Category

Behaviour in Organisations

Leading Distributed Teams Report

Leading Distributed Teams – Behavioural Research Report

By | All, Behaviour in Organisations

Today we published a report called “Leading Distributed Teams“. The report is the output of a behavioural research project did in April 2020. We wanted to learn how working as distributed teams affect team behaviour in terms of productivity, creativity and wellbeing. From a scientific point of view, the COVID-19 crisis is a god gift. It’s nothing more than a gigantic A/B test that offers us a unique opportunity to learn how office-work and home-work have an impact on team behaviour.

The Corona-Crisis provides us with a unique learning opportunity for designing the ultimate gratifying work, combined with the perfect work-life balance. This report offers a deep understanding of how distributed working contributes to this. More importantly, it gives managers and leaders lots of practical insights into how they can coach their team to benefit the most from distributed working. 

Leading Distributed Teams Report

The one insight you need to take away

The essential idea from the report is that if you want to understand team behaviour, you need to take the human behind the professional or manager as your point of departure. If you want to understand the humans in professional teams, you need to understand their deeper needs and desires they wish to see fulfilled, and their more deep-seated fears and anxieties they want to be tackled. 

That’s why the question “Is working from home better than working in the office?” is not the right question. It’s much more interesting to turn this question outside-in and ask ourselves:

How might ‘working from home’ or ‘working in the office’ help people to

  • be more successful in achieving their goals
  • overcome bad habits like being distracted
  • take away fears and uncertainty about their performance?

The answer to this question can pave the path to a very near future in which we can experience the joy of being part of a high-performance team while having more than enough time left to pursue our personal goals. Instead of wasting too much time in our lives on traffic-jams, pointless meetings, highly distracting office spaces and patronising managers.

What you will learn in the report

The big challenge for the managers and leaders who need to manage their teams will be to promote the positive behaviours that contribute to high-performance output and wellbeing while suppressing the behaviours and habits that stand in the way of achieving these outcomes. 

This research paper will give you a deep understanding of: 

  • The behavioural forces that make or break team success
  • How offices both promote and kill high-performance team behaviour
  • How working from home solves some negative office dynamics
  • How working from home create new challenges that need to be solved
  • How managers can lead distributed teams successfully

Download the report or executive summary

There are two ways for you to digest the findings of the report:

  1. Read the executive summary if you want to pick up the most critical insights and recommendations.
  2. Study the full report If you want a deeper behavioural understanding of the forces that boost or inhibit high-performance output.

We understand that reading this report requires a bit of a time investment (probably 30-45 minutes). But I promise you will learn a lot if you do. You will have a more profound understanding of the problem if you take the time to read the quotes that people gave to express their feelings and thoughts.

Download the Report.

 

Are you interested in turning these insights into action?

There are several ways in which you can hire our services. Contact Susan de Roode if you want to learn more: 

  • Behavioural Research: Hire us to do a behavioural analysis of the behavioural forces at play in your company
  • In-company training: Our new certification course on how to build lasting team habits. Three workshops of three hours, over the course of three weeks in which you and your team will learn the techniques to build better teams, and you’ll be able to implement them right away
  • Online Certification Course: Our first online certification course on designing team behaviour. Do the course at your pace, work an a fun assignment and get certified.
  • Behavioural Design Sprint: If you need to transform the behaviour or culture at your company, hire us to run a behavioural design sprint. 
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Want to learn more?

If you want to learn more about how influence works, you might want to consider our Behavioural Design Academy masterclass. Or organize an in-company program or workshop for your team. In our masterclass we teach the Behavioural Design Method, and the Influence Framework. Two powerful frames for behavioural change.

You can also hire SUE to help you to bring an innovative perspective or your product, service or marketing in a Behavioural Design Sprint.  You can download the brochure here, or subscribe to Behavioural Design Digest at the bottom of this page. This is our weekly newsletter in which we deconstruct how influence works in work, life and society.

Or maybe, you’re just curious about SUE | Behavioural Design. Here’s where you can read our backstory.

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The Prime Minister and the Chief Scientist

Thoughts on the setup of a Corona Advisory Team

By | All, Behaviour in Organisations, Government & Politics

The course of history for the upcoming decade needs to be written in a couple of weeks. Massive failure is not an option. The situation is too dangerous for dogmatic thinking. It’s time to let scientists, behavioural economists, designers and makers to join forces and embrace a build-measure-learn attitude to nudge people safely into the one-and-a-half-meter economy.

Here are 5 principles to set up a Corona Advisory Team that needs to shape society after the Big OpenUp.

 

Kahneman system 1 and 2

From Intelligent lockdown do smart OpenUp.

There’s a growing call in the public debate for the next group of scientists the government should rely upon, to fix the crisis. Up until now, most countries relied heavily on virologists and epidemiologists. With the opening up of society, it’s time now to shift gears and bring in the psychologists, economists, designers of public space, social geographists, etc. 

I think that’s a great idea. Just like we relied on smart people to guide us quite successfully through the intelligent lockdown, we will now need to rely on smart people to guide us through the intelligent OpenUp. The ultimate task of this board is to design behaviour on a massive scale. It needs to figure out the 1000 billion dollar question on how to reboot the economy, without re-activating the COVID-19 virus.

