Why is everyone so busy?

13 Jul

Written by Carl Davidson, Director of Strategy and Insight, Research First

To do list with so many things note on paper with paper balls and pen

If you’re like most people, you probably get to the end of the day wondering where the hours went. Equally, you probably struggle to remember the last time you had a conversation that didn’t involve someone talking about how busy they were.

The expression ‘time-poor’ emerged towards the end of the twentieth-century and it seems to undeniably describe modern living. For those who like to supersize their maladies, there is the notion of ‘hurry sickness’. According to Psychology Today, this describes a pattern of behaviour characterised by “continual rushing and anxiousness; an overwhelming and continual sense of urgency [where] a person feels chronically short of time”. If you easily get frustrated with delays, you probably have it. And if a slow internet connection enrages you, then you definitely do. But it could be worse, in Japan there is a condition known as ‘karoshi’, which translates roughly as ‘death from overwork’.

A quick search of Google reveals that there are two broad responses to this escalation of busyness in our lives. The first response is all about finding ways to use our time more effectively and efficiently. It’s hard to escape the impression that this is billion dollar industry, with a seemingly endless selection of tools, apps, books, and training course to make us all more productive.
The second response involves some measure of unplugging from modern life. In this corner we have an equally impressive array of people and products promising to help us downshift, declutter, and disengage.

Not for the first time (and with apologies to Anthony Giddens), social science suggests there is a third way. This response starts from the counterintuitive point that our lives aren’t really any busier than they were in the past.

Despite how it might seem, the evidence is clear that New Zealanders in paid employment work fewer hours, on average, than they did in 2001. Equally, the data we have about leisure time (or what social scientists call ‘time spent free of obligation and necessity’) shows no decrease over the last 20 years.

How we spend our leisure time has definitely changed (more time in front of screens and less time in organised sport), as have the parts week that get counted as ‘leisure’, but it’s not getting any scarcer.

It’s true that these are general patterns drawn from averages and your mileage may vary. But the argument is stronger if we reverse it: there is no evidence that we are more ‘time-poor’ than in the past. This in itself is a remarkable insight.

It is also the kind of paradox that social scientists love. Clearly being ‘time-poor’ or having a dose of ‘hurry-sickness’ is real for many people (and it’s particularly hard to fake karoshi). Yet the cause must lie in something other than an objective intensification of everyday life.

The answer seems to be in how perceive our time in the context of the number of ways we have of spending it. What the world we live in clearly does is magnify the conflict between the parts of our brains that crave novelty and fear loss. This is then further magnified by the rapid diffusion of digital technology. No matter what you are doing, there is a world of distraction just a click away.

In this context, choosing to do just one thing, no matter how worthy, means not doing any number of others. Even where you like the choice you have made, the act of discounting the alternatives creates stress. As does second-guessing your choices by thinking about the more productive ways you could have used your time. In this regard we are all like Proust, in search of lost time.

But life is too short and Proust is too long to live this way. The view from the social sciences is that the key to overcoming hurry sickness is to place more value on our time. Doing so will help arrest the tendency many of us have to be easily distracted. Here what matters is not so much how to save time but how to spend our attention.

Because, to paraphrase Annie Dillard – ‘how we spend our hours is, of course, how we spend our lives’.

Research First is PRINZ’s research partner, and specialises in impact measurement, behaviour change, and evidence-based insights.

Why I chose PR – #PRConf16

29 Jun

Written by Georgia Ward, PRINZ Student Ambassador

 Georgia Ward

(Georgia Ward, PRINZ Student Ambassador AUT; Kirsty Pickett; Deanna Morse, PRINZ Student Ambassador, University of Waikato).

The PRINZ Student Ambassador Programme allows students studying relevant qualifications to become involved and engaged in the communication and public relations industry. The programme gives students a head-start in the industry, encouraging them to participate in the PRINZ community. This blog post is written by Georgia Ward, PRINZ Student Ambassador at AUT University, Auckland.

It has been a month since I was lucky enough to attend the recent PRINZ conference ‘Challenge to Opportunity’ as a Student Volunteer.

Hearing lines such as ” What got you here won’t get you there!” or “If you do what you always do, you’re always going to get what you get” come from industry professionals Chris Savage, The Savage Company and Sean Smith, Isentia was inspiring and at times a little overwhelming.

