Kelly talks to Dan Hill, CEO, Sensory Logic, about how the latest face-recognition techniques and technology can tell you many things about people before you agree to do business with them or hire them.
Kelly Coughlin is CEO of BankBosun, a management consulting firm helping bank C-Level Officers navigate risk and discover reward. He is the host of the syndicated audio podcast, BankBosun.com. Kelly brings over 25 years of experience with companies like PWC, Lloyds Bank, and Merrill Lynch. On the podcast Kelly interviews key executives in the banking ecosystem to provide bank C-Suite officers, risk management, technology, and investment ideas and solutions to help them navigate risks and discover rewards. And now your host, Kelly Coughlin.
Kelly: Dan, I want to do introduce you and talk to you briefly about what you’re doing with your role as CEO of Sensory Logic, and generally get some of your background and talk about the science of what you guys are doing with this technology. My summary of it is something like you’re using technology to objectively measure 12 human emotions. They range from joy to sadness, and anxiety with the purpose of evaluating personality traits, measuring personality traits, to determine how neurotic or how normal people are for the purpose of identifying matches with whatever the goal might be to using that. Is that a reasonable estimate or summary of what you guys are doing?
Dan: We are trying to capture and quantify emotional response and that can apply to consumer’s reactions to the advertising, website, and other touch points of thanks for instance, but if you move over to the more personal side in terms of financial advisors or trying to reduce risks when looking at hedge fund managers, yes, then you start getting into the personality dimensions. Obviously for hedge funds you want to make sure that they are prudent investors and not someone given to overly large risks. There’s both a general consumer application we are talking about here, and one that’s more personnel driven.
Kelly: That sounds interesting, using technology to evaluate those things that are clearly has been in the realm of subjective interviews and personal objective evaluation is fascinating. Let’s go over a little bit of your background, Dan. Currently you’re CEO of Sensory Logic, and a little bit about what you are, who you are, and then who Sensory Logic is.
Dan: I started the company in 1998, and I got lucky. Someone I knew at IBM sent over to me an article about the breakthroughs in brain science and how much people are emotional decision makers. You may know the conservative estimation is that at least 95% of peoples’ mental activity is subconscious. A lot of what happens to us and for us is below the water line so to speak, and it’s important to access that and the emotional part of the brain sends ten times as much information to the rational part of the brain and vice versa. As to the ratio of emotional to rational in terms of the interactions it is a ten to one ratio.
Kelly: Presumably we have a rational mind that’s informing our subconscious mind, correct?
Dan: Sure, the mind is very interactive so there is an interplay back and forth, but I think the real thrust of the breakthroughs in brain science in the last 25 years aided by technology and from MRI brain scans for one thing, is that we really have to change our viewpoint. We probably have run for 300 years with Dick Hart’s assumption that we are rational beings. The famous comment, I think therefore I am. Ambrose Bierce, a contemporary of Mark Twain said, “I think therefore I am.” That’s probably a lot closer to the truth.
In the financial industry you want to go to the numbers and facial coding gives us a chance to bring numbers to something that otherwise might have seemed rather soft and squishy which is emotions. In reality there’s really two currencies in the business world. Dollars and emotions, and we’re after the second one on behalf of the first one.
Kelly: Not to be outdone with your quoting of philosophers, I will reference Aristotle who also used the concept of having, of creating habits that are natural to the human that just make it part of the unconscious, subconscious mind so that your naturally inclined to do, he felt like, the virtuous, the right thing. That took kind of integrating the conscious mind, the rational mind, with the subconscious mind. Is that consistent?
Dan: I think the metaphor that Aristotle used actually was that human beings is as if they are in a chariot, and it’s driven by two horses and one’s the rational horse and one’s the emotional horse. He was already acknowledging, obviously, the importance of emotions. I think what the neuro biology advances have suggested is that maybe the darker horse, the emotional horse, may be the stronger of the two, most likely is.
Kelly: Dan thank you, you crushed me on your quoting of Aristotle. Thanks, I appreciate that.
Dan: That wasn’t my goal, but whatever helps illuminate things for people.
Kelly: And I went to a Jesuit school! So let’s talk about your education. You have a PhD. Tell us about your education.
Dan: I do have a PhD in English literature, not psychology as some people might assume, but I’m an inquisitive learning sort of guy and really what happened is once I got this article brought forward from the IBM person, I really started on a second education. I don’t have a formal degree, but I have spent a great deal of time reading and talking to experts in neuro biology and psychology over the last 20 years to understand really one of the drivers of human nature and just to give you some feeling for the groundings here.
