Rory Sutherland at TEDGlobal 2009: Running notes from Session 3

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Rory Sutherland describes himself as an ad man. It’s not a job most people associate with an elevated morality. He begins by joking with us, “I usually speak at TEDEvil. It’s held every other year in Burma.”

He’s here to speak about value, about value that you can’t always see. In the world if advertising, Sutherland explains, they realize that many problems in life can be changed by tinkering with perception rather than reality. For example, when given the problem of making a train ride more pleasant, engineers come up with a solution to make it shorter, one that costs millions. He says, take not even half that budget and hire supermodels to walk the cars with Chateau Petrus. People will ask that you make the journey longer.

He points out that almost everything is concept and perception. We always seem to find spending much easier than saving. Sutherland points out that we’ve created many opportunities for impulse buying, but that we’ve never created an opportunity for impulse saving. He suggests that if he placed a large red button in your home that dumped $50 in to your 401K just by pressing, you’d see results. Though as an ad man, he admits to thinking of saving as consumerism needlessly postponed.

He argues that perceived value, as much as it gets a bad rap, can be a good thing. Going forward, Sutherland says, we actually need more perceptual value. We need to appreciate what we already have, rather than agonizing over what we don’t.