You see, at the risk of sounding clichéd, those lines have rung in my ears for weeks after.

For myself and the other students that attended, it was an eye-opening experience into not only what we’re getting ourselves into, but why we’re getting ourselves into it.

Firstly, the desire to work hard and achieve visible results.

I’ve learnt quickly that the euphoria of dreams and desires in this industry is replaced with hard work, tenacity and drive – without those three things any goals, dreams and desires do not become reality.

For the majority of students, our definition of working hard is juggling full-time university, with an internship, work experience and paid employment, as well as finding time to sleep in amongst there as well.

In the big wide communication world, this is, of course, different.

Students, there are times when it may seem unimaginable and never ending, but those hours of work, commitment, and content creation are what leads to the moment that allows each of us students to create our own personal brand, brand ‘YOU’. A brand we get to take out into the industry, showcasing who we are as individuals in the communication world.

As Chris Savage of the Savage Company said: “What got you here – won’t get you there”. Good things in this day and age come to those who hustle, and this hustle to achieve results can take you and your client great places!

Secondly, PR allows you to be creative and innovative. 

Creating generic campaigns does not cut it in this fast-paced world. Now, quirky, fun, experimental and challenging campaigns create the engagement and results that clients and businesses love to see! It’s a case of old tricks reinvented. Experimenting with the channels, content and messaging can lead to greater results in the long run.

We’ve entered a new world that is rapidly changing thanks to new media. Audience fragmentation is greater than ever, and having the ability to rapidly think and adapt to new and exciting situations can put you one step ahead of the person sitting next to you.

From media kits to experiential campaigns; boundaries and ideas are being pushed every day and it is so inspiring to be the one who generally gets to pack those media kits up, and see what awesome stuff is created! I see it as knowing the old; creating the new.

Finally, impact.

For myself, one of the key decisions in choosing PR is the impact it can have on people’s everyday life. Sadly, it is often referred to as spin, however, thanks to organisations such as PRINZ this is slowly being diminished.

The Research First breakfast on the second day of the conference confirmed that many professionals in this industry complete pro bono work on a regular basis. The question of “Why do we do it?” was posed.

It makes us feel good knowing we can use our skills to help someone else. The relationship PRINZ has with the Community Comms Collective and the response by PRINZ members to the Manurewa Marae’s call for help are just two recent examples.

Whether it is promoting a new product that a brand you represent has launched; or communicating the success a charity has had in order for them to retain their lifeblood sponsorship; PR has an impact on everything and everyone in between.

Like all those who I sat in the conference room listening to speakers, workshops, or asking questions to learn more, we all have the same innate desire and determination to help people grow success in this world through communication.

With that, I leave you with the silence-inducing words at Conference of Stacey Shortall, Minter Ellison Rudd Watts: “Who did you help today?”.

Happy National Volunteer Week!

20 Jun

Written by Lana Corrigan, PRINZ

Megaphone in hand front of blackboard

#NVW2016 is a perfect opportunity to thank all our wonderful PRINZ volunteers. As a membership not-for-profit organisation, we rely on, and appreciate, help from our volunteers in the day-to-day running of PRINZ.

PRINZ is proud to be governed by PR and communication professionals who take time out of their busy schedules to help improve, advocate and promote the excellence of the industry. We would like to thank Katie Mathison, FPRINZ, our newly elected #PRINZPresident, our National Council members Bruce Fraser, FPRINZ, Brian Finn, FPRINZ, Angela Paul, MPRINZ, Dan Walraven, Fiona Cassidy, FPRINZ, Catherine Arrow, FPRINZ, Diana Wolken, FPRINZ, Heather Claycomb, FPRINZ, Jacky James, MPRINZ, Pauline Rose, FPRINZ and all past PRINZ Presidents and National Council members for their dedication, guidance and for helping make PRINZ what it is today.