If you go back to Latin motivation and emotion have the same root word, move, to make something happen. That’s how essential emotions are to human behavior, and the person who first realized the importance of emotions was Charles Darwin. In his work on evolution he essentially said to himself, “Okay, emotions must give us an adaptive advantage, otherwise they would have gone away. How can I best capture emotions?” That turns out to be the face, so what we do is use facial coding to be able to bring science to bear on emotions.
Kelly: Dan, where do you live? Tell me a little bit about your personal, family life. Do you have any hobbies?
Dan: When I have the time, sure. I like to play tennis. I’m an avid movie goer. I enjoy traveling so I’ve been to about 80 countries including a year ago or so was in Botswana on a non-hunting safari. It’s whatever can broaden the horizons. There’s readings, there’s films, there’s tennis, there’s travel, obviously time with my wife, so there isn’t anything remarkable there, it’s just try to be a busy and engaged guy.
Kelly: Let’s get down to some business stuff. Tell me in fifteen words or less, roughly, what the value proposition of Sensory Logic is.
Dan: Actions speak louder than words, and there are things people can’t or won’t say, and if you can get to emotions you can get below the surface and get to the real thing.
Kelly: In terms of the banking ecosystem which is the ecosystem we are navigating through, what is the applicability or this, not necessarily your company, but this technology if you will, that value proposition, how would it benefit, how is it connected? Is it connected now, or is it an area that you guys want to be connected to. Where’s the applicability? Generally speaking.
Dan: There’s really two realms. Let’s start with the one we’ve historically been in, because I’ve run my company for 17 years, and we’ve done work for nearly half the world’s top 100 consumer facing companies, so things outside of the industrial realm and so forth. That’s plenty of things in the financial services industry. It’s a long list of banks and institutions, also in the insurance industry, as well that we’ve done work. From that point of view, obviously if you have these touch points with consumers you want to connect effectively.
I think the place you have to start is that of course, trust is the emotion of business. Trust is not an emotion you can capture through facial coding, but you can capture its opposite which is contempt. Contempt means I don’t trust you, I don’t respect you. If you’ve ever read Malcolm Gladwell’s best seller “Blink”, facial coding was the only tool described in the book for some 30 pages.
At the University of Washington in Seattle they have a love lab where couples come in who are in distressed marriages, they use facial coding to figure out whether they can save the marriage. Contempt is the most reliable indicator that the marriage will fail, so if it’s not good for a married couple you can imagine it’s not good for a company and its clients.
We use this in advertising testing and websites to understand how people are responding. There’s several varieties of information that is important. The first one is actually do you engage them. Do they emotionally respond? You don’t want to waste your advertising dollar, you don’t want to just be talking to yourself, you need to make that emotional connection. That’s one of the first things we go after.
Kelly: Put yourself in the place of a community bank CEO and they’re in the business of making business loans, by example. How does that CEO or that credit officer, how could that credit officer utilize this technology? Not your company, but the technology. How do you envision that this technology could be employed by a credit officer at a community bank in any city in the USA.
Dan: There’s actually a template here. I mentioned Charles Darwin earlier, but there’s a man named Paul Ekman, E-K-M-A-N, who’s been honored by the Smithsonian who has been cited by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people on the planet. Paul worked as a colleague at the School of Medicine in San Francisco. Over the course of about 15 years he created what is called the Facial Action Coding System. He figured out from 43 muscles in the face what are the muscle movements, the action units, the activity that reveals seven core emotions which you alluded to earlier. They run from joy, the high end of happiness, through things like fear and contempt.
These muscle movements correspond to the emotions, this is relative public knowledge, also in a book of mine, and that information for a loan officer if they were to do their due diligence, and take some homework assignments, and actually study this a little bit, would give them a feel for the person across the table. There is no lie muscle in the face, it’s not that simple, but there are patterns you can look for. Obviously if the person is unusually anxious, if they show contempt, if there’s an unusual rhythm to how they’re emoting, if the emotions seem inappropriate to the conversation. There’s probably a half dozen little ways in which you can get a feel for whether the person is solid and honest, and therefore a loan risk worth taking, or ones that are passed on.
Kelly: These quantifiable and emotional metrics, I’m just going to quickly list them. Joy, and they’re more or less in a continuum here, starting with joy going down to anxiety. Joy, pleasure, satisfaction, acceptance, curiosity, alert, skepticism, dislike, contempt, frustration, sadness, anxiety. So you guys can measure these twelve emotional reactions that appear on a person’s face, convert those into a profile. The profile has to equal 100%, so it comes up with a profile. Again, back to the CEO that’s going to potentially do a loan to this business customer. It comes up with that profile and then what?