As a consultancy for behavioural change, I think we learned a few things on how to set up a projects like this . So thought it might be a good idea to draft a checklist of criteria for setting up these boards. 

Principle 1: The method is as important as the people

The fundamental principle for this board to run effectively is to have a creative methodology and an experienced facilitator that knows how to guide a multidisciplinary group through that process. If you need to come up with interventions to influence minds and shape behaviour on a massive scale, you need to go through a step-by-step process of gathering behavioural insights, generate hypothesises, prototype ideas and test them as fast as you can. 

There’s so much knowhow on how to guide teams to high-performance output in a context of extreme uncertainty: Lean Startup, Design Thinking, the Behavioural Design Method, to name a few. The team needs to agree to one method and stick to it.

Principle 2: Put human irrationality at the core of what you do

Your goal is to open up society again, while at the same time getting everyone to stick to elementary rules of precaution. Most people aren’t evil or anti-social; they simply forget to think. Or worse, they observe the spontaneous behaviour of other people and assume they can follow that norm. Before you know it, everything falls into pieces. To craft policies for the intelligent open-up demands a deep understanding of how people think, feel and behave. A lot of policies are designed with rational, disciplined people who act in their self-interest in mind. These interventions are doomed to fail. 

Principle 3: Establish rules for good judgement. 

I have written about rules for good judgement in a previous post “How to smell bullshit? Seven rules for good judgement“. The team needs to operate in a context of high uncertainty, flawed data, considerable risk and incredible public sensitivity. There’s a lot of science out there on how to get to better judgement in groups. To name a few principles I mentioned in my blogpost:

  • Superforcasting principles: a set of techniques to predict with fewer biases
  • The use of mental models for decision-making: the discipline to look at the problem through multiple scientific concepts
  • Blue team / red team approach: the discipline to set up a team that argues for counter-arguments, with the purpose of spotting flaws, wishful thinking or other biases in the reasoning

Principle 4: Prototyping and testing before implementing

Behavioural change requires experimentation. The success of an intervention is very sensitive to ‘little big details’. Sometimes it’s just the wrong word, a wrong timing or an unexpected second-order effect that could completely turn the intervention useless. Humans are complex beings operating in complex systems.

Every little act signals something to the group and vice versa: Everything their social network thinks or says, deeply affect their thoughts, feelings and behaviours. 

When your task as the Corona Advisory Team is to design behaviour on an unprecedented scale, there’s only one way to make progress: Rapid experimentation. Expect a lot of experiments to fail, with the simple idea to stumble upon winning strategies a lot faster.

Principle 5: Select people with skin in the game. 

I applaud the experiment that the Dutch Government had done last week. They organised a hackathon to speed up the process of finding an app that could work to track and isolate infected people, while at the same time respecting privacy. Although the hackathon resulted in a ‘failure’, in the sense that it didn’t produce a winning prototype, I think you can also think of it as a success.

The government went through a steep learning curve without having spent millions of taxpayers money. And they learned that the usual consultancy suspects – companies that are very good at understanding how to win tenders – are probably not the best builders. The reason is simple: They have no skin in the game. They don’t have the maker, builder, tweaker or hacker skills that are so desperately needed for this job. 

If the government wants to set up a Corona Advisory Team, I would urge the government to use the principles I outlined above. Don’t go with the usual team of pundits and advisors. Go for a board of practitioners. Or at least: Give them an equal share-of-voice: People who think in terms of understanding the problem and experimenting with solutions. People who move fast, know how to make, build, measure, learn and adapt. People who are humble about the fact that they operate in high uncertainty, but are willing to experiment their way out of it. 

If you want to read more thoughts on this topic on the Behavioural Design Blog:

Discover the missing layer of behavioural design

Join our Behavioural Design Academy and learn how to positively influence minds and shape behaviour

Want to learn more?

If you want to learn more about how influence works, you might want to consider our Behavioural Design Academy masterclass. Or organize an in-company program or workshop for your team. In our masterclass we teach the Behavioural Design Method, and the Influence Framework. Two powerful frames for behavioural change.

You can also hire SUE to help you to bring an innovative perspective or your product, service or marketing in a Behavioural Design Sprint.  You can download the brochure here, or subscribe to Behavioural Design Digest at the bottom of this page. This is our weekly newsletter in which we deconstruct how influence works in work, life and society.

Or maybe, you’re just curious about SUE | Behavioural Design. Here’s where you can read our backstory.

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SUE in Thailand - experiencing leverage

Leverage is the secret engine for building a company

By | All, Behaviour in Organisations

This blog is about entrepreneurship. I want to take a behavioural design perspective on how to transform a startup into a healthy scaleup, using the mental model of ‘leverage’.

Leverage is what transforms
a startup into a scaleup

 I’m writing this blog while sitting with my family in a house we rented for two months somewhere in Thailand.  The fact that we are sitting here is the remarkable outcome of a 9-year process in which we’re trying to build a great company. I can say with a little bit of confidence that I have the feeling that this is the first year we got it right. As Astrid – my wife and co-founder at SUE – and I were reflecting on what made the difference, the concept of ‘leverage’ turns out to be a particularly useful one.
SUE in Thailand - experiencing leverage

What is leverage? 

