Albert Nerenberg

The Power of the Obvious

TBOP2017 ⋅ 32:45 ⋅ Filmed May 11, 2017

Canadian Filmmaker, actor, hypnotist and “laughologist” Albert Nerenberg explores the unexpected results and learnings that can blossom from simple — in fact downright obvious — ideas. In this inspiring and entertaining keynote, Albert applies “Captain Obvious” — a crowdsourced meme character who became a marketing boon for to show how we too often overlook the obvious — even when it comes to our very own bodies. Not sure what that means? You can try it yourself by participating at home in his demonstrations of Embodied Cognition and Gradient Laughter and see first hand what you’ve been missing.

Using his career as an independent filmmaker as an example, Albert teaches the audience how to abandon our preconceptions and see the world from a new perspective, giving room for marvelous, strange, brilliant — but obvious — ideas room to grow. From ducking under razor wire to capture the boiling point of the Oka Crisis, to saving alcoholics and addicts from ingesting dangerous amounts of substances, Albert demonstrates that many of the barriers to innovation are merely psychological. In the face of the toughest challenges our planet has ever encountered — climate change, oppression, poverty, to name only a few — Albert encourages that audience to look for the miraculous solutions hiding in plain sight.

Further Reading

  • Oka Crisis
  • Gradient Laugh

  • Embodied Cognition:
  • Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  • Documentaries Mentioned:
  • On Stupidity
  • The Boredom Documentary
  • “Let’s All Hate Toronto”
  • Laughology
  • NFB documentary
  • Hypnotic Bar
  • You Are What You Act


    Thank you.

    I should just explain, I'm actually from Montreal, but I'm currently living in the great city of Kingston, so let's hear it for Kingston.

    [0:11 - 0:12]

    [0:15] I had the opportunity to hear some of the stuff going on here and I was a little worried that maybe I wouldn't apply, that I would be off to left field, but I'm shocked to realize that what I’m going to talk about applies very directly to what people were talking about. There's a real emphasis on the art of keeping a story simple, the art of being clear, and so tonight I'm going to talk about The Power of the Obvious. I know that sounds a little bit strange. What is obvious? Here, I'm going to show you a little bit, I myself, as a filmmaker, was called a 'master of the obvious' which I was really proud of until I found out that actually it was a derogatory expression, it actually usually means that you're a bit thick. Actually, that is a picture of me!

    [1:11] I guess that you know this guy. This is Captain Obvious. I don't work for, but Captain Obvious to me is an amazing phenomena, because he was actually invented by the internet. He was a crowd sourced creation, a lot of people don't know this, he began as a cartoon character 'Captain Obvious'. He also was a popular meme. Here's an example of the meme , and as well, I asked the question, a very good, demanding question to ask in any situation is 'what would Captain Obvious do?’, and I thought it might apply to some of the projects in this amazing event.

    Barriers to Innovation

    [2:03] I myself, have a lot of experience with barriers in innovation. I'm just going to go back to the last speaker, and tell a little bit about my career, only because it sort of, relates directly.

    My career as a filmmaker was really launched in dealing with obvious barriers. This actually relates directly, as someone mentioned before, that we're on indigenous land, probably in some cases Mohawk land. As a reporter, one of the first things I did as a reporter was, I was at the Oka crisis. I don't know if you remember, you'd have to be a bit older to remember, but during the Oka crisis, all the TV cameras got pulled out at a key moment. For people who don't know, this was a standoff between the Canadian Army, the police in Quebec, and Mohawk natives in Oka that did not want a golf course to be built on their ancestral cemetery. To make a long story short, it turned into a big military confrontation. All the TV cameras got pulled out. And then a very strange thing happened. Basically, myself and another photographer were able to get a camera behind the lines, and the story is best told by an NFB documentary, and you'll see a weird side to it. This is a short clip from the NFB documentary and it explains a bit how we got in, but the actual twist about how we really got in is a different story, so I'll explain that to you in a second.

    [3:36]Plays clip from NFB documentary

    [5:41] So, I should explain, part of the twist here is that the army had erected 40 ft razor wire walls around the entire perimeter. That's why they were so confident that nobody had gotten through. I did explain a little bit, but when we arrived at the wall we didn't know what we were going to do, at that time we didn't ask 'what would captain obvious do?', but in this case, it really mattered. Razor wire, if you try to climb it, it hooks into your skin, that's what it's designed for, and what we did was we just lifted up the fence and went underneath it. That lesson has stuck with me for the rest of my life that a lot of barriers are entirely psychological, and this is a very dramatic example. The OKA crisis ended, although there was some violence when it ended, as these things go, it was a rather peaceful ending on some levels, and possibly due to the presence of TV cameras, strangely enough. I should point out that right now in that same area, there's tremendous flooding, this is actually me in Pierrefonds, Quebec just two days ago, and there's flooding, I understand there's even a flood warning for Prince Edward County. The army's back in the area and intriguingly, they are there in much more peaceful circumstances, they're actually doing really wonderful work. Seeing as we're here at Fort Henry, it might be nice if we have a round of applause and salute to the work that the Canadian Forces are doing with the floods that are going on all around us right now.

