Posts Tagged behavior

The Problem with Tautophrases

You do you

This morning, my sister and I had a short chat about Dexter’s motivations as a serial killer (typical 9am topic in our family, apparently). The whole conversation was quickly shut down when I said, “You know, he just likes killing people and stuff. You do you, Dexter”.

Immediately after I said it, it bothered me immensely. Not because I thought it wasn’t funny – the idea of accepting anti-societal, murderous behavior with a simple, undeniable statement like “you do you” is just absurd – but because this kind of tautophrase (a statement like “it is what it is” that basically repeats the same thing twice as a logical, Undeniable Truth) actively shuts down any kind of educated discussion or consideration of the world around us. I pride myself in being a thinker, but tautophrases stop thinking in its tracks – it’s just really mentally lazy to say “you do you” without any deeper thought into the topic of conversation.

It reminded me of a New York Times article I read a couple months back. It’s titled, appropriately, “How ‘You Do You’ Perfectly Captures Our Narcissistic Culture”, by Colson Whitehead, and it describes how tautophrases like “you do you” or “it is what it is” have shifted in cultural use over time. These thought-blocking statements used to be about supporting the status quo (“what will be will be”), but in recent years hip-hop and then pop culture have reclaimed the tautophrase to celebrate Me, as a beautiful and special Individual. Even, as Whitehead says, if that person is Taylor Swift – she can’t help it that the “haters gonna hate hate hate”; it just goes to support how unique and worthy she is as an individual. “Regardless of how shallow that individual is.”

Living in San Francisco, a Mecca of counter-culture, I see this attitude of celebrating individuality for the sake of individuality every day. Anti-culture is the current glorified culture (especially in the tattooed and vintage-ridden Mission district), while “normal” is something to be embarrassed by – “you do you” glorifies the traits that make people stand out, while “Basic Bitch” shames people who may agree with a mainstream trend.

Of course, I’m all about celebrating differences and uniqueness. It’s the shallowness, the lack of thoughtfulness behind “you do you” that stands out to me. If we’re using “you do you” to brush off any abnormal or weird behaviors (like my neighbor’s obsession with mushrooms, or Dexter’s killing tendencies), we’re not digging deeper to understand what makes people that way, who they truly are beneath the surface “uniqueness”.

While tautophrases used to be used so people wouldn’t question the status quo, are they now used so that we don’t have to question each other as individuals? So that we don’t have to get deeper than appearances – maybe because it’s just uncomfortable to do so?

Normally when we write blog posts, we’re writing about what our industry can learn from someone or something. In this case, though, I think that we, in our personal lives and how we interact with others, can learn from research. Research is all about getting deeper with people, about exploring people as more than stereotypes to truly understand their motivations and attitudes. In our “you do you” culture, how can we take cues from research into our daily lives, to get deeper with the people around us?

What Researchers Can Learn from BBC’s The Fall

THE FALL episode 2

I’ve just started watching season one of BBC’s The Fall on Netflix, and I’m obsessed. No, it’s not just because of the beautiful Jamie Dornan and Gillian Anderson – this show is intelligently written and gorgeously filmed in a way that immediately sucks you into the psychological thriller storyline.

The plot follows a serial killer of professional brunette women (Dornan) and the Detective Superintendent brought in to track him down (Anderson), but it’s not just a game of cat and mouse. The story closely tracks the personal lives of the main characters, allowing the viewer to speculate on emotions and motives based on the characters’ actions, words and professed beliefs – not entirely unlike ethnographic research. It got me thinking: what can we, as researchers, learn from my new favorite show?

observing keyhole

Take a step back and think about your own camera angle. The show puts the viewer in an almost voyeuristic POV at times – the opening shot in the first episode is through a bathroom door, watching Anderson clean the bathtub from behind. The angle of view affects how we perceived the story and the characters. It can set us up for fear, skepticism or trust; it can influence us to see motives as predatory, ruthlessly ambitious, altruistic or loving.

As marketers, we view consumers from a structured, purposeful angle; yet as researchers, we need to be open-minded enough to suspend judgment and hold back on making assumptions until we have all the evidence. When walking into a room, consider the angle you’re viewing from – how is your viewpoint throwing your perception of the situation?


Your consumer is not a caricature of herself. In the show, the psychotic serial murderer also is a grief counselor who loves his children and who you genuinely start to root for when he’s in a bind; the badass lady lead detective is undeniably qualified and seen as the expert who can rule any room (or sexual relationship), who also deeply empathize with victims and suspects.

This is one of the most amazing, groundbreaking parts of the show: the characters are displayed as real, complicated and sometimes utterly unpredictable humans. It sounds obvious, yet think of how often, in society, we caricaturize instead of characterize – summing up people as predictable, one- (or two or three) note personalities instead of rich, complicated and deep-feeling humans.

As researchers, we often have to understand people quickly, capture their motives, habits and behaviors and make recommendations based on predictions. This doesn’t mean, however, that building caricatures is ever a shortcut for understanding character.

Real life means beliefs and intentions change rapidly, and you have to keep up.
The Fall’s detectives have hunches and inklings that seem immediately important, but sometimes they’re red herrings – and sometimes, by the time the evidence is uncovered, it’s not relevant anymore. Humans are fickle, emotional creatures, and we’re constantly changing our minds and adapting to the world around us. The job of the detectives – like researchers – is searching, identifying the patterns, and keeping up as the case evolves.

As a researcher, you are going to see cues, clues and indications that seem to fit together into an immediate perfect solution, but when that solution is pressure-tested, it may just not work anymore. And that’s ok. Solving any problem isn’t about knowing where to put each piece as its handed to you – it’s about being flexible, being truly open to an evolution of hunches and ideas.

Antedote recently launched a new tool called the Idea Accelerator to help us keep up and be open to the evolution of our ideas. The Idea Accelerator allows us to rapidly and iteratively explore ideas and concepts with consumers and get in-the-minute, global feedback. To learn more click below.

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