The session with Dr Nick Gadsby explored the many complicated but exciting dynamics of how our brains function; filtering the world through experience over knowledge but positioning experience as knowledge, as decisions are made and influences used to scope and shape the world around us. And he did all this with so much energy and enthusiasm that we waited on his every word.

With systems 1 and 2 firmly in the grasp of qualitative practitioners nowadays, Nick encouraged us to look at a different dimension: how culture further influences heuristics. Thinking Up vs Thinking Down — the role of our senses vs reliance on experience — further shapes the stories our brains construct as we analyse the immediate environment or situation and ultimately decide on how to act.

We have known, for years, of the importance of stories. It’s why we have constructed frameworks to ensure that context and understanding are central to conversations in our qualitative engagements. So, when Nick announced “that humans aren’t happy with things just happening”, it confirmed that we should no longer be constructing response-led discussions.

We need to ensure there is a reason, and that reason is recognised and understood, by all involved in any given conversation. We need to ensure there is a clear resolution to the stories we develop, as humans are naturally compelled to follow stories to the end.

As neuroscience expands our understanding of the brain and its influences, it confirms that our brains are prediction machines: we simply can’t store the multitude of memories, associations and emotions throughout life. In fact, we typically store 1GB of memory! So, we need to be mindful (excuse the pun), that when we are understanding behaviour, influences and affect, that the stories being constructed for us are done so based on predictions using learned or borrowed knowledge and experience.

This means we need to help brands understand these predictors, get ahead and create simulators that drive actions and experiences before they happen — because brands are mental concepts that have the power to over-ride sensory experiences and construct meaningful cultural narrative.