Our committee members who help run events in different regions and promote PRINZ also volunteer their time. We would like to thank Northern Division members alongside chair Brian Finn, FPRINZ, Ady Swartfeger, FPRINZ, Chloe Vaughan, Lisa Finucane, FPRINZ, Rachael Joel, MPRINZ, Rebecca Foote, Simon Roche, MPRINZ and Shannon Huse Caldwell, Alexander Danne; Central Division members alongside chair Angela Paul, MPRINZ, Daniel Glover, Grace Loftus, MPRINZ, Miriam Dawson, Annalie Brown, Leanne Rate, MPRINZ and Oliver Ibbetson, and Southern Division members alongside chair Dan Walraven, Effie Lochrane, Kathryn Ruge, Linda Chalmers, MPRINZ, Michele Hider, MPRINZ, Janet Luxton, MPRINZ, Donovan Ryan, Angela Harden and Katrin Johnston.

We would also like to extend a big thanks to all members who have been involved with our PRINZ Awards, the College of Fellows, Mentoring programme, APR Accreditation, Conference, Learning Lunch events and everyone who has responded to our calls of assistance.

It is also worth commending the number of PRINZ members who participate in other volunteering activities outside of PRINZ. As findings from our latest Research First PRINZ Insights Survey show, many of our members also participate in pro-bono work. The report will be made available soon.

Without all the help from our amazing members and volunteers, PRINZ wouldn’t be the great professional network it is today so from us here at the PRINZ office, Elaine, Lana, Anna and Rosa, THANK YOU!

Image credit: iStock

We Have To Talk About Donald Trump

8 Jun

Written by Carl Davidson, Director of Strategy and Insight, Research First

Judgment road sign

It seems too easy here in New Zealand to watch the American Republican Party primary election unfold in disbelief. Only in America, you might think, could Donald Trump’s inanity and witlessness be the qualities that determine their party’s presidential candidate. If you’re old enough to remember Hunter S Thompson before the Johnny Depp caricature, you may even think that it’s time to revive the ‘fear and loathing on the campaign trail’ theme.

But, as one of my old psychology professors used to warn me, ‘everything looks simple from the distance of ignorance’. Rather than representing something unique about the Republican Party (or even about the state of the USA in 2016), the popularity of Trump could illustrate two useful social science insights (and in the process reveal a great deal about us and the world we live in).

The first insight is that we are just not very good at judging other people.

The second is that political campaigns provide very poor information to shape those judgements.

The first insight comes from psychology, and shows that we form judgements about people from how they look and behave long before we hear what they have to say. No matter how unfair it seems, better-looking people tend to be judged more favourably than the rest of us; make more money; and are treated more leniently by others when they get into trouble. It starts early too, with teachers favouring their more attractive students and judging them as smarter.

As if this ‘beauty bias’ wasn’t bad enough, there is also a ‘height premium’. This describes how taller people, on average, earn more money than shorter people; are more likely to be considered intelligent; and are more likely to be picked as leaders. John Adams was probably only half-joking when he said that George Washington became president because he was ‘always the tallest man in the room’.

Finally, the research into how we judge others is clear that we see those who speak-up first, or loudest, or most often, as being more charismatic than those that don’t. This is a key part of what we mean when we say someone ‘makes a great leader’. And here is the really important part, they are considered better leaders regardless of what they actually have to say.

Google ‘how to be more charismatic’ and what you will find are endless lists about how to talk, dress, and impress but very little about the quality of your message. If you get the impression that ‘being charismatic’ is largely an act, you’re close to understanding the appeal of Donald Trump.

And this is where the second insight helps us. Playing into these psychological biases is the changing sociology of political campaigns. As hard as it is to believe today, in 1858 Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas took part in a series of debates that involved one candidate opening with a 60 minute speech, followed by a 90 minute response from the other. They did this seven times, with no moderator present.

By 1968 the average length of a soundbite from a US presidential candidate was down to 42 seconds; then 10 seconds in 1988; and around seven seconds today. For some context, if you talk faster than normal, you might get through 25 words in seven seconds.

Even before we consider how carefully scripted those soundbites are, there is very little real meaning you can convey in so little time. Add in the fact that those soundbites are designed to compress the largest number of words into the smallest amount of thought (as Churchill once said about something else), and what hope do any of us have? The cult of celebrity really does trivialise everything it touches.

To be clear, none of this should be taken as a vindication of Donald Trump. If anything, it should help explain why there is less to his candidacy than meets the eye.

