BK: Tell us a bit about yourself and what makes you go, “Wow, another day at work.”
TA: I’m a writer, a professional speaker and an advisor to leaders at various organisations. I’m also working on a personal development program for individuals who feel stuck and are searching for a way out. Life is utterly fascinating to me, especially now, during these fluid, turbulent times. And so when I wake up each morning, “Wow!” is literally all I can see.
BK: What triggered your interest in Behavioural Psychology and Consumer Insight?
TA: I’ve always been compelled to understand the rationale behind people’s decisions, whether as consumers in the marketplace of products, services and ideas, or as employees or volunteers at various organisations. It probably originated when I was young and visited family members from very distinct cultures. I sensed, early on, that what motivated people’s choices and behaviours came primarily from their upbringing and conditioning. It was their unique perspectives, aesthetic sensibilities and identities that drove their decision-making.
BK: The business ecosystem has migrated from a “caveat emptor (buyer beware)” mode to “caveat venditor (seller beware).” What in your opinion is the cause and effect of such a shift?
TA:The cause is obvious. The Internet, and the rapid adoption of smartphones, has opened up a world of options to buyers. They can now research and evaluate product and service offerings in almost any category in real-time, and choose (or change) brands with a few keystrokes. In the past, the buyer had to beware or “be aware” of their choices, since information and their options were limited and there were many barriers to change once their decisions were made. Today, since there are an abundance of options, transparency of information, and ease of switching, it is up to sellers to beware. They must be highly aware of the value they are delivering relative to available offerings, as well as any problem that buyers may encounter with their offering, lest the fickle buyer leave them for something better.
BK: What was the big motivation for you to write a book like “The Business of Belief“? And what inspired you to be a writer?
TA: I wrote my first book, “Sandbox Wisdom,” in the late 90s out of pure frustration. I was a strategic brand advisor and I was exasperated with people who believed in Homo economicus; the idea the human beings are rational agents who make optimal decisions based on logical thought processes. That frustration persisted for years when, after watching a client fail at implementing change that they expressly acknowledged that they needed to do, I sat down and wrote “The Business of Belief.” It’s a small book, but with everything anyone really needs to understand why people believe and behave the way they do, and how you can influence that feelings-driven process. It may even help readers with their frustrations with others.
BK: Adam Grant recently published a book called “Originals.” Originality is something that you have referred to in your book, “The Business of Belief.” How do you see the two pieces of work in tandem?
TA: Adam and I are both interested in improving the world through bold, innovative ideas. His book explores what it takes to be creative and champion those meaningful ideas. My book pulls back the curtain on the workings of the mind and reveals the hidden logic to motivating others to believe in and adopt the idea. So I’d say they are perfect compliments for anyone interested in changing themselves, and the world.
BK: In an age of phenomenal and perennial distraction, how does one bring about focus? What have you touched upon on this aspect in your book?
TA: Focus is driven by desire. We allow our perceptions—our present “reality”—to inform our instinctive, self-concerned mind, which drives our feelings, thoughts, beliefs and decisions. Today, more than ever before, we’re hooked on the visible—short-term stimulation that’s injected directly into our brains, especially via our phones. If you want to change your life or your organisation, you must reverse the order of that default-setting. Instead of being driven by your perceptions, be driven by a specific intention—in something bigger and better. Or, as Stephen Covey advised, “Begin with the end in mind.” You must make that decision first, and allow that choice to direct your thoughts, and inform your instincts, your feelings and perceptions. When you do, others will not be able to highjack your mind.
BK: At ISD Global we believe that in an increasingly commoditised world, the movement has shifted from USP (Unique Selling Proposition) to Unique Feelings Proposition (UFP). Do you reckon brands and organisations have to reckon with this new reality?
TA: Interestingly, I first described Unique Feelings Proposition in my first book, “Sandbox Wisdom.” And indeed, all brands and organisations will inevitably have to adopt this new mindset, as the Internet continues to enable new brands with meaningful value propositions to focus specifically on the identity and feelings of smaller, and smaller audiences. The lid is completely off of Pandora’s jar, and there is no going back.
BK: “Belief is a personal construct, an emotionally-coloured fusion of imperfect mental processes like perception and memory.” Would you like to elaborate on your quote?
