The Human Mind is Lazy

The human mind is lazy. Well, maybe not as lazy as a sloth poppin’ melatonin, but lazy. And not lazy in the sense that it isn’t working. In fact, our brains are throwing around 20 million billion bits of information every second (not “b” as in “billion,” but “m” and “b” as in “a 2 with 16 zeros”). Yet it takes most of these 20 million billion neurons firing in the brain just to walk. No wonder most of us can’t walk and play Pokémon at the same time.

But the brain is lazy. Not unlike a hormonal teenage boy trying to get out of mowing the grass because he’d rather chill in his room smoking some grass and staring at his lava lamp.

A better comparison might be our tendency to take the elevator over the stairs. Or the path we cut out on a run:

Thinking shortcuts - system 1 - system 2

Humans don’t take the path less traveled, as Robert Frost might have argued. Rather, humans take the most direct path. The shortcut. The one that minimizes energy. But why does this matter for marketers?

In the best-selling book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, explains that there are two modes of thinking. The first, called System 1, operates based on instincts and emotions, and lives in the subconscious. The second, System 2, is slower, more deliberate and logical, and lives in the conscious.

Here’s an example of the difference between System 1 and System 2: Try answering the following riddle and, after you read it, immediately write down the first answer that crosses your mind.

“A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

If you said that the ball cost 10 cents, you aren’t alone. But you’d be incorrect. If the ball costs 10 cents, then the bat would cost $1.10 (“The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball.”), which would total $1.20 breaking the stated constraints (“A bat and a ball cost $1.10 total.”).

The answer is that the ball costs 5 cents (consequently, the bat is $1.05).

Even as I read through this riddle for the tenth time, I really had to slow down my thinking to feel confident in my answer. But this slow thinking, called System 2 thinking, is rarely used by people to make decisions. Why? Because we’re lazy.

Relying on decades of research on these two systems of thinking, Kahneman found that System 1 makes most of the thousands of decisions we make every day. I repeat: Our subconscious brain is making most of our decisions. If you’re in marketing, branding and advertising, your ears should be perking up, your eyes should be opening wide and your neck should be craning out.

Decisions. That’s our ultimate goal as marketers and advertisers. Get people to make decisions. Namely, to buy our products or services. And now we know which part of the brain is making those decisions.

So what can you do?

Make things easy as hell for people. Don’t make them take the stairs.

When you create advertising campaigns or build marketing assets such as websites and banner ads, you are doing your prospects a disservice by piling on product features. Play to their subconscious, play to their emotions.

Try this:

spotify - system 1 system 2 thinking

Not this:

Holiday Inn - system 1 system 2 thinking

As the old saying goes, “less is more.” Give people the cognitive shortcuts that they’re predisposed to take anyway. Tap into System 2 thinking, which is used to determine complex logical reasoning, and turn it into something that the subconscious System 1 will love.