Leverage is a concept, advocated by Naval Ravikant. If there’s one podcast you should listen to, then subscribe to his show. It’s incredibly dense of worldly wisdom and wisdom on entrepreneurship. Naval uses a quote by ancient Greek philosopher Archimedes to define leverage: 

“Give me a lever long enough, and a place to stand, and I will move the earth.” — Archimedes

Roughly translated, leverage is the availability of levers that make it easier for you to make progress in life. When you’ve got leverage, you don’t have to do the hard work anymore. Your levers do the hard work for you. The most straightforward piece of leverage that first comes to mind is, of course, capital. The more capital you have, the easier it becomes for you to generate more prosperity. You can invest it in the stock market. You can start buying houses and rent them out; you can participate in a construction project, you can invest in a company. The means to make capital work for you are endless. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have that kind of leverage.

 

A startup has got limited leverage. 

One of the top reasons why 90% of all startups fail, even if they have a great product, is because they have minimal leverage: They don’t have much capital to find the audience that is willing to pay. When we started SUE in 2011, we had only cash in the bank for three months before we would have to move in at our parents’ house. So marketing and advertising was a no go. We had no cases to prove to our prospective clients that we could service them. We only had our reputation as leverage. And that was nearly enough to convince a couple of clients to have the confidence to work with us. 

The biggest challenge with a cash-bootstrapped startup is that you have practically zero leverage to build a company. If you want to create a healthy business, the first rule is that you stop working IN your company and start working ON the company.

But the problem is: You have no time and money to do this. There’s not enough cash to hire senior employees, Not enough cash to hire a proper salesperson, not enough cash to advertising the business. One mistake (like a bad hire) and you’re back to where you started. To get out of this negative spiral is the only challenge a startup should be focussing on.

 

The first rule is that you stop working IN your company and start working ON the company. But the problem is: You have no time and money to do this

The past nine years felt like a series of consecutive marathons we ran, to finally get some leverage. We are finally experiencing the power of several levers that are doing some heavy lifting for us. (Resulting in me writing this blog in a beautiful house at the southern part of Ko Samui Island). (Just saying). 

There’s absolutely no doubt that luck plaid a great deal. I’m fully aware of the survivorship bias. You usually only hear the 10% survivors and they have the tendency to post-rationalize why their so-called genius strategy led to the inevitable outcome of success. I don’t want to fall into this trap. I can point to many instances where failure was as likely as a success. And maybe in a couple of years, we might be heading in the wrong direction again. 

But whether or not we fail in the long run, I can say that life got much easier for us, since we can benefit from leverage. 

Leverage @ Lamai Beach, Ko Samui

When your company starts to have leverage

Here’s an incomplete list of levers that make a huge difference between an unstable startup and a stable, profitable scaleup. 

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When you have an excellent reputation, you’ve got leverage. It means a great deal for people who are contemplating to work with us if you have more than 1000 excited alumni for the Behavioural Design Academy, and if you have facilitated behavioural design sprints for international brands, NGO’s and governments. 

When you own a content domain, you’ve got leverage. About half of the people who attend the behavioural design academy masterclass, first came across one of our blogposts on Behavioural Design. I’m sometimes blown away by the power of having good content that is rewarded with high search rank. People have flown to Amsterdam from over 40 countries – some flew more than 16 hours – to attend our two-day masterclass. Thanks to our content we get invited to do keynotes at conferences, or guest columns in trade magazines, which in turn fuels our reputation.

Having a senior team is leverage: We are very grateful for having the most amazing people to work for us. Our two senior Sprint Leads Vincent and Cleo are directing nearly all the sprints (with more youngsters like Maaike rapidly on their way to get there), and Tim and Jorn are fantastic trainers. Their work allows us to redirect our time and mental effort to improve our products, our website, our communication with our alumni, our content, etc. This in turn gives us even more leverage. 

Having a great sales lead is leverage. The value of having someone who follows up accurately on people who displayed interest is already enough to pay back for the investment. Susan is both responsible for sales and Customer Happiness. The value she brings to the company , for doing the things we simply couldn’t cope with

Productizing our offering created leverage. There are only two things you can do with SUE: learn the Behavioural Design Method in our Academy or work with the Behavioural Design Method in a Sprint. That’s it. Simple products make it so much easier to generate a predictive revenue stream that is key to building a stable growing company. 

And finally: having a great brand is the ultimate form of leverage. My partner Astrid is obsessed with the SUE Brand. Everything about the SUE brand experience should be spot-on: From the moment you subscribe on the website, to the moment you arrive on the first moment of training or a sprint. And from the moment you finished our Academy till the end of the 6-month follow-up e-mails, in which we keep trying to inspire you to keep thinking like a behavioural designer.

 

Leverage is hard work 

If you understand leverage, then it becomes obvious why the myth of a fast-growing startup is bullshit. There’s no such thing as an overnight success. Growth gradually follows from one lever piled on top of another one. Content leads to cases; Cases lead to reputation; reputation leads to talent; talent leads to freeing up time to work on the company (instead of in it). Working on the company leads to more content, more cases, more reach. etc. There’s a rule of thumb you should have in mind when starting a company. If you are amongst the lucky ones to survive, it will take you on average five years to finally get to the point where you’ve got leverage.

