How to Release Happy Chemicals in People’s Brains by Dave Birss.

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This is the transcript of Dave’s talk at the Like Minds “Nudge Ideas Festival” if you’d prefer to watch it you can do so here.

So this is what we are talking about today. It’s about releasing happy chemicals in our audience’s minds. It comes from this book that I wrote with my friend Soon last year, Friction. You can also get it in Serbian if you want. So I want to start by asking you a question. I want to know if you are nervous about public speaking.

Put your hand in the air if you’re nervous about doing public speaking. Right. You do know that I can’t see you. So I used to be absolutely terrified of public speaking. I mean proper shaky hand, heart Pounding sweaty quivery voice kind of terror and a good reason to be worried about public speaking because I had a really bad history of speaking in public.

So there’s one time I was being interviewed on the radio and I was so nervous that I forgot how to speak. I was just silent when the question was asked me and I couldn’t do anything. There was another time when I was doing a pitch for an advertising agency I was working at, it was a pitch for a big important piece of business. I presented the work and the client asked me a pretty simple question and I just froze. I went blank.

I couldn’t think of anything so I just went, for what seemed like maybe like 7, 8 minutes and then I turned and went, Brian? Fortunately, Brian was much better at answering the question than me. There was also a time I was doing a talk, a company presentation, and I was so nervous my voice seemed to jump an octave and I managed to deliver a 15-minute presentation in 6 minutes flat. It probably looked as if I was speaking in fast forward.

So why am I telling you this? Well, I’m telling you this because I’ve put a lot of work Into public speaking. I was so terrified of public speaking. I knew I needed to do something about it, so I started taking advice from people. One of the pieces of advice was, just imagine the audience naked and I can tell you that it doesn’t stop you being nervous but It does make it a little bit sexier. So that didn’t work. I realized that the only way that I could properly start dealing with public speaking fear was to do as much public speaking as I could. I started to put myself forward for talks and people were stupid enough to accept me and I sucked.

I was terrible. The poor audiences, I would have I would hate to sit through one of my early talks and I just kept going until I sucked a little bit less and a little bit less and then people started to ask me if I would speak. And then people started to offer me money to speak and then now I’ve got to the stage where I travel all over the world. What I’m trying to get as a point here is to tell you that I put in a lot of work and because I put in so much work, I value the fact that I get to speak to audiences. I value that people will sit and listen to me and I appreciate that so much more than if I’d had what might have been like a natural ability or something. If that kind of thing exists. So I want to ask you a question.

What is it that’s valuable to you? I want you to think of something really valuable to you. It might be an expensive car that you’ve made sacrifices to get. It’s something you’re really proud of, it’s valuable to you. It might be your musical ability that, that you can, play music just, just like speaking, you’re fluent at it. It might be your business career. That’s what it might be. It might be your juggling abilities, but It’s probably not because you know the only thing it takes to be a great juggler is no friends. It’s a fact. Look it up.

So this thing that you are really proud of, that that you value really highly, did you get it easily? Did it come easily? The chances are it didn’t. It would have taken some form of whether that was a friction of money, the friction of effort, the friction of time, the friction of fear and worry, you know, all of these things It’s what needs to go in for us to truly, truly value something. Because the things that matter take friction. That’s the whole point of this book. The things that matter to us take friction.

One of the reasons that we wrote this book was that we felt that we were going frictionless, which is what everyone had been saying for the last 15 to 20 years, that you need to create frictionless experiences. We felt that just gone too far and we are creating experiences that wash over us now. They don’t touch the edges. They just don’t make an impact on us. And for years, I’ve been saying, when I’ve been working on digital products with companies, I’ve been saying it’s not just about removing the pain. We have to think about adding the pleasure And that’s really what we’re talking about here. So the things that matter take friction.

But humans are lazy, and, you know, if you think about it, 12000 years ago, humans were out on the plains and they were hunting and they were gathering and they were travelling around to get their food. Moving around from season to season and then 12000 years ago in Mesopotamia, we even invented farming and that meant that we could be in one place. It was still a lot of work.

