here are some that resonate with me.

Faux pas are not trivial


‘I’m sorry, I can’t shake your hand right now. It’s germs.’ – Mr Lippman

When Chinese investors plan to save the company Elaine works for, they are quickly offended when her boss refuses to shake their hands. However, he was simply trying to avoid passing on the germs from the flu he had contracted. This simple misunderstanding results in the deal being broken and Elaine out of work.

Although we like to believe that our professional relationships will overcome trivial personal misunderstandings, this is not often the case. Misunderstandings, errors, and mistakes often tell us more about people and the complex interpersonal dynamics than the logical structures, rules, and stated values of an organisation.

A fantastic product trumps good customer service


‘No soup for you!’ – Soup Nazi

We are constantly reminded about the importance of the customer and customer service. Sometimes the quality of the product seems to be overlooked or assumed.

Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi was infamous for his adversarial nature. However, his product—delicious soup—was so popular customers would line up around the block to simply get a taste. They overlooked the poor service because they wanted his superior product regardless of his offensive and belligerent nature.

We often get frustrated as customers when we are inconvenienced or when the salesperson doesn’t take the time to help us. But maybe this reaction is due to a belief that the product isn’t quite what we want and, therefore, is deserving of some excellent sales and support?

Don’t be too resilient

George annoyed

‘When you look annoyed all the time, people think you’re busy’ – George Costanza

I had a colleague once who was frustrated because she believed she could get work completed more efficiently yet seemingly others who took forever were perceived as hard workers because the workload was stressing them out.

George Costanza has this revelation when he realises that constantly presenting yourself as stressed and overworked can lead to colleagues perceiving you as a hard worker. This doesn’t mean pretending to be busy but it may mean you aren’t too quick to downplay the effort and sacrifices you made to get the job done.

Don’t just be an ‘ideas’ person


‘It’s a pizza place where you make your own pie!’

Kramer is always out of work but seemingly continually investing in new ideas, like a pizza shop where you make your own pizza or the development of a rubber bladder for oil tankers. He never quite lands success and the ideas come and go day by day.

This concept, called randomising, is where you find yourself spread thinly across multiple ideas and projects. The limited time spent on each project means none of the ideas are likely to succeed and, worse yet, people can’t quite work out what value you provide.

It’s hard to be yourself in large organisations


‘But I finally realized what’s missing, in my life. Structure.’ – Kramer

Two characters in Seinfeld—Jerry and Kramer—pursue their own agendas. Jerry is a comedian. Kramer is an actor/entrepreneur. These characters spend much of their time being exactly who they want to be. They are never governed or set prescribed rules or boundaries.

Meanwhile, the other two characters—Elaine and George—are always at the mercy of their quirky bosses in large corporations. They tiptoe around office politics. They feign respect to their superiors. They also find their careers suddenly cut short. Even with this structure, they ironically have less control of their destinies than the unstructured lives of the comedian, Jerry, and his quirky neighbour, Kramer.

Make a gracious exit

George quits

“That’s it! This is it! I’m done! Through! It’s over! I’m gone! Finished! Over! I will never work for you again!” – George Costanza

When George decides to quit his job, he derides his boss, calling him a ‘laughing stock’ and storms out of the office. Although satisfying for George, he finds it difficult to get work and decides to return with his tail between his legs. His former boss, however, merely ridicules him and George becomes jobless with his dignity robbed as well.

Exiting a role can be difficult but it is never a sensible idea to leave with hard feelings. Workplaces don’t always make the best calls because they are imperfect places but you may end up working with the same people again one day.

If something isn’t working, do the opposite


‘It all became very clear to me sitting out there today that every decision I’ve ever made in my entire life has been wrong. My life is the complete opposite of everything I want it to be.’ – George Costanza

When nothing seemed to be going right for George Costanza, he has a revelation that perhaps every instinct he’s ever had was wrong. He decides that by doing the opposite might yield him more success. All of sudden, his contrary actions land him in a relationship with a new job.

Many organisations have experimented with doing things differently. Innovations have come from breaking the rigid rules of the workplace. For example, cloud computing contrasts the dated view that information needs to be stored in a filed, physical location.

In recognition of this disruptive and creative idea, I’ve started a business and named it Opposite.

Opposite Logo

Are safety practices scientific?

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Don’t be too quick to take on the advice in this blog. Avoid nodding in agreement or giving it more credibility than it deserves. It is, like most blogs, the views and observations of one person tied into a convenient narrative.

You may feel more at ease agreeing or listening to my advice if I said it was based on research or established empirical findings.

Perhaps a four quadrant model or a series of circles with arrows pointing might also lend it some credibility and closure.


Mysteriously, the one thing that is likely to reduce your confidence is if I use the word ‘theory’.

