Category

Behaviour in Organisations

Why motivating people for climate action is problematic.

By | All, Behaviour in Organisations, Citizen Behaviour

Of all ‘wicked design problems’, motivating people for climate action and designing for sustainable behavioural change are topics many people at SUE are passionate about. When Tom recently suggested Futerra’s paper Sizzle to me, I dove right in, eager to find additions to our toolbox. It’s an excellent read and it makes a persuasive case for a new way of ‘selling’ climate action: instead of selling the negative necessity, we have to sell the positive results of action. Not the hunger, not even the sausage, but the sizzle. Being half-German it invoked lots of appealing memories of grilling bratwurst, so I was all aboard.

We know what dystopias look like, but we lack images of a green utopia.

Lame jokes aside (it’s a cultural thing), it reminded us of a podcast we made some time last year (sorry, Dutch only), in which we discussed climate inaction and stumbled upon the realization that we badly lack utopian visions of the future in popular culture for behavioural change in sustainability. I really don’t know of any book, film, game or piece of art from the last couple of decades that plays out in a positive future. Albeit in many different variations, it’s pretty much all cyberpunk or otherwise dystopian and apocalyptic visions and the message is simple: one way or another, in the not-to-distant future we’re gonna fuck it up. Big time.

That is a symptom of a lack of positive imagination within our cultural avant-garde and a serious problem for the rest of us. Why invest in a future that’s doomed? Why take part in process of change if you don’t have any mental pictures of the exciting and bright future that it could lead to? It’s hardly a surprise that indeed many people simply don’t: compared to where they fear change will lead them, they like where they are just fine, and inaction or worse is the result. So yes: I think Futerra makes a meritorious point. Climate action must be framed in a far more positive way if we are to motivate people for behavioural change.

Yet, for some reason it didn’t sit with me well.

Aren’t we just yet again preaching to the choir?

Isn’t this all a – granted, greatly – improved version of a still fundamentally flawed approach, which is that through communication we should try to achieve a level of aspirational motivation among the population to contribute to a sustainable way of life, and that behavioural change will follow from that? And won’t it, when that inevitably yields limited results, still turn out as a way of preaching to the converted, but with a nicer preach? Isn’t it therefore essentially still focused on fulfilling the emotional and social jobs-to-be-done of the activist, rather than purposefully designing large scale behavioural change? In other words, use behavioural psychology to drive real behavioural change?

Now, I don’t mean this to feel harsh. In fact, the authors explicitly invite a behavioural perspective on their approach. Here it comes.

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Intention is a bad recipe for motivating people for climate action

One concept from behavioural psychology that’s particularly interesting in this regard to behavioural change is the intention-action gap. As a rule, people have a hard time acting up on their intentions. More than often, people even behave in a way that directly contradicts them. This happens at the level of individual behaviour (just think back to everything you’ve intended to do to live more healthily and reflect on how much of it you’ve actually accomplished), and definitely at the level of collective behaviour as well.

We love our local shops, but with every purchase on Amazon, we give them the finger

A good example is the struggle that local retailers have in their competition with the big webshops. Both individually and collectively, we all want flourishing city and town centers, with lots of locally owned shops and cozy restaurants and such, but with every passing day we buy more of our stuff at a small number of big webshops. With every purchase at Amazon, BOL or Zalando, we’re tightening the rope around those local entrepreneur’s necks, and yet we keep doing it – even employees of the local shops.

Why? Because it’s simply easier and cheaper. Individually it’s the better decision.

Even when motivation to support local entrepreneurs peaked during the first COVID-lockdown, Dutch online giants BOL and Coolblue did better than ever and Amazon managed to very successfully enter the Dutch market. We heedlessly make choices that completely contradict our intentions, let alone our larger aspirations. Behavioural psychology at work?

In other words, even when exactly the right messaging manages to build up peoples’ intention to contribute to climate action, it’s not at all likely that this will lead to matching behaviour. That’s a sobering insight which, especially when it comes to climate action, we must be very clear-eyed about. The stakes are too big.

How might we break this behavioural pattern?

Apparently, many behaviours emerge, even if they lead to an outcome that people aren’t motivated to achieve – in fact even if it’s an outcome they’re motivated to prevent. Current consumer behaviour will lead to a web-only retail sector, dominated by a handful of giants. Nobody wants it, but it’s the outcome of our daily choices, which are heavily determined by convenience and costs.