TA: That’s a difficult question to answer in this context, but I’ll try with an example. So, let me present you with a particular concept. One referred to in the English language as “cow.” Now, if I don’t know you—your knowledge and experiences (memories), your upbringing and religion, your dietary restrictions, your livelihood, etc.—then I have no idea what your beliefs and desires are regarding the concept called “cow.” Individuals infuse “cow” with their memories, cultural norms, preferences, and feelings. The same thing happens with every concept.
BK: Do you think a lack of “fearless creative leadership” is what fails organisations today? If so, why do you think it’s happening? Is it a lack of belief?
TA: Of course it’s a lack of belief, if you understand how beliefs are formed. A belief is driven by a desire. Therefore, people who believe in a new idea want that idea to happen. So, when people at successful organisations are exposed to new ideas that may eventually cause them to change dramatically, their instinct is to dismiss that idea. They don’t “want” it to be true. They’ve become hypnotised by their hero story, and they don’t want to believe that they may have to become “students” again. Look, there is no such thing as “fearless” creative leadership. The fear will always exist, because you are betting on an unknown future. Instead, let’s call it “courageous” creative leadership, because you are conquering that fear and moving everyone into a better future, whether they want to or not.
BK: Your book “The Business of Belief” has received tremendous praise from seasoned stalwarts like Tom Peters, Seth Godin, etc. Were you expecting such deep impact when you were writing the book?
TA: I never have any expectations when I write a book. I write the “truth,” as I see it and at that particular time. Obviously, it aligned with other’s “truth” as well, like Tomand Seth. And I am very appreciative since, to me, deep impact is acknowledgment from deep thinkers and impassioned doers.
BK: How important do you think is culture in an organisation especially in the context of imparting, embellishing the right kind of belief systems in its workforce?
TA: “Corporate culture” is a very interesting concept. The modern term “culture” comes from Ancient Rome. It was used as an agricultural metaphor for the psychological development of a human being. So, with regards to corporate culture, what exactly are we cultivating and caring for; a collective idea or a particular mindset and way of being amongst individuals? If you cultivate a particular idea, then it will be increasingly difficult to step out of that “story” and respond to a changing environment. You will be conditioned to defend that idea. However, if you foster a culture of compassion and creativity in service to customers, then you’ll stay curious and responsive to their changing desires.
BK: Do you think that “Belief” can be inculcated right at a very young age and that it should be part of the school curriculum (just like there is a call for diversity and tolerance to be made part of what we are growing up with)?
TA: Belief is inculcated at a very young age. That’s the problem. Instead, we need to educate children to be skeptical of their beliefs; to hold them lightly and to be intellectually curious. We want to raise people who are joyful and empathetic in their approach to the world, but rigorous in their pursuit of knowledge… secure in who they are and willing to dance with complexity and challenge their own assumptions.
BK: Where do you stand in the debate between “The customer is always right” and “The customer is always late?”
TA: I’d say that there really is no debate. It’s both. The customer is always right with regards to their immediate problems and desires; however, they can’t predict the effect of something new on their future selves. So, make sure that your new idea is feeding an actual psychological hunger. But also understand that it will take time for that idea to be widely adopted.
BK: What do you enjoy doing most: consulting, writing, or speaking?
TA: They are very different activities, which I enjoy equally. But it’s the synergistic combination of the three that brings me the most joy. Writing is a solitary act, so I need interactions with others in the real world—through my speaking and consulting—to provide me with various insights and inspiration.
BK: Do you see brand extensions for “The Business of Belief” in the form of a podcast series, a TV show, or a book sequel?
TA: I’ve expanded upon my thinking since writing that book, and I’ve subsequently written a novel, a movie screenplay, and a personal transformation book. You can learn more at www.iamkeats.com.
BK: Which are some books that have inspired you in your career thus far and which are the ones that you look forward to reading?
TA: I am a voracious reader and have discovered many insights in nonfiction and fiction books. However, very few books have inspired me. Instead, I find my inspiration in the real world of human problems and suffering. That said, I am looking forward to reading “The Ten Types of Human: A New Understanding of Who We Are, and Who We Can Be” by Dexter Dias.
BK: What does Tom Asacker do in his spare time?
TA: I don’t really differentiate my work from my life. I view my life as a work in progress and so I am always studying, and trying to understand and improve myself and the human condition. But I do enjoy a cold beer on a hot day, lovingly prepared food, and stimulating conversation with family and friends.
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