To have leverage is awesome. But to gradually get some, you have to have stamina.

 

More blogs on employee behaviour and organizational design 

How does influence work in practice?

Enroll now in one of our monthly editions of the Behavioural Design Academy. and learn how to predictably change behaviour. SUE trained over 1000 people from 40+ countries and our program is rewarded with a 9,2 satisfaction rate.

Want to learn more?

If you want to learn more about how influence works, you might want to consider our Behavioural Design Academy masterclass. Or organize an in-company program or workshop for your team. In our masterclass we teach the Behavioural Design Method, and the Influence Framework. Two powerful frames for behavioural change.

You can also hire SUE to help you to bring an innovative perspective or your product, service or marketing in a Behavioural Design Sprint.  You can download the brochure here, or subscribe to Behavioural Design Digest at the bottom of this page. This is our weekly newsletter in which we deconstruct how influence works in work, life and society.

Or maybe, you’re just curious about SUE | Behavioural Design. Here’s where you can read our backstory.

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The Behavioural Design of a Great Team

By | All, Behaviour in Organisations

The team is more important than the individual

I wrote this blog on why personal coaching is rather pointless, a liitle while ago. I tried to argue that it’s much more important to put the effort in the coaching of a team, than to coach individuals. Great teams have figured out ways to harness the collective creativity and intelligence of a group. But a team can only transform into a great team if the individuals in the group have sufficiently overcome their need for security, recognition and belonging.

In the fascinating Project Aristotle, Google discovered that two behaviours that separate great teams from mediocre teams were psychological safety (the ability to take risk and feel safe with eachother) and dependability (the shared feeling that the team depends on each other to meet the high standards of the company).

The role of the leader is to coach the team. I had the privilege to work for such a leader in the last three days. She defines her role as a leader as serving her team.  She does mentor the individual members of the group but only to the extent that they can become better team players. It’s so fascinating to see this at work.

More on the Behavioural Design Blog:
How Jeff Bezos designs team behaviour
How to design an innovation habit?

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Speaking of which, I usually wouldn’t waste an evening watching football on the TV, but I’m always happy to make an exception when Liverpool FC is playing. Watching the Liverpool team play is the closest football can get to art. The way this team transcends the individual qualities of its players is beyond anything I’ve ever seen in the game. The secret behind their success is the German coach Jurgen Klopp and his Dutch assistant Pepijn Lijnders. They have injected a shared passion for outperformance into this group. They managed to get even the biggest ego’s in the team to subject themselves to the importance of the team. This group has become so incredibly good that even their B-team can compete with the best teams in the Premier League. Fascinating stuff.

How to receive feedback like a boss?

Feedback can be hard and painful. But they are at the same time a precious gift. This is a list of behaviours on getting better at receiving feedback, we shared with our alumni:

  1. Prime yourself for positivity: Frame getting feedback as a gift, not as a criticism. How often do you have the opportunity that someone cares enough and is brave enough to teach you something about yourself?
  2. Block your first reaction: Never explain or defend. When you’re doing that, you’re not accepting the feedback. Digest it.
  3. Always thank the person for giving it. Every opportunity to learn and to improve is awesome.
  4. Ask questions to deconstruct or clarify their feedback. Don’t assume you understand too early.
  5. Always try to reverse engineer it to specific behaviours: “It was become you said x or did y, that it made me feel z”. Past behaviour never lies.

Book a 60-minutes with SUE

Do you consider hiring SUE to learn how we could help you to imrpove your product, service or marketing through behavioural psychology? Book 60-minutes with SUE. Get a Behavioural Design perspective on your challenge. Who knows where it could lead to…

Culture: you are what you repeatedly do

We think of Company Culture as a set of behaviours that shape the way that people think, feel and behave in the long run. If you can trigger feedback behaviour in a team and turn it into a habit, then you will eventually create a feedback culture. If you can find ways to trigger criticism in a team to force them to make better arguments, you will develop a culture of excellence. A great example is a re-team blue team set-up. The red team is instructed to come up with the arguments against going on with the project. This set-up – or behavioural design intervention, if you will –  triggers the proponents to come up with better arguments.

The point I’m trying to make: Transforming a company culture is very abstract. But if you can succeed in triggering specific behaviours, and if you can build simple habits, a cultural transformation will follow. You are what you repeatedly do.

Jeff Bezos' famous rules for high output Team Behaviour

How Jeff Bezos designs Team Behaviour

By | Behaviour in Organisations

The design of high performance
team behaviour at Amazon

Jeff Bezos' famous rules for high output Team Behaviour

The number one question for every organization in the knowledge economy is to figure out how to get the highest level of creative, intellectual and productive power from their teams. This is a classic wicked Behavioural Design challenge: How do you design the ultimate high-output team? And how can you trigger team behaviour that leads to high output? Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has got some fascinating answers to this problem.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is famous for his unorthodox management ideas to get the most out of a group of talented people. At Amazon they cultivate certain behavioural design principles that are designed to challenge group-think and promote excellence. The Atlantic published a fascinating long read about Bezos in which a couple of these ideas are covered.

