Career & Success

Class Takeaways — The Frinky Science of the Human Mind

Five lessons in five minutes: Professor Baba Shiv shows how to build emotional connections that back up your decisions.

July 26, 2021

| by Allison Felt

We often think that the best way to sell our ideas is by making rational arguments. Yet if we really want to convince others, we also need to make emotional appeals that tap into the brain’s need for excitement, curiosity, and comfort.

That’s one of the counterintuitive — or “frinky” — insights shared by Stanford GSB professor of marketing Baba Shiv in this video based on his course Designing Solutions by Leveraging the Frinky Science of the Human Mind.


Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Baba Shiv. I’m a professor of marketing at the Graduate School of Business. I’ve been teaching several courses over the years, but my favorite course is the Frinky Science of the Human Mind.

1. Appeal to Emotion

Now, as a current and/or future organization leader, you have to be effective at two things among others day in and day out. You have to be effective at making decisions, but even more important, I would argue you have to be effective at shaping others’ decisions. And when we go about shaping others’ decisions, what do we often end up doing? We present rational arguments. Keep in mind that the rational brain accounts for only about 5% to 10% of human decisions by all estimates. I’m not saying you can ignore the rational side, but first and foremost, you need to play into what the emotional brain is looking for. You need to appeal to the emotional brain. You need to weave into the value proposition things that will bring about a feeling of comfort, this feeling of reassurance and peace of mind. You want to bring in excitement, kindle the inner child in that person. Discovery, curiosity, play, et cetera.

2. Seek Advice with a Rough Prototype

Now, as a leader trying to shape others’ decisions, trying to get buy-in from someone, remember the following: number one, who does that individual trust the most? Themselves. Second, remember that whenever the brain perceives that it is making an investment in something, it gets invested in it. Number three, there’s a famous saying here in Silicon Valley that if you’re a startup founder going to an investor for money, you’re going to get advice. You go for advice, you’re going to get money. So what you do is go to the stakeholder you’re trying to influence, you’re trying to get buy-in from, and what you do is seek advice. The person will provide advice. Now that person’s brain has gotten invested in your idea. Now your idea will become that person’s baby as well. And finally, when you’re presenting this to and seeking advice from this individual, present a rough prototype, not a polished prototype, because when you present a polished prototype, others will only find flaws. When you present a rough prototype, others will see potential.

3. Make the Decision and Then Make It Right

Now, whenever we are faced with tough decisions, professional decisions, personal decisions, we often end up agonizing about whether we’re making the right decision. But remember in the real world, there is no such thing as making the right decision. You make the decision and then make the decision right. Now to make the decision right, we have to be cognizant of two things. Number one, we have to be confident. We’ve got to have this feeling of conviction about the course of action that we’re going to take, and that conviction is rooted in emotion. So go ahead, make the decision, and invoke all these positive emotions. Construct a narrative that showcases total success, that’ll allow you to be confident. But we also need to be cognizant of the various deterrents that can derail us along the way, so that we can address those issues before the issues actually arise.

4. Expect the Best to Get the Best

We all want to pursue a life filled with passion, having the juice to pursue what life has to offer us. Now, keep in mind that in order to get the best out of life, we have to expect the best out of life. We’ve got to have these congruent beliefs, this faith that things are finally going to work out in the end. Why? The whole notion of the placebo effect, where our expectations turn into reality. And that’s why it is in the anticipation of happiness that happiness itself resides. It is in the anticipation of success that success itself resides.

5. Put on Your Oxygen Mask First

As individuals, we all want to leave a legacy. We all want to have an impact to change lives, to change organizations, to change the world out there. But to build that, first and foremost, you need to take care of yourself. And remember the safety announcement before the flight takes off, “Put on your oxygen mask first before helping others.” Make sure that you are healthy so that you can perform at your peak. You are a peak performer leaving a legacy, having an impact on the world.


My mom would have never expected that I would have become a professor. Of course, nowadays she calls me up and she says, “I know, look at your friends, look at that friend of yours who has become a multimillionaire and look at you, just a college professor.”

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