Category

Citizen Behaviour

Where to start? This is golden era for Behavioural Design

By | Behavioural Science, Citizen Behaviour

The Covid-19 crisis requires behavioural change
at an unprecedented scale

Amsterdam empty streets during Corona

Abandoned Zeedijk street in Amsterdam during the COVID-19 outbreak.

A tiny creature with massive powers

One tiny microscopic creature did something to humanity what no other animal was capable of doing:

It stopped us.

Everything we thought about the present and the future has been shattered to pieces in just a matter of three weeks.

The future turns out not to be as positive as we anticipated.
The present turned out much more fragile than we assumed.

It took a tiny little virus to evaporate the profits of the last ten years in a matter of days. It squeezed out a sizable chunk of your pension. It might kill your job, and it might turn the debts you took in optimistic times, into serious liabilities.

The Covid-19 crisis requires behavioural change at an unprecedented scale. In this blog we explore the wicked design challenges for behavioural change.

Make Behavioural Design work for you

Join our virtual Behavioural Design Academy from home and see how you can effectively change behaviour and habits to cope with this crisis.

This changes everything

This virus has  thrown us abruptly into a forced behavioural change experiment, and we are struggling to adapt:

  • We need to figure out how to stay in quarantaine without making each other’s life miserable.
  • We have to find a way to be productive and creative while isolated from our teams.
  • We need to stay in mental and physical shape.
  • We’ll have to use our mental strength to avoid anxiety and depression and to be grateful for what we have.
  • And we’re going to get back in financial shape after this crisis. Surviving this one will provide us with valuable lessons for the future.

A Classic Wicked Behavioural Design Problem

If this is not a wicked Behavioural Design problem, then what is?

(Ok except for the climate crisis, which, by the way, is getting temporary relief from our ferocious efforts to finance our progress by pumping the CO2-byproduct of that progress into the atmosphere and the oceans, whereby we turn it into a problem the future generation will need to fix).

This forced social distancing experiment challenges us to change our beliefs and attitudes, change our behaviours and build new habits.

This crisis has all the characteristics of the ultimate behavioural design challenge:

  • It involves new behaviour.
  • We will need to break existing habits,
  • The behaviour we want to design will probably pay off in the far future,
  • While at the same time, we need to to be disciplined in the present.

In other words: although most people will want behavioural change, their habits, their context and their relative inability to resist instant gratification, will make it extremely difficult to succeed.

But isn’t this the characteristic of every exciting behavioural design challenge?

All behaviours that matter are difficult to change.

Amsterdam empty street 2

Book a virtual Behavioural Design Sprint

Book a Behavioural Design sprint to prevent a standstill and have Behavioural Design help you turn this crisis into progress.

Wicked behavioural challenges to work on

Behavioural Designers always design interventions with these barriers for change in mind. We believe that behavioural change can only be achieved if we start with irrational humans. We’ll need to take into account the forces that prevent them from changing their behaviour. We need to find Jobs-to-be-Done that matter to them, and we need to try to make a connection with those jobs. We’ll need to discover the hot trigger moments, where motivation and ability are high and use those moments to let them commit to something small.

We then need to find ways to keep them engaged and to help them to build and sustain new habits.

We’ll need to leverage our psychological understanding of behaviour to help people to build the habits that:

  • keep them in a positive flow
  • get them to experience deep work
  • harvest the creative, social and intellectual capital of their team
  • be creative and productive
  • get them to experience gratitude, joy and wellbeing
  • contribute positively to the life of others
  • get them to learn new skills
  • trigger a curious and optimistic mindset
  • get them to grow as a person
  • get them to try new ideas and embrace uncertainty

 

Change behaviour and the rest will follow

This crisis forces us to practice virtue in the face of gigantic obstacles.

It provides us with a unique opportunity to practice calm, to inspire others with optimism and re-program our brain away from anxiety into fascination and desire for action.

All these positive outcomes can only follow from changing our behaviour first. We firmly believe that we will find calm, experience joy, get creative and feel the power of great collaboration, only if we act first. Our emotions and experience follow from our behaviour. Only if we can get ourselves to commit to new habits; only if we can prime ourselves into thinking differently; only if we infatuate others with our energy and excitement, we will be able to come stronger out of this crisis.

In the upcoming weeks, you’ll hear much more from us. But we also urge you to apply the behavioural design method to influence the minds and shape the behaviour of yourself, your beloved ones and your colleagues. Use the SUE | Influence framework to analyze behaviour, use the BJ Fogg method to come up with interventions for behavioural change, prototype, test and adapt.

There’s so much good work to do.
Let’s get it on.

The team at SUE | Behavioural Design

More blogs on Designing Citizen Behaviour

In this series we apply behavioural design thinking on how societies shape the behaviour of citizen

sue behavioural design
The disastrous behaviour that triggered Chernobyl

The disastrous behaviour that triggered Chernobyl

By | All, Citizen Behaviour, Government & Politics

I just finished reading “Midnight in Chernobyl“. A chilling and magnificent book on the world’s greatest nuclear disaster. But as much as it is a book about Chernobyl, it’s above all a book on behavioural design. The book provides a fascinating peek into how totalitarian regimes like the Soviet Union profoundly shape the behaviour of its constituents.

