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What is Behavioural Design?

By | All, SUE Amsterdam & Behavioural Design Academy originals

This blog post is an extended introduction of Behavioural Design. You will get a clear idea about what it is, how you can use it in your professional and personal life to influence minds and shape behaviour, and what you could do to learn more about it. Moreover, this blog post is the perfect entry to most other blogposts we published on the SUE Behavioural Design website.

  1. Behavioural Design is about influence
  2. Behavioural Design is a Method
  3. The ethical side of Behavioural Design
  4. Behavioural Design is about designing choices
  5. Behavioural Designers think ‘outside-in’.
  6. Behavioural Designers work with principles from the science of influence
  7. Behavioural Designers research, prototype and test
  8. Domains of Behavioural Design
  9. Start to learn more about Behavioural Design

 

1. Behavioural Design is about influence

How do you influence minds and shape behaviours?  How do you change other people’s, as well as your personal behaviours? How do you help people to make better decisions?

Isn’t it strange that the majority of all of our behaviours and communication aims at influencing other people, and yet at the same time, we have no clue about the principles and laws that govern influence?

Behavioural Design is a systematic understanding of how people think and how they make decisions. This understanding forms the basis of thinking about interventions that lead to behavioural change.

Maybe you want to influence the behaviour of your partner of children. You might want to influence your colleagues or managers. Some people want to develop a healthy habit for themselves or want to live a more sustainable life. Maybe you want to influence customer behaviour, or win elections. No matter what the subject is, you can all think of them as a behavioural design challenge.

So what is Behavioural Design. The most pragmatic definition of Behavioural Design we came up with so far, is the following:

Behavioural Designers combine Psychology, Design, Technology, and Creative Methods to find out why people do the things they do and to figure out through experimentation how to activate them to change their behaviour.

 

2. Behavioural Design is a method

The best way to think about Behavioural Design is to think of it as the combination of Design Thinking with the Science of Influence. 

Design Thinking is the method through which designers solve problems. Designers start with empathy. Through interviews and observations, they try to “fall in love with the problem”: Why do people do what they do and where could we spot opportunities for improvement? This insight phase forms the groundwork for ideation. First, designers come up with as many ideas as possible, and then they prototype the most promising ones. They take the prototypes back to the real world and test them with real people to learn and to observe how the prototype succeed in influencing the targeted behaviour. Design Consultancy Ideo, the godfathers of Design Thinking uses this simple graphic to explain the process:

This image describes the process of design thinking

When you combine the method of Design Thinking with Behavioural Sciences, you will get Design Thinking on Steroids. Because a better understanding of human psychology you will get 1) better insights into why people do what they do 2) better ideas on where to look for solutions 3) better prototypes, because you will have a much sharper understanding of what specific behavioural outcome you’re designing for.

At SUE the essence of what we do is to train the Behavioural Design Method at our Behavioural Design Academy and at In-company training and we run the Behavioural Design Method in Behavioural Design Sprints together with our clients.

More about Design Thinking:

3. The ethical side of Behavioural Design

Behavioural Design is dark wisdom. The difference between positive influence and manipulation is a very fragile line. In the end, we have to be aware that Behavioural Design is about using deliberate action and techniques to influence the behaviour of the other in the direction you want.

The problem is that those who want to design for good, quite often feel bad about using dark forces. Whereas those who use this dark wisdom to manipulate and mislead, are usually much more motivated, advanced and have fewer scruples about the application of it.  Think about how extreme-right populists exploit fear and uncertainty, or think about how technology companies exploit our vanities, and our desire for social recognition and belonging to the extent that it leads to (social media) addiction.

The world of interaction design is full of  “dark patterns“, which are manipulative ways to present choices to us in such a way that they manipulate us into making a specific decision, whether we want it or not.

Doctor Evil

At SUE, we are very sensitive to this ethical component. We even encoded it in our mission. The SUE mission is “to unlock the potential of Behavioural Psychology to nudge people into positive choices in work, life and play”. Our point of departure for designing interventions for Behavioural change always starts with the question “How might we help people to make better choices? Moreover, how could we design products, services and experiences in such a way that they contribute to helping people to achieve their goals or dreams? Our commitment to this mission is sacred, even to the point that we refuse to accept work that doesn’t match with this mission. You can find more about this way of thinking below at “5. Outside-in Thinking“.

More about the ethical side of Behavioural Design:

4. Behavioural Design is about designing choices

Multiple levels of influence

In a certain sense, the term “Behavioural Design” is a little bit misleading. Behavioural change is the outcome we aim for when we design an intervention. When we want to achieve this outcome, we need to design on multiple levels at the same time:

  1. The design of attention: How do you make sure something catches people’s attention?
  2. The triggering of curiosity: How do you get people to invest time and mental energy to learn more about what you want from them?
  3. The change of perception: how do you get something to stand out as the attractive option between other choices? How do you design the desired perception?
  4. The design of experience: How do you get someone to have a positive feeling? How can you reduce stress or uncertainty?
  5. The triggering of behaviour: How do you trigger the desired behaviour? How can you increase the chance of success that people act upon your trigger
  6. The change of habits: How can you get people to sustain the behaviour? Most behaviours require much more than a one-time action. Think about saving, living healthy, exercising, recycling, collaborating, etc.

Thinking fast and slow

This simple list of influence levels teaches us that Behavioural Design is all about how we design choices and how we present those choices.  Behavioural Design has everything to do with human decision-making and how the brain works.

The cornerstone of thinking about human-decision making is the masterpiece “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Kahneman and Tversky. This book – awarded with the Noble Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2002 – is the fascinating journey of the collaboration between two Israeli psychologists and their discoveries of how the mind works. This book is the ultimate work on thinking about thinking.

