Monthly Archives: May 2012

Facebook IPO Persuasion

The Facebook IPO is scheduled for May 18, 2012. For the overwhelming majority of people who buy stock, an IPO like this is typically out of reach. Most often on the first day the IPO launches, institutional units get the shares, often with an eye of selling them that day when interest and enthusiasm is greatest; they buy at 9am, sell at noon, and pocket some profit. However, Facebook is playing this one differently than most IPOs.

. . . but Wall Street executives estimate that the retail share could be as much as 20 to 25 percent of the offering. Some of that increase is likely to go to brokerage firms like TD Ameritrade or E*Trade, which cater to small investors . . . The company is seeking to give retail investors a bigger cut because it sees itself as a service created for, and driven by, consumers. One person briefed on the offering, who declined to be identified because of regulatory restrictions, said Facebook sees itself as “the people’s company.”

This story is persuasion interesting for two reasons. First, see how Facebook is using social Cues to sell its IPO stock. Second, see how Facebook is using the New York Times as a vehicle for persuasion.

Start with a Little Guy investor.

“I would love to get Facebook stock,” said Joseph Quigley, a 32-year-old insurance sales and marketing manager in Maryland. Mr. Quigley is an active trader, buying and selling stock worth several thousand dollars a year.

Making the IPO available to small investors like Joseph Quigley will certainly help the price. Small investors, also known as John Jerk and his cousin Odd Lot Robert are the targets here, good folks who think they can swim in the financial ocean without encountering sharks. Usually the sharks are the institutional investors. In this case, Facebook is the shark. If you read the financial press – not the New York Times – much digital ink has been filed detailing the flaws with Facebook, its business model, and the IPO. The Big Boys and Girls are wary on this one.

If you’re Facebook and worried that institutional investors may lay back, you need to change the market. Don’t restrict the IPO to big professionals who doubt you. Encourage John and Robert and Joseph to participate on that first day. This move will create pressure on the price in a Scarcity play.

If It Is Rare, You Must Have It, drives this Cue. Facebook wants its IPO to be rare because that will push the price up. If the Usual Gang of Suspects is laying back, bring in some new guys for the Lineup. These unsophisticated buyers will succumb to that People’s Company line and overpay on the first day. That may tempt smarter professionals to briefly panic and buy higher than they would prefer.

You’ll recall that Facebook ran the Scarcity play earlier in the secondary market when they received permission from Congress to increase the number of private investors Facebook could have. They added a few more positions in the face of considerably higher demand. Adding some, but not many new positions increased pressure on even more to bid for those slots.

See how you can manipulate Scarcity with either More or Less. We observed Groupon reduce the number of shares available in its IPO (Less) to create Scarcity which helped keep that first day’s prices higher. Facebook will bring more buyers into the first day (More) to keep the price higher which will make shares scarce for bigger investors.

Now, the second Facebook persuasion play. Over the past few days, the New York Times in particular has been running favorable Facebook stories. Recall the Facebook organ donor persuasion fantasy. Now, in the current NYT story, the Times admires Facebook for opening up the IPO to the Little Guy. While the Times can write whatever it wants about anything or anyone, I find it peculiar that the financial press ranges from ambivalent to hostile in its coverage of Facebook. Here, for example, is a kind take on how people should consider buying Facebook on the first day of the IPO.

1. Don’t buy at the open.
2. Use a “limit” order.
3. Bet small.
4. Don’t be shy about taking profits early.

This is a cautious and thoughtful plan. Very High WATT. Nothing about the People’s Company or cheers for an organ donor box that won’t change anything for the real world. If you think about this plan (from the Wall Street Journal), that last line spills the beans – don’t buy to hold, buy to sell. That’s not a ringing endorsement.

So, why is the Times lately cheerleading for Facebook? A persuasion perspective suggests a relationship between the two companies. Perhaps key leaders at the Times own a piece of Facebook in that secondary market and would like to sell at a larger profit. More unsophisticated buyers on the first day aid that. Maybe key leaders at Facebook would like to get in on the first day IPO and are helping Facebook to get a better seat at the institutional table. Maybe Facebook made a straight business deal and bought the stories. Maybe, it’s just two companies helping each other out in hard times. Certainly, anything is legal. And persuasive. Facebook feeds socially relevant stories to the Times about organ donation and little guy outlets for the IPO and the Times shouts them into their megaphone.