Theories are often perceived as intangible, unreliable, and untrustworthy. The term is also used to try to discredit ideas. For example, some individuals attempt to trivialise the overwhelming evidence supporting evolution by saying ‘it’s just theory’.

It’s a suggestion that you have come up with an idea but don’t really have much in the way to back it up.

A scientific theory, in reality, is the result of extensive research based on many observations, experiments, and peer reviews. In science, theories help researchers consolidate studies, identify patterns and explain exceptions to predictions.

Theories are the result of research being tested, refined, and, yes, even discredited.

What scientific theories drive safety?

In safety, processes, procedures, models, frameworks, ‘evidence-based’ approaches, methods and risk matrices are preferred as they are perceived as being more practical. We often lose sight of which theories, if any, helped guide these approaches.

Observations and viewpoints from individuals—and heaven forbid blogs like this—with opinions are also valued.

At best this type of information can be useful but at worst it signals we understand exactly why a problem occurs and how to fix it.

To illustrate, let’s take the well-known James Reason’s error model. It can be used to categorise errors and breaches to rules. For example, employees often circumvent procedures to maintain workplace productivity—a violation for organisational gain.

One reason we fail to prevent future such issues is that we don’t often land an explanation as to why the behaviour occurred. It always seems to boil down to a generic explanation like ‘there is culture of rule-breaking’ or that the process and system was not followed.

We rarely stop to contemplate whether the practices we’ve put in place should have worked in the first place.

Applying theory to safety

What if we applied an approach that is based on a contemporary theory supported by recent evidence and application?

For example, regulatory focus theory explains that the person who broke the rules to increase productivity was adopting a ‘promotion focus’, which means they were motivated by achievements, accomplishments and other rewarding outcomes.

This theory explains that we all adopt a promotion focus from time to time but some individuals are more prone to doing so. Some individuals are more disposed to adopting a prevention focus, which is a sensitivity to warnings and reprimands.

In contrast, promotion-focused individuals are not sensitive to these warnings and reprimands.

They are also superior at processing patterns not details. So, they tend to have a ‘big picture’ mindset, perhaps focusing on the broader workplace’s success rather than ensuring they comply with all the details.

They will also do their best work in environments that promote autonomy, rather than those that dictate compliance.

The benefits of a theory that explains behaviour

Immediately, we can see that a deterrence model, such as issuing corrective actions, is unlikely to shift the approach of this promotion-focused individual. Even worse, reprimands could simply demotivate the employee, reduce their creativity and make them focus on simple linear trends and patterns.

As such, their situation awareness is likely to suffer. Their mindfulness of their surroundings is impaired. Their resilience and attention is also undermined.

In short, awareness of regulatory focus theory allows us to tap into an extensive literature of research that can help us explain behaviour and, therefore, address problems more appropriately.

Such theories can help explain why deterrence models can fail to produce behavioural changes. Without the theory, we may just assume that greater rigour, investment and enforcement is needed to apply the model.

The downside of theory

There are some areas of caution, however. Many theories are based on norms and beliefs about how the world operates with researchers confirming what they already believe to be true—the confirmation bias. As such, the theory can be a formal way of validating the way we want the world to work not how it actually works.

Some researchers have attempted to address this shortfall by intentionally examining non-intuitive research findings. This forces theories to address exceptions to our predictions and ensures we don’t build our knowledge on pre-conceived ideas and assumptions but, rather, scientific findings that may be counterintuitive.

Theories have also been criticised on the ground that they provide a narrative fallacy, where we are more likely to be convinced by a compelling story rather than look objectively at the evidence. Just like this blog.

Reassuring people can make them worry

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I have a relative who described how he worried for several months leading up to his wedding. The actual wedding was no concern nor was the commitment. It was the wedding speech he dreaded.

He delivered the speech perfectly and breathed a sigh of relief.

I also have a colleague who complained about a sore foot. Although he had been doing a lot of extra walking, he naturally assumed he had a blood clot.

There was no blood clot or anything serious.

After experiencing trouble swallowing I started to worry that I had oesophageal cancer. Never mind the fact that this cancer affects only a tiny percentage of the population and they are usually older folk who smoke. Nevertheless, my brain told me that death was looming.

The tests came back negative.

Does reassuring people help?

In the face of these worries and concerns our natural tendency is to reassure others that everything is going to be ok.

Interestingly, at least in the health literature, individuals can end up worrying even more when they are reassured. Studies show, for example, that children who are reassured by their parents or nurses prior to having an injection end up becoming more distressed and worried.

It seems that individuals can feel as though something particularly awful is about to happen if you’re going to all that effort to prepare them for the worst.

No doubt many of us have felt that way prior to an event that makes us anxious. On our first day at a new job we might feel more anxious if our family members approach us with big smiles to wish us luck. You only wish someone luck if there is the prospect that things could go really badly.