Kahneman and Tversky discovered that about 98% of our thinking is automatic and unconscious. Our brain is making most of the decisions for us, by taking shortcuts – which they call heuristics -, with the goal of not having to invoke the 2% bandwidth of our slow, rational brain.

In a way, influencing behaviour comes down to helping people to decide without having to think. Because the more we need to think about something, the more stress we get, the less we end up making choices.

Since 2018, we now have a second psychologist in the ranks of noble prize winners. Richard Thaler built upon the work of Kahneman and Tversky and zoomed in on how to make use of System 1-System2 thinking to nudge people into better decision making on wealth, health and happiness.

Our hard-wired tendency to persuade

Our biggest fallacy, when it comes to our attempts to influence minds and shape behaviours, is that we always tend to persuade the other with rational arguments. The problem with persuasion is two-fold:

  1. Persuasion evokes System 2-thinking, and we don’t like that. When you try to persuade someone, you want them to think about your argument. Thinking complicates things.
  2. System 2 is the little slave of System 1: we only accept rational arguments or facts, when they are in line with how we already think about matters. You can only persuade someone who’s already convinced.

The real challenge is to make decision making extremely easy.

More about designing choices:

5. Behavioural Designers think ‘outside-in’.

The most common mistake we make when we try to influence minds and shape behaviour, is to think inside-out. We take the benefits our product or service as our point of departure, and we try to figure out how we could pitch those benefits in such a way that people would realize the value of what we have to offer.

Behavioural Designer work the other way around. We take the human behind the customer as our focal point, and we try to figure out what this human needs to be successful, which anxieties, doubts, prejudices or bad habits he hold that stand in the way of embracing the desired behaviour, or which pains or frustrations we could solve for him.

The Influence Framework

We developed the Influence Framework as a tool to do outside-in thinking systematically,. This model brings all the forces to the surface that influence the behaviour of the people for whom we need to design interventions.

The Influence Framework consists of five questions we need to answer to understand why people do what they do and how to get them to act:

  1. Job-To-Be-Done: What is the underlying goal for which people would have to embrace the new behaviour? How might we align the desired behaviour with goals that matter to them?
  2. Pains: What are possible frustrations and pains in their current behaviour, for which we need to come up with a solution?
  3. Gains: What are the benefits we have, compared with their current solutions?
  4. Anxieties: What are anxieties, doubts, prejudices or other barriers that prevent someone from embracing the new behaviour?
  5. Habits: Which habits keep them locked in their current behaviour?

Finding the answers to these questions will provide you with a blueprint of where to spot opportunities for behavioural change.

In this video, you can find a brief explainer of the Influence Framework.

More about outside-in thinking:

6. Behavioural Designers work with principles from the science of influence

The next step in the Behavioural Design Method is about turning a deep understanding of the forces that explain people’s behaviours, into ideas for behavioural change.  These are two different games. Whereas the Influence Framework uncovers the unconsciousness of people, is this part about applying principles from the science of influence to come up with solutions on how to change behaviour.

We use a variety of principles, but the basic framework is this elegant and simple   formula of Prof. BJ Fogg:

B=MAT,
Behaviour = Motivation x Ability x Trigger.

bjfogg model uitgelegd

When we try to come up with ideas and interventions for behavioural change, we try to find answers to three simple questions:

  1. Trigger: What’s the perfect time and place to prompt a desired behaviour?
  2. Ability: How might we make the desired behaviour easier (or the undesired behaviour more difficult)?
  3. Motivation: How might we boost motivation for the desired behaviour?

The purpose of these three questions is to help system 1 to decide without having to think.

You could plot every known persuasion principle in the literature onto these three axes. The persuasion principles by Robert Cialdini (authority, scarcity, social proof, liking, reciprocity, commitment), can be understood as techniques to boost motivation. Lot’s of usability-principles are ability principles: default options, choice reduction, simplicity, affordance, all aim at making the desired behaviour easy.

More about principles from the science of influence:

7. Behavioural Designers research, prototype and test

The Psycho-logic is a different kind of logic

The more familiar you get with how the brain works and how influence works, the more you become aware of the fact that human behaviour obeys to a different kind of logic than formal logic. Rory Sutherland calls this “psycho-logic” in his brilliant book  Alchemy.

The way people make decisions is highly context-sensitive. These decisions are full of stories they tell themselves and full of irrational beliefs they hold. Furthermore, even the slightest difference in how something is framed can have a dramatic effect on how people perceive the meaning. When an English native speaker says he or she thinks something is “interesting”, it usually means precisely the opposite. Whereas a non-native Dutch audience would think they “interesting” means what they think it means.

The importance of doing the research yourself

That’s why research and prototyping are so important. Before you come up with an idea for behavioural change, you first need to fall in love with the problem. You observe or interview humans and try to put yourself in their shoes. You’ll be surprised about how many thoughts and beliefs you hold, are actually projections of your limited world view onto the world of the target audience you want to influence.

Prototyping and testing is all about trying to find out which variation of your intervention has the highest potential to design perception, attention, curiosity, experience, behaviour or habit. Even with the clearest of insights, you can still come up with an intervention that ultimately misses its desired effect. What you thought your intervention was supposed to trigger, sometimes triggers the exact opposite.

More about prototyping and testing:

8. Domains of Behavioural Design

The number of applications for Behavioural Design Thinking is endless. Because in the end, most of the things we do as humans aim at influencing the behaviour of others. You can apply it from managing teams to the design of products. Or from getting people to buy products, to changing the way they perceive a service or experience. And from the design of financial habits, personal habits and healthy habits, till the raising of children.

At SUE, we’re particularly fascinated by six specific domains for behavioural change:

Most of our blogs and our weekly newsletter “Behavioural Design Digest” is about one of these topics.