But it is one thing to notice that the sideshow has somehow taken over the main tent, and quite another to resist the draw of a skilled carnival barker.

Research First is the research partner for PRINZ. Visit them at www.researchfirst.co.nz.

Image credit: iStock

#PRConf16 – Hard Work is Invaluable to Success

3 Jun

Written by PRINZ member Cassie Arauzo, The Clique, as published on The Clique blog

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 13: PRINZ conference day two on May 13, 2016 in Auckland, Auckland. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Chris savage at the PRINZ Conference May 13, 2016 in Auckland (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Cassie is an Account Executive at The Clique, she graduated from AUT in 2015 with a BCS degree. At this year’s PRINZ Awards Cassie and her AUT teammate won the Paul Dryden Tertiary Award.

Chris Savage, a business growth specialist at the Savage Company was the last to speak at the PRINZ 2016 conference. Admittedly, I was starting to get tired on a Friday late afternoon so had positioned myself in a corner at the back. However, when he said “the only place that success comes before work is the dictionary.” I got up and moved to a closer table.

In a world of confusing, conflicting advice this resonated with my own experience where hard work is the true recipe of success. It is just about the only thing that can’t be taught. In today’s age, the millennial generation is faced with an array of contradictions on how to be successful and happy. As a millennial I am faced with heavy competition, impossible deadlines, and changes that are the speed of lightning.

We are told we must look after ourselves, practice mindfulness and have a good work life balance. But how do I do all this as well as climb the ladder of success in the race of life?

Chris Savage discussed some points that particularly resonated with me:

Conditions are always perfect. As humans, we think we will be happy once we get the promotion, or we will work harder once we get that dream holiday – waiting for the perfect version of us. However, the time is always perfect because if we carry that mindset we will be waiting forever. Enjoy the perfection of where you are at and act now. Feedback is the food of champions. Another funny attribute about us humans is we often do not like criticism or feedback. However, we are always learning so to grow it is vital to take that feedback on.

Create a 3-year plan with a vivid image of success. Imagine Christmas 2018 and think about what you want to say about yourself.  Write down a plan with deadlines, make a long list of all things you have to do to achieve that plan and then break it up into phases. Get started immediately and do something towards it everyday. Then laminate it and keep it in your shower.

Don’t let yourself down. Be your own best coach, put pressure on yourself and work smarter than anybody else. Trust me, we are capable of so much more than we can imagine.

Finally, something that stayed with me was his message that in the blink of an eye you go from being the youngest to the oldest in the room. We are in a life marathon, constantly learning, with rapid changes. He told us how he used a typewriter and noted how we all found it amusing. Emphasizing the speed of life and our constant need to learn was this sobering statement: In 20 years time, when I employ a version of me, they will laugh a lot louder at my iPhone 6 than I ever did at a typewriter.

See below to find out more about Chris Savage

PRINZ presentation here

Check out his blog 

Communications in a political environment

28 Apr

Written by Bruce Fraser, PRINZ President

man on podium with microphone old background - vector illustration. eps 10

Communications is communications right? Well yes, the principles of great PR apply across a wide range of situations where they’re applied. Robust research, sound planning, sensible budgeting, great implementation and measurement that is clearly linked to your SMART objectives all contribute to effective campaigns and ongoing communications.

These all apply whether you’re undertaking PR for a large corporate, a not for profit organisation or small business. However, if you’re providing communications advice in a government department, it’s all that and more. You have a political overlay that provides the context and backdrop to everything you do. Budgets are often more constrained, appetite for risk is lower, flashiness is unwelcome, tactics will be more conservative and politicians to consider.

Your communications don’t need to be boring though. There are plenty of great work examples that come from government departments and the ‘PR Strategy and Planning for Government’ course will look at some of them. You’ll learn about best practice covering all the aspects of communications that are relevant for government communications practitioners. This is a mix of learning, doing and sharing in a lively, interactive session that will leave you with practical steps to take your career to the next level.

The New Zealand Transport Agency won the Government or Quasi Government Public Relations section of the annual PRINZ awards in 2013 with its campaign to education kiwis about changes to the give way rules. We saw great research, deep understanding of driver behaviour and highly effective implementation of well-planned tactics. Great PR all done within a political environment and the results were amazing with very few crashes and a speedy changeover in driving patterns.