And you thought it was just about money, market, and quality.

Best Practices or Market Forces ie Source or Receiver

Here’s an interesting WSJ article that looks at American health care delivery and divides it into two well known camps: Best Practices or Market Forces. The Best Practices approach argues that experts should acquire scientific knowledge, evaluate its quality, then define Best Practices that should be delivered throughout the system for both providers and people. Market Forces argues instead that delivery should be based on what people want and will pay for with providers who decide what they want to give and at what price.

You can see metaphorically the two approaches to persuasion in this case. Persuasion can take either a Source or a Receiver orientation. With the Source approach everything depends upon how the Source thinks and acts, the process and the outcome flow from Source creativity and action. The Receiver orientation is just my Rule, It’s about the Other Guy, Stupid. It doesn’t matter what you do, it matter whether the Other Guy changes.

The Best Practices approach to health is that Source orientation. The Source is the expert and drives everything else. By contrast, Market Forces hit that Receiver orientation and the emphasis upon the Other Guys.

Sure, it takes two to tango and you always have Source and Receiver mixed in every persuasion play if only because we’re talking about communication and those parts must always play. This isn’t Either-Or. It is emphasis.

My bias from both experience and research is on that Receiver, Other Guy orientation. I was never smart enough and could not find enough smart enough partners to get close to the Queen of Tomorrow solution where a bunch of us experts Made It Happen. As long as I kept my own supreme intelligence and efficacy in a straightjacket and maintained a laser beam focus on Other Guys, I could occasionally find success.

Given the size of the persuasion problem here with over 300 million Americans and a couple of million providers of various types, I don’t see how any expert or group of experts can possibly arrive at a solution that actually works. Sure, you can pretend like the Obama Administration does with their health and safety interventions, assuming, of course, you can get them past a court – whodda thought persuasion had to be legal? But even when legal, they don’t produce much Change in Other Guys.

And, isn’t that the TACT?

Facebook Discovers New Persuasion Rules

I think this is a pretty good Rule of Persuasion:

If You Can’t Count It, You Can’t Change It

Persuasion is about Change and Change means going from That to This which is at least countable as a difference in a vowel, but more typically a difference in thought, feeling, or action. Like money, for example. You’d think anytime persuasion involves money, you can Count the Change. Listen to this business guy with Kia Motors who’s spending money on Facebook.

 

“The question with Facebook and many of the social media sites is, ‘What are we getting for our dollars?’” said Michael Sprague, vice president of marketing at Kia Motors Corp.’s North American division.

Sprague thinks like I do. You can Count the Change with money. This is so true that the assertion is obvious. But, if you’re spending money with Facebook, this assertion is obviously false.

“If a marketer measures [return on investment] as direct sales from the Web, then Facebook may not be the ideal platform,” said Sarah Hofstetter, president of digital ad agency 360i, a unit of Dentsu Inc. “But if the goal is to move the needle on brand health metrics, whether its awareness or engagement,. . . then Facebook should be a key part of the marketing mix for most consumer brands.”

I need to go Talmudic on this quote. Giving Facebook your money won’t make money for you, but it will make your brand metrics move (and here’s where it gets Talmudic) which according to Hofstetter’s reasoning still won’t make you any money because she did not explicitly say that brand burnishing will then make money for you. She runs that as an enthymeme, the persuasion syllogism that leaves out key information you naturally fill in so it all makes sense. Taking only and exactly what she says, a Facebook play only builds your brand and you get no sales in return.

See another enthymeme in the story.

Last year, the company began working with research firms comScore Inc. and Nielsen Co. to offer tools that let big brands track their social media campaigns on the site. Nielsen, for example, measures consumers who saw an ad on Facebook and compares them with a similar control group of Facebook users who didn’t see the ad. It then matches that up against shopper data to see how ad exposure affected sales of the product.