9. Start to learn more about Behavioural Design

Now you have a deeper understanding about what Behavioural Design and how you can apply the Behavioural Design Method to influence minds and shape behaviour, there’s a couple of next steps you can take to learn more about the method:

  1. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter Behavioural Design Digest, in which we take a closer look at how influence works in daily life.
  2. Subscribe to one of the upcoming editions of our Behavioural Design Academy masterclasses and learn the Behavioural Design Method step by step.
  3. Organize an in-company training for your team and learn the method while applying it to a critical business challenge for your organization.
  4. Hire SUE to run a Behavioural Design Sprint to research, prototype and test ideas to improve the success of your product or service
  5. Book SUE for a keynote or workshop  (contact us)
  6. Check or frequently asked questions and discover answers to questions you didn’t even know you had.

sue behavioural design

We Want You - Uncle Sam

The Behavioural Design of Applying for a Job

By | All, Self Improvement, SUE Amsterdam & Behavioural Design Academy originals

How do you apply for a job?

From a Behavioural Design point of view, this is a fascinating question. When you are applying for a job, there are several challenges you need to overcome. It’s a multi-level game in which you need to figure out how to reach level 3 or 4 with one single run.

  1. Trigger attention and curiosity
  2. Get invited
  3. Persuade that you are the one

A context of fierce competition for attention

First of all you have to be aware that most companies like ours get about 2-5 applications per day. In addition, those applications have to compete with about 50 other e-mails we have to try to process per day. That means you only get about 10-20 seconds to trigger my curiosity to invest more time in learning more about you. Don’t get me wrong, this has nothing to do with being an asshole. It has everything to do with having to figure out how to process the flood of information  – in my inbox alone – that is competing for my attention every single day. Add to this the daily requests by vendors who approach us by phone or e-mail to “have a coffee” and you must realize that time is incredibly scarce and valuable.

Applying for a job is a classic choice problem: With a very limited amount of information and a limited amount of time, we need to make a judgement of whether we want to invest more time in getting to know you.

How to trigger curiosity?

The best way to help us to make a decision is to offer us system 1 shortcuts. One of the core principles of the Behavioural Design Method, that we train at the Behavioural Design Academy is “Help people to make a decision without having to think”. What this means is that the more we have to use our rational brain to figure something out, the more we end up with not making a decision at all. Here are a couple of tips to create shortcuts when you’re applying for a job:

  1. Get introduced by someone we know and trust. If you can get someone to vouch for you, you make it a lot easier for us to get curious
  2. Never pull a stunt to grab our attention. Applying for a job is a delicate seduction process. You wouldn’t set up a surprise act on your first Tinder date, won’t you?
  3. Be intriguing: what are surprising things you’ve done in the past, both in your personal, as well as your private life, that proofs to us that you’re an interesting person? Past behaviour never lies.
  4. Signaling: There’s a lot of value that you communicate in the effort you put into reaching us. We once got a hand written love letter in which the candidate wrote why and when she fell in love with SUE. We hired her on the spot. She still works at SUE.
  5. Study the people to whom you are writing your application. It’s not that hard to find the founders on Twitter, Linkedin and Google. Try to find out what they write about and try to contribute something to the things they are passionate about.

Summary: Think outside-in

An application is like professional flirting. It might take a little more effort to go from Awareness to Interest to Desire and Action. Sometimes it even takes a couple of years. But just like with every every challenge to influence someones behaviour, you have to think outside-in: Try to figure out what the Job-to-be-Done is of the person you try to persuade, then take away their anxieties, then present yourself als the best solution to their pains and make them understand how hiring you would offer them gains that are incredibly valuable.
One more thing: At SUE we prefer to recruit within our network of Behavioural Design Academy alumni,or people who participated in one of our Behavioural Design Sprints.  The simple reason is that are already familiar with the Behavioral Design Method.
I hope this post inspired you to rethink the way you design your application process approach. Good luck!
Tom
signaling

Signaling: How to add psychological value

By | All, Customer Behaviour, User Experience

What is the cheapest way to feel insanely rich? To me, it is having a high-tea in a five-star hotel. For about 50 to 60 euros you can get a taste of the service level that generally only the rich and famous have access to. Another way is to book an Economy Plus seat on an aeroplane. For just a tiny bit extra, you not only have a bit more comfort. You also are freed from the hassle to get on and off the plane. Your food gets served first. And in case of Easyjet, you get to experience the ritual of getting to board early. While the other mortals have to feel inferior behind a rope. Priceless.

How to feel rich the cheap way

But I am also feeling filthy rich for the last few years if the owner of restaurant ‘Oggi’ in the Binnenbantammerstraat Amsterdam – who by the way is Turkish, but does a brilliant Italian impersonation – comes up to me all the way from the kitchen to welcome me back. It’s a little gesture, but it makes a lasting impression on my Belgian relatives. It signals that I am an appreciated customer and not just an anonymous character in the big city. The Uber driver who simply asked me if I would enjoy listening to some music, and gave me a few mints, transformed the value perception of expensive public transport into a private chauffeur experience that was a mighty good deal.

By the way, there’s a great power in mints when you look at it from a human psychology point of view. Check out this post to see how mints can make a big difference in the amount of tips given. It explains the Cialdini persuasion principle of reciprocity.

 

Signaling: the power of adding psychological value

In behavioural economics, these examples are called signaling. Our system 1 – aka our automatic brain – is continuously picking up signals that seem trivial, but have an enormous impact on how we experience the value of things. The cheery Coolblue delivery boy on his bike looks like a little detail at first sight, but it undoubtedly one of the most active signals that show how committed Coolblue is to do ‘Everything for a smile’.

The other way around: How often did you hear you say to yourself you would never return to a store as one member of staff – maybe even without knowing it him or herself – has treated you with too little respect? A store can try its hardest to make sure everything is in perfect order, but if the behaviour of the people instore signal the opposite. It’s the end of the story.