Good communications are good communications but you’re working in a particular environment where there other considerations. Expect to cover the elements of effective communications set in a political world. Whether you’re currently working in a government department, thinking of applying for jobs there or need to understand how they work, this course will provide a robust mix of theory and practice for you.

Bruce will be presenting a PRINZ course ‘PR Strategy and Planning for Government’ on 16 June in Wellington, see here for details.

Image credit: iStock

Dunbar’s Number, Facebook, and the Friendship Paradox

15 Apr

Written by Carl Davidson, Director of Strategy and Insight, Research First


How many ‘friends’ do you have on Facebook? If you’re like most people then you’ll probably have more than 150. Perhaps many more. The problem is that the research is clear that this means that you’re unlikely to have a meaningful relationship with all of these ‘friends’.

The 150 limit is known as “Dunbar’s Number” and comes from a range of studies that shows most people can maintain about 150 social relationships at any one time. By ‘relationship’ Robin Dunbar (who the number is named after) means “the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar”. The interesting thing is that the research shows this number has been stable across time, and seems to be a cognitive limit rather than one of connection. In other words, social media is as limited by Dunbar’s Number as were the villages in the Domesday Book.

If anything, the immediacy and the scale of Facebook makes things worse rather than better. By all estimates, Facebook was the first website in the world to achieve one trillion page views in a single month; on a typical day over 350 million photos are uploaded to the site; half of Facebook’s users log on every day; and half of the users aged 18-34 check Facebook minutes after waking up. There is little doubt that Facebook is a phenomenon, and it’s clearly hard for many people to imagine life without it.

However, you may want to look elsewhere for your friends. An Australian study of Facebook users found that ‘neurotic and lonely’ people spent more time on Facebook than non-lonely individuals (in a clever play on words The Atlantic reported this research in an article by asking ‘Is lonely making us Facebook?’). The Australian study also found that Facebook users scored higher on narcissism and exhibitionism than non-Facebook users. Even those users who start out with a well-developed sense of self may have this undermined by the use of Facebook according to a study from the University of Michigan.

While this reads like an indictment of Facebook, in reality there is much more going on here. For instance, it is no real surprise to social scientists that the use of Facebook undermines users’ wellbeing. An important contributor to how good we feel is our assessment of how strong our social networks are relative to other people we know. Yet the chances are that many of your ‘friends’ on Facebook have more friends than you. Indeed, a recent study of Facebook found that users had an average of 190 friends while their friends averaged 635 friends. How is this possible?

This occurs because of what is known as the ‘friendship paradox’. In this paradox, the average number of friends any one person has is probably less than the average number of friends that their friends have. Like all paradoxes, it makes no sense at first but the logic is straightforward: People with more friends are more likely to be your friend in the first place and they are also more likely to show up disproportionately in any set of friends. As the New York Times notes, this paradox explains why most people ‘experience airplanes, restaurants, parks and beaches to be more crowded than the averages would suggest [because] when they’re empty, nobody’s there to notice’.

Social scientists also tend to go easy on Facebook because it appears to be much more a symptom of (or reaction to) broader social trends rather than the cause of them. The nature and strength of social ties are changing, the number of people living alone is increasing (in New Zealand nearly one in four households is a person living alone), and feelings of loneliness are on the rise across the Western world. The easiest way to see this is to chart the growth of the so-called ‘caring industries’ – the social workers, the clinical psychologists, the marriage counsellors, the family therapists, the life coaches etc. Somehow we created a social world where many people need to pay professionals to listen to their everyday problems.

This is what the critics of Facebook mean when they say we live in a world where people are better connected but lonelier than ever; and where social media broadens social ties but also trivialises many of them.

However, the research is clear that a powerful antidote to loneliness is to spend more time socialising face-to-face and less time doing so online. Which is why Robin Dunbar’s work is so useful today: It reminds us all to choose our ‘friends’ carefully and to make sure we treat them well. In the end the quality of your friendships counts for much more than the number of ‘friends’ you can count.

Research First is the research partner for PRINZ. Visit them at www.researchfirst.co.nz.

Image credit: iStock


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