Dan: In our case we were trained directly by Dr. Ekman, so you are right. You get to a pool of 100%, so you distribute which emotions are occurring based on those muscle activities, and as to the output. Once you know the emotional profile of somebody, I would suggest, for instance, they index very high on anger, or what we call frustration, that should be of concern, because frustration obviously is an emotion about I want to hit you. I want to break through barriers to progress, I want to control my destiny. That all sounds good except the hit part, so someone who is violent or combustible, if they index high in frustration, is there a greater chance that someone is at risk? Definitely for you as a banker.
If they are really high on anxiety, why are they so anxious? What is going on here? How solid is the scheme in which the bank is taking a chance. I think particularly when you look at the negative emotions you’ve got to be careful, because we have more negative core emotions as human beings than positive ones, not because we’re negative or Dr. Ekman is negative, but rather it’s a survival technique. People hear bad news more loudly because it helps defend themselves.
You want to look at negative emotions like the two I just mentioned, also contempt. Frankly it often corresponds to a lack of honesty or a lack of connection back to you as a banker. If I had to highlight three, those are the one I would probably go to. Although I will say that someone who is overly happy, it’s a nice emotion in terms of it’s embracive, it’s accepting, but a really happy person can be sloppy with the details, so strangely enough, there, too, a banker might face a bit of a risk factor.
Kelly: You also have the external environment, for instance, that can influence a person’s behavior on that given day. Could be they just got in a fight with their wife that morning, or their favorite football team lost so they’re having a proverbial bad day. Especially if you have this human subjectively scoring this stuff. I’m intrigued by that, so you have some kind of de facto shrinks up there kind of ticking off, watching the video saying, “Oh look at that he frowned, we’re going to check off he dislikes this,” or “Look at her eyes. She looks a little sad, we’re going to mark her down a little bit for sadness.” It scares me a little bit that police interrogation might be using this.
Dan: Quite often that cat’s already out of the bag. Dr. Ekman has done training of the CIA and the FBI. We worked a bit with a company trying to automate facial coding for the TSA, so yes, this is a huge interest, obviously, to anyone involved with national security or policing matters. Whether it’s used properly, whether inaccurately, whether it’s done within the boundaries of the law. That’s really outside of our purview, that’s not how we’re trying to use facial coding, but there’s no doubt that obviously every angle of life people are looking for advantages and security, and because if you’ve never been lied to in your life, congratulations. Facial coding gets you past the lip service to behavior, to actions, as to how people respond based on what they reveal in their face. It’s going to be of interest to a lot of parties.
Kelly: From this data that these scores are measuring they are taking that data, and then scoring it. I’ve seen some stuff that talks about the big five model, ranging from extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, openness, to neuroticism. Tell me about that.
Dan: I have ten US patents, most of them related to facial coding, and one of them does involve personnel. I have been at work for a few years now looking to see if we can come up with an emotional formula and algorithm so to speak, that can match these big five personality traits. I wouldn’t say we have anything definitive at this point, but I am making the effort because the one thing that bothers me about all manner of these self-reported psychology personality profiles is that it is self-reported. Self-report is a big problem.
People tell lies. Dr. Ekman has estimated the average person tells three lies per ten minutes of conversation, but the biggest lies in life are the ones we tell ourselves. I’m reasonable, but everyone else in this meeting is crazy, etc., etc. Self-reporting is rather dubious, and so yes, we are looking for a way around that to say that by picking up these muscle activities, which by the way, all have numbers to them, and I realize you might feel it’s subjective, but we’ve done coder reliability. We have been trained by Dr. Ekman, so we know which muscle movements correspond to which emotions. Studies would indicate that human coders well-trained and versed in doing this will be over 90% accurate.
Kelly: What would the goal be for this credit officer, he probably does this subconsciously anyway, but he certainly is making some judgements alright, how normal, how neurotic is this guy. Am I able to pry this data out of him and he’s in charge of sales? What’s the likelihood that this company is going to be successful if I have to pry this stuff out of him.” Same with openness, right. Agreeableness. I don’t know how you would determine conscientiousness. Does he show up to the meeting on time, and doesn’t care, I mean that’s kind of a real fuzzy one, that conscientiousness.
Dan: Actually that’s one of the traits where we have some of the inklings of an algorithm or a correspondence. You’re not going to want someone who is overly happy and blissful. I already mentioned that if you really index high in joy you tend to be a bit more of free thinker, which is great, but you can also be sloppy with the details, so that doesn’t square very well with conscientious.
Being hot-headed and having really intense anger doesn’t work, but actually the face shows eight different versions of anger, from slight annoyance to outrage. The lower grade versions of frustration can actually be helpful from a conscientiousness point of view, because one of the definitions or understandings of frustration is I want to be in control of my life and I want to make progress. If that is done in a way that is not overly combustible then you have the makings of someone who might indeed, if it’s leavened by some other emotions, be conscientious.
Kelly: Give me the three to five takeaways that a bank CEO should take from this.