Signaling power at organisations

I even experience the same when visiting clients. Both at De Volksbank and at ASR Insurances you are welcomed by hosts that genuinely make you feel very welcome. It causes you to feel good about the entire organisation right away. The organisation signals that you, as their visitor, are of importance to them. The hostesses at the main offices of Eneco are also sublime at this. As opposed to Group4, where you come in, you are asked to come up to security agents positioned behind a stronghold. No, the hostesses at Eneco accompany you to an espresso bar and give you a reception that even the CEO would appreciate.

No expensive design or elaborate change management program can match the power of psychological design choices.

 

Want to know more?

If you want to master the science of influence yourself, you could consider enrolling in our two-day course Behavioural Design at our SUE | Behavioural Design Academy. You can download the Academy brochure.

Or maybe you currently have a challenge in which you want to influence choice or change behaviour. Please, take a look at our Behavioural Design Sprint. It might be the answer you’re looking for.

Or could be you just would like to get to know us a little better. We happily introduce ourselves here.

How Behavioural Science and Data Science should collaborate

By | All, Behavioural Science

Last week I had the honour to speak and lead a data science hackathon at the I-com conference in Malaga. I have never been surrounded by so many brilliant people in my life. What fascinated me was how much behavioural designers and data-scientist have in common, and yet, how little both disciplines know about each other, or even collaborate with each other.

Why I fell in love with Data Science

What data-scientists do is they look at data sets, look for patterns in that data and use that understanding to build a model that could predict behaviour. Their models predict things like: “What products will new mums buy more or less?” or “when will you watch what kind of content on which device?”, or “in which region can you stop distributing product catalogues, without hurting sales?”. I saw teams in the 24-hours hackathon come up with mindblowing predictions. And I felt really stupid for not understanding a single bit of how they build their models. But the thing is: I don’t need to because the computer simply calculates the predictive power of the model, so there’s no cheating or bullshitting possible. Fascinating stuff.

The blind spot of Data Science

There is, however, a very big limitation to this approach. And that’s the fact that we’re dealing with humans. It’s not because I can predict to a certain extent your future behaviour, based on data-analysis, that I wouldn’t be able to influence you to make different choices. After all, our choices are heavily influenced by how choices are being presented to us.

I can make you reconsider the choice of buying a camera, by letting you choose between three, instead of two models. If I present you with three models, you are far more likely to chose the middle one. And you wouldn’t have chosen it if I only had shown you two. If I play loud music in a restaurant, you will buy more unhealthy food. If I would prime you with images of Italy, you will buy more Italian food. If I add urgency and scarcity to buy the last items of a sales promotion, you will probably choose differently. The means for screwing up the behaviour that is predicted by the model are endless.

Meaning versus Reach

The challenge with the classic behavioural design method of interviewing and observation is that it’s very rich on meaning but poor on reach. And data science has exactly the opposite problem: the insights are scalable, but they are not rich in meaning. The fact that new mums buy much more housecare products, but buy far less mouthcare products , doesn’t explain why they do that. If you can understand why people do the things they do, you can easily figure out new ways to optimize your marketing.

How to collaborate?

The answer is simple: Design a creative process that leverages the best of both worlds. I would always follow these steps:
Let the whole team do interviews to develop a deeper understanding of how the target audience thinks, feels and behaves. This helps them to overcome their own biases, assumptions and prejudices and helps them to build interesting hypotheses.

Analyse the data you have with the hypothesis you’ve just formed. Try to figure out which hypothesis actually predict behaviour. But also: dare to go back: if you find interesting other patterns (e.g. non-parents buy way more deodorants than new parents), try to see if this insight could help you to revise your deep understanding of the drivers of the behaviour of your audience

Once you’ve developed a predictive model, based on qualitative and qualitative results, use Behavioral Design principles to come up with ideas for improvements of the customer journey
The fun part: Prototype, test and measure. Design experiments, measure results, improve your overall plan. Aggressive experimentation is what sets apart the truly innovative companies from the laggards.

This is such an interesting time to really make a measurable impact. But everyone’s struggling with the HOW-question: how to turn a deeper understanding of behaviour into business value. The creative method is the answer.

#justsaying 🙂
Have a great day,
Tom

Want to learn more?

If you want to master the science of influence yourself, you could consider enrolling in our two-day course Behavioural Design at our SUE | Behavioural Design Academy. You can download the Academy brochure.

Or maybe you currently have a challenge in which you want to influence choice or change behaviour. Please, take a look at our Behavioural Design Sprint. It might be the answer you’re looking for.

Or could be you just would like to get to know us a little better. We happily introduce ourselves here.

A cliche image of coaching

Personal coaching is pointless: four reasons

By | All, Organisational Design, Self Improvement

The lie at the heart of the coaching and Leadership-Industry

I’m fully aware that I will probably get hate-mail for this. But I honestly think personal coaching is a gigantic waste of time and money. Personal coaching is based on the assumption that changing the individual will lead to a change in the behaviour of the group and will benefit the company. A multi-billion dollar leadership-industry even emerged around this assumption. “If only I would become a better leader, my company would grow and my team would flourish”.

I think this assumption is complete nonsense, because of these four reasons

1. There’s a very weak relationship between knowledge and habits.

Most smokers know smoking is bad for them. Most smokers know they should quit. But with every crave for relaxation or fighting boredom, they can’t help themselves and light up a cigarette.

The same goes for coaching. Learning a lot about yourself is one thing. Being able to break your automatic interaction patterns with your environment is a whole different subject. You and your environment can’t help but repeating the same patterns over and over again. And the moment you try to change, your environment will push back hard to get you in line with what they expect you to be.

