SPP: First Dr. Rutledge I wanted to ask you, and we ask most of our guests, just a general overview of kind of what it is that you do and how you got to this point. I know you have an MBA and a PhD and all those things, so kind of what got you to where you are.
Dr. Rutledge: I started in communications in graphic design and corporate communications educational materials. What really interested me about that was how people were perceiving this information. Because especially with like college recruiting materials what you’re trying to do is give someone a sense of what it’s like to attend that college. So I was really interested in how people were interpreting the information, if you put interviews with other students would that make it more relatable and more personal for them.
So I was really thinking about that a lot and decided since I had my own business I should go learn some management accounting kinds of things, it seemed like a good idea. In doing the business program I had a great opportunity, partly to work with Peter Drucker which was amazing, and partly to start to see how all of these decisions within an organization influenced behavior, everything from who pays for the cost of the pencils to the where the CEO parks to the kind of language that he uses or she uses. So all of these really influence behavior all the way.
So I thought well shoot what I really want to know is psychology, which is how I ended up doing the PhD in psychology and then brought it back to the communications and the media. So PhD and psychology I have done some clinical work but I don’t do clinical work now. My expertise is the area of media and I’m particularly interested in social media, emerging technologies and the impact of that.
SPP: Can you go ahead and define to our listeners who might not be aware of what media psychology is? How can we actually begin to define that?
Dr. Rutledge: Well that’s an interesting question because there’s certainly a lot of different opinions about that and I think part of the reason is that just the word media and psychology they both have a lot of baggage that come with them. So if you talk about the media people immediately associate that with mass media. They don’t stop and think about computer interfaces or technology or even social networking. So you’re sort of working against that stereotype. The same with psychology to some degree is that when you tell people you’re a psychologist they go oh are you going to figure out how crazy I am? So they presume that it’s a clinical thing.
So a lot of people when you say I’m a media psychologist they make that equation and its like, well are you like Dr. Phil or Dr. Drew or psychologist that appears in the media. To me that’s really not what a media psychologist is anymore than a guy who goes on a talk show and he’s a plumber would be a media plumber. To me a media psychologist is someone who uses this incredibly interesting toolbox of cognitive psychology, neuroscience, social psychology, positive psychology and uses that as a lens to look at the way people interact with technology and media. I define media very broadly, so to me media is any kind of mediated communication.
SPP: It’s funny because before we call Jon said “I don’t quite get why it’s called Media Psychology, why isn’t it called Technology Psychology?” I guess that is the reason, as you were saying, it’s more how humans interact with it. Is that why?
Dr. Rutledge: Yes and I think why is it called Media Psychology because we kind of inherited that name and there really isn’t a good word to use that’s all encompassing things are changing so quickly. But if we said technology psychology then people would assume we’re not talking about the vast amounts of mass media. We’re really talking about how that all works. For me I come at this from a very systems point of view, to me we’re just part of this great cycle. So we’re now all producers, we’re consumers, we’re distributors, and everything we do in there influences some part of that system.
SPP: I now wish that we had hours to talk to you because this is the type of stuff that I have a huge interest in, especially when you’re talking about we’re all consumers, but not only that we on Twitter and Facebook kind of affect the brands where they’re no longer advertising directly to us they’re advertising with and through us. With all the dialogue back and forth between companies on Twitter and Facebook it’s amazing how much has changed since things being pushed down to us.
Dr. Rutledge: Right. No I absolutely agree with you and I think that the companies who don’t get that are the ones running into trouble in this new environment. For me all of this new connectivity, this network society has really caused a shift in psychology in really fundamental ways, the psychology of the audience both as a group and as individuals.
One is that what you’re talking about, which is people are very sensitive to this idea of being sold something. They’re really looking for transparency and authenticity because it’s so easy to triangulate information and find out. You don’t have to trust the first price or the first story or the first anything, there’s all kinds of ways to check on the validity of the information that you’re getting. So people expect you to know that and to behave accordingly. If you email someone and you don’t hear back from them in 24 hours you’re thinking what is the matter with this person I can’t count on them? But the same with the business, if you complain to a business that you have a problem you don’t want to hear a week from Thursday. I just went through this long thing with Sears and my intention is to sort of write that up comparing it to Zappos, because both people on the phone were very nice but Tony Hsieh understands that you have to empower your people to actually get something done for the customer not just keep apologizing for the inconvenience.
SPP: You know it’s crazy you mention that. I don’t know if you’re aware but do you know we interviewed Tony Hsieh a couple of weeks ago.
