Category Archives: Theories

Higher wine prices boost drinking pleasure (people are sheep)

yet another article in the people-are-sheep category, Jonathan Abrams sent me this article:
Higher wine prices boost drinking pleasure: study

Researchers at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the California Institute of Technology found that because people expect wines that cost more to be of higher quality, they trick themselves into believing the wines provide a more pleasurable experience than less expensive ones.

The researchers said that when 20 adult test subjects sampled the same wine at different prices, they reported experiencing pleasure at significantly greater levels when told the wine cost more. At the same time, the part of the brain responsible for pleasure showed significant activity.

people are hard-wired to believe that things that cost more MUST be better. like a Rolex watch must be better than a Seiko watch (it isn’t) or a low-end Mercedes must be better than a Toyota (it isn’t either). but the brand makes you feel better. and that’s what people are paying for.

I have a friend who owns a very successful club in San Francisco. The number one drink ordered is a Kettle One (high end vodka) and Red Bull. Now most vodka come from the same stock and there isn’t any proof that one vodka is more likely to prevent hangovers than another vodka (unless maybe if it is infused with vitamins). So I can understand if you are going to buy a high-end vodka if you claim it tastes better … but you can’t actually taste the vodka when mixed with Red Bull. So people are buying the brand, the “experience” (whatever that means), the split second when they order that it makes them feel rich and can try to impress the bartender that they are willing to spend 50% more for the same experience.

i admit that i fall for these things all the time.

people bank on price. because price is usually a good predictor of quality and if you don’t know any better, that’s all you have to go on. it makes sense.

in a hotel, price often equals quality (except in an Ian Shrager hotel where the quality and service is quite bad but the brand is strong). in a vodka, people pay more because they feel better … they feel they have a nicer experience (even though Absolute probably ranks just as high as the 2x priced Grey Goose). in a wine, people truly believe a $200 bottle bests a $20 bottle (i’ve done tons of taste tests that showed people cannot tell the difference) .. and they like the experience of buying the best stuff.

sunny people verses angry people, lovers verses haters

People get very passionate about their causes, their religion, their business. People are awesome that way.

Some passionate people are “sunny” and others are “angry”. Not surprisingly, I’ve always gravitated toward those who are sunny.

There are sunny Republicans (Schwarzenegger) and angry Republicans (DeLay). There are sunny religious leaders (Rick Warren) and angry ones (Farrakhan). There are sunny technology blogs (TechCrunch) and angry ones (gossip blogs).

And while more optimists are sunny and more pessimists are angry, there ARE plenty of angry optimists and sunny pessimists. But sunny people are far more pleasant to be around. They may be just as passionate, just as intense, but they usually have a deeper love of humanity.

Sunny people are lovers. They enjoy the success of others … in fact, they celebrate others’ successes. They trust others. Innocent until proven guilty. People in Silicon Valley tend to lovers.

Angry people are haters. They can’t stand the success of others and want to bring those people down. They’re jealous of innovation and attention that isn’t directed to them. They’re suspicious that everyone is trying to screw them over and take them for a ride. Guilty until proven innocent. A lot of people in New York and L.A. are really angry.

Great American leaders are generally sunny. Great Russian leaders are generally angry.

Roosevelt (both of them), Reagan, Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Clinton were sunny. Nixon and Johnson were angry. (Ford, Carter, and the Bushes are not entirely sunny nor angry). Mike Huckabee has ridden up in the polls because he is sunny while Sam Brownback (both with similar ideology) faltered because he wasn’t perceived as a lover. John Kerrey was angry in 2004 (which is, my theory, why he lost when he should have won). John Edwards is an interesting candidate – he can be a lover and a hater both in the same day (and sometimes in the same debate).

If you’re liberal, you are angry if you hate George W. Bush but you are sunny if you hate the war in Iraq. If you are conservative, you are angry if you hate Hilary Clinton but you are sunny if you hate her plan to raise taxes. Demonizing people – whether it be the President of the U.S. or an ethnic group is what haters do. Lovers debate ideas.