We noted earlier Nielsen getting into the measurement game with the New New Thing. That’s great. You can make apples to apples comparisons then. So, why doesn’t Facebook tell us what those comparisons show? All they’re saying is that they are working with Nielsen. Again going Talmudic on this and comprehending only and exactly what is said, Facebook is working with Nielsen. If you follow the enthymeme, you complete that information with something like . . . And It Works! But, realize no one is saying that.

There is some kind of good news with Facebook persuasion. Consider this case with Ford.

Ford Motor Co. said by using Facebook ads instead of Super Bowl ads in marketing its 2011 Explorer, shopping activity for the Explorer jumped 104% versus the average shopping lift of 14% following a Super Bowl ad.

So, tire kicking doubled. But again nothing about sales. Why is no one showing me the money?

Because there is no persuasion money in Facebook.

According to Facebook, my Persuasion Rules are the Old Old Thing against their New New Thing; I’m your Father’s Oldsmobile. There is no relationship between Counting and Changing according to the Facebook Rules.

Just give them your money and they’ll explain it to you.

Keynes and the Queen of Tomorrow

I first read about John Maynard Keynes as a great investor, not the famous economist, in the “Adam Smith” book, The Money Game, in 1970. Smith noted that Keynes piled up a small fortune for King’s College, Cambridge from 1922 to 1946 demonstrating a skill unmatched in his time and now maybe for all time. We get an update on this story.

From 1924 through 1946, while writing numerous books and overhauling the global monetary system, Keynes also found time to run the endowment fund of King’s College at Cambridge. Over that period, according to Messrs. Chambers and Dimson, Keynes outperformed the U.K. stock market by an average of eight percentage points annually, adjusted for risk.

If you chase down the Chambers and Dimson paper and look at Table 2 on page 46 you find that the index average per year for that time period was 7% but Keynes averaged 15%, doubling the index over a 20 year period. That is staggering good, like Keynes must have known the Queen of Tomorrow. His record is better than Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France winnings or Barry Bonds home run record or Roger Clemens, and you see where I’m going with this.

Note one little observation about Lord Keynes during 1922-46.

As a director of the Bank of England, Keynes was privy to inside information about interest-rate changes, although there isn’t evidence that he traded on it.

During the time period in question, the Bank of England was the most powerful bank in the world. Stated another way, Keynes was the Ben Bernanke of his time only with considerably more power and considerably less transparency. If Keynes was not an insider, the term has no meaning.

How could Keynes have NOT traded on insider information? He always had his memory with him and his formidable mind, too. After he walked out of meetings with the world’s top bankers and investors, generals and politicians, should we believe he forgot those conversations when he made his moves for the endowment at Cambridge? It would be psychologically impossible for him to literally take off his insider hat, put on his outsider hat, and do his buying and selling for Cambridge.

Please realize that I am not saying that Keynes did criminal trading. What he did was legal then, as it was for Joseph P. Kennedy! But, if today Ben Bernanke was also functioning as the chief for the Princeton endowment fund, people would raise more than eyebrows. Bernanke could not legally do today what Keynes did then. And, with good reason. The opportunity for corruption is obvious.

I am claiming that Keynes may not have been such a great investor after all. Good grief, look what Warren Buffett did as a public trader in Omaha, Nebraska. Imagine him as the head of the Fed during the same time period. You think he might have done a little better still?

There’s a Difference between Persuasion, and Smoke and Mirrors; With Persuasion the Illusion Lingers.

P.S. The painting at the top of the post is from the National Portrait Gallery in London and depicts Keyes with the famed Bloomsbury Group. Keynes remains the most unusual economist. Near the end of his life he declared, I should have drunk more champagne.

Scottish Accents and Falling Apples

The NY Times speaks truth to power and comes away with a mouthful of apple. Voice recognition technology is upon us!

VLAD SEJNOHA is talking to the TV again. O.K., maybe you’ve done that, too. But here’s the weird thing: His TV is listening. “Dragon TV,” Mr. Sejnoha says to the screen, “find movies with Meryl Streep.” Up pops a list of films like “Out of Africa” and “It’s Complicated.” “Dragon TV, change to CNN,” he says. Presto — the channel flips to CNN.

Mr. Sejnoha runs a voice recognition firm that is changing the world through spoken interaction between humans and computers.