Dr. Rutledge: Oh cool. Yeah I’d really like to meet him. It’s cool the way he’s setting the standard for this new culture of, I mean I guess you can call it Social Entrepreneurship to me the idea is that in a byproduct the psychological shift is that the keyword is respect. People expect to be respected in every way that that could mean.
SPP: That’s a great point. I was going to ask kind of like you were saying we expect responses sooner and things like that. Do you think that is actually a negative? Are we becoming more impatient in the way we deal with everything because of the instantaneous nature of technology?
Dr. Rutledge: First of all let me just say my bias is that I see positive in almost all of this stuff. I don’t see why it should be a negative to get information faster. Can you imagine how much Leonardo da Vinci would have gotten done if he hadn’t had to walk to the library?
Dr. Rutledge: If he’d been able to Google stuff and get information. Why should we be pining for time that makes us less effective? I think that the problem is when we don’t have balance but that’s not a new problem. I mean they didn’t invent Type A Personality last week they invented it in the management literature back in the 40s and 50s. So balance has been an issue for a long time and I think that’s the key to anything.
SPP: It’s crazy Jon and I talk a lot about how even our parents I feel like in the working world now, I was doing commercial real estate, I got more done in one day than I feel like 20 years ago somebody did in probably two weeks. It’s crazy to think that because you wonder how much is that benefiting society? Have things changed that much? It’s just an interesting concept?
Dr. Rutledge: Well it is an interesting concept and I think you raise a really good point. I think it does benefit society but when change happens very quickly it creates cognitive dissonance. So it’s harder for some people to adjust because they don’t want to. It’s work. In other words to rewire your brain we can learn right up until the day that the cells stop functioning but it requires work, the expenditure of energy to change how we think.
So you have to be willing to embrace change and some people don’t want to have to work that hard. They don’t want to have to learn how to use a new remote. They don’t care that it does other things they just don’t want to have to learn something new. So I think that’s where you get conflict is between people who are finding all this change exciting and people who find it a burden.
SPP: Do you see that there’s a big I guess gap in between the different generations, the Generation Xers, Yers, the Baby Boomers and then the Millennials? As a Millennial we all look to socially collaborate using different technologies that are out there, whereas people who are in higher positions right now might not do that and might do their work in a different fashion.
Dr. Rutledge: Well I think there is a difference because as we live we take that information in and that’s how we build our personal database about how the world works. Because you don’t want to get up every morning and wonder can you breathe, you have to take some assumptions for granted so that you can go about your day.
Dr. Rutledge: So somebody once said that the reason entrepreneurs are so young is that they don’t have to unlearn all the stuff the older guys do, because they need to think about it differently. So yes there’s a difference in the assumptions about how the world works, but at the same time that doesn’t mean you can’t look for them and embrace them you have to be aware of your bias.
So I have a problem with a lot of the research on different media technologies that gets done. For example, like gaming research when it’s done by someone who’s never played a video game but because you are asking a question based upon your own metaphor bank not the one of the gamer. So you’re not going to ask the same question and you can get almost any response you want based upon how you ask the question.
SPP: Do you see that we’re starting to move away from those biases though as these technologies start coming into our lives exponentially faster? People are more accepting of email and the Twitter and the Facebook and all those different media technologies. Do you see that that those biases are starting to go away or do you think those biases will always be here?
Dr. Rutledge: No I think they’ll go away and they’ll be replaced by the new biases because whoever’s behind the Millennials is going to have a different set of technologies that they think are normal. A friend of mine has a teenage son who likes to play games and she was talking with him about what happens when augmented reality starts bringing the game world sort of visually out into the real world where there’s that blend? He was like well gosh I don’t know that people would be able to tell that it’s fantasy then because we know that it’s fantasy in this format. So he’s already got a built in bias about what someone else might not be able to tell wasn’t real.
SPP: I’ve never even looked at it or even thought about it like that. That’s pretty crazy.
Dr. Rutledge: Yes. He’s like 18. So I think for me what I try and do is I try and think I mantra is not about the tools it’s about what human beings are trying to get done. If you think about any kind of connection or goal that you have you think what am I trying to get done and how can technology facilitate that? So I think if that’s where we are now I think now that we’ve gotten the shiny penny period of social media’s over. Because now you see people oh we have to have a social media campaign so quick let’s get a Facebook page, let’s open a Twitter account. Let’s do all of that stuff without thinking what are we trying to do and which ones of these tools, all, none, whatever, make sense for the goal. So I think people will now step back.
SPP: I think it’s funny that you mentioned that because being active on Twitter I definitely do see those companies that say “Oh hot issue is Twitter right now we need to be on here”, but don’t really know why they’re on there. They don’t realize that they’re supposed to be engaging with, basically their niche out there. And then you see other companies like Gatorade who truly gets it and they build a community around their consumers.