The two-pizza team

The most famous rule is the “two-pizza teams”-rule: Every team should be able to be fed with no more than two pizza’s. The idea is that the small teams instil a sense of ownership over projects. The downside of this design is that “employees placed on such small teams can also experience a greater fear of failure because there’s no larger group in which to hide or to more widely distribute blame” (Quote from The Atlantic).

The 6-page memo

Another rule I learned about is the 6-page memo. Quoting the Atlantic again:

“Amazon has a raft of procedures to guide its disparate teams. Bezos insists that plans be pitched in six-page memos, written in full sentences, a form he describes as “narrative.” This practice emerged from a sense that PowerPoint had become a tool for disguising fuzzy thinking. Writing, Bezos surmised, demands a more linear type of reasoning. As John Rossman, an alumnus of the company who wrote a book called Think Like Amazon, described it, “If you can’t write it out, then you’re not ready to defend it.”

The six-pagers are consumed at the beginning of meetings in what Bezos has called a “study hall” atmosphere. This ensures that the audience isn’t faking its way through the meeting either. Only after the silent digestion of the memo—which can be an anxiety-inducing stretch for its authors—can the group ask questions about the document”.

What a fascinating intervention to design high performance team behaviour! By simply asking people to pitch their plans in a 6-page narrative, they are forced to think very clearly about the problem and the solution. And by setting up this “study hall”-ritual at the beginning of the meeting, you know that your text will be read thoroughly and that you will be shredded if you didn’t think things through.

Behavioural Design is the missing layer

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Culture is not about values, but about behaviour

How often have you been in a session in which you are asked to think about core values that define the culture of the organisation? I think this exercise is total crap. The whole idea that a team can cough up core values based on a brainstorm is insane. Values, beliefs and cultures are shaped by how the team interacts. And how the team interacts is by large determined by how the little rules, rituals of habits they installed to shape their interactions. If a team is committed to a daily check-in, a proper check-out of every meeting and a weekly retrospective in which they share a round of constructive feedback, they will think of themselves as totally committed to growing and learning. They will think of honesty and feedback as something they simply do as a team.

Organisational design is about designing decision-making

There was another passage in the longread about Jeff Bezos that I thought was fascinating:

“What is Amazon, aside from a listing on Nasdaq? This is a flummoxing question. The company is named for the world’s most voluminous river, but it also has tributaries shooting out in all directions. Retailer hardly captures the company now that it’s also a movie studio, an artificial-intelligence developer, a device manufacturer, and a web-services provider. But to describe it as a conglomerate isn’t quite right either, given that so many of its businesses are tightly integrated or eventually will be. When I posed the question to Amazonians, I got the sense that they considered the company to be a paradigm—a distinctive approach to making decisions, a set of values, the Jeff Bezos view of the world extended through some 600,000 employees. This description, of course, means that the company’s expansion has no natural boundary; no sector of the economy inherently lies beyond its core competencies”.

Amazon is a paradigm, a distinctive approach to making decisions. That’s what makes the company so dangerous. The reason why they win in nearly every market is that they figured ways to analyse customer preferences and needs, build technology to cater to those needs and most of all: they know how to quickly turn this into success because they have a set of rules that allows them to make winning decisions much faster than their competitors.

More blogs about Organizational Design:

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Real Artist ship - quote

How to design an innovation habit?

By | Behaviour in Organisations

The organizational habits that
produce innovation and growth

Real Artist ship - quote

Why are some companies more innovative than others? I want to argue that they have habits in place that produce more ideas and habits to get those ideas shipped. As Steve Jobs once famously said (paraphrasing William Gibson) : “Real artists ship”.

In this blogpost I want to explore this innovation habit, based on our 8 year experience with collaborating with teams.

The habits that kill innovation.

Dozens of books havebeen written about this subject, but from our own experiences on running behavioural design sprint, these were the most common habits that kill innovation:

  1. No research culture / a crisis of curiosity. The bigger a company get, the more out of touch it becomes with how real users think, feel and behave. Managers rely on abstract data, like market shares, sales volumes, etc. The more detached they become from the real customer, the less probable they will be able to spot exciting opportunities.
  2. No ideation culture / a crisis of imagination. Once an organisation outgrew its startup phase and entered its scale-up phase, the whole mindset of the organisation is focused on growing the business. Most businesses organise their process around building the existing product offering. Moreover, to achieve this growth mindset, a specialisation of roles is required. Everyone, from the product manager to marketing manager, digital manager, UX-er, and communication manager, is expected to perform on their specific domain. This results in a decreased capability of the organisation to think out-of-the-box and to think outside-in. Nearly always, the exciting opportunity for innovation transcends the boundaries of the specific discipline.
  3. No prototyping culture / a crisis of experimentation. The more an organisation specialises, the more we expect those specialists to know what they are doing. This expert fallacy is a well know organisational problem: Because we are expected to be experts, we are more inclined to act like experts. The more we think we know, the less alienated we become from discovering the truth. Not knowing is perceived as weakness in these companies while every successful startup knows that aggressive experimentation is the nr one secret ingredient to growth.
  4. Conflicting incentives / a crisis of management. The problem with innovation in most organisations is that everyone, including management, is hired to execute the strategy. Not only are they hired, but they’re also reviewed based on the execution of the strategy. When your promotion depends on hitting the targets, everything related to new ideas will be perceived as a distraction.
The net effect of these habits is total inertia. Even in the context of declining market share, missing targets and aggressive competition, all the forces in the organisation seem to pull people towards repeating the same strategies over and over again. The habit of keeping doing what we always do is just too strong.