This can work to our advantage.

Many of the most fundamental changes in our way of life have occurred over time, without people having some clear end goal in mind, or even an expectation of what the end result of the road they were on could be, or even a desire to look further than the immediate short-term. When steam machines and electric light bulbs were first put to use, nobody had the ermergence of the industrialised welfare state in mind. When people ordered their first modem, nobody had their sights on the cyborg-like relationship we have with our smartphones a couple decades later. What kind of a way of life these first behaviours would eventually lead simply to didn’t matter. What mattered was that that machine, that lightbulb, that modem, and every small steps that followed, made those peoples’ lifes a little bit easier, more convenient, or in another way humanly more pleasing, in that moment.

Developing a climate neutral way of life is a fundamental change of a similar order, and for the population at large, climate neutrality will similarly be an emerging property: the outcome of their choices, rather than the goal of their choices. This is the only way forward is to influence group behaviour for climate change.

The solution: Make sustainable choices more desirable.

Hence to motivate people for climate action, we shouldn’t put too much of our collective creative energy into convincing people of the larger goal and building up their motivation to contribute to climate action, and put nearly all of it into simply designing those incrementally better everyday choices. If we want to design for genuine behaviour change, it means innovating on sustainable products, services and behaviours, so that they’re increasingly convenient or in many other possible ways the more fulfilling choice.

Tesla doesn’t want you to drive electric for the environment, but because they offer an exciting driving experience. Beyond Meat doesn’t want you to go vegan on your hamburgers, they want you to eat the juiciest hamburger in the world, which happen to be vegan.

That requires above all ruthless, methodical empathy for those humans whose behaviours and choices we want to change. Don’t wash away their anxieties, comforts, pains and deep-rooted human needs and desires in service of climate neutrality – start with them. In fact, I’d put it even stronger:

The only way to achieve climate neutrality in time is to be ruthlessly empathetic with the people whose behaviour we need to change.

 

Tim Versnel

Tim is a Behavioural Design Lead at SUE. In his spare time, he’s a councillor for the Dutch Liberal Party at the City of Rotterdam
He recently co-authored a book with Klaas Dijkhoff, Group Chairman of the Dutch Liberal, in which they plead for an optimistic renaissance based on the fresh liberal concept.

He will talk about designing for Behavioural Change at Behavioural Design Week between April 19th and April 23rd.

 

Photo by Markus Spiske

Want to learn more?

Suppose you want to learn more about how influence works. In that case, you might want to consider joining our Behavioural Design Academy, our officially accredited educational institution that already trained 2500+ people from 40+ countries in applied Behavioural Design. Or book an in-company program or workshop for your team. In our top-notch training, we teach the Behavioural Design Method© and the Influence Framework©. Two powerful frames to make behavioural change happen in practice.

You can also hire SUE to help you to bring an innovative perspective on your product, service, policy or marketing. In a Behavioural Design Sprint, we help you shape choice and desired behaviours using a mix of behavioural psychology and creativity.

You can download the Academy brochure here, contact us 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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Zombies - conspiracy

Why data scientists and conspiracy theorist have a lot in common

By | All, Behaviour in Organisations

I want to share a couple of thoughts and insights on how data produces Fata Morgana’s . I have become a bit obsessed lately with how easy it is to be fooled by data. In this blog want to argue that many researchers and data scientists fall for exactly the same mistakes as conspiracy theorists.

The psychology behind Conspiracy Theorists

You probably heard of Qanon. It’s a conspiracy theory about liberals running secret Satan-worshipping, child molesting, blood-drinking networks. The Qanon theory spread like wildfire on the internet in the last couple of years. In a brilliant post on Medium a while ago, a game designer argued that the nature of Qanon is strikingly similar to a well designed Alternate Reality game.

Alternate reality games (ARG’s) are designed for you to look for cues to solve a puzzle. One of the problems that game designers often encounter is a phenomenon called “apophenia”. Apophenia is : “the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things (such as objects or ideas)”. 

Better said: Once you are searching for patterns, you will start finding them everywhere. Your players might encounter some scraps of wood on the floor that accidentally form an arrow, and they will become convinced that this must be a clue and can’t be a coincidence.