2. Individuals are overrated when it comes to making a difference

Only collaborations create breakthrough innovations. The central storyline of Michael Lewis biography of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky is how these two Isreali psychologists, basically re-wrote the rules of psychology through their collaboration. which had all the characteristics of a creative-intellectual love affair. They could never tell who initiated a breakthrough insight or idea. It was the creative-intellectual tango between both of them, that generated idea after idea. Interestingly, their intellectual productivity dried up, when they got separated in the eighties.

By the same standards: There would be no Steve Jobs, without Steve Wozniak or Johny Ive. No Warren Buffet without Charlie Munger. Even the archetype of the lone genius, Albert Einstein, turned out to rely heavily on the genie of his wife Mileva Maric. I think it was Aristotle who said: “knowledge is dialogue”. So instead of looking inside for “unlocking hidden truths about yourself”, find yourself a creative partner and start playing.

In his new book “Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell”, Google’s former chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt brings a homage to Bill Campbell, who both coached the Apple and Google Board at the same moment. Bill was famous for coaching the team, not the individuals of the team. As Schmidt puts it:

“You hear all the day that “I need a mentor.” Well, by the way, you need a mentor and I need a mentor; mentors are great. That’s not what Bill was. Bill was a coach and more importantly, he was the best coach of teams ever. And why do you need a team? Because a company is not an individual, it’s a team of individuals who need coaching to achieve their objective”.

 

3. You are the average of the five people you hang around with.

This is what Tim Ferris would write, if he would be given the chance to write copy on a public billboard.

The answer to becoming a better person is by surrounding yourself in your daily life with people better than yourself in different ways. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have a mentor. But I do think that most of your uncertainties, flaws, ego-problems, bad habits and lack of energy can be attributed to the simple fact that you’re not surrounded by enough people, who push you to become the best possible version of yourself.

4. Change is about behaviour

Most of our limitations are the effect of the ecosystem we’re part of. As entrepreneurs, there was a time we worked day and night and frustrated our team because we couldn’t let go. The only way to solve this problem was to step out of this ecosystem for a while. This forced everyone in our team to step up and it provided an amazing opportunity for personal growth, and this includes Astrid and I. What changed us was an intervention that liberated everyone from a pattern we got locked into. No personal coaching could have solved this problem.

 

The Behavioural Design of Personal Growth

How does this relate to Behavioural Design? At SUE we think of Behavioral Design as a set of methods and principles to change behaviour, through the design of interventions that nudge people’s choices in a desired way. The more we work on big themes like happiness, excitement, creativity, productivity, etc… the more we discover that you can’t search for those values within yourself. They are the effect of the behaviour you are nudged into.

By the same standard we think of professional growth as just another Behavioural Design Briefing. If you want to grow as a person, simply create a context in which you are triggered into behaviors that lead to growth. The best way to achieve this is to come up with interventions that force a group to give more feedback. to engage in continuous learning and to experiment aggressively. Our Behavioural Design Sprintis an example of how the design of the process forces the group into these positive behaviours.

Want to learn more?

If you want to master the science of influence yourself, you could consider enrolling in our two-day course Behavioural Design at our SUE | Behavioural Design Academy. You can download the Academy brochure.

Or maybe you currently have a challenge in which you want to influence choice or change behaviour. Please, take a look at our Behavioural Design Sprint. It might be the answer you’re looking for.

Or could be you just would like to get to know us a little better. We happily introduce ourselves here.

how to influence the ones at power

How to influence those in power?

By | All, Citizen Behaviour, Government & Politics

How do you influence those in power? Have you seen the talk that Observer journalist Carole Cadwalladr did at the official TED2019 conference last week? Her performance became a viral sensation because she did what nobody dared to do before. In a conference, sponsored by Google and Facebook and with their high-priests Mark Zuckerberg, Sherryl Sandberg, Sergei Brin, Larry Page and Twitter-CEO-turned-mindfulness-hipster Jack Dorsey in the room, she named and shamed them in front of their peers and the whole world. For how their platforms are undermining democracy, and for how they keep refusing to look that dirty truth in the eyes.

Carole Cadwalladr speaking at TED2019

Carole Cadwalladr speaking at TED2019 – click for video

Influence 1: Public shaming works

Of all the efforts to get these leaders to take action for the havoc their platforms are causing to society, this might be the most powerful one. It reminded me of my favourite quote by the American philosopher Richard Rorty:

“We resent the idea that we shall have to wait for the strong to turn their piggy little eyes to the suffering of the weak, slowly open their dried-up little hearts. We desperately hope there is something stronger and more powerful that will hurt the strong if they do not do these things.”

Rorty argued that the only way to change the behaviour of the ruling elites is to persuade them that it’s in their interest to do the right thing. The robber barons agreed to more human labour laws, only when it became clear that the alternative was a revolution.

Influence 2: We’re suckers for social status

We, humans, are total suckers for social recognition. We’re continually signalling our desired social status to others through our cars, the house we live in, our job titles, our relentless attempts to build and maintain our personal brand on social media, etcetera.

Being wealthy and successful is the highest form of social status you can achieve in Western Society.  The problem is not “success” as such, but the cultural narratives that surround success. One of those dominant narratives is that both success or failure is your achievement. (It’s not, it’s your social background that determines the number of opportunities you will get).

Another one is that the State is bureaucratic and corrupt and you should outsmart the State by paying as little taxes as possible. Being successful is all about out-smarting the State. However, everything that contributes to opportunities and success (the availability of talent, infrastructure, business partners) is being paid for by taxes.

Influence 3: Villify and glorify

Lot’s of people thought it was an absolute disgrace how fast the super-rich in France pledged more than 1 billion (!) Euro for the restoration of the Notre Dame Cathedral. If it’s that easy for them to give away, then why not give all that money to societal and environmental problems, that are in part being caused by their greed? Their behaviour is obscene, and we should remind them of their obscenity.

