Apple’s “Think Different” Commercial and the Power of Virtual Mentors

Written by Dr. U   

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Pick five people from history who inspire you the most? Why do those people inspire you?

Calling specific individuals to mind in response to these questions is likely to create positive thoughts and emotions for you. You’re choosing people who inspire you, and therefore you have favorable associations with them that click into place automatically when you direct your attention to those individuals.

Thinking about the people whom you admire most makes you think and feel differently.

This is one of the reasons that Apple’s 1997 “Think Different” commercial works so well.

Apple’s marketers selected a set of individuals who are widely admired.

Albert Einstein, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lennon, Buckminster Fuller, Muhammad Ali, Amelia Earhart, Alfred Hitchcock, Jim Hansen, Pablo Picasso—and there are several more—at least some if not all of these people are somewhere on our list of inspiring individuals from history.

A three second image of Albert Einstein at the beginning of the commercial is all it takes to generate a flood of positive thoughts and emotions. A brief image changes your state. You can do that without the commercial. This commercial reminds us of resources we already have in our own minds and memories.

It’s not only about one individual—notice also how the commercial creates a connected group out of a wide range of diverse individuals who lived in different times and places. The narrator groups them together conceptually as “the crazy ones, the misfits, the ones who see things differently.”

Another unifying factor is how they are visually presented—all are shown in black and white footage, with a retro-staccato effect.

A third unifying element is the sound. Notice you don’t hear any of their voices, only the narrator and the background music, which helps to slow down what otherwise could feel like a frantic pace of images. It doesn’t feel that way, because we’re guided by these unifying elements to think of all these people as a sort of team. They’re together. They have a common mission of sorts—for the purpose of this ad—to inspire us by their example.

The narrator teams them up again in the final sentence: “The ones who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

Let’s set aside the marketing intention of the ad—you might or might not be an Apple user or admirer, and that’s fine.

For our purposes, the commercial points us toward a powerful motivation technique. In a very short period of time, the “Think Different” ad gets you to think differently, and feel differently too.

It serves as a reminder that this is something we can do for ourselves.

You can create your own “Think Different” commercial, anytime, anywhere and populate it with your preferred cast of characters.

Anytime you need to change your attitude, or see things from other perspectives, you can call on your list of admired historical figures. I call them virtual mentors, and here’s a technique for how to use them.

Virtual Mentors Motivation Technique

1. Create your own team of Virtual Mentors. List the five people from history you most admire, and why. You can choose more than five, but do pick at least five. For each of those individuals, write down the specific reasons you admire them.

That’s enough to use the technique, but also, going forward, continue to read biographies and other background information on your Virtual Mentors. It enables you to know how they would think and act in different situations.

Just because they’re not around in person doesn’t mean their life and example can’t be a source of inspiration for (a) feeling better; and (b) advice for better actions. That leads us to the next two steps of the technique—about how to put your Virtual Mentors to work for you.

2. Call on them to energize your attitude. If you need to be more creative, for example, think of Picasso. If you need to be more inspiring, think of Martin Luther King, Jr. If you need more courage, think of Amelia Earhart.  If you need to lift your spirits, think of Jim Henson and his Muppets.  These examples draw on people from the “Think Different” commercial, but you can add your own.

3. Call on them for advice. Under stress and pressure our thinking tends to constrict, and the range of alternatives that occur to us narrows. The Virtual Mentors can be helpful in getting your thoughts unstuck, reframing problems, challenging assumptions, and opening yourself to other options and implications.

When you find yourself faced with a problem or challenge and you feel stuck, pose the following question:

In this situation, what would ______ do?

Fill in the blank with each of your Virtual Mentors. Then anser the question for each one. Write down actual responses that you would expect each of your Virtual Mentors to produce, based on your knowledge of their life, background, character and track record.

This technique provides and quick, efficient way to open your thoughts to other possibilities and behaviors. Look at the list of responses from your Virtual Mentors, and pull together the best combination of insights to help you take your next steps.

Give it a try, and let us know how it goes!

My thanks to Anthony Allman for reminding me about this terrific commercial.

How do you make use of Virtual Mentors? Do you have techniques that work for you? Any other thoughts or questions? Add a comment below!

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