It is a wildly disruptive idea. But such systems are already beginning to change the way we interact with the world and, for better and worse, how we think about technology. Until now, after all, we’ve talked only to one another. What if we begin talking to all sorts of machines, too — and, like Siri, those machines respond as if they were human?

How disruptive?

Humans are wired for speech and tend to respond to talking devices as if they were kindred spirits, says Sherry Turkle, a professor of the social studies of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I’m not saying voice recognition is bad,” Professor Turkle says. “I’m saying it’s part of a package of attachments to objects where we should tread carefully because we are pushing a lot of Darwinian buttons in our psychology.”

The first voice recognition software I used was Dragon which was going to revolutionize writing sometime back in the 1990s. You talk, it understands, the computer screen fills with your words: an essay, poem, or novel, a textbook, the Gettysburg Address. I fought the Dragon until I saw him smile and then I grabbed the keyboard.

If you do even a little reading you know that various experts have been trying voice recognition since the 1960s and Bell Labs. (Jeepers, do you remember when Bell Labs and telephones were the cutting edge of technology?) In other words, the science here is almost as old as I am and Siri is the crowning achievement. Sure, if you have a highly restricted vocabulary of words and further ensure that the sounds of each word are distinct, unique, and easy to produce, you can get voice recognition that works about as well as my Spanish does when we’re in Mexico. You can get a taxi, a drink, or a hat.

Beyond a few real-time missions there’s nothing close to normal conversational voice recognition. And, after 50 years of smart people whacking at this, you’d have to say it’s not coming to a home theatre near you anytime soon.

Here’s the persuasion pivot. We can’t create functional, easy to use, practical voice recognition software that any healthy person can use. The science just isn’t there.

But, we do have the science for Global Warming, Health Care Reform That Works, Green Energy, and on and on with the Cool Table litany of scientific science. The next time you read a Tooth Fairy tale about soda pop or red meat or glaciers or flooded cities or solar powered cars, just ask yourself. If we understand galactic weather, why doesn’t Siri understand me all the time?

And, if you want to see why we’ll never have practical voice recognition, watch this YouTube video.

All Bad Science Is Persuasive!

P.S. What happened to journalism speaking truth to power? This NYT article is nothing more than a PR puff piece for Nuance which is apparently French for Dragon.

Wanted : Persuasion Professionals for DwD Laws

Coming soon.

WANTED: Highly motivated, sincere, and passionate Institute seeks Persuasion Professional with skill and experience in changing public opinion and voting behavior on health and safety legislation. We want to pass the first State law that bans Driving with Dogs, DwD. When we achieve this vision we then will pivot into the National scene to obtain Federal legislation. Qualified candidates must work with talented amateurs, small budgets that encourage innovative thinking, and persistence past constant external derision, internal civil war, and outcome failure. Pay with benefits, an air-conditioned corner office, access to liberated version of Photoshop, and a stack of tested Warning Labels are only a small part of this attractive, compelling, and unique opportunity at a job with lifetime tenure regardless of performance. We seek passionate people of color or pale people who glow when inspired. Text or tweet your application if you Like us on Facebook.

Coming later.

Seeking: Registered (currently) lobbyist group seeks stone cold maven to wreak havoc on Dog Hating activists. Must die like Iago if things go badly. Large budget, no office, and access to teams of professionals in deep cover. Only those without fingerprints need apply. Must pass for any ethnic, racial, language, or gender group. Evade normal application and security processes to secure an interview.

Look to persuasion on animal issues as the next New New Thing in Lifestyle legislation. Lots of persuasion opportunities on all sides.

Seriously. I remember a number of years ago working with a talented group of tobacco control mavens just as the Master Settlement was being negotiated. One of them related that as soon as the lawsuit was in place, everyone should get ready for the Food Police. We all scoffed. Food is like tobacco?!?

Facebook Organists

Listen to the persuasive music coming from Facebook.

The company announced a plan on Tuesday morning to encourage everyone on Facebook to start advertising their donor status on their pages, along with their birth dates and schools — a move that it hopes will create peer pressure to nudge more people to add their names to the rolls of registered organ donors.

Hope with Nudge? That’s a persuasion plan?

It is a rare foray by Facebook into social engineering from social networking, and one with a potentially profound effect, according to experts in the field of organ donation.