Behavioural Design is the missing layer

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The habits that boost innovation

Innovation is not a goal as such. Innovation is always a function of growth. Some organisations are far better than others to spot opportunities, come up with ideas, test them and succeed in actually shipping them. Whether they improve the product, marketing, process or campaign, the value of new ideas is that they succeed in contributing to growth.

That’s why we need to study the innovative power of an organisation as a habit problem. Innovative companies have habits in place that trigger more curiosity, ideation, and experimentation. Continuous improvement is their default mode. We have facilitated sprints with many teams. Most of them don’t call themselves “innovation teams”. They’re product teams, or growth teams, or customer experience teams. The biggest challenge they all face is to improve their output to generate growth for the business. There are four team habits we came across that strongly correlated with the creative and innovative power of a team:

 

  1. A deep love-relationship with customer problems: Innovative teams are in love with the problem of the customer. They relentlessly talk to customers or observe them in the real world and try to spot opportunities for helping customer to overcome pains, break bad habits, take away barriers and achieve goals. They are always asking themselves the question: How might we help our customers to be more successful
  2. A fast process for generating ideas: Innovative teams have proper ideation sessions. They follow the core principles for group creativity (like brainwriting and dotmocracy) and treat every idea as an interesting hypothesis. In a well designed creative process, the individuals come up with as many ideas as possible and the group decides upon which ideas are worth experimenting.
  3. A process and tools in place to prototype and ship: Great teams have a maker-mentality. They always try to figure out ways to prototype their ideas and test them in the real world. This allows them to increase their learning curve and their success rate rapidly. An essential condition for allowing this to happen is to have an infrastructure that allows experimentation.
  4. A cultural shift that promotes, rewards and celebrates braveness. This is by far the most important habit. Very often, the problem is cultural. If the organisation is number-driven, then you’ll always end up with all kinds of triggers that incline people to believe that following the rules and reaching targets is what the organisation expects of them. However, if you want to create a culture of experimentation, then you’ll have to embrace failure, promote and rewards braveness. People need to experience that experimentation is being expected of them.

Incremental versus radical innovation

In the literature on innovation, quite often the distinction is made between radical and incremental innovation. Incremental innovation is the optimisation of the existing products and services, whereas disruptive innovation is the more radical ideas to transform the business.

To be honest: I think this distinction is a bit artificial. If you think about the innovation habits we described above, then they are about being radically customer-centred, about having a maker-mentality, and a culture of experimentation. Out of this habit, both incremental, as well as radical ideas can emerge. The only thing an organisation needs to have in place is a fund to invest in the rapid prototyping and testing of some of the more radical ideas.

 

What this means for innovation leadership

When approaching the problem of innovation in organisations from this perspective, I thinkthe role of an innovation leader in a company is to help to build the innovation habit. I don’t believe an innovation department – as the place where innovation is happening -isthe solution.

An innovation leader / or innovation tribe should be a group of people that facilitate and train teams to install the innovation habit. If new radical ideas come out of this process, they should be able to invest money in them to be able to hire a team to design, build, prototype and test the idea in the real world. If this experiment turned out to be successful, then it’s their job to convince the board to invest in the concept with ambition.

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Pitcture depicting the Kock Brothers

The behavioural design of the economy. On incentives and rewards

By | Behaviour in Organisations, Citizen Behaviour, Government & Politics

To get the rich and powerful to change their behaviour,
is the most wicked design problem of our time

Pitcture depicting the Kock Brothers

I have been thinking a lot lately about society’s inability to tackle the biggest challenges of our time. I don’t know about you but climate crisis, income inequality and radicalisation is scaring the hell out of me. We can’t seem to change the behaviour of those who are running the show. This is the most wicked problem of our time. I want to argue that the solution to change the course of history can be found in applying some Behavioural Design Thinking to this wicked problem.

The economy is a behavioural design

The best way to think about behavioural design is to think of it as the design of choices. The way you design a choice will largely determine the behaviour that follows from that choice. This simple and powerful first principle of Behavioral Designworks on all levels of human decision making, from small consumer decisions to big societal decisions. Let me illustrate this with a couple of examples:

  • If you want to sell an item, it matters a great deal if you give two or three options. You can change the value perception of a cake + coffee of € 5,- in comparison to a € 2,5 coffee instantly if you would introduce a decoy option of a € 4 cake in the middle. The introduction of the € 4 cake makes the € 5 coffee + cake suddenly look like a bargain.
  • You can change the value perpection of something if you don’t call it “cheap” but “great value for money”.
  • If you want to get a sales team to run like hamsters in a treadmill, introduce sales targets and continuously give them feedback on how they’re performing in comparison to their colleagues. With these simple interventions, you will have designed a choice system that triggers hyper-competitive game behaviour.