    [7:23](Applause) Thank you, I appreciate that.


    [7:26] Back to the question of the obvious. There's a phenomena where people miss something that’s happening right in front of them. It's a very intriguing phenomena, and it's very interesting to try to explain. In my experience, one of my first films was done on Stupidity. The reason I was able to get finance for this documentary channel, was because it was the first documentary ever made on Human Stupidity, which by itself would seem stupid. I would say it's kind of a scandal on some level. What's interesting in stupidity as a subject, is that I think you would think that a film on stupidity would be about people who are dumb, or their brains have problems. In fact, that's not what it was about.

    [8:12] The film was actually about another phenomena, ‘deliberate stupidity’, in fact, deliberate stupidity is a much more scandalous and intriguing phenomena. We discovered that we live in a culture that, on so many levels, promotes stupidity on a dramatic level. It has led to the ascendence of a class that in a sense promotes ignorance and stupidity. I can give you one very clear and well known example, this guy, (shows photo of George W. Bush), but we are currently living with a much more even dramatic examples, which is this guy (shows picture of Donald Trump). In fact you must be interested to know, there's a poll, I just included it today when I saw it. There's a poll where they asked people 'what was the first thing that came in mind when you thought about Donald Trump?', and I don't know if you can see it there. It basically says that 39% of people said that the first word that came to mind was 'idiot', the second word that came to mind is 'incompetent', the third word that came to mind is 'liar', and this is a poll of americans in general, and the fourth was 'leader'. Leader was fourth, very revealing.


    [9:25] Next documentary I made was a documentary on boredom. A very similar phenomena with boredom is we discovered that boredom is not essentially what it seems. There's very few films with an investigation of boredom, even though almost everybody complains about boredom. It's an experience that we all have. What was shocking about the film was that we discovered in the film that boredom is actually a stress condition, it's something that actually makes people stressed. There's now signs that demonstrate this in the blood.

    Let’s All Hate Toronto

    [9:56] The next film was a very controversially one I made called 'Let's All Hate Toronto'. This is also a very obvious subject if you ask a lot of Canadians what's the thing that concerns them the most outside of Toronto and you'll find that, and this has gone down a little bit in the last few years, but lately, hating Toronto was really a big deal.

    Laughology - Laughter vs Humour

    [10:20] Now, the next film I made was called 'Laughology'. This is a very similar phenomena, another subject that's hiding in plain sight. Laughter is a human universal, it’s everywhere, and there had never been until this documentary was made, a featured documentary on the subject of laughter before. Laughter's a very interesting thing. I want to perhaps explain an interesting aspect of it. Here's why nobody has ever paid attention to it before, it's because the confusion between laughter and humour is very powerful.

    [10:56] Here's an example of humour . Humour and laughter are actually two different things, very different things. Science shows that humour probably evolved in the last 100 thousand years. Laughter is probably millions of years old. When you separate the two, you get a very interesting thing. You discover that humour is an intellectual process, largely, and laughter is a health inducing, or physical process, and now we know that laughter can make you stronger, and friendlier, and sexier as well.

    [11:30] I'll give you an interesting example. Here's an example of someone who really saved their life by laughter. Here's a guy who had a lot of problems. A guy who was always getting beaten up when he was a kid and he developed a very contagious, powerful laugh, which basically saved his life. Here's a clip where he describes how it was discovered.

    [11:48]Shows clip from Laughology

    [13:22] When the film came out, of course we wanted the film to breakout, literally, in that you have to market your documentary around the country, around the world. We had this crazy idea which is to have laughing competitions before screenings of the film. It was a very strange idea. I had noticed that it's funny when two people try to out laugh each other. So when we did that, what was interesting, it actually spread. I was invited to Czech Republic, to France, to Austria, to host laughing championships in many different countries. It was a wonderful experience that I hadn't expected.

    Hypnotic Bar

    [14:06] Here's the weirdest idea that I've worked on, as I mentioned, I work as a hypnotist, which I find a very interesting and very obvious business, even though it doesn't seem that way. One thing that's very interesting about hypnosis is that there's an old trick that hypnotists do, in a hypnosis setting, is they will actually hypnotise somebody to appear drunk. This is a well known, but slightly difficult parlour trick. I started to think about that, it's kind of interesting, and I happened to have worked in a while, I did workshops in a rehab, where a number of people actually died of overdoses. I was really struck, and as you know, a lot of people are dying more than ever, in fact, of drug overdoses these days. That gave me an idea, a ‘Captain Obvious’ idea. I started thinking, maybe there's a way to influence people to be less obsessed with ingesting toxic amounts of substances. Myself and a few friends came up with the concept called the 'Hypnotic Bar', it was a documentary that explains a little bit. I'll show you a clip from it.

