Sometimes people send me free stuff and I review it! This review has an affiliate link to Amazon in order to feed my insatiable book-buying habit.
The two-line summary: If you nod confidently when I mention the IAT, Stanley Milgram or bystander apathy, and you have incorporated that understanding into your life and business, then you probably don’t need this book. Otherwise, this is one of those books everyone should read.
Whoever came up with the title for this book deserves a cookie, because Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World does exactly what it says on the tin.
Quite simply, Sam Sommers’ contention is this:
Most of the components of ourselves that we use to describe Who We Are (and much more, Who That Guy Is) aren’t static.
We describe people (and ourselves) as smart, or rude, or honest, or a terrible driver. But it’s not that simple.
We’re smart when there are standardised tests involved. We’re rude when we haven’t had enough sleep. We’re honest when someone is watching us. We’re a terrible driver when we’re running late.
So likewise, we’re dumb when building an engine. We’re polite when dealing with the elderly. We cheat when feeling insecure. We’re a fantastic driver when our child is in the back seat.
It’s the context that defines what kind of person we are in that situation: rude or polite, honest or cheater.
Sam proves this point over and over and over again with charming and accessible explanations of psychology experiments that explore the ways our behaviour changes depending on context. In fact, he uses so many examples across work, relationships, race, gender differences, education, and pretty every other aspect of human behaviour that by the end of the book you feel slightly poleaxed.
(I mean, reading non-technical psychology books like this one is one of my hobbies and I still walked away saying “Bwah. Brain full.”)
Why I think you need to read this book.
1. It will make you more self-aware and give you better responses to others. In short, you will be a better human being if you apply this understanding to your life.
2. You will also be a much better marketer.
Websites give you an unparalleled opportunity to create context. The tone, colour choices, images, positioning, names, information hierarchies… every single one of them is an opportunity to create the kinds of context that affect how people behave.
And of course we have all seen people who use this in ways that would have us sitting in the shower scrubbing ourselves for hours. Let us forget those people.
You want your work to have an effect – to create some positive change in your visitors and clients. And the more you understand about context, the more you can create an environment that is conducive to that change. Context is your invisible wingman, helping you rock it out in your business.
One tiny example
Long-time readers will remember the article I wrote after Naomi Dunford claimed she had received death threats. I wrote my own article about the knee-jerk victim-blaming I was seeing in the community.
That situation was explosively emotional. It involved accusations, counter-accusations, sexism, death threats and drama. There were 150 comments on that article, many by strangers who were not my regular readers.
And the conversation stayed polite, mostly on-topic and sane.
Other conversations happening on other websites at the same time were… not.
The difference? I was very, very, very clear about context. About how the situation (my article, my website, my take on the topic) defined the correct behaviour for commenters. And despite the outrage and fury and general unreasonableness topics like this create, most people behaved in line with that context.
Context is awesome. Situations Matter. If you’re not already acting accordingly, read the book.