Thin Slices: Making Sense of Complex Situations

Thin Slices: Making Sense of Complex Situations

Psychologists use the phrase “thin slicing” to describe the human ability to analyze and make sense of complex situations based on the thinnest slice of experience. A thin-slicer makes a quick decision about a new product from his cumulative wisdom about thousands of other products. Years of experience can be distilled to a single snap judgement. In other words, this customer is not, in fact, making a decision in the blink of an eye. It just seems like it.

This thin-slicing ability is intuition. Intuition is a slippery idea that often appears to defy conventional wisdom. Often we don’t know where our first impressions come from, or exactly what they mean, so we do not trust them. Taking intuition seriously means we’d have to acknowledge that subtle influences can transform—even undermine—the power of our unconscious. We like to think we are more purely rational in our decision making than that, of course. Often, we are not.

In a brand strategist’s world, good decision-making is a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking. With experience and extensive knowledge of your customer, you may discover that you need very little new information to intuit the underlying signature of a complex trend. In fact, sometimes we take too much information into account when weighing a brand decision, instead of trusting our intuition, relating to the customer as one human to another.

Design visionaries, for example, can completely revolutionize a brand (and the profit picture) with one product. But convincing corporate left-brained thinkers that this innovative new design is ‘The Next Great Thing’ is often a hard row to hoe.

Let’s say that your market research reveals that customers do not want you to add any additional features to your Widget X10. But you have got an industrious product designer who builds a subtle, recessed handle into Widget X10’s case, making Widget X10 easier to carry, encouraging customers to carry it. Guess what? It’s a hit, customers love it. And it turns Widget X into the category leader inside six months. What happened? Customers didn’t know they wanted portability.

Customers very often do not know what they want until you create it. That is why, in doing research, it is important to look for the ways in which design connects to emotions. Creativity should lead research, not the other way around. Research should emerge naturally from inspired ideas.

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