These applications of the lens of behavioural economics to human decision making is nothing new. What fascinates me is the idea that could also look at the economy through this lens. The economy is a behavioural design system that rewards particular behaviour with power and profits and punishes other behaviours with taxes and fines. If you want to transform the economy, you have to tweak the behavioural design in such a way that it rewards and incentives different behaviours.

(BTW: In this post we explore the concept of Behavioural Design in dept)

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It’s all about the incentives.

The problem with the current behavioural design of the economy is that it consistently rewards destructive behaviours, both with money, power and social status.

Society glorifies being rich and being powerful. To the extent that it rewards sociopaths like Donald Trump, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Peter Thiel and Charles and David Koch (see picture above. BTW: David died this week) with power, prestige, admiration, etc.… The summit of social status in western capitalist society is “being rich”.

Society also rewards them with unlimited power to do whatever they want. Think about how Bezos played out communities against each other to fight for hosting the next HQ of Amazon. Amazon was offered 2.2 billions in tax cuts by the city of New York.

The third reward is financial. If you’re rich, you have access to all the tools to get even richer. The (capitalist) behavioural design of the economy offers unlimited financial rewards to people with capital. Every valuable thing in the marketplace is being sucked dry by the owners of capital. There’s so much cheap capital in the hands of investors that they can buy everything to help them to grow their wealth even further: They buy up houses in cities, they buy kindergartens, elderly homes, entertainment franchises, etc. They own more than 90% of all fortune 500 companies through the stock market, and instead of using profits to reinvest them in the companies, they use it to pay themselves high dividends.

This process is called the financialisation of the economy and explains why everything of value is rapidly becoming more expensive.

 

The solution: Change the incentives


If you want to understand the economy, understand incentives. If we’re going to change the economy, we’ll have to change the incentives. It’s as simple as that. If we want to fight inequality and climate catastrophe, we will need to change the social, financial and power rewards.

Governments and economist only tend to focus on tax incentives today, but I think we could have a far more significant impact if we work on the psychological rewards of social status and power.

We will need to challenge the social status of those who are destructing the planet and extracting wealth out of the economy. We will need to reward those with bold and brave ideas about the future with power.

A great example of this behavioural design change is the work that the Sunrise Movement in the US is currently doing. They are the movement that came up with the New Green Deal. They did a fantastic job of reframing the climate crisis story. Instead of talking about “saving the planet” and scaring the hell out of people, they turned climate action into a narrative about investing in wealth creation, job creation and the investment in thriving communities where kids have access to good education, clean water clean air and health care. That’s a story for which they’re getting bi-partisan support.

As a consequence, this broad support incentives politicians to embrace the New Green Deal, because it increases their chances of being elected. Meanwhile, they do a great job in glorifying business and community leaders who step up and take action and vilify those who are bringing the world on the verge of climate catastrophe.

Even the very rich are suckers for social status and recognition


In the end, no matter how rich we are, we all crave for recognition and social status. If we as a society succeed in taking those away from the current “heroes” of financial fame and instead reward the new heroes that bring society further through investing in a sustainable economy and a sustainable planet, we might succeed much faster in turning things around.  Saving the world is all about redesigning the incentives.

It’s as simple as that.

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Nassim Taleb's great thinking on hedging against group-think

The psychological price of being rational is being unlikeable

By | Behaviour in Organisations

Rational decision makers have to dare to
fight common sense and social norms.

Nassim Taleb's great thinking on hedging against group-think

This blogpost is about how being rational in organizations is actually pretty difficult. It comes at a high social cost. Because rational people need to defy groupthink, defy authority-based decision making and defy social pressure. That’s one of the reasons why innovation is so difficult to pursue.

When do you pull the Goalie?

Imagine you’re a coach of a hockey team. Your team is one goal behind and we’re approaching the end of the game. You know you need to take a gamble and change the goalie for a field player. Butthe question is when. When do you pull the goalie?

If you approach it rationally, the answer would be 5-10 minutes before the end of the game. That’s how you maximize the chance of making a difference. But no coach would dear to do this. Because if it goes wrong, everyone will blame the coach for the mad and unexpected move.

The example was told by Malcolm Gladwell in an episode of his podcast Revisionist History. It reminded me of another story, told by Nassim Taleb in the Black Swan. Before Taleb (see picture) turned philosopher, he used to work as a trader on Wall Street. His strategy was to bet against improbable events. He would take the money of his clients and he would put it all in insurance that would pay out in the case something unexpected happened, like a crisis. He knew the money would eventually pay out big time, he just never knew when the improbable “black swan” event would happen. But he just waited and did absolutely nothing.

It drove his managers and his clients mad. They expected him to work actively to make money for them. The idea that he would sit on his ass to wait for a crisis event to happen – which would pay out enormously – was just unbearable to them. It was a perfectly rational strategy, but Taleb had to develop a very thick skin in order to be able to stick to it.

Behavioural Design is the missing layer

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To be rational is to be unlikeable

The problem with acting rational is that it very often clashes with social norms. You will get much less problems for failing by following a strategy everyone else would follow, then you would if you followed an unexpected path, even though it makes sense from a rational point of view.