The same mechanisms are at play in the alternate reality of conspiracy theorists. The thrill of being a Qanonist is that cues are everywhere. Once you are sucked into the community of like-minded truth seekers’, you will stumble upon cues that are so convincing that they must be true. The addictive part is the fact that your fellow conspiracists will challenge you to connect the dots for yourself. “Wake up! Open your Eyes!” Nobody tells you what to think or believe, but once you connect the dots, the truth will reveal itself. Cracking the puzzle is similar to the dopamine rush you get from solving a game puzzle.

Of course, the problem is: Once you start looking for patterns, you will always find some. You don’t believe in Illuminati? Well, what about all these pictures of Hollywood stars who use the Illuminati “one eye” symbol? Coincidence? I don’t think so?

Still not convinced that liberals run satanic networks? Well, why do all these Hollywood stars use the 666-symbol, the number of Satan? Once you start looking for it, it’s so damn obvious! How can we all have missed this?

666

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All from your Home or Office.

You can now access the FULL Behavioural Design Fundamentals Course live from your home or office. Watch a live trainer and get real-time feedback & coaching. Interact with fellow peers. Work together in virtual break-out rooms. Don’t let COVID slow you down!

((Image Courtesy: Curious Institute)

Of course, all of this is an illusion. An illusion fostered by wishful thinking, selective attention and the addictive thrill of finding patterns.

Data Scientists are a bit like conspiracy theorists.

Today I read a piece in the Dutch newspaper NRC about recent research amongst Dutch voters. We’re having elections here within five weeks. The study delved deep into the wants and beliefs of the Dutch electorate. And lo and behold, it discovered some fascinating patterns: “About 30% of the population are culturally conservative but economically liberal”. Or “There’s still an untapped potential if far-right parties would embrace more leftwing policies” or “Although 70% are in favour of a big government and income redistribution, progressive parties are suffering from a steady decline. This loss can be attributed to the fact that only a minor group of those people (15%) favour progressive themes as abortion, euthanasia, multi-culturalism and European unification”.

The problem with all the above: Sounds reasonable, but it’s bullshit. Real people don’t change their voting behaviour based on these issues. They answer a different question in the voting booth: Which leader or team do I trust the most to fight for the things that threaten my way of living? To whom do I sympathize?

Under the article, NRC posted a series of short portraits of voters and their consideration. The first portrait was featuring an entrepreneur, aged 35. Every time he filled in a voting configurator online, the Dutch Liberals came out as the party that best matches his beliefs and values. Yet he categorically decided not to vote for the liberals because he chose to answer a more powerful different question: He feels it’s time for a system reboot. So he feels more sympathy for the challenger parties, some to the far left, some to the far right. He voted for the FvD (a far-right party), but only because he felt sympathy for one of the (ex) leaders’ fighting spirit, even though he despises their racist whistleblowing.

 

Why you should have a healthy distrust for data.

The problem with quantitative research is that numbers and graphs signal objectivity and power. If you make the case with solid data, you are more convincing. But the problem is that the patterns we find are often a mirage. A fata morgana that the dataset produced. In the case of Qanon, the fata morgana is produced by combining random pictures that suggest a secret code. In the research above, the fata morgana is created by asking for beliefs and values within the voter base of parties. But it only takes a simple look beyond to data to realize that parties’ rise and fall have everything to do with the rise and fall of their leaders.

Tom De Bruyne
Co-Founder SUE Behavioural Design

PS: If you like this post, don’t forget to subscribe to our free Behavioural Design newsletter, in which we look at the world around us to decode how influence works.

Want to learn more?

Suppose you want to learn more about how influence works. In that case, you might want to consider joining our Behavioural Design Academy, our officially accredited educational institution that already trained 2500+ people from 40+ countries in applied Behavioural Design. Or book an in-company program or workshop for your team. In our top-notch training, we teach the Behavioural Design Method© and the Influence Framework©. Two powerful frames to make behavioural change happen in practice.

You can also hire SUE to help you to bring an innovative perspective on your product, service, policy or marketing. In a Behavioural Design Sprint, we help you shape choice and desired behaviours using a mix of behavioural psychology and creativity.

You can download the Academy brochure here, contact us 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.

sue behavioural design
Tom De Bruyne @ NowFest

Transforming an ad agency through behavioural design

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

This blog is the talk I gave at NowFest 2020, a global conference on Behavioural Science. We were asked to talk about how we successfully transformed from an ad agency to a design and innovation consultancy. This is the story of all the things we learned while making lots of bad decisions along the way. So if you work in the ad industry and you’re struggling with your business model, then this might provide you with some inspiration on where to look for answers. If you prefer to see the whole talk. I included the video below.