Potentially? Profound? What experts?

BJ Fogg, who studies how technology can change attitudes as director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford University, said the prominence of organ donation on the Facebook site “will trigger people to make an important decision about whether to be an organ donor, a decision most people in the last year haven’t even considered.” Dr. Fogg added: “If you see all your friends do it, or have the illusion all your friends are doing it, it sets up an expectation of sorts and it may become a social norm.”

Facebook with 160 million American account holders. Organ donor as part of the status line. Nudges. Social Norms. Important decision making. How can it miss?

Easy. Spot the McGuffin.

Previous efforts to encourage organ donation have struggled, Dr. Cameron said, because the issue is sensitive and personal and because the decision is made at the motor vehicle department, where many people may not want to focus on the prospect of dying.

Did you see it? People can only do the TACT at the DMV when they get their driver’s license. Thus, all the Facebook Nudge Social Norm Trigger Important Decision stuff occurs away from the only time and place the Other Guy can do the TACT. And, worse still, people rarely go to the DMV, once every few years. Yet, somehow Experts believe that Facebook will create such powerful change that people will remember it over the course of several years and then when standing in line at the DMV, cursing the slowness, cursing the bureaucracy, just plain cursing, they will certainly remember all that Facebooking and check the Organ Donor box.

And these folks are Experts?

There is no, none, zip, zed, nada proven persuasion that works like this. It is a Queen of Tomorrow play. If indeed anyone could deliver persuasive messages that triggered an explicit TACT in one place at one time three years in the future, she could control the world. The hypothesis is stupid in itself. But, let me pile on.

Why would you clown around with this Facebook FauxItAllery when we’ve got scientific evidence of something that works killer good. Remember Tyler Harrison and Susan Morgan? Of course, you don’t because you are a Facebook Expert. Go reread this post on their research with organ donation.

They produced a 1900% increase, yes, a 1900% increase, in organ donation with a small media and point of TACT persuasion campaign. Real people. Real time. Real DMV. If Facebook Experts wanted to address the problem of getting more organ donors they would call Susan Morgan or Tyler Harrison and LISTEN TO THEM.

But, they didn’t, which tells you that they are not serious about the stated TACT and given that Facebook is aiming at an IPO in a couple of weeks, you might think a little deeper about this. Like the Ad Council and Clear Channel this is a fabulous self promotion play even without Ashton Kutcher. The Facebook play will have no impact on organ donor rates or even organ donor signups, but it sure makes Facebook look good. Concerned. Caring. Thoughtful.

And, don’t overlook the self persuasion effects here, too.

Dr. Cameron played a role in the change at Facebook. A 1991 graduate of Harvard University, he had written about his transplant efforts — and the struggles to find donors — for a class reunion booklet. That was read by a former classmate and friend, Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer at Facebook. At a reunion last May, Dr. Cameron recalled standing at a mixer when Ms. Sandberg told him that she had read about his efforts and had been thinking about the struggle to get more organ donors. “She said: ‘I think we can fix that,’ ” Dr. Cameron recalled. “It was a chills-up-the-spine moment.”

Veritas smeritas. The reunion notebook of Harvard connects old school chums who know the handshake and at a party over crimson and canapés, two power brokers unite to the save the world. That should send chills up your spine because it shows the vapid world of Experts. Whatever it took for Cameron and Sandberg to achieve their status, it clearly did not include a working knowledge of persuasion. Hey, I’m a world class surgeon. Hey, I’m a world class COO. Of course we’re persuasion Experts. How can we not be?

Does anyone believe you will see a fair evaluation report out of Facebook on this? My guess is that in a year or two you’ll see some little nugget that counts Organ Donor Status change on Facebook as the indication of campaign effect. As if what people write on Facebook is the truth. Doing the grubby work of tying exposure to Facebook messages to actual DMV records costs time and money and if Facebook engineers can’t write a PHP script for it, it’s not Science. Look for more Big Data with lots of Relative Ratios. But, you’ll find thousands of people dying while waiting for a transplant.

Still, mavens, you gotta give credit where credit may be due. If indeed this is all about IPOs and self persuasion, then the Facebook Organist is playing sweet persuasive music.