How often do you wish someone luck before they go to the movies?

At work during organisational restructures and change we may appreciate and expect regular communication about what’s about to happen. This communication and management involvement is a textbook approach to managing change.

But what if this continuous reassurance leads people to think, ‘Why are they reassuring me so much? Should I be worried?’

Should you reassure yourself?

Humans are good at reassuring themselves in the absence of support. As children we learn to transfer the support and assurance of others into our minds so that we always have a virtual parent or friend to calm us down.

Therapy used to focus a lot on this positive self-talk as a means of helping individuals cope with the anxieties and stressors of life. If you had negative thoughts and worries you would be instructed to challenge the legitimacy of the concern.

‘Excuse me grey matter. Do you have any references to back up the claim that I will, indeed, die of a heart attack?’

But let’s look at how this can play out. Our mind worries. Our mind reassures. Our mind worries. Our mind reassures. The brain is flexible. Whatever logic you throw at yourself, it can create all kinds of concerns that you missed.

‘Hello, Nicholas, I know you are in the low risk group for heart failure and I know there’s no family history. But what if? What if?’

Cognitive Fusion

Experts in mindfulness give this tangle of thoughts a pretty futuristic sounding name, cognitive fusion.  All it really means is that you are engaging with your thoughts as if they were real.

Mindfulness teaches individuals to practice disengaging with their thoughts instead of challenging them.

It’s a bit like dealing with an argumentative peer or neighbour. You could invest a lot of energy and time debating with them to try to make them see reason only to find that they counter every one of your points and throw up several red herrings.

Instead, the best approach might be to simply disengage from the debate entirely.

How much choice do people want?

in Editor Pick/Media Psychology/Work Psychology by

One of the things I’ve learned is that every time you offer a choice you paralyse some people who can’t decide if that’s what they want to do or not.
They aren’t my words. They are those of Netflix’s chief product officer, Neil Hunt, who believes it’s counterproductive to offer customers more than one method to view their television shows.

His opinion seems arrogant. It implies that customers don’t know what they want and need Netflix to decide for them.

It seems logical that providing plenty of options gives us more freedom and allows us to select the option that best suits our needs.

But how much choice do people actually want?

Netflix and choice overload

According to research, providing several options doesn’t always promote freedom. Too many options can cause choice overload because we can find it difficult weighing up all the pros and cons of each alternative.

Think about how people watch television. Some people endlessly scan the channels, searching for the show that’s going to match their current mood and interest.

These individuals are adopting maximising strategies, which involves maximising the chances of landing the best possible outcome. They are motivated out of fear of missing out on something.

In contrast, some individuals aren’t too concerned about what else is on. Once they find a show that’s good enough, they simply sit back and enjoy it. These individuals are adopting satisficing strategies.

So, by limiting choices, Netflix helps reduce the tension felt by those who adopt maximising strategies.

The Netflix approach will also work for individuals who adopt satisficing strategies. After all, they are satisfied more easily anyway.


McDonalds and single option aversion

So, it seems all we need to do is inhibit choice and we’ll all be liberated, right?

We all know consumers want choice. We don’t want to be told where to have a holiday and what colour car to buy.

When individuals are funnelled toward one option, they experience single option aversion, where they feel constrained and dissatisfied.

Many businesses make it their mission to ensure their customers can select almost anything that suits their unique needs.

Take McDonalds. Not content with cheeseburgers, Big Macs, coffee, salads, desserts, all-day breakfast, dining in, drive-through and gourmet burgers, McDonalds now allows customers to create their own unique hamburger. They can select everything from the burger bun to the type of mustard and cheese.

This McVariety allows McDonalds to remain competitive in a saturated fast food market.



McDonald’s diversified menu, however, hasn’t bolstered sales.

Consumers who were once quite comfortable and familiar with the menu are now wondering if they should have tried that new make-your-own-burger. They may be left feeling as though they missed out on something that was never an issue in the past.

The consumers who try the new burgers leave wondering if spending the extra cash and time building a burger was really worth it. After all, they could have spent a similar amount on a gourmet burger at a café or restaurant.

It seems that individuals want choice but there could be a tipping point that actually ends up confusing customers.

A McHappy Middle Ground

Instead of limiting options, perhaps there’s another approach. In particular, research indicates it’s the way we present choices that counts rather than the number of choices per se.

For example, when the same number of choices are grouped into categories, the choices don’t feel insurmountable.

Another option is to simply present the same number of options but don’t compare them on more than a few attributes. When there are too many attributes, the decision becomes more complicated and individuals feel overwhelmed.

Your choice

So, how much choice do you think people want? Like Netflix, I walked you down one path to the final solution. I didn’t really give you freedom to decide. Do you want another option?

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