Dan: One is they’re going to be making some outreach to people so let’s start on the marketing side. Presumably they’re going to have a website. It’s easy for someone inside the organization to think that their website is really clear, and I can tell you from doing usability tests for all sorts of companies on websites, that it’s often about as clear as mud. So I would say the first takeaway is they should think if their website a lot more like it’s the drive through lane of a fast food joint. That may seem demeaning to them, but these people know how at quick service restaurants to get it across to people and quickly and let them keep moving. If they look at their website from that perspective, and it doesn’t resonate, and it’s not quickly understandable, they’ve got a problem. The joke that has to be explained to you in life is never as funny as the joke you just get, so think in terms of hut, hut, hike. If the connection isn’t about that readily done, you’ve got a problem.
The second thing I would suggest is probably a lot of banks will at least, if nothing else, have some print ads or some mailers at times. We’ve discovered that if you put your company logo in the lower right hand corner which is where ad agencies love to put it, that is typically about the second to last place anybody will look at on a piece of paper. That’s bad news because we’ve found that people read quickly, they barely read at all. The banker, the CEOs, the bank may think that people are going to study my marketing material closely, read it word-by-word, not the case. Likelihood is they’re going to spend three to fifteen seconds on it. If you advertise for yourself and it’s unbranded in effect because they don’t get to the logo, then you’ve got a problem. I’d say that’s the second one.
Third one is you’re in the people business. If they come into the bank or the bank branches, we respond to nothing more strongly than other people. We can tell the difference, human beings. There is a difference between a true smile and a social smile. Social smile is clearly less authentic than the true smile. It is hard for employees to be able to manage a true smile repeatedly during the day, especially on demand, but knowing that that emotional connection with the customer is important. I sit on airplanes often for my business, and I facially code the people who are serving us in the isles, and look for those little moments where they give away weariness, or something else that’s a little off putting sometimes.
Dan: That’s three for you. I think we’ve already touched on the loan officer, so I’ve got you up to four. I guess the fifth one would be, frankly, who you hire, and taking a little more care. Not just look at their credentials, but look at their personality which is what Southwest Airlines does.
Kelly: What does Southwest airlines do, briefly?
Dan: They actually have their people look for a sense of humor. They ask them to tell little stories about themselves, or incidents, or I think even, if I’m not mistaken, at times literally play comedian for a bit, and try to tell a joke. They don’t want to hire somebody who’s just ultra serious and has no levity to them because if you have no levity you can’t be flexible, and if you can’t be flexible you can’t adjust to your customer’s needs.
Kelly: To that end, I’m going to ask you what’s the stupidest think you’ve ever said or done in your business career?
Dan: That would be numerous no doubt. I would say one is, someone asked me once if I was quote/unquote a “rebel” and that’s the way they phrased it. I simply said, “I suppose so.” That’s not the answer I should have given. The truth is I’m a reformer. I’m not interested in rebelling against something, I am interested in improving something. Whether it’s market research or in the financial sector, making sure your advertising dollar is not wasted, and that your customer service is better, I go back to my earlier quote. “There’s two currencies: dollars and emotions, and you need both of them and they interact with another.” I’m not a rebel, I’m a reformer and someone who is eager to make sure that people aren’t inefficient, don’t waste their money, make the best progress, the best connection they possibly can. If you step closer to the customer you can step ahead of the competition.
Kelly: And since you’re an English lit PhD, I’m going to see if you can identify it. If you can’t, I will think very lowly of you.
Dan: Wonderful, wonderful.
Kelly: “Arise and go now. I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree.”
Dan: That would be Yates.
Kelly: Very good. He’s my favorite writer.
Dan: Yates is a tremendous poet. I was in Dublin a couple of years ago, there was special exhibit on Yates’ poetry, and I fell in love with all over again.
Kelly: Good for you. Now I’m uber impressed. Do you have a favorite quote?
Dan: I have so many favorite quotes. It’s probably one of them is from Groucho Marx, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”
Kelly: Very good. Dan, I appreciate your time. CEO of Sensory Logic. How can people get hold of you?
Dan: We’ve got a website, of course. Sensory Logic.com should be able to do the trick
We want to thank you for listening to the syndicated audio program, BankBosun.com The audio content is produced by Kelly Coughlin, Chief Executive Officer of BankBosun, LLC; and syndicated by Seth Greene, Market Domination LLC, with the help of Kevin Boyle.
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Kelly is licensed with the Minnesota State Board of Accountancy as a Certified Public Accountant. Kelly provides bank owned life insurance portfolio and nonqualified benefit services to banks across the United States. The views expressed here are solely those of Kelly Coughlin and his guests in their private capacity and do not in any other way represent the views of any other agent, principal, employer, employee, vendor or supplier of Kelly Coughlin.