Part 1: The existential crisis as an agency

About ten years ago, Astrid and I were leading an advertising agency in Amsterdam. According to the market, we were doing great. We won a Dutch “Agency of the Year” award, and we were doing award-winning work for brands like Nike. The problem was: we hated every bit of it, and we felt that there were several trends that didn’t look promising for the future of the ad agency business model. Both our customers and the market were changing.

  1. Customers were changing: After their CEO’s went on a pilgrimage to Silicon Valley, they all saw the light and every big client was going through two transformation waves:
    1. Digital transformation, which meant they were now getting obsessed with everything measurable and easy to optimise. Advertising started to be seen as this old medieval art in comparison with this new obsession, and investment in advertising shifted to programmatic and tactical, instead of creative.
    2. Agile transformation: our customers were starting to work in multi-disciplinary teams around customer segments and around customer journeys. The consequence of this is that more and more creative marketing was taking place within the teams, as opposed to being outsourced to agencies.
  2. Markets were changing: Digital disruption was on its way. At that time we had a quote up our wall by Rei Inamoto – the former ECD from AKQA – that said: Business models from the least expected angles or players could disrupt your business faster than advertising can save it”. So more and more clients were betting their money on trying to cut costs and figure out how to fight the incumbents.

It was the hight of the aftermath of the financial crisis. Everyone in the industry was talking about how to build “the agency of the future”. But the problem was: All the interesting and exciting things were taking place outside our industry. To name four domains that inspired us:

  • The Conversion Optimisation community was (and still is) the hacker avant-garde of digital marketing.
  • The Persuasion design / UX community, because they re-introduced psychology into design.
  • The Lean Startup Community, because they were combining both psychology and conversion optimization to figure out the laws of marketing growth.
  • Most thinking about Creativity came out of the industry: Ideo introduced ‘Design Thinking’ as a creative process and Creativity.inc by Ed Catmull from Pixar on how to manage a culture of creative excellence.

We were deeply frustrated with our inability to transform the agency from within. Our creatives mistook creativity for originality and were obsessed with awards. Probably because they perfectly realised that what they were doing was utterly pointless.

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Join our virtual Behavioural Design Academy and learn an easy to apply method to predictably influence minds and shape the behaviour of clients, customers, employees or citizens.

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Part 2: The path to transformation

(solution version 1)

In 2011 we decided to quit the agency we were leading and start our own company in an attempt to design a solution that could deal with all the challenges above.

We called the company SUE, named after “A Boy Named SUE“, the beautiful song by Johny Cash.

Four principles or beliefs formed the foundation of SUE:

  1. The core of what we do is behavioural change, not communication. You probably know the famous aphorism by Charly Munger who said “To a man with a hammer every problem looks like a nail”. Well, to a branding guy, every problem looks like an advertising problem. To an ad guy, every problem looks like an advertising problem. But a behavioural designer should be agnostic to the tools he or she uses to shape behaviour: comms, design, physical spaces, framing, technology,…we even did an intervention in which we used children to prevent parents from picking up their phone while driving. As long as it contributes to the desired behavioural outcome, the medium is just a tool. Behavioural designers combine psychology, technology and Creativity to figure out how to influence minds and shape behaviour.
  2. We believe that Creativity is a step by step process, not the product of genius creatives. We were tired of the advertising myth of brilliant creative teams. We strongly believe that the quality of the output is a function of the quality of the input and the process.
  3. We believe that the separation between research, strategy and creativity into silos makes no sense. If you have a research agency for your Research, a strategy company for your big strategy, an ad agency for your Big Idea and a production company for your design and production, the process will produce lots of waste. They all tend to act upon the executive summary of the previous stage and selectively pick the insights that fit with their own framework. Instead, we felt that behavioural designers should do research and strategizing themselves. If they did the research themselves, they would have had a much deeper understanding of the problem.
  4. Since we’re dealing with humans: we should always be prototyping and testing to learn and improve. We should shred our expert bias and embrace uncertainty and a hunger for learning and improving.

