Meet the Cognitive Miser (& Make Your Message Stick)

6th April, 2021

Meet the Cognitive Miser (& Make Your Message Stick)

Now I hear you’re a generous sort.

 

You’re first at the bar to buy a round.

 

You’re always digging your hand in your pocket to help out.

 

But there’s one area where you’re tighter than waistbands after lockdown.

 

Where you’re meaner than portion sizes at a nouvelle cuisine restaurant.

 

And that’s when it comes to consuming information.

 

You’re what’s known as a ‘cognitive miser’.

 

Now don’t worry, it’s not personal.

 

We’re all ‘cognitive misers’, apparently. It’s a term coined in the eighties by psychologists Susan Fiske and Shelley Taylor.

 

It describes our brains’ tendency to look for solutions to problems that take the least mental effort.

 

In other words, we don’t like thinking, and so we try to avoid it at all costs.

 

And when it comes to information, we’re lazy as hell.

 

There’s a reason why the ‘Dummies Guides’ are so popular.

 

We scan and skim read.

 

Take shortcuts.

 

Try to get the gist without having to read every word.

 

So, what does this mean for communication? Well, if we want our message to land, our audience must expend as little energy as possible to consume our information.

 

Let them be laaaaaaaaaazy.

 

Now before you worry, I’m not suggesting we dumb down our ideas. Some concepts are big and hairy and complex and need careful, precise explanations.

 

But let’s not make it harder than necessary for people to understand our points.

 

So…think about using images to illustrate a point (we use much less brainpower to process images than text, and so do it more quickly).

 

Try chopping up longer paragraphs with headlines and subtitles.

 

And think about where you can use summaries to aid understanding.

 

Just don’t make your audience think too much, otherwise they might just switch off.

 

And I’ve got a little shortcut for you too.

 

Decision Ireland has published an excerpt from my book, Email Attraction, on the best email subject lines.

 

It’s short and snappy, with 18 ready-made subject lines you can steal.

 

It’s a 4-min read to shortcut getting your emails opened and read.

 

Minimal brainpower required – cognitive misers welcome.

 

Take a look now.

accenture
UBS
LOD
Euromoney
University of Cambridge

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