Why real engagement is a brain of two halves.

July 18th, 2017


A peregrine passes overhead

Stepping out of the studio a few weeks ago I chanced to look up, hoping to see swifts dive-bombing across the sky I think, but there, beaming satellite-straight across the patch of blue right overhead was a different shape – higher up than a swift and much larger – a stiff flared-out M with a blunt almond-shaped body. Alert to its difference I focused in and caught its striped underside and bright yellow feet as it passed – a peregrine – my first ever! Pure, wild delight came from that falcon to me and I watched it completely until it had disappeared from sight.

Given such a tiny window of time, how could I be so certain it was a peregrine? In a word: jizz.

‘The jizz’ (generally thought to be a shortening of the word ‘Gestalt’ referring to the complete nature of the thing) is a combination of many indicators – size, shape, call, proportions, habitat, habit, flight path, general colours, distinctive markings and so on – that quickly come together in a bird-watcher’s encyclopaedic mind and produce a positive identification in a mere wing-beat. At this point a neuroscientist might nod and say wisely ‘ah yes – the two-speed brain – this initial identification using ‘the jizz’ of the bird is a great example of our use of the automatic system.’* Neuroscientists are the latest business accessory, but for those of you who don’t already have a tame one, you can share mine – the brilliant Laurie Parma, Behavioural Scientist at Cambridge University. She explains the two-speed brain thus: The automatic system is a system of thinking that is built on short-cuts it is fast, unconscious and instinctive, it helps us make our way through the day without being paralysed by too much detail. Complimenting this is the deliberate system whose thinking is slow, sequential and sophisticated, conscious and controlled, it compiles the compendium of all experience and knowledge that the automatic system short-cuts through. To highlight the difference, imagine if we had to stop and work out what the large red object thundering towards us as we stepped off the curb to cross the road was… ‘well, it’s larger than a caSPLAT…’ This pancaked scenario is what would happen if we only had a deliberate system.

Understanding this two-system brain is really useful when developing or reviewing your organisation’s commercial touch points. You want your recipient’s automatic system to notice really quickly that this piece of communication is from you and then you want their deliberate system to kick in and stay online long enough to digest all your content. To create this successful combination let’s take another look at that peregrine experience. Firstly, get ‘the jizz’ of your brand right. It’s a harsh reality that you probably have less than a second to confirm your identity to the automatic system so it’s vital to think through your brand structure properly and deeply across all channels and apply it well and with consistency. And secondly, be delightful. If you organise and structure your content so that it excites the deliberate system, you’ll invite genuine curiosity and the attention required to create the space and time needed for proper contemplation and real engagement with your message. Rather brilliantly that discovery response also rewards your recipient with a fulfilling, absorbing, even entertaining experience which their brain stores as a positive association with your brand therefore reinforcing the ‘identity approval’ short-cut in their automatic system. A virtuous circle no less.

Of course, I realise that not every business is as exciting an offering as a peregrine falcon, but actually I didn’t experience the peregrine doing its most exhilarating 200mph stoop to kill, in essence it was doing nothing more than being itself but because I am a keen birder it took the merest flash of itself to fix my attention completely. And the moral of that is – know your business, get your brand essence in order and don’t be afraid to be characterful, then when you come into contact with people who are genuine prospects they will stop and pay attention.

*Interestingly, Laurie actually questioned if the ‘jizz’ method of identification may actually contain a liberal sprinkling of confirmation bias too – we want the bird to be a peregrine so we see only characteristics that confirm what we already think or hope. But birding is such a personal joy, even starlings can be an exciting spot, and the lists we keep detailing the birds we’ve seen are precious because they are true. We’re a self-policing lot meaning false identifications only really cheat ourselves. Other neuroscientists and birders please wade in with an opinion!


  1. Lovely. Never seen a peregrine. Jealous. I like all that you say and I’m thinking again about my brand. Thank you. Daniel Kanneman and his Thinking Fast and Slow is also an excellent exploration of this topic.
    My thinking is taken mostly to your footnote and confirmation bias and bias in the workplace. I’m working with a leadership team at the moment. Before the work I had been warned about a “difficult” member of the team and whether he would be able to manage the changes they needed to make. He doesn’t fit the idealised model they have in mind – he’s introverted, sits awkwardly, mis-times his jokes a little, dresses in clothes that look more comfy than fashionable. And he’s very smart, strategic, kind, decisive, and its becoming increasingly apparent to all that he’s a star. A peregrine. I wonder if in fact its us that are mis-timing our gags. He sure has a lot to get through before his silhouette takes on that falcon shape to the casual observer. Sadly not everybody has the birders sharp instinct for accurate identification. And then again he could do more to help. I might ask him about his brand and what he wants.

    by: Greg on 18th July 2017 at 2:51 pm


  2. Greg’s comment makes me think that prior to the ‘jizz’, there is the whole learning process that enables the ‘jizz’. That learning process creates ideals and stereotypes in our mind and labels things as good and bad. It may be easy to get a good ‘jizz’ when you’re presenting something to ‘the converted’ or ‘genuine prospects’, but how do you create ‘jizz’ for something people may not be ready for yet. Greg’s so called ‘difficult’ member of the team, sounds like someone they are not ready for. Should he change, or your brand change to be what people want? Or is there some ‘pre-education’ that needs to be done to make people ready for your brand. I would like to know the outcome for your ‘difficult peregrine’ Greg.

    by: Ann Rappaport on 18th July 2017 at 3:15 pm


  3. Wonderful analogy and post as ever, and always makes me think, as well as bonus lessons in nature and science. Our brains are so amazing even when we think they’re not doing anything at all, and so many just don’t consider that and focus in on such a granular level.

    by: Poppy on 25th July 2017 at 4:47 pm


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