The leadership of the Soviet Union created a magnificent illusion that the ultimate workers’ paradise of True Communism was on the horizon if everyone stuck with the plans of the Party. The best way to understand the behaviour of the people inside the Party is to look at it through the lens of a sadistic game. The higher you got in the ranks, the more effort you had to put in defending your position. Inversely, the most dreadful thing that could happen to you is to fall out of the Party’s grace.

The disastrous behaviour that triggered Chernobyl

Learn the Behavioural Design Method

Learn how influence works in our monthly two-day masterclass Behavioural Design Fundamentals in Amsterdam

It’s, therefore, no surprise that the Communist Game Design produced only ruthless and sociopathic men who made it to the top. It also created a culture of lies, secrecy, and false reporting for the simple reason that no one in the communist hierarchy wanted – or could afford – to hear bad news.

Why they didn’t want to hear bad news had to do with the two obsessions of the former Soviet Union: ludicrous targets and the competition with the West. Goals that were not going to be met, triggered fury and outrage at the top, and creative corner-cutting at the bottom of the pyramid. The Soviet Union leadership always had to prove that they were able to pull off the impossible. They had to do this to maintain the illusion that it was far more capable than those bloody western capitalists. Not being able to meet the impossible was the equivalent of treason.

Being loyal beats being right

In a culture like this, rational decision-making becomes impossible. Every fact will be interpreted through this obsessive lens: “Could this fact hurt my reputation”? or “Could the Party lose face if this fact were true”? You don’t want this decision-making process when you’re building a nuclear reactor, operating one, or when you’re trying to contain it after the explosion. Reactors got built with lousy material, and prototype tests were skipped, because deadlines were sacred. Known critical errors in the design of the reactor were discarded (because it could hurt the reputation of the Soviet nuclear community), safety protocols were overruled, because deadlines had to be met,… And at every stage there always was a bullying chief who made sure people didn’t step up.

Adam Higginbotham writes:

“The accident and the government’s inability to protect the population from its consequences finally shattered the illusion that the USSR was a global superpower armed with technology that led the world. And, as the state’s attempts to conceal the truth of what had happened  came to light, even the most faithful citizens of the Soviet Union faced the realization that their leaders were corrupt and that the Communist dream was a sham”. (p. 276)

Societies shape behaviour

Midnight in Chernobyl is a fascinating story of how behaviour of a whole nation is shaped by the invisible rules of the game. Everyone is trapped inside the rules of this game, not in the least those at the top.

When you approach it from this angle, then the book pairs surprisingly well with Life.Inc. In this book, Douglas Rushkoff argues that we in the West have entirely internalized corporate thinking. We’ve become obsessed with success, we have started to see everything as assets, and we divide the world into winners and losers.

If you need to bring two books with you on holiday that will teach you a lot without being boring business books, then these are the ones.

Update February 17th 2020:

It’s also quite interesting to observe that a similar pattern is taking place in China in the context of the Corona virus outbreak.. The Chines Government is trying to contain the virus, but are now experiencing unpleasant surprises, due to  overly optimistic reporting from the local governments. People just didn’t want to report bad news, because it could hamper their changes for making career. This is a perfect illustration of Goodhart’s Law:

“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”

In other words: When your promotion depends on the things you measure, you start cooking the numbers.

Want to read more?

More blogposts on the design of citizen behaviour.

All our blogs

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…

How one buddha statue transformed a community

By | All, Citizen Behaviour

This story began in 2009. Dan Stevenson, a resident of Oakland’s Eastlake Neighborhood, was fed up with people littering garbage in a traffic-diverting median at the intersection of two streets. He was used to drug dealing and prostitution in the neighbourhood, but as long as they didn’t cross a line, he didn’t feel the urge to act.

But the new median in the road turned out to become an open invitation for people to dump their garbage. And the moment one item got dropped, it signalled social proof to other people to follow the example, and this triggered more undesired behaviour.

Dan Stevenson came up with an idea: “What if I would put up a Buddha Statue?” He figured: Buddha is pretty neutral. A Jesus Christ statue is too controversial. But with Buddha, you can’t be offended. His idea was that the gaze of the Buddha might have a second-thought effect on criminals and litters.

What happened next, according to the The San Fransisco Gate is the following:

“He hoped that just maybe his small gesture would bring tranquillity to a neighborhood marred by crime: dumping, graffiti, drug dealing, prostitution, robberies, aggravated assault and burglaries.

What happened next was nothing short of stunning. Area residents began to leave offerings at the base of the Buddha: flowers, food, candles. A group of Vietnamese women in prayer robes began to gather at the statue to pray.And the neighborhood changed. People stopped dumping garbage. They stopped vandalizing walls with graffiti. And