My partner Astrid decided to stop working at the office a couple of months ago. She realized that being at the office prevented her from doing the things she should be doing to create value for SUE. The constant distractions were killing for her productivity and her mood. So she started working at home. It took her three months to stop feeling guilty about it.

Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, the smartest investors in the world, spend most of their time in the office on reading. They figured that investing most of their valuable time in understanding more about the world, would eventually pay off in smarter decisions. Berkshire Hattaway made 242 Billion Dollars of profit in 2017.  Unlike most investors, they buy companies with the intention to hold on to them forever. They are in the business for the long run.

Corporate culture doesn’t like the crazy ones

The problem with acting hyper-rational is that you need to be able to deal with social pressure. Very often, people will not like you for breaking the social norm. And when your choice leads to failure, they will find it very easy to blame you for your stubbornness. I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s so difficult for corporations to innovate. Innovation needs stubborn people who don’t mind the social pressure to conform to corporate norms. “Think Different”, probably the best commercial ever made, actually pays tribute to those people with the following legendary quote:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

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How to influence the perception of value?

By | Behaviour in Organisations, Behavioural Science, SUE Amsterdam & Behavioural Design Academy originals

In this blogpost I want to explore the concept of value. I want to argue that Behavioural Design is as much about influencing how people perceive and experience things, as it is about changing actual behaviour. The design of psychological value is in my opinion a great concept to think about how to change perception and experience.

Value is a critical concept in economics. Peter Drucker famously said: “The purpose of a business to create a customer”. And the only way to create a customer, is to make him appreciate the value of what the company is offering for a reasonable price. But what is value really? And are we good at calculating the value or something?

We are price clueless

Well, it turns out we’re terrible at understanding value. In the book Priceless, William Poundstone explains the concept of “Price Cluelessness”. Because we have no idea of what something should cost, our System 1 – or automatic brain – is always relying on shortcuts to figure out the value of something. If we see a nice pair of sunglasses in a Chanel store, we expect them to cost € 200. But in an H&M store, these € 200 sunglasses would never sell. Even worse: people would be outraged. The context determines how to decode the value.

We even take price as a clue

Our incompetence for understanding value gets even worse: We tend to look for the price itself to find a clue whether something must be valuable. Something is priced high; therefore it must be excellent, otherwise, they would never price it this high. Also, when we really want the high-priced item, we tend to look for explanations, to trick ourselves into believing it’s actually a bargain. Stella Artois once campaigned around this idea. You could buy a coupon to pay even more for your Stella, thereby underscoring its brand promise “reassuringly expensive”. What most people in Britain don’t know is that in Belgium, Stella Artois’ home country, Stella is just an ordinary beer.

Popularity as a shortcut for value

The fact that something is popular is also a classic “System 1”-shortcut for determining the value of something: Many people want this item, therefore it must be good. Popularity helps you to decide without having to think about that decision. This is probably one of the most critical roles of branding: You know you can’t miss with buying a Jack Daniels, because you know everybody knows Jack Daniels.

Psychological value

The examples above are classic behavioural psychology tricks on how to influence the perception of value. But that’s the easy part. It gets much more interesting when you approach value from a human-centred point of view. Human-centred designers take irrational humans as their point of departure, for which they design answers and solutions. And when you depart from humans, you ask yourself questions like ‘How might we help people to…’:

  • Achieve their goals and realize their dreams?
  • Build positive long-term habits?
  • Resist their impulses and temptation?
  • Look at reality in new ways to trigger positive action?
  • Feel appreciated and respected?
  • Take away pain or frustration in their current experience?

Behavioural Design is fascinated with humans, their dreams, their fears, their bad habits, frustrations and their desire for happiness. And if we can understand them and design solutions form them, we will create psychological value.

Psychological Innovation

Once you start looking at reality through the lens of psychological value, you can see it everywhere:

  • Mom in Balance makes it much easier to stick to your workout habit because you meet up every time with the same group of mums like you.
  • The value of your restaurant experience goes through the roof if the chef decides to have a drink at your table
  • The € 10 you pay extra to sit in one of the front rows in an Easyjet-flight is the cheapest possible way to feel subjectively richer than the majority of people.
  • Airbnb is selling you the feeling that you are experiencing the city like someone who lives there. That’s priceless.
  • Uber makes a taxi experience 100x less frustrating because you know exactly when your car will show up, you know how much the ride will cost and you don’t need to have a transaction with the driver.
  • Would you prefer to work at the helpdesk or at the customer success team? Both jobs are exactly the same, but the second one feels so much better

Once you start thinking about creating psychological value for humans, you try to come up with ideas to help them to overcome stress, anxiety, insecurity, bad habits. Or to help them to achieve their goals, dreams and aspirations and to experience joy, fun and surprise. The number of things you can do to innovate are endless.

When it comes to innovation, we’re too often looking in the wrong direction. We think it’s about technology, but it’s really about creating psychological value.

PS: Our Behavioral Design Method is a method to spot opportunities for psychological value. It’s a fast-paced highly-structured process to turn hypothesis into ideas and to prototype and test what works and why it works. You can learn the method in our Behavioural Design Academy or apply the method to solve a business challenge in a Behavioural Design Sprint.

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, Behaviour in Organisations, 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.