Potentially Profound Effect with Hope and a Nudge.

P.S. If you can find the angle, you can make a killing on Facebook, but not with their stock or their persuasion. They are vulnerable the way all hunters are when focused upon their prey. Facebook is looking to make its killing leaving them ripe for the taking. Think about it.

Walking (Aimlessly) for Health

Ambling along we observe . . .

Dr. Freeman leads a group called Walk With a Doc, which encourages patients to get out, once a month or so, to stroll the city with their physicians. The group’s most recent walk, in January — walkers can be hard-core, too, no matter the season — drew 135 people, including 10 doctors.

Let me count the ways.

1. Everyone who walks with a doc is healthy enough to not need a doc. The intervention is not an intervention, but merely an indicator of healthiness and sociability.

2. A 14 patients to 1 doc ratio. The AMA won’t like that because it would mean they’d have to wildly increase the number of students they admit and pass through medical programs. Think that might cut into physician pay?

3. You train people in biology, anatomy, pharmacology, cardiology, and on and on and then how do you use that skill? As a walking leader? Yeah. That makes sense.

4. Count the steps this program generates. Go ahead do the math even if it requires data mining and huge datasets since we’re going national with it. Healthy people walking with physicians once a month. As a persuasion intervention aimed at making healthier people, this is a crazy waste of time and effort. As a fun social event, it’s fine, but that’s not the point.

5. Imagine the liability issues when someone gets hurt. If you’re out walking with your doc and you blow a knee or get hit by a biker (sweet irony there) who pays for it? Imagine the press on that one.

Mavens, what’s the strategy behind this persuasion play tactic? Clearly the muggles are out on the streets in gangs of 150 huffing and puffing FauxItAlls, but to what end? Sure, we’ve got a bunch on nice Cues (Authority, Liking, Comparison, Commitment/Consistency), but no one is thinking about the strategy.

But, if you don’t jeté, then at least strut!

Hiding Good Persuasion in Bad Persuasion

Sure, the CDC can’t get anyone to change anything about their behavior and sometimes manages to make it worse, vaccines anyone? But, now the for-profit guys are weighing on lifestyle. This time for sure!

THE ADVERTISING COUNCIL has joined forces with Clear Channel Media and Entertainment to run a new series of radio ads about childhood obesity on Clear Channel’s 850 stations for three months . . . According to the Ad Council and Clear Channel, the value of the advertising is $30 million.

First, my compliments to the mavens at the Ad Council and Clear Channel. This is great brand building. Clear Channel really cares about you and is putting $30 million on the line to show it. Of course, it’s all tax deductible and part of a charitable project. So, look like you are doing good and along the way you can do well, too. Wonder if Ashton Kutcher is on board?

Second, this $30 million campaign will have the same effect as the current CDC $50 million campaign on smoking and the former $400 million campaign on childhood activity. That would be zero. If anyone takes the time to do a serious evaluation study of the Ad Council/Clear Channel partnership they will find zero change in behavior. Lots of Reception and Exposure. Lots of kids and their parents will know and recognize words like “Ad Council” and “Clear Channel” and “we care.” But any change to youthful waistlines? No.

At least one academic spills the beans while playing nice.

Dr. Marlene Schwartz, deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, said that although she appreciated the campaign’s effort to address childhood obesity issues, she was concerned it “almost gives people too many choices. Research has shown that people get overwhelmed when they are given too many options and sometimes choose to not act at all.”

Excellent observation. The campaign, like virtually all activity campaigns, cannot focus upon one TACT for one targeted set of Other Guys, but instead includes messages on a wide variety of actions that count as Being Active! (The exclamation point is important.) All those different messages and all those different TACTs destroy effectiveness. Of course, as I already noted, the Ad Council and Clear Channel avoid that scatter when it comes to sourcing the ad. While no one knows exactly what to do, everyone knows exactly who’s saying it.

Let me play the arrogant know-it-all. With my research colleague, Bill Reger-Nash, we ran the famed Wheeling Walks! physical activity campaign that collected hard numbers to demonstrate real change in people’s activity as a result of a media campaign. It was easy. Define a TACT. Target the right Other Guys. Pound them with Arguments that address the Easy, Fun, and Popular elements from the Theory of Planned Behavior. And, use an exclamation point!