You still had to get up early in the morning and go to bed when the sun went down. It was still a lot of work, but It was a little bit less work than having to travel around and do hunting and gathering then, 250 years ago, we got the Industrial Revolution. Repetitive tasks and a lot of effort were being made by machines, but you know it’s still sweaty work, going around looking after the machines.

You know in the last 3 generations, we’ve been sitting in our arses for a living. And that’s not great for us because if you look at physical effort, our bodies are still designed the way they were 12000 years ago. Our bodies have not evolved Very much since then and physical effort has gone from being up there, you know, to down there.

And now there’s so little physical effort that we’re doing damage to ourselves. That there’s an epidemic of back pain. Do you know that depending on what source you trust, either 1 in 6 people or 1 in 3 people in the UK suffer from back pain? Depends on the source.

Anyway, it’s a lot of people and for those of you who don’t suffer from back pain, it’s a pain in the arse. Well actually about 6 inches above the arse. So the other thing is that it’s not just about our bodies. When we go frictionless it also affects our mental health. One of the things that psychologists had thought, up until a few years ago, is that when people get depressed, they become inactive.

And they’ve realized that, in the last few years, the correlation is the other way around. It’s not depression that leads to inactivity. It’s the other way around. It’s inactivity that leads to depression. So we should be keeping ourselves moving. We should be having more motion and energy and exercise in our lives rather than sitting down because right now, what we’re doing is we are outsourcing our memories.

So you’ll have seen the picture of the two, Papal inaugurations at the Vatican, that where there’s one which is just lots of iPhone screens and then the one before that wasn’t, it was just people enjoying it and looking at it as we seem to think that we need to capture things. We need to video it. We need to capture that or else it didn’t happen. But what it means is we’re not experiencing it properly, because how often do you look back at that video of the school play?

Probably not very often. We’re also outsourcing our skills. How many of you have memorized a phone number in the last year? Probably not that many of you. When you’re doing maths, How many of you do the maths in your brain or when you’re doing your invoices and you’re adding that 20% tax? You just get out your phone, go to the calculator and do that. You know, we’re outsourcing our skills. Maps. There’s a whole generation now that does not know how to use maps because we’re using them on the phone. Why would you need to read a map when this map reads to you? And, we’re also we’re outsourcing our decisions.

So algorithms that are built into online stores and things are making decisions for us or helping us with our decisions. And then with the rise of AI, Chat GPT and other things. We’re outsourcing our thinking. Now I believe that we need more friction in our lives. And by that, I don’t just mean friction for us. I mean friction for businesses as well. I think that friction is really important. I want to very quickly, tell you about the Betty Crocker cake mix because, when it was initially launched in the 1950s, it didn’t take off.

I mean, this is a cake mix. All you had to do was add water and the cake would taste just as good as one that was home baked. So it was passing taste tests, but remember its sexist days in the 1950s. The housewives were not buying this cake mix and they could not understand why.

So they got some psychologists involved, went and did some studies and discovered that it was because the housewives felt as if they’d be cheating their families if they were to use it. It’s depriving the family of love because this cake is a sign of people’s love. It’s a sign of them valuing their family. So If you’re taking a shortcut, then it’s like you’re taking a shortcut in your love.

You’re not giving as much. So what they did was they reformulated The cake mix. So that they took out the powdered egg so that all you had to do was add water and 2 fresh eggs. And in fact, there is a commercial from the 1950s announcing this change.

There’s something new and exciting in the Betty Crocker kitchen. Here’s Betty Crocker herself;

And this is what we’re so excited about, my new marble cake mix. It’s entirely new. The only marble cake mix in one package that you can mix in one bowl, and the one-bowl method makes it so very easy. You just add water and 2 fresh eggs.

1950s Betty Croker commercial.

Two fresh eggs. That’s all it took and then these products were flying off the shelves and they still do more than 50 years later. So am I saying that all friction is good? No. For those at the back that couldn’t hear me, no. I’m not saying that. So what’s the difference between good friction and bad friction? Well, it’s all about the chemicals that are released in your brain. You know it’s the clues in the title of this talk. It’s about releasing happy chemicals in our audience’s brands.