Dr. Rutledge: Well I mean we all have to start and learn sometime. I mean I went on Twitter and it was like okay everybody says we got to have a lot of followers, and so you’re just following and caring on like that. I have a Twitter feed now that’s just useless. There is so much junk on it because there were all those apps, you follow this one they follow you, all that stuff because somehow you needed to have the clout from a lot of followers without stopping to think about the quality of the content. So when I went to South by Southwest I fired up a Twitter account for a new business, A Think Lab, so that I could control the information that I was getting.
SPP: Actually that’s a good lead-in because I wanted to ask you, I know you cofounded a company called A Think Lab and I was doing a little research and it’s really interesting. Many people might not have heard of it. Could you kind of tell our listeners a little bit about what you do there and why you decided to create this company?
Dr. Rutledge: Sure. My partner Bonnie Buckner and I our big passion is we call it Learning to See. Leonardo da Vinci someone once asked him “How are you such a good artist?” And he said “The secret isn’t drawing the secret is learning how to see.” So it sort of goes back to it’s not about the tools is that we have a number of workshops and work with companies in consulting or projects, or even just speaking, to help them sort of step out of the normal way that they’re approaching things.
So we work with people on, for example, Trans media storytelling with the idea of getting them to think about the world in an integrated coherent 360° degree way. We really try and focus on the fundamentals of what people are trying to do so that they can operationalize that vision. So creativity innovations, storytelling, finding your story, and we try and make it understandable very experientially because humans have layers in their brains, conscious, unconscious, lizard, mammalian, all of those parts and you want to engage them all.
SPP: This is going to be a super broad question but what are you most excited about right now in terms of where we’re going with these technologies in the workplace and jut what we have at our disposal?
Dr. Rutledge: One of the things that I think is incredibly exciting is that all of this technology is creating this divergence. I mean the lines are really being blurred between producers and consumers, between one technology and another fairly soon between the technology and reality as these things, alternate reality gains where people brain game play out into the public. So all of this stuff really argues that companies and individuals are going to stop needing more coherent marketing messages. In order to have a more coherent marketing message you really need to craft a narrative because otherwise you won’t get anyone’s attention. Jingles are out right who cares.
So by creating a narrative it means you also are going to have to elevate your sights a little bit because the narrative isn’t about my soap will get your clothes clean. The narrative is about making the world more hygienic or safer or cleaner or something like that. In this climate I think largely due to the millennials there is a new social conscious that in the sort of Tom Shews kind of way, or the Zappos kind of way which is yeah we’re going to make profit but we’re going to make profit in a socially responsible way.
So this is a great opportunity as these companies are trying to figure out how to reach the audience and be heard with all of this digital noise. It means you have to be able to engage people. It also means you have to elevate it to some universal principle. I don’t know if you guys saw maybe a month and a half ago I’m not really sure, Downey did this big thing where they put a comedian in Macy’s store on a bed and he was going to sleep there for a week. Did you see that?
SPP: I did see that.
Dr. Rutledge: Okay and you could watch them on a live feed, although every time I went he wasn’t there. So I’m looking at it and I’m thinking okay so what are they doing? What’s the bigger story here? Well they had a lady come in and explain to him the chemical composition of Downey Fabric Sheets. Okay. So here’s a guy, talented guy, sleeping in a window. So you go and you look and then you’re done. They so missed an opportunity. Why did they not say “Downey is about having a great place to sleep?” Let’s think about the people who don’t have a great place to sleep. Click this button, blah, blah, blah and we’ll create beds for people who are homeless or kids who don’t have good stuff.
SPP: Ah yeah.
Dr. Rutledge: I mean it was just you had all these people sort of interested because of the bizarreness of having a guy sleeping in a window and they did nothing with it. So they had those people for a second they could have done all kinds of things that would have let those people feel engaged in their community, that would have caused the Downey name to have a much longer shelf life in their consciousness, and would have actually done some good. Instead they were just talking about what makes fabric softener work.
SPP: Now do you think that a company has to do something like that and tie into social good? Chris, who makes the soap and has the guy that was the…
SPP: Old Spice?
SPP: Old Spice.
SPP: I knew where you were going with that.
SPP: Those Old Spice commercials but there’s probably a great mount of people that didn’t realize that he went on to do YouTube videos where he was responding personally to people who would tweet him on Twitter or comment on YouTube videos on YouTube. He would make personalized videos for these people where it’s almost like a 30 second commercial using your Twitter handle or using your YouTube name. He must have put out 150 or 200 videos the first two days. People were losing their mind on the internet that this guy that everybody thought was so funny was engaging their potential customers. So in that sense they didn’t use the opportunity to do something good but they still used that opportunity to engage their customers and kind of create that relationship.