The idea sounded good in theory. But let’s first delve into what we did wrong:

  • We still called ourselves an agency. Therefore in the mind of the market, they put us in the ad agency frame. That was problematic. We wanted to solve the briefings in different ways, but in the end, we were working for the campaign managers, and they just wanted a campaign. So we attracted ‘ad agency clients’.
  • We made the classic startup mistake of hiring too many people who could work on the projects while neglecting supporting sales and marketing.
  • We couldn’t figure out how to design our process in a way that made economic sense. We introduced the Behavioural Design Sprint as our method, but we had five people per sprint team.
  • We also suffered from the famous Kruger-Dunning effect. We were very confident that we could quickly master marketing automation, but that problem of finding the sweet spot between technology and creativity was hard. If you think of it: most inbound marketing is obsessed with tactics, but sucks at impact.

We thought we had the answer to “the agency of the future”-challenge: introduce creative methodology, marketing technology and behavioural sciences into the process, and your clients will love it.

The problem was: We were thinking too much inside-out. We were trying to transform from within, but the problem was the ad industry itself.

Back in 2017, this culminated in a crisis. On Easter day, we were sitting in a supermarket eating breakfast, exhausted with a 6-month-old baby that didn’t sleep and our accountant called. It’s never good news when your account calls on a holiday. He said: are you guys aware of the fact that you are loosing 100k per month and you’ll be bankrupt within three months if you don’t act?

That sucked.

Big time.

We had about two days to figure out if we would stop or tackle the problem. We chose the latter.

 

Part 3: When we finally got it right.

The nice thing with running out of cash is that you have to make bold decisions. There are no other options. We did a series of interventions:

  • Intervention 1: Staff. We had to fire about 15 people. That burned our cash reserves even more, but there was no alternative. We needed to start from zero if we wanted to succeed.
  • Intervention 2: We stopped being an agency and turned into a consultancy. The difference turns out to be substantial. We were betting on the belief that the market changed from outsourcing creativity to agencies, to developing customer intelligence capabilities internally. So said to clients: don’t hire us to do your campaign, but hire us to help you to improve your product, service, marketing or customer experience through behavioural science.
  • Intervention 3: We decided to claim the word “Behavioural Design”. At that point, the term was not owned by anyone. So the dilemma we had was: Nobody knows behavioural design, so it would be pure suicide to start a company on something that doesn’t exist. ON the other hand, it held the promise of a new story that we could own.
  • Intervention 4: The business model was still very fragile, so we started the Behavioural Design Academy. We figured that if the market was shifting to more capability development, we should begin to offer training in how to use behavioural science to improve products, service and customer journey through a deeper understanding of human psychology.
  • Intervention 5: We productized our offering. We were fed up with budget discussions, so we re-framed the whole pricing away from hourly rates to value-based pricing: you pay for the behavioural design sprint process. A 13-days process in which we do behavioural research, spot opportunities, come up with ideas, prototype the most promising ones, and test them with the users. A sprint is
  • Intervention 6: We made the Behavioural Design Method the hero, and by doing that we challenge some problematic market conventions worth solving: It solves the problem that the research industry is facing of not being able to turn insight into ideas. It solved the strategy problem of not being able to validate the power of the strategy until it’s too late – i.e. when the execution doesn’t work -, because we prototype and test the strategy right away.

 

What have we learned so far:

  • The Behavioural Design Academy is a huge success: We had over 42 nationalities who flew in for our two-day masterclass.
  • We are doing more in-company training programs all over the world, training teams in the Behavioural Design Method.
  • We spiralled out of advertising and are now working on projects that exceed our wildest dreams: to win elections, fight radicalization, transform team behaviour, design spaces, get people to save more, get people to donate. We had the honour to work on all continents for major brands and organizations.
  • Our clients like and respect us for what we do. It makes a great deal of difference if you’re in the business of making your clients smarter, instead of producing their campaigns. As an ad agency, your clients like you, but don’t respect you.

 

We transformed our company by putting deep human understanding at the heart of what we do. All the rest follows from this premise.

Want to learn more?

Suppose you want to learn more about how influence works. In that case, you might want to consider joining our Behavioural Design Academy, our officially accredited educational institution that already trained 2500+ people from 40+ countries in applied Behavioural Design. Or book an in-company program or workshop for your team. In our top-notch training, we teach the Behavioural Design Method© and the Influence Framework©. Two powerful frames to make behavioural change happen in practice.

You can also hire SUE to help you to bring an innovative perspective on your product, service, policy or marketing. In a Behavioural Design Sprint, we help you shape choice and desired behaviours using a mix of behavioural psychology and creativity.