So let’s look at some of the chemicals then. Our chemicals are Adrenaline. Adrenaline is an amplifier chemical. It helps the other happy chemicals, but adrenaline along with stress can be bad, and along with good chemicals can be great.

Then we have Dopamine. Dopamine is the reward chemical. We get dopamine when we get a reward, but not only that, we release dopamine when we’re anticipating a reward. That’s a different thing and it’s fantastic and we use that in our strategies.

The next one is Oxytocin, which is the love chemical. So it’s for bonding. You’ll see that oxytocin is what is released with babies and mothers, particularly in skin-to-skin contact. You might notice that people will put their hands on friends’ shoulders and touch them in little ways when they’re having conversations. That’s a natural thing. Human touch releases Oxytocin. It’s a bonding chemical.

Serotonin is all about one-upmanship. It’s about securing your place in the hierarchy and showing that you’re better than other people. That’s what releases serotonin. It can be a very unpleasant chemical, for the other people who are being put down by the people who are looking for the serotonin boost, But it still has a place in what we’re looking for.

Then we’ve got endorphins. Endorphins are like the runner’s high. It’s a pain killer. Endo means inside and the orphan bit comes from morphine. It’s morphine inside, which is why some people become addicted to it. So I looked at different ways that we could add friction. Seven different ways to add friction. So let me tell you what they are.






Competence, and


The first letter of each spells EMBRACE. So we say to people that we want them to embrace a dose of good friction because that is how you’re going to create more memorable, more secure, experiences for your customers.

I’ll quickly take you through Exclusivity, the first one of these. So I wonder how many of you have got an expensive watch. You know, like a Rolex, a Patek Philippe, Longines, something like that. The question would be, does that expensive watch tell the time any better than my, secondhand Apple watch? Well, no, it doesn’t tell the time nearly as well as this watch. It doesn’t have as many of the functions, so why would you want an expensive watch?

Well, it’s because of the way it makes you feel. It’s not because of the function, it’s because of the emotional side of it as well. So what is it that makes something exclusive? This was something that we had an epiphany and we realized that what makes something exclusive is That you have to exclude someone. That something can’t be exclusive unless people are excluded. So the question is who do you want to exclude? Because you know the feeling if you’re on one side of the fence and most other people are on the other side of the fence, you’re in the VIP area.

You’re gonna feel good, aren’t you? You’re gonna feel Special. So obviously, money is one way of making things expensive, but there is another way. I guess all of you will know who Kylie Jenner is? One of the Kardashian crew.

Kylie was the youngest self-made billionaire. And I’ve got to say it’s much easier to become a self-made billionaire when you start as a multi-multimillionaire. At the beginning of the process, she released this line of makeup. The makeup kits were $29 but she released them in a short batch and they sold out in minutes. And, they became so successful that, you know, within minutes, they were then on eBay selling for over $200 So they were popular.

People wanted these things and she realized she had a business on her hands so she continued to release things in short runs that’s how she became successful because she had such a big following On Instagram that she would just put out a message on Instagram and the stuff would be gone like that. Just the entire stock. So it meant you didn’t have to pay for warehousing or anything like that. It was a short run, bang, it was out there. Now, it’s become successful for her, so much so that just a couple of years ago, she sold a 51% stake to Coty Makeup for, $600,000,000 which made her a billionaire.

So her way of doing it was who was she excluding? Well, she was excluding everyone who wasn’t connected To her, messaging empire that she had on Instagram, if you weren’t a follower and you weren’t checking regularly, you were excluded. So the way that she excluded people was by limiting the information. So there are other ways of excluding people.

There is a club that’s called the 100 Marathon Club. Maybe it’s quite obvious who they’re excluding. Everyone who’s done 99 marathons or less, which is excluding me having done less than 1 marathon, but these people have done 100 marathons and what do you get from being a member of this club? Bugger all. You get the chance to brag about the fact that you’re in the 100 marathon club.