If you want them to do the right thing, turn them into heroes for doing the right thing. Let’s not do this by applauding them for their philanthropy schemes, but for contributing to the general well-being by paying their taxes. The real heroes of society are all the entrepreneurs who create jobs, contribute to building thriving communities, try to come up with new business ideas to tackle the environmental challenges, etc.

I hope Zuckerberg, Sandberg, Brin and Page opened their piggy little eyes last week at TED19. I hope they are gradually starting to realise that society doesn’t think of them as heroes anymore,  but as the crooks who crippled democracy, just because it made their billionaire shareholders even richer.

Want to learn more?

If you want to master the science of influence yourself, you could consider enrolling in our two-day course Behavioural Design at our SUE | Behavioural Design Academy. You can download the Academy brochure.

Or maybe you currently have a challenge in which you want to influence choice or change behaviour. Please, take a look at our Behavioural Design Sprint. It might be the answer you’re looking for.

Or could be you just would like to get to know us a little better. We happily introduce ourselves here.

mental models

Mental models: How to design for intelligent decision making?

By | All, Behavioural Science, Self Improvement

We want to talk about mental models. They are key for intelligent decisions making. We want to introduce you to one of our intellectual heroes. A man who turned 95 on January 1st of 2019. There’s a fair chance that you’ve never heard about him. But you definitely have heard about his 88 years old associate, Warren Buffett. The man we’re talking about is Charlie Munger.

Charlie Munger

Worldly Wisdom

Charlie Munger became a hero to many people who are interested in better decision-making with a famous lecture he gave in 1994 at USC business school. The talk was called “A Lesson on Elementary, Worldly Wisdom As It Relates To Investment Management & Business”. You can’t find it on Youtube, but the transcript was published on the blog of startup Incubator Ycombinator and in the curious book “Poor Charlie’s Almanack, The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger“.

I want to urge you to read the transcript of the lecture. It’s one of the most exciting texts you will ever read. I re-read it at least three times per year. In this lecture on Worldly Wisdom, Charlie Munger argues that the reason why Munger and Buffett beat the market with their investments, for more than 60 years is that they have a different approach to decision making. Munger argues that if you want to make better decisions, you need to use more than one mental models to look a the problem. One of his famous quotes to make his point is the following:

“To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”.

He argues that most people in business, everyday life and investing approach problems from a single mental model. If you work in branding, everything looks like a branding problem, if you work in business consulting, everything sounds like a transformation problem. If you are an economist, everything looks like a market-problem.

Munger and Buffett pride themselves with locking themselves up most of the day, reading books. What they are looking for is elementary worldly wisdom.They are obsessed with learning interesting “mental models”. Mental models are concepts from all kinds of sciences that offer elegant explanations to the world. To quote Munger:

“What is elementary, worldly wisdom? Well, the first rule is that you can’t really know anything if you just remember isolated facts and try and bang ’em back. If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form.

You’ve got to have models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience—both vicarious and direct—on this latticework of models. You may have noticed students who just try to remember and pound back what is remembered. Well, they fail in school and in life. You’ve got to hang experience on a latticework of models in your head”.

A list of mental models.

There’s a lot of renewed excitement for Munger’s idea of Mental Models. Shane Parish, host of the amazing podcast “The Knowledge Project” and author of Farnamstreet, the ultimate blog on better decision-making by learning from the smartest people in the world. Shane Parish is writing a book on the subject. He recently published a post called “Mental Models, the best way to make intelligent decisions (109 models explained)“. It’s a list of all the mental models that he is using in his daily life. A lot of these models are concepts from cognitive psychology and the science of influence.  BTW, Munger is also fascinated with how human decision-making works. If you understand how people think and why they do what they do, you can do a much better job at predicting and changing their behaviour.

Want to learn more:

  1. Here’s another great blogposts on Mental models (Thanks for sharing: Ed Borsboom)
  2. Start making a list of your favorite mental models in your todo-list. I use Wunderlist. I created a folder “Mental Models” and started the habit to post concepts I use a lot in my thinking. My most recent one is this: “You are the sum of the five people you hang around with”.
  3. Re-read your mental model list regularly. Once you use them to look at challenges or problems, they will always provide you with new ways of looking at the problem and its solutions.

Enjoy Munger while he’s still alive. 🙂
Kind regards,

Tom, Astrid and the SUE | Behavioural Design Team

PS: We had Munger’s mental models in mind when we designed the program of the Behavioural Design Acacademy master classes. Our program is designed to teach you some very powerful and easy to remember mental models for finding human insights and for coming up with smart interventions for behavioural change. #funfact.

Want to learn more?

If you want to master the science of influence yourself, you could consider enrolling in our two-day course Behavioural Design at our SUE | Behavioural Design Academy. You can download the Academy brochure.

Or maybe you currently have a challenge in which you want to influence choice or change behaviour. Please, take a look at our Behavioural Design Sprint. It might be the answer you’re looking for.

Or could be you just would like to get to know us a little better. We happily introduce ourselves here.

A clusterfuck

How to live a meaningful life in a world that is spinning out of control?

By | All, Self Improvement

A slightly modified version of this blog was posted on our Behavioural Design Digest Newsletter (subscribe now). 

In this blog I want to share a couple of thoughts on how we can use a better understanding of human decision making to cope with the complicated challenges of our time. I want to make the case for living an anti-fragile life. It’s a bit of a provocative story, but it has a happy ending with some very practical guidelines on how live a great life. So please bear with me.

I’m not going to make silly predictions of what will be big next year. These forecasts are utterly pointless. On the one hand, because these forecasts are not meant to predict the future, but to show off the depth of expertise for the one who’s making them. On the other hand, because the future is becoming increasingly complex and complicated at an accelerating speed. Please allow me to zoom in on these two concepts.