    [15:23]Clip from Documentary on Hypnotic Bar

    Excerpt from Hypnotic Bar

    [15:46]"I started thinking about an old hypnotist trick. The hypnotists have an old parlour trick where people can actually get people drunk under hypnosis. I thought, that's interesting, if people can actually get drunk under hypnosis that maybe you could take it a little further, that you could achieve altered states without drugs, alcohol, or even side effects."

    [16:09] No hangover, no side effects. I know a lot of you are drinking beer right now, you're probably worried about it, this way with the ‘Hypnotic Bar’ there are absolutely no side effects, you don't have to be running to the washroom all the time. I just performed the ‘Hypnotic Bar’ in New York City, to a standing room only crowd at the Alchemist's Kitchen, which is a popular place in downtown Manhattan. I'm probably going back there in the fall. When I explain this to people, people are like 'yeah it's a funny joke, it's a comedy show’, it's not a comedy show, it's actually real, people are drunk and they are put on all kinds of drugs, and then they are woken up and they can drive home, it's a very weird thing. I don't recommend that they drive home, but they can. That's a ‘Hypnotic Bar’.

    The Science Behind Acting

    [17:30] I want to show you, if you don't mind, a film I'm working on right now. Even a scene from this, might end up in this documentary, it's possible. I became very concerned with the idea, I believe that the next big transformational modality in life is actually acting, performing and acting. I think that you can change who you are by acting differently. I'll explain more in a second. I became concerned with the science of how acting changes people, and I started noticing that there would be a pattern, if acting really does change people, then a lot of famous actors would probably have certain experiences. And so, this trailer, and this is just the trailer for the movie, which is being done by the documentary channel on Canal D, which is basically suggesting that you are what you act. So here, take a look.

    [18:13]Shows You Are What You Act trailer

    Embodied Cognition

    [20:53] Would you go see that? Yes. I should explain a little bit, the science behind this film has a name, the science is called ‘Embodied Cognition”. It's a very simple idea on some level, it's the idea that there's no real separation between the body and the brain, that we live in a culture, or maybe an education system, that from an early age separates our brain from our body, and that this new science says they are actually connected, which is also kind of obvious. So if you don't mind, I would like that maybe you could indulge me, I'd like to demonstrate some of these exercises. I'd like to give an example. An example of this is that wearing glasses, and this is very obvious, can make you seem smarter, even though you're the same intelligence. Another example of this is that wearing sunglasses can make you look more intriguing. Another weird example of this is that dressing in a lab coat improves your marks on exams. I think that's in science, I don't think it does if you're in Arts. This is a cool one I think, smiling, there's now research that suggest that when you smile, even artificially, even if you just decide to smile, you change your brain chemistry to see more things to smile about. So you actually bias your brain towards finding more things to smile about by the artificial act of smiling. Does that make sense? I'll give you some other examples of these things.

    [22:30] Here's an example of this thing called a ‘Gradient Laugh’, and this can actually be faked. People always ask me this, ‘can you fake your way to laughing’? And you very much can, and I'll demonstrate this, if you don't mind, if you can do this with me, I think it will warm us up, I hope. What you want to do is very gently, you want to make a ha ha ha sound, you go like this, (mimics low laughter), very good. The ‘Gradient Laugh’ is the idea that we start low and we gradually get louder. So very very quietly, as quietly as you can almost, take a deep breath in (mimics laughter). You guys are good, you're too good! So we start very quietly, like this (mimics increasing laughter). Very good, and now you're laughing for real.

    [23:39] I'll give you another example, Power Posing. That's right, there's some power posers here. Fantastic! Wow, professionals! That's right! Holy Cow! Let me explain Power Posing. Power posing is an amazing theory, the theory is that people will read you as more powerful, as more influential, you'll do better at job interviews, you'll do better at public speaking, if you take more space. If you walk with big steps, literally taking up more of the stage, using big gestures, as opposed to small gestures where people actually, unconsciously, stop paying attention to you. It's weird. The idea is that power posing can be empowering for people. There is some controversy about the science, I should just mention that, but it's kind of intriguing. This is the Victory Pose (demonstrates Victory Pose).

    [24:39] Can go back to the Power Poses? It's good if we all try these things, and just say how you feel, either to the person next to you, or to me. Try the power pose, it's feet akimbo, feet apart, hands on your hips, like that (demonstrates), that's right. How do you feel? According to Amy Cuddy, a psychologist at Harvard, within two minutes of assuming this posture, your testosterone levels raise at a detectable level in your blood. It's kind of amazing. I think something's going on, it's not exactly that, there's something going on just by assuming that pose. You may assume certain poses in yoga do the same thing, Cobra Pose in yoga has a similar effect.

