The Big Idea Hang on a Minute...

Peninsula Team

April 08 2011

In this edition of The Big Idea, I wanted to share with you some fascinating ideas from a book I’ve read recently by Professor Richard Wiseman. Entitled “59 Seconds”, the book works on the basis that there are many simple, effective and practical techniques that can take less than a minute to implement but can significantly improve your life.

The book is broken down into several areas of research with Persuasion, Motivation, Creativity and Decision Making probably being the ones most pertinent to business owners and employers. Wiseman, a professor in psychology, uses evidence-based research to back up his suggestions and recommendations and does so in an easy and accessible way.

One of the things Wiseman looks at is how to give the perfect interview – and as employers, it’s interesting to consider his thoughts whichever side of the desk we’re sitting on. Although previous experience and qualifications are obviously important for a candidate, it appears from research that there is one overwhelming factor as to why interviewers choose one particular candidate as opposed to another, and that is whether the candidate appears to be a pleasant person. It’s as simple as that. 

According to Wiseman, going out of your way to be genuinely pleasant in an interview is more important than any other quality in the interview process and is more likely to get you the job. Whether consciously or unconsciously, studies have shown an interviewer is far more likely to appoint candidates who, for example, smile, maintain eye contact, are enthusiastic and praise the organisation or find a topic of interest to the interviewer outside of work, irrespective of other factors that one would consider rationally as more important.

Another useful tip of Wiseman’s is that presenting weakness early is seen as a sign of openness, not failure. So in a presentation or an interview, research shows that getting the bad stuff out of the way early on shows an honesty which is valued by interviewers. Similarly, Wiseman cites research showing that lawyers presenting a case in court who present the weaknesses in their case early on in the trial have statistically a far better chance of winning the case than those who attempt to hide those weaknesses until later and are therefore seen unconsciously as attempting to mislead. 

Another fascinating observation of Wiseman’s is to sit in the middle or centre of a group if you want to make a good impression in a meeting or presentation. Research has shown that when looking at a group, people use a basic and instinctive rule of thumb, which is that important people sit in the middle. Those around the edge are seen as marginalised and less important. It’s called the “centre-stage effect”.

Use of language is another valuable point that Wiseman raises. It’s always a temptation to try to look more intelligent by using complicated or highbrow language. However, a series of studies have shown that the opposite is true. When rating the intelligence of the authors of various pieces of writing, the readers tended to rate those who used simpler language as possessing far higher intelligence than the authors of the more wordy or complicated pieces. It seems that expressing oneself simply but effectively is valued more highly than complex language, which sends out a negative impression of arrogance and superiority. So keep it simple. 

Another interesting thing to know about which is raised by Wiseman is the “bystander effect”. Time and time again, studies have shown that if, for example, someone has a seizure in the street and there are many people on the spot, very often no one will come to help. But if there is just one person there, the chances are they will assist. It’s as though when many people are around, no one is prepared to take individual responsibility whereas when you’re on your own, the responsibility is all yours instinctively and people seem more likely to step up to the plate.
So as a business owner, the message is clear - try to give individual people individual responsibilities. Don’t allow your employees to become “faceless bystanders” but, by allocating tasks that are theirs and theirs alone, you transform them into a “fully functioning human being” to use Wiseman’s expressions.

And finally, what does Wiseman have to say about motivation – always a thorn in the side of business owners. He is fairly dismissive of one of the classic management tools to inspire motivation – visualisation - and he suggests that it can actually be counterproductive to visualise a perfect or ideal situation, because that can mean one is unprepared for the possible setbacks along the way and the disappointment at not achieving the goal outweighs any benefits of visualising it. 

But he has five suggestions to help you motivate yourself and actually get done the stuff you want to get achieved, and again, he has empirical research to prove these methods work. 

• Firstly define your overall goal then make a series of sub-goals which can become a step-by-step, manageable plan. The sub-goals need to be concrete, measurable and time-based (as we’ve discussed in the Big Idea before). 

• Secondly, tell people about your goals. Keeping your aims to yourself makes it easier to fall back into old ways whereas when others are involved, generally you’re more likely to stick to your aims or promises. 

• Thirdly, remind yourself of why life will be better when you achieve your goals. Having a more positive future to look forward to is a strong motivator.

• Fourthly, give yourself a reward when you achieve each sub-goal to encourage yourself along the way. 

• And finally, keep a record of how you’re doing in a journal, on your computer, through photos or whichever method works for you – but the act of committing your journey to paper is apparently one of the most powerful ways to ensure you’re successful. 

Wiseman’s work is full of interesting tips and techniques, and the beauty of many of them is that you can incorporate them into your life in less time than it takes to make a cup of tea. It’s a great book to dip in and out of, and whether or not you agree with all of his findings, there’s bound to be something in there to at least make you stop and think – if only for 59 seconds.

Please find a link to the book here:

Deborah Done, the author of our Big Ideas, is founder and director of Nab Communications, a freelance public relations agency which provides sensible and value for money PR advice to regional and national businesses.


Suggested Resources