That is it. And this is possibly the most, exclusive job that there is. You know, they exclude everyone Who isn’t in the Windsor family and most people who are in the Windsor family and anyone who’s ginger. So that is, It’s all about exclusivity, so you have to decide who you want to exclude. So let’s look at how this works for the drugs here. This releases adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin. That’s what this root releases. Let me talk very quickly about meaning now.

Online dating is quite extraordinary because there are very different ends to it. So let’s talk about eHarmony. eHarmony is responsible for 4% of marriages in the US. 100 people every day who met on eHarmony get married in the US. So when you sign up, first of all, you have to come up with a username that seems enigmatic yet intelligent. Then you have to find photographs from 8 years ago before you properly went grey and got a double chin. And then you have to tell some lies that seem slightly plausible, but you don’t stop there. You’ve then got 149 Questions to answer and these are questions that are quite tough. Questions like, what do you think your friends would say is your, most important attribute?

What is it that you don’t like about yourself? Stuff like that. You’re just like, jeez, that’s a tough question. I have to think about that. Only after you have answered 149 of these questions, hours later, are you able to see anyone who’s on eHarmony And then you’re not finished. They’ve got more questions. These questions that they give you are said to be fun. Things like, have you ever found yourself to be sexually attracted to a cartoon character? Yes. Jessica Rabbit, for goodness sake, did you even have to ask? Questions like, do dogs go to heaven? I don’t know. I’m an atheist.

So with these kinds of questions, they’re trying to get people matched up on fun things and I guess also on their sort of ethics as well is what they’re poking out there. But there’s a lot of effort. There’s a lot of work and all of the people in eHarmony have gone through that process, which means that everyone has invested. Everyone can sympathize with everyone else for having been through this. It’s quite a schlep.

Then compare that to, well, Tinder. What do you do? Connect with Facebook. That already brings in, your profile pictures already bring in a little bit of text about you. You just have to go, yeah, that looks all right and you can start swiping. You could be picking up herpes within the hour.

It’s extraordinary so fast. So going from one that is all about finding mister or miss right So one that’s finding mister or miss right now, it’s a very, very different attitude. One is about getting people who are committed And one is about getting people who just really don’t care about any of that. I just want a little bit of fun. Now, there were some studies done into this kind of thing at Harvard.

They called it the IKEA effect. So they did this study in 2011 And they gave people some basic Ikea furniture to build. They said, there you go build that – and people would build it and be left with like the 3 bolts and a washer and go, I don’t know where I was supposed to use this. And then they said to them, do you want to buy this thing that you’ve created or do you want to buy this one that’s been created by experts and doesn’t wobble? People were willing to spend 63% more on the one that they’d built themselves, even though it’s probably clunkier than the pre-built one.

Why is that? Well, they’ve invested their time. They put their effort into it. It’s personalized. So the piece of advice here is is make people work for the rewards. Don’t just give it to them. Get them to do something to get the reward because then it means so much more. It will result in so much more commitment and you’ve kind of got that sunk cost approach where I don’t want to lose this. I’ve put in so much effort already. I’m gonna stick with it.

So what are the drugs that are released by this? Well, we’ve got, adrenaline. You know? You’ve got this, this hoping that you’re going to get the outcome. You’ve got dopamine. You’ve got Oxytocin because you can sympathize with other people who have already been through this. So I want to finish this by saying, stop making it too easy for people. Maybe think about adding a little bit of friction.

As a treat, I’ve got a free course for you because what I do a lot of the time is create courses. This course is free. It’s my Creative Boot Camp 5 – 5 lessons that I guarantee if you follow them will improve your ability to have ideas. Whatever stage you’re at.

If you want to watch the video of his talk at the Like Minds “Nudge Ideas Festival” you can find it here. A review of his book “How To Get To Great Ideas” is here.

About the author

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I believe that creative thinking is a practical skill which can add significant value to a business. And that’s exactly what I focus on. As well as working directly with companies, I also share my thinking in books and films. Just look me up on Amazon and YouTube to see what I've done.