    [25:26] Try the Victory Pose, this is what, whoever the teams are that are going to win, or all the teams, they should do this because, the idea is that you are primed for winning things if you practice the Victory Pose. You go, (demonstrates Victory Pose while screaming) "yeah! We're going to Win"; (crowd engages and also screams.) Are you victorious? Yes, you are! That's right, you're alive! Victory Pose!

    [26:05] Now, try the Loser Pose, if you don't believe me that this affects you, try this one (demonstrates Loser Pose), this is Loser Pose, shoulders down, crouching low, look at that! What a bunch of losers! The Loser Pose has demonstrated to increase levels of anxiety and depression. If you don't believe me, I have a suggestion, walk around in a Loser Pose for about two or three days, just walk around like this, go to work, for just about two or three days and see how you feel. That's a Loser Pose.

    [26:46] I thought this was intriguing, there's a study that suggests, they trick people, they have to be neutral in science so they trick people into making this hand gesture (signals a 'thumbs up' gesture) without knowing why they were doing it. They found out that if you make this hand gesture, I can do it with two hands, like this, if you make that gesture, try it, see how you feel. Apparently, you are more positively disposed to what you're looking at. You do this, you're like, yeah, that guy, he's an okay speaker. That's right, yeah, this night's going okay, yes. What's interesting is that even if you don't know why you're making that gesture, your chemistry is affected to change you. That's what's weird about it.

    [27:37] I'm going to give you an example of a second pose they study, and I'm going to get you to make this pose as well. It's a very intriguing one. You're probably very familiar with it, it's this one (shows 'middle finger' gesture). What they discovered was that they tricked people into making this gesture, they tricked them without knowing why, and they found that of course, you're more negatively disposed to what you're looking at or pointing at if you do this without even knowing why. This is just an experiment, this is just a study, but I would like you to do this now if you could, even off in the balcony, we can all do this together, on the count of three, two, one…(shows middle finger). Yeah! Losers! Now, did you notice that you were more like, I don't know if this is so interesting anymore?

    [28:31] I want to show you another example of this phenomena (middle finger gesture appears on screen), actually that was a demonstration, I just had that there in case someone did not know how to make the gesture. But now we're going to clear the air by making this one (thumbs up gesture), this is an air clearing gesture, it makes you happy, you feel good, excellent!

    [28:50] I want to show you something else, one last thing that's kind of intriguing. This is called Skeptical Eyes, and there's a study that shows that if you're watching a presentation, for example, and you hold, artificially, a more skeptical expression. You're just faking it, because I know you wouldn't be doing that right now. You're just faking it, if you don't mind I'm going to ask you to just look at me very skeptically, squint your eyes, skeptical, and now here, I'll give you something to look at, so here's The Breakout Project facebook banner, now look at it with skeptical eyes. And do you notice that you're wonder, what's that about? Why? You're more skeptical, even though this was an artificial experiment. Now I'll ask you to do something else. This is Captain Obvious, eyes open, wide open, just a very arbitrary physical change, eyes wide open, same experiment, now look at the banner, eyes wide open, now how do you feel, wow, pretty good! Pretty nice banner! Now, we'll take it even a step further, eyes open, mouth open, try it now. How do you feel about the banner now? Take a look, is that not the greatest banner that you've ever seen? That is simply your physiology manipulating your brain, which is very very strange.

    [30:23] I don't want to take up too much time, so I want to show you something intriguing. The point of my talk tonight is that we often miss very obvious things, the very simple things. Our own bodies, our own gestures, smiling, laughing, squinting, giving people the finger, all these things matter a lot. I'm going to show you another demonstration of this, I was looking at this very Facebook banner. Oh sorry, I should wrap up first before I do that.

    [30:58] To wrap up I want to say, our world has a lot of problems. Yes, climate change, poverty, racism, we've got a lot of problems. That's obvious, and if we were willing to go directly, clearly, boldly, right at our problems, in my view, we're more likely to find solutions.

    [31:29] I want to show you that example that I mentioned before, the banner, this is the banner, I was looking at it while I was setting this up and I noticed something interesting, hiding in plain sight. Look at the gesture that's being made in the banner (mimics gesture in banner), it's like a hands up, I argue it's like a Victory Pose plus applause. But wait, look closer, what do you see over here, aha! Another pose. A very secret, underground, maybe subversive pose. Let's go a little bit closer, there it is. I think this, to me embodies the spirit, if I can leave you with one message, I'm just making this gesture ,'rock on' gesture., I'm just making this gesture to see how I feel, and I have some appropriate music.

    AC/DC Thunderstruck plays


    Join the Movement.

    Subscribe to our newsletter to receive event updates, speaker and team announcements, exclusive offers and more.

    • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.