Accelerating Complexity

The future is complex because of exponential technologies. Technological progress is now accelerating so fast that a lot of things that seemed impossible two years ago are already achieved. Just to give you a couple of recent examples that were featured in Peter Diamandis’ amazing newsletter on exponential technologies.

The speed with which radical technological changes are being introduced is so beyond the scope of what we can imagine, that I think it’s just pointless to think about which technology will grow incrementally in 2019.

Accelerating Complications

The second problem with forecasting is that the future is that we have to deal with accelerating complications. Stability is rapidly crumbling on a global scale. The failure of the radicalised free-market to create prosperity and wealth for the many, instead of the few, has set into motion accelerating public anger towards the leading elites. This resulted in a global rise in the demand for radical leaders. This accelerating demand for radical nationalistic leaders has created a critical threshold of leaders that make any coordinated attempt to fight the wicked problems of this time impossible. The Trumps, Putin’s, Orban’s, etc. of this world continuously need to signal their virility to their base. In the world of the alpha male leader, compromises are for pussies.

The big problem of this critical decade is that the demand for strong leadership is only understood by radical demagogues who seize the moment to offer the public what they need –  which is simple explanations and simple answers -, thereby making the complexity of both the problems and the solutions even further out of reach.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, An ecosystem collapse is taking place. The bottom of the food pyramid is crumbling. Populations of Insects, birds, bees are rapidly declining. Global warming is spinning out of control, creating rising sea levels and more draught, leading to more refugees, leading to more instability. It’s basically a clusterfuck running out of control.

Human irrationality is making things worse

So we have to deal with accelerating complexity and accelerating complications. To make matters worse: humans have all kinds of mental flaws that make it impossible for us to make rational decisions and judgements to solve these challenges. In an accelerating complex world, we just have to revert to simple shortcuts for decisionmaking to make sense of things. Elites feel more and more entitled to their wealth because they think they earned it. It’s not: It’s the system that decides who gets the opportunities and who’s not. The middle-class is more and more sold for the story that it’s the immigrants and the politicians are responsible for their declining wealth. It’s not: it’s global financial markets and the monopolistic multi-nationals. It’s not too far fetched to think of global capitalism as a virus that turned into cancer, whereby rogue cells are rapidly killing all the healthy cells that keep an organism alive. Local politicians are powerless.

Another bias is the presence bias: we are not able to see changes, because they are not changing our surroundings fast enough. We like to look at the future as a simple continuous line evolving from what we know from the presence and the past. The optimism bias is also related to this: We tend to think the future will be positive and problems will be solved in time.

I hate to say it, but let’s face it: It looks pretty grim, doesn’t it?

A happy ending

Am I a pessimist? No! Those of you who know me, know I’m a very lighthearted person. But I’m not stupid. And I’m not blind. I know we much rather prefer to turn our head away, but this is the – fascinating – time we’re living in. So we have to put our big boy and girls pants on and face things as they are.

In the context of little positive outlooks, how can you remain optimistic and positive? It definitely helps to be an atheist. The only point in life is to experience love, find passions and explore curiosity. If you are able to design your life around these three principles, then you’re going to live a happy life as long as you live. Because – in case you missed the meeting – we’re all going to die.

A second thing you can do is to practice anti-fragility.  I love the concept of anti-fragility as proposed by Nicolas Nassim Taleb. Anti-fragile systems increase in strength, because of stress, shocks, attacks or failures. The better we get in dealing with randomness, change, bad luck and errors, the stronger we will become. Being an entrepreneur creates a natural context for becoming anti-fragile: you’re always experimenting, tinkering and failing your way forward. Taleb also suggests staying out of debt as fast as you can.  And take a lot of small risks instead of significant risks. You can find more tips on how to live an anti-fragile life here.

I can’t predict what 2019 will look like. The only thing I can wish for is to be prepared for unexpected shocks in the system that follows from accelerating complexity and accelerating complications. And if these shocks won’t come in 2019, then my practicing in anti-fragility will have helped me to have a year as great as 2018. I wish you a lot of anti-fragility in 2019.

Enjoy the holidays!
Tom

Image courtesy: A great metaphor for a clusterfuck.

System 1 and 2 quick guide

By | All

In our post ‘Kahneman Fast and Slow thinking explained‘ we have elaborated in depth on system 1 and 2 thinking. And Daniel Kahneman’s work. Therefore, this post is meant for those who already grasp the groundbreaking concepts of Kahneman. The concept on human decision making as explained in his book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow‘. However, now and then we need a visual reminder of the differences between system 1 and 2. In short, that is why we have made an overview with the main characteristics of both the system 1 and system 2 operating systems in our brain. By highlighting the differences between the two.

system 1 and 2

Thinking fast and slow

Thinking Fast and Slow is all about how our brain uses short-cuts to base our decisions upon. For example, one of the short-cuts that have been tested in scientific research is the use of the picture of a brain. For instance, if you use a picture of a brain the system 1 of your listeners will think you are smart. You can use this by putting the visual above on your Keynote slides.

In other words, we thought it was a nice tip before we give you the overview or quick guide.  However, it is just one of the examples of how powerful the understanding of system 1 and 2 thinking can be. Therefore, if you start accepting that we are all irrational human beings. Driven by our subconscious. You start to understand how you can influence behaviour without changing minds.

 

Overview of the two decision-making systems in our brain

      System 1System 2
Unconscious reasoningConscious reasoning
Judgments based on intuitionJudgments based on examination
Processes information quicklyProcesses information slowly
Hypothetical reasoningLogical reasoning
Large capacitySmall capacity
Prominent in humans and animalsProminent only in humans
Unrelated to working memoryRelated to working memory
Effortlessly and automaticallyWith effort and control
Unintentional thinkingIntentional thinking
Influenced by experiences, emotions and memoriesInfluenced by facts, logic and evidence
Can be overridden by System 2Used when System 1 fails to form a logical/acceptable conclusion
Prominent since human originsDeveloped over time
Includes recognition, perception, orientation, etc.Includes rule following, comparisons, weighing of options, etc.