Dr. Rutledge: Right. It depends on what you’re defining as good. If you make somebody laugh it actually affects the rest of their day chemically. Happiness is contagious and they’ve actually done some studies across networks to show how it actually spreads. So we don’t always have to be giving away a pair of shoes for every pair of shoes that you buy, but you need to be giving something of positive value. Sometimes that’s human but at least they did develop a sort of narrative. The question is now how can they take that and roll that forward. I’ve been sort of surprised that Mr. Clean hasn’t developed a story world. I mean there’s a perfect opportunity.
SPP: I just got this thought when Jon mentioned YouTube. I was watching TV yesterday. I’m not one of those people that go on YouTube that often. I don’t use Twitter that often. I actually rely on Jon for a lot of that, especially with our podcast and everything. But I was watching TV and apparently there’s this YouTube video about kind of a rant that a student from UCLA goes on regarding, I don’t even know it’s something about in our library she was being racist or something.
Dr. Rutledge: Yeah she was backing agents which was in definitely bad taste.
SPP: Okay. So this is a perfect question seeing how you have a psychology background. The newscaster who was saying this was saying that because of things like YouTube kids don’t go home anymore and just complain to their roommates or something like that, they go on the internet and feel that not only do they need to share it but they have the right to be heard by all these people, and even sometimes they feel like they can gain from it even though it’s actually kind of destructive in some sense. I know you said you see the good in all this, and there is more good in all this than bad, but I kind of wanted to get your opinion on that.
Dr. Rutledge: Well in the case of that young woman my understanding is she actually withdrew from school. So I don’t think she got the good out of that. I think when you drive a car they don’t just hand you the keys they make you practice. There are rules on the road there are things you’re supposed to do. I don’t know if anyone ever told you never talk in an elevator when you’re going to a business meeting.
Dr. Rutledge: It’s exactly the same thing. So I think the idea that people want and expect to be heard is very positive. I mean that’s why the fruit vendor in Tunisia was able to turn that one act into essentially revolution because people expected and wanted and demanded to be heard. So that’s very positive. It doesn’t mean you can just go out there and ignore the structure of the network. It’s searchable, it’s permanent, it’s connected. So you have to use the rules and some wisdom about it the same way you don’t put your phone number on the back of your car when you drive around. That seems ridiculous but how is it any different. So I think you have to ask yourself is this something that I want to represent me permanently in front of all these people that I don’t know?
SPP: Yeah because it’s not going away, once that’s posted to the internet that’s cemented forever.
Dr. Rutledge: Right. And as far as I know the only way to get stuff like that to not come up in the Google search is to actually then produce so much more stuff that it buries it down so many pages people don’t see it anymore and that’s a lot of work, a lot of keywords going down for that.
SPP: Yeah it’s hard enough to optimize that to get your site to come up as the first search on Google as it is.
Dr. Rutledge: Right. Well especially now that Google Algorithms make you happy with your search. So it occurred to me the other day that just because my site was coming up first when I searched didn’t actually mean it was coming up first for everyone.
SPP: For everybody else yep.
Dr. Rutledge: Because I go on it to update it so it thinks oh you really like this site.
SPP: All right. Well I know we’re approaching the time requirement. Jon, do you have anything else. I know Jon is just foaming at the mouth because he is a technology nerd.
Dr. Rutledge: Well you guys we can do this again sometime just let me know.
SPP: That would be awesome.
SPP: My question that doesn’t have to go on the podcast, but how does one get a job within your organization?
Dr. Rutledge: Oh well we don’t actually have a big organization we just sort of put projects together and pull people in, but hopefully we’ll get to the point where we can. To me it’s exciting to just be, I mean I feel like a pioneer because things are changing so fast. So it’s really exciting and so are you guys I mean you’re pioneers too.
SPP: That’s actually that’s one of the things that technology allows us to do this and it kind of took off where we didn’t even expect it, which is crazy you can’t even predict what’s going to happen.
Dr. Rutledge: Right. Which is one of the big qualities of the network right? SPP: Yeah it is. All right well I know we’ve taken up a lot of time.
Dr. Rutledge: No I’m having a good time.
SPP: Oh good. Well thanks again so much. This was awesome.
Dr. Rutledge: Well I’m happy to do it and like I said, if there’s something you want to talk about it another day I’m always around so just let me know.