October 28th, 2012

Book Review: The Social Animal

The Social Animal, by David Brooks is a book about the unconscious mind at work in our lives and in our life decisions. The story is told using two composite characters that Brooks creates to demonstrate the behind-the-scenes work of our brains. It is another book that reminds me of the style that Malcom Gladwell uses to explain the complicated psychology of decision-making using stories. The book was fascinating in general as it explained human behavior, types of people based on how they are raised and their influencers to decision-making. Through the story, almost every major life decision is covered from choosing a college and selecting a career, to finding a life partner and making a commitment, and life’s major wins and major losses. (Note: Brooks teeters on the line of his politics too. It is near the close of the book, not integral to the story and not-so-subtly shows his leanings. The book is still good.)

From a marketers point-of-view, however, the book can almost serve as a guide for understanding the wants, needs and desires of the people we are talking to a bit better.¬†For example, in one section of the book our female character is studying behavioral economics. Brooks uses this passage to educate the reader on heuristics and choice architecture: the unconscious set of structures that help frame a decision. He walks through these “rules” and how context influences decisions:

  • Priming
  • Anchoring
  • Framing
  • Expectations
  • Inertia
  • Arousal

This is just one example. Learnings like these are spread throughout the book. Read the book to get the full explanations of each and to understand your customers better. And read to book just to understand yourself better.

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Link to book on Amazon