Are sunny people more successful that angry people? Not sure. They are certainly happier. Angry people have a real sad life.

If you have a choice, be a lover, not a hater.

long flying when you’re not having fun

There are two types of people in this world:

A. People who’s day takes a long time but their month seems to go by so quickly


B. People who’s day flies by but a month seems so long ago

I tend to gravitate toward the latter. If a month ago seems like ages, it often means that you’ve done so many interesting things over that time. If it seems like just yesterday, then maybe you’ve done a lot of the same thing.

Conversely, if your day goes by quickly, you’re energized and excited. But if a day takes a long time, you might be bored and repetitive.

more data on expert wine tasters being scam artists

Greg Fodor forwarded me this interesting article:

The Subjectivity of Wine by Jonah Lehrer.

Lehrer writes:

In 2001, Frederic Brochet, of the University of Bordeaux, conducted two separate and very mischievous experiments. In the first test, Brochet invited 57 wine experts and asked them to give their impressions of what looked like two glasses of red and white wine. The wines were actually the same white wine, one of which had been tinted red with food coloring. But that didn’t stop the experts from describing the “red” wine in language typically used to describe red wines. One expert praised its “jamminess,” while another enjoyed its “crushed red fruit.” Not a single one noticed it was actually a white wine.

The second test Brochet conducted was even more damning. He took a middling Bordeaux and served it in two different bottles. One bottle was a fancy grand-cru. The other bottle was an ordinary vin du table. Despite the fact that they were actually being served the exact same wine, the experts gave the differently labeled bottles nearly opposite ratings. The grand cru was “agreeable, woody, complex, balanced and rounded,” while the vin du table was “weak, short, light, flat and faulty”. Forty experts said the wine with the fancy label was worth drinking, while only 12 said the cheap wine was.

thanks Greg!

Where are the raves?

Take a look at the Rants and Raves section on Craigslist.   Guess what???? — there aren’t a lot of raves.   Just rants.  And more rants.  It should be called "Rants and more rants."   how come no one wants to say nice things about their neighbor, the cashier at Starbucks, or the girl they went on a date with?

James Currier pointed this out to me and it got me curious — is this becoming increasing true?

More and more on the Internet, the microphone goes to the person that can make the nastiest comment, be the meanest, be the bigger gossiper.   And worse are the anonymous comments … often all that comes out is bitterness and vitriol.   

Until then, I’ll be waiting eagerly for the new "raves and more raves" section on the web …

The “time problem” with being helpful

Continuing on the theme that you can buy time, I
got the following mail from a friend of mine today (names and locations obscured
to protect the innocent):

I wonder if
I can ask your advice on something (which, admittedly, will be somewhat

For the
past few months, I’ve noticed I field (as I’m sure you do as well which is why
I’m reaching out to you) about 10 requests a week from people who want (a)
general career advice (b) help marketing their new startup or blog or (c) an
actual job in new media/traditional media/press/etc.

wants to meet (a) for lunch [which is impossible because of work commitments
and meetings all day], (b) for drinks [also impossible unless I let this
interfere, in a big way, with social plans] or (c) for
brunch/coffee/drinks/etc. on the weekend.

At first I
took calls during the week, but that is no longer an option because of
work.  For the past 3 months, I’ve pushed everything to the weekend
days.  But for weeks upon weeks I’ve found myself in back to back meetings
all day, every day, giving marketing and job advice Saturdays and Sundays.

So, I’m not
sure how to handle this and wonder if you have any advice. 

I realize I
personally would never be even close to where we are without the unending,
brilliant and generous advice of people like you and other incredibly busy
people. But I also realize that working
all day during the week, then giving marketing and business advice every
weekend, is not sustainable. I would
really love and appreciate any advice (and sorry to burden you with this!)

think we all go through this.   the bad news is — there is no good
answer.   But there are time hacks to fit helping people into your
life. More in this on a future post …

2012 Predictions

I recently went to a retreat where they asked all the participants to make a non-obvious prediction for 2012.   here are the ones I submitted:

Math and number puzzles will overtake crosswords … reminding America of when salsa overtook ketchup.   

