Month / May 2013

Nir’s Note: This guest post comes from my friend Jules Maltz, a General Partner at Institutional Venture Partners (IVP), a late-stage venture capital firm based in Menlo Park. In this article, Jules admits something few people are brave enough to say here in Silicon Valley — that luck plays a huge role in success.

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I now understand why baseball players are superstitious. During a hitting streak, “hot” players rarely shower. They wear the same clothes and eat the same food. They follow the same routine to an exactness that would make someone with obsessive compulsive disorder proud. They’re trying to keep the magic alive.

But why?

If, as Billy Beane knows, baseball is all about numbers and probabilities, why all the nonsense? There are no “baseball gods” to appease.

Screen Shot 2013-05-16 at 1.44.38 PMA funny thing happens when you lie to people: they tend to believe. Why shouldn’t they? They lie to themselves all the time. Our minds are wired to respond in predictable ways–among them is perceiving the world the way we want to see it, not necessarily the way it is.

Perhaps no other phenomenon demonstrates our brain’s ability to make believe better than the placebo effect. Long known for its ability to improve a patient’s health, the practice of giving people an inert treatment they believe will make them better has been proven to be highly effective. In fact, in recent studies, researchers have found the placebo effect may be much more potent than previously thought. So strong is the expectation that a pill will provide relief, that even patients who are told beforehand that the medication is a placebo and has no medicinal properties, still show significant signs of improvement. When it comes to fooling ourselves, the brain can’t help itself.

TemptationHow do products tempt us? What makes them so alluring? It is easy to assume we crave delicious food or impulsively check email because we find pleasure in the activity. But pleasure is just half the story.

Temptation is more than just the promise of reward. Recent advances in neuroscience allow us to peer into the brain, providing a greater understanding of what makes us want.

In 2011, Sriram Chellappan, an assistant professor of computer science at Missouri University of Science and Technology, gained unheard of access to sensitive information about the way undergraduates were using the Internet. His study tracked students on campus as they browsed the web. Chellappan was looking for patterns, which not only revealed what students were doing online, but provided clues about who they were.