You can persuade people to change on physical activity as long as you aim at persuading people to change on physical activity instead of trying to build a brand, satisfy a committee, or play a hunch. Trust me. I’m a blogger.

But past my trivial concerns about behavior change, see the Good Persuasion hiding in the Bad Persuasion in this campaign.  Everybody knows your name!

 

High WATT Eating Cures Obesity!

Really.

TRY this: place a forkful of food in your mouth . . . Put the fork down. This could be a lot more challenging than you imagine, because that first bite was very good and another immediately beckons. You’re hungry. Today’s experiment in eating, however, involves becoming aware of that reflexive urge to plow through your meal like Cookie Monster on a shortbread bender. Resist it. Leave the fork on the table. Chew slowly. Stop talking. Tune in to the texture of the pasta, the flavor of the cheese, the bright color of the sauce in the bowl, the aroma of the rising steam. Continue this way throughout the course of a meal, and you’ll experience the third-eye-opening pleasures and frustrations of a practice known as mindful eating.

Okay, stop giggling there in back. This is serious. There’s a pay off. Keep reading.

“As we practice this regularly, we become aware that we don’t need to eat as much,” said Phap Khoi, 43, a robed monk who has been stationed at Blue Cliff since it opened in 2007. “Whereas when people just gulp down food, they can eat a lot and not feel full.” It’s this byproduct of mindful eating — its potential as a psychological barrier to overeating — that has generated excitement among nutritionists like Dr. Cheung.

The article then details a variety of mindful eating experiences weaving threads of Buddhist mediation as a metaphor that guides the mental state behind the chewing. Remove the spiritualist notions and the inevitable Silicon Valley example (Google holds a weekly one hour silent vegan lunch in their cafeteria) and the New New Thing here is quite familiar: WATTage.

Most of us, most of the time, buy and consume food in a Low WATT state. We Cue from color, smell, recommendation, comparisons or scribbles on the menu chalkboard. Then, most often surrounded by family, friends, or just a mass of humanity in the café, diner, or table we eat while we talk, laugh, drink, hoot, stare, drift, or hurry. With food easily accessible, safe, abundant, tasty, affordable, and omnipresent, just throw the WATTage switch to Low and you get that spare tire.

We don’t need synonyms or metaphors or religion or the Google Cool (Lunch)Table for this from a persuasion theory perspective. We’re just talking about good old WATTage, that dimmer switch we turn from moment to moment, but most often left in the efficient and effective Low WATT setting. No fooling: think while you eat and you will eat less.

Thus, standard persuasion theory strongly supports mindful eating as a reasonable intervention to control eating and overweight. But, persuasion theory and research also proves that High WATT plays are the most difficult to trigger and maintain. Most people most of the time simply cannot sustain High WATTage in the way mindful eating requires. Let’s recall the brilliant Professor Whitehead from 1911.

A society advances by the number of operations it can perform without thinking.

This from the guy who cowrote the Principia Mathematica. Whitehead goes on to note.

Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in a battle — they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments.

Thus, even before your favorite 1970s dual process model (Kahneman and Tversky, Petty and Cacioppo, Shelly Chaiken and just on the persuasion side), we’ve got a mathematician, of all people, seeing WATTage and its variation. Whitehead’s military comparison also illuminates the rarity of High WATT operation, restricting it to decisive engagements, not everyday experience.

Thus, mindfulness advocates are essentially arguing for “Charge!” everytime we eat which is easy, fun, and popular if you score high on the Need for Cognition scale. Those in the top 15% have no trouble with daily cavalry assaults and cannot understand why the rest of us want to sit in the shade pounding down Twinkies with nary a thought. These differences in cognition and human nature escape even the mindful.

Thus, mindful eating is yet another example of confusing the word for the thing, of, gasp, eating the menu. To say, “Think!” and believe we have a solution is like clicking your heels and thinking of Dorothy, Toto, and Kansas when you want to escape. You only awaken to the loving arms of Auntie Em in the movies.

Or more artfully expressed with George Booth.

The last words go to Whitehead.

It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case.

Think about it, mavens and muggles.