The legal drinking age in the U.S. will be 18 again causing teenagers to become utterly sober and move, en masse, to Saudi Arabia … where drinking will be cool again because it is illegal there. 

Every major presidential candidate will support gay marriage … to show their solidarity the Republican nominee and Democratic nominee will marry their daughters to each other.    

2011 is the coldest year on record … global macro hedge funds make a killing investing in manufacturers of leg warmers.

How common is adultery?

In the Economist a few weeks ago there was a review of a book about different nation’s notions about adultery.   According to the book the country with the highest percentage of males committing adultery is Togo (37%) and the two countries with the least adulterous males are Australia (2.5%) and Switzerland (3%).

In the study, the percentage of men are those who are married and who have cheated on their spouse in the last 12 months.   It was determined through extensive surveying and might be flawed.   

The numbers seem scary.   Take Australia, the "best" nation with only 2.5% of men committing adultery in the last 12 months.   Is it me, or does 2.5% seem alarming?   Imagine, in the very best place for fidelity in world, 1 in 40 men still cheat every year!  Really unbelievable.   I would hope it would be more like 1 in 200.   am I just naive?   

math and shakespeare

I was at a dinner party not too long ago and one of the other attendees did something very interesting … he chastised one of the guests for not really knowing Shakespeare.   Then, a few minutes later, this same chastiser was bragging about how little he cared for math and science — he said other people could focus on that.

Is Shakespeare really more important than math and science?

Too often people think what they know is REALLY important and what their ignorant of is something easily done by others.

As the dinner progressed, I asked a question to the other nine guests: you roll 5 dice, what is the probability of getting at least one four.   Turns out, no one knew.   Now granted, it is actually a hard question for someone that hasn’t studied probability … the smattering of Stanford B-school and Harvard Law School grads hadn’t studied math and statistics in college like I had.   And one can get through life fine without knowing simple probability … just like many get through life without knowing Shakespeare.   

Whether it is the Monty Hall problem or the Birthday problem, people have a real lack of understand of their chance of something.   Maybe that explains gambling.   Or playing credit card roulette.   it seems math and science is quite important for any learned person to master.

Now I don’t know much about Shakespeare … but it isn’t something I brag about.   In fact, I see that as one of my deficiencies that I’m not proud of.   So I get taken aback when people feel that what they know is so much more important than what they don’t know.   

Do you trust your gut?

Most people trust their gut. I think it is because one’s gut is usually right. On a technical level, a gut is a collection of prejudices, biases, and pattern matching — and that turns out generally to be correct. So your gut is usually right (certainly more than 50% of the time). But 100%?

So … should you trust your gut?

I think some people have an unusually good gut and they should trust their gut. But my guess is that most people think they have a better gut then they do.

I personally don’t trust my gut … especially not with people. I often find that when I meet someone I judge them wrong. I’m an optimist and I often over-estimate people. Sometimes I under-estimate people and am pleasantly surprised.

Hiring is an area that I never trust my gut. In fact, most of my bad hires in past have been because I went with my gut instead of taking the time to use real analytics.

And while I love the book Blink (by Malcolm Gladwell), I don’t think the split-second decisions are always the best ones. Especially on non-obvious things. For instance, I love math and probability problems (especially the Monty Hall problem) — and “gut” answer is almost always wrong. In the case of the Monty Hall problem, almost everyone I have ever asked gives the wrong answer (there are only two choices — so it is weird that 98% of people pick the wrong choice) … and when I ask them why they are picking their choice, they usually answer “gut.”

That is not to say there is no place for a gut … there is likely a good place if you truly have a good one. But for an analytical person like me, rock beats scissors and brain beats gut.