Selfish, Scared and Stupid & the Future of Business with Dan Gregory

Posted on Friday, 03 Oct 2014


This week, Thinque has had the pleasure of chatting with colleague and keynote speaker Dan Gregory. Anders Sorman-Nilsson keynote speaker and founder of Thinque, loves nothing more than when their crazy travel schedules permit, to hang out with Dan and chew the fat. 

In the spirit of not being selfish, we thought we would share Dan with you today!

To read the full interview, click here now. We also have a copy of Dan's book to give away, like & share this post to be in the running to win a copy!

4 Questions for Dan Gregory:

1. How did you end up becoming a Behavioural Researcher, Strategist, Speaker and Author?

Look, I think fundamentally we're all behavioural strategists. We all start out that way. Certainly if you watch a child learning how to navigate their way in the world, we become very good at studying other people's behaviour and learning how to manipulate it and read it. So I think we all have that natural curiosity. And certainly that's informed a lot of my life. When I went to study, my areas of study . . . I was a Journalism major, but I studied things like psychology, sociology and philosophy. So I've actually always been a student in things like religion and philosophy. What makes people do what they do? What makes belief systems form? I find that stuff really fascinating. Then moving into a career like advertising where it's all about creating strategies around driving people's behavior and understanding what makes people do what they do, then you spend most of your life just researching what makes different groups of people, different subcultures behave in particular ways. For example what are some of things that pull our strings? That's really, I guess, the fundamental interest and then my business partner Kieran and I worked as lecturers in Award school, which is the creative school here in Australia, and we both really like teaching. We like training.


2. Where do you see the Future of Business heading?

I think there's two things at the moment that I'm seeing a lot of. I think we're entering an entrepreneurial age, and by that I mean we're now living in an age where nimble startups are able to beat corporations even on the scale game, and so we're seeing particularly in this new generation of Gen Y Millennials,that they've got a real appetite for having a go and starting up a business. So I think we'll see an entrepreneurial age, but I think we'll also see corporate acting entrepreneurially. And I think you are already starting to see that, where big slabs of corporations are sort of falling off and people that used to be employees are now startups selling their services back to their former employers.

So I think in order to respond really, really quickly, big corporates will have to move to encouraging an entrepreneurial culture, so a more flexible, more agile way of working and a less hierarchical model of leadership. So it's going to be less about control and more about creating cultures of the willing, where people collaborate out of possibility rather than working together because that's what they're told to do. I think that's really key. The second thing I think, it doesn't matter what industry you're in; you're all in the entertainment business now. So in other words, if you want to engage with your customers, it used to be really easy. We used to buy media and basically shout at you until you just bowed into submission. We can't do this anymore. If we want people to interact with our brand, if we want people to interact with our organizations, it needs to have words in its own right. Again, stuff that people will interact with willingly and voluntarily.

So we're starting to see aspects of that in the way beliefs are translating into brands or into it's behaviours. That kind of migration from beliefs to behaviours, we're really seeing huge changes in that. What it's doing is turning everything up on its head. Leadership is up for grabs. The concepts of marketing and even the way we manage people through human resources are very much in flux. I think because we're in the Digital Revolution and because we all like to think of ourselves as particularly digitally at bay, we tend to ignore the significance of it. And the Digital Revolution, I regard as the equivalent of the Industrial Revolution. It's as transformative on the way we do business and the way we organize as human beings and as collective as the Industrial Revolution was. People forget that the organizations that were dominant before the Industrial Revolution weren't dominant afterwards, and I think we'll see a little bit of that happening during the Digital Revolution as well.

3. You have just written a new book along with your business partner Kieran Flanagan, " Selfish, Scared and Stupid " can you explain more about that?

It's actually about human behaviour, and it's about the fact that our survival brain still drives most of our decisions. So we like to think of ourselves as being incredibly evolved and driven by higher motives, but the truth is our survival brain still calls dibs when it comes to our decision making. So, in other words, if we're selfish, scared, and stupid -- and we tend to think of selfish, scared, and stupid as negatives, and the truth is, they're not. They're actually why we survived and thrived as a species. Being selfish made us look out for number one. Being scared made us mitigate risk. Being stupid made us look for the simplest and easiest solutions to our problems. It's actually a recipe for success. But because it doesn't sound good, we tend to ignore that and pretend that we act in other ways. And as a result, we end up with strategies built around human ideals versus human reality. And we tend not to factor failure into our planning.

So let me give you an example. In the aeronautical engineering sphere, people who design and make airplanes, now, for decades, have been making airplanes that can continue to fly and land safely even if an engine goes out. So even if they're cut down to 50% power, they can still land safely. But if I said to most organizations, "How would you function if 50% of your people didn't show up tomorrow?" Most organizations would say, "Well, we'd crash and burn." You look at workplace engagement research, 50% of the workforce isn't engaged in the work that they're doing. So here's the thing: 50% of your workforce might be physically there, but they're not showing up. And what we do is, we behave as if they are. We behave as if people are driven to the same extent that we are. And what the book's really about is the fact that if we deal with human realities, if we're biased towards human nature, and if we rely on things like design, other disciplines. So discipline's always meant to be a short-term strategy. But design, if we build our systems and our processes such as that instead of trying to contort human behavior to produce the outcome we want, so instead of beating ourselves up, instead of trying to cajole ourselves or trying to manipulate our customers to produce results, if instead we put that results in the direct path of human nature and allowed it to happen naturally, we actually bias towards having success more automatically and more effortlessly. But that's not how we typically like to behave. We typically try to control human behavior as opposed to engineering along the lines in alignment with human behaviour.

4. Any one piece of advice that has been valuable and you would like share?

Yes. The first creative director I worked with who ended up becoming my business partner, George Betsis, he said, "Train at altitude," and I think that's the best advice I ever got.

And certainly that's the way I tried to build my career. The reason I got into stand-up comedy was because I was a terrible presenter. I was awful. I would sit in meetings and I was thoughtful, but I'd sit quietly in a meeting and I wouldn't be engaging. And 80% of my job is getting up in front of a group of C-suite executives or a board and selling to them an idea that might cost $10 million, $20 million and the future of their organization, the future of their careers is on the line. So you need to be able to present to make that kind of a big ticket sale. And so it's why I moved into stand-up. Stand-up was training at altitude. If you can survive travelling around the world for three years and doing stand-up every night of the year, you end up a little bit bulletproof because no corporate audience or even board room is going to grill you the way a stand-up audience will. No one's going to scream out from the back of the room in a corporate board room, "I fucked your mum."

 I think it fits with this idea of training at altitude. And certainly, the creative industry in Australia or around the world, it's so competitive to get in, and the hurdle you have to get over to get into this industry or that industry, rather, the one that I was in, is so much higher than where the playing field was that you have to train at altitude just to be allowed to play.

Fascinating Dan, thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights with us. Dan Gregory and Kieran Flanagan's latest book - "Selfish, Scared and Stupid", is available for purchase now - click here to buy your copy.