You can download the Academy brochure here, contact us 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.

sue behavioural design
Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

How to design team behaviour?

By | All, Behaviour in Organisations

In this blog I want to explore a fascinating phenomenon: How individuals morph into groups. Behavioural Science sheds some perspective on group behaviour in organizations and how to influence this in a positive way. So if you struggle with how to be creative, productive and happy within your team, then this blog is for you.

How do individuals morph into groups?

Groups are a fascinating psychological phenomenon. Put a random selection of people in a room, and their brain tries to figure out as fast as possible how to form a group. Every group quickly produces leaders, facilitators, followers and saboteurs. Some groups dissolve instantly into subgroups or couples. This process is mostly automatic and unconscious.

What’s even more fascinating is what happens when you throw in a new person into an existing group. Their automatic brain is working extra hours to decipher what the implicit rules of this group are: Who is the formal and informal leader? How do we talk to each other? What are the taboos in this group, and whom do I have to befriend? Is this group built on trust or competition?

In his autobiography “I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic“, the soccer superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic tells the fascinating story of how the group culture of FC Barcelona, the biggest club in the world, psychologically broke him. Under the reign of coach Pep Guardiola, there was a stringent “act normal”-culture, to which most of their superstars (Messi, Iniesta) submitted themselves. For an eccentric personality like Zlatan, who grew up in the suburbs, this was a nightmare. Here are some more juice details, if you like football.

 

Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

The behavioural rules of a group

A group is a set of unconscious rules that govern the interactions between the individuals within the group. This pragmatic definition gives us an interesting lens to look at the desired and undesired group behaviour in organisations. You can have as many fancy mission statements as you want, or you can have installed well-designed processes, in the end, people adapt their behaviour based on what they observe in the behaviour of others. Our automatic brain (system 1) is hardwired this way to pick up these cues and signals.

When people observe that some people get away with laziness, they will adapt their behaviour. If they see that the boss overrules decisions, everyone will work on getting approval first. Imagine they observe that autonomous decisions that didn’t turn out well are being punished by management. In that case, the whole group will fill its days by setting up meetings with the sole purpose of distributing risk and accountability to the team. And if the boss signals that his idea of good work is working long hours, you’ll quickly see everyone running around, working late and sending torrents of e-mails.

(continue below)

Unlock the power of Behavioural Design

Join our virtual Behavioural Design Academy and learn an easy to apply method, to predictably influence minds and shape the behaviour of clients, customers, employees or citizens. With live trainer and real-time interaction with fellow like-minded professionals.

PS Did you know you can book a spot now and do your training in 2021?
We’ll send you a 2020 invoice right away to help you secure your 2020 training budget.

How to transform organisational culture?

Organisational culture, therefore, is nothing more than the beliefs and behaviours that people learn by observing each other. An optimistic, creative culture often grows on top of some game rules that might look trivial at first. We had a team once who decided to run a retrospective meeting of one hour every Friday afternoon. In this meeting, they committed to give honest feedback on each other: What went great? What could have been better? After three uncomfortable sessions, this team transformed from a collective of hardworking individuals to a group that was hungry to help each other to learn and grow, and to become exceptional. Out of this small intervention – the installation of a simple habit – a group emerged with a robust set of new rules. In the end this team transformed both the company, as well as the identity of the people in this group.

Want to learn more about designing group behaviour?

Our popular report “Leading distributed teams” is a great way to understand the hidden forces that shape employee behaviour. The report gives you great insights and interventions to transform a distributed team into a high-performance team that consists of creative, productive and happy team members.

Download the report here.

Or book Astrid for a keynote on this topic for your management team. She has been giving many virtual keynotes in several markets in the last couple of months about our behavioural approach on team behaviour.

Want to learn more?

Suppose you want to learn more about how influence works. In that case, you might want to consider joining our Behavioural Design Academy, our officially accredited educational institution that already trained 2500+ people from 40+ countries in applied Behavioural Design. Or book an in-company program or workshop for your team. In our top-notch training, we teach the Behavioural Design Method© and the Influence Framework©. Two powerful frames to make behavioural change happen in practice.

You can also hire SUE to help you to bring an innovative perspective on your product, service, policy or marketing. In a Behavioural Design Sprint, we help you shape choice and desired behaviours using a mix of behavioural psychology and creativity.

You can download the Academy brochure here, contact us 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.

sue behavioural design
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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Credits: Photo by Martin Sanchez on Unsplash

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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