Would you like to know more?

If you want to master the science of influence yourself, you could consider enrolling in our two-day course Behavioural Design at our SUE | Behavioural Design Academy. You can download the Academy brochure. Or maybe you currently have a challenge in which you want to influence choice or change behaviour. Please, take a look at our Behavioural Design Sprint. It might be the answer you’re looking for.

Or could be you just would like to get to know us a little better. We happily introduce ourselves here.

How to create Excitement for a Design Sprint?

By | All, Service Design, SUE Amsterdam & Behavioural Design Academy originals

A Design Sprint is a thrilling experience. You get to collaborate with your clients on trying to crack problems that deeply concerns them. However, a Design Sprint also requires a big leap of faith. What you ask them is to agree on a process, much more than an outcome. That’s not a small thing to ask. You will need to take away a couple of anxieties first. Not only to reassure them, but also to give them the ammunition to persuade their stakeholders. I want to share five insights we’ve learned over the last couple of years.

Tip 1: Address process anxiety at the start of the sprint.

I always begin my sprints with a “trust the process” slide. I acknowledge that their will be times when they will become a bit impatient, or that they will become worried about where the outcome is heading. I warn them that a design sprint is a systematic creative approach to turn profound insights on how their customers think and behave into innovative solutions. The best way to come up with new answers to solving problems is to be patient and to resist the urge to come up with ideas and solutions too fast. When you address this at the start of your sprint, you can come back to it easily whenever friction arises.

Tip 2: Explain why research and prototyping is so valuable

Whether the goal of the sprint is to create new value propositions or service and product innovations, the underlying promise is that the Sprint will provide them with a systematic approach to solve customer problems. The beauty of a (behavioural) design sprint is that its setup forces the participants to approach the problem with a rigor they haven’t probably experienced before: The sprint method forces them to get a better understanding the problem. It forces them to formulate hypotheses on how to solve those problems. It forces them to prototype multiple solutions, and finally, it forces them to learn which prototype works and why it works. By going through these steps, the (Behavioural) Design Sprint protects client teams against their own biases, and it protects them from the HIPPO in the room. The HIPPO is the Highest Paid Person in the Organization, who believes he/she is being paid to know best what the right strategy is. This alone already makes a sprint incredibly valuable.

Tip 3: Take away budget anxieties by anchoring the alternative

A Behavioural Design Sprint requires a considerable investment of time and money. You can’t do a sprint properly if you haven’t got a full-time dedication from your clients. Moreover, a Sprint with experienced Sprint Facilitators also requires a financial commitment. However, look at it this way: First of all, there’s a huge hidden cost of not developing a strategy through rapid prototyping. Imagine you come up with a strategy yourself and you ask your advertising/digital/design agency to execute it. Only to find out that you acted on the wrong assumptions after you produced the whole campaign or designed the product innovation. A (Behavioural) Design Sprint – and the act of prototyping and testing – at the start of your process minimizes this risk and maximizes the chances that you will be doing the right things and doing them right.

“There’s no such thing as a smooth waterfall from research to strategy to creativity to production. In every step of the process, everyone always wants to reinvent the wheel all over again”.

Another way to look at the cost of a behavioural Design Sprint is to compare it with how things are usually done. First clients pay a research agency to do the research. Then they hire a strategy consultancy to help with the strategy. Then they hire a design or advertising agency to bring the strategy to life. Not only do they need to pay three different agencies, but the level of noise and the loss of insights that this process produces is just gigantic. There’s no such thing as a smooth waterfall from research to strategy to creativity to production. In every step of the process, everyone always wants to reinvent the wheel all over again.

Tip 4: Make your client fall in love with the customer problem

A design sprint is a highly structured process to explore new answers for critical marketing or business problems. One of the first things you realize when you start with your customer interviews is that the briefing nearly always is asking the wrong question. The question we tend to ask is the question of how to improve our products and services to get people to buy them. After a couple of customer interviews, you always realize you’re asking the wrong question. You will come up with more intriguing answers when you turn the question outside-in:

“How might we help people to achieve their goals, dreams, and desires in the best possible way?”

Once the sprint team falls in love with the Job-To-Be-Done of the target audience at the offset of the sprint, the sprint becomes way more interesting. (Check out this 4 minute video in which we explain Job-to-be-Done thinking)

Tip 5: Create a shared language

I always found that once the sprint team embraces a shared language to look at the sprint goal, to define the real customer problem and to ask the right questions in the ideation round, magic starts to happen. For us, this is one of the most powerful benefits of our Behavioral Design Method. However, this applies to every human-centric framework you will use. When everyone is trying to answer the same customer-centric questions like “Are we really solving the customer’s Job-To-Be-Done, or “Is this a real customer pain?” or “Are we sufficiently taking away anxieties and other barriers” or “What can we do to make the desired behaviour easier?”, you will witness that you have created a group that is will dedicate itself to solve the problem together.

More on this topic:

Three Cardinal Sins against Customer Centricity in Finance

Three Techniques that will Supercharge your team’s creativity

Video: The Influence Framework: A magical tool to turn human understanding into ideas for Behavioural Change.

Why research is too important to leave it to market research agencies (Dutch)

De onzin van het opsplitsen van onderzoek, strategie, creatie en productie


Learn more about SUE’s Behavioural Design Sprint, a five-day sprint to solve critical marketing and business problems. We combine the method of Design Thinking with principles from Behavioural Psychology to discover human insights, come up with solutions that change behaviour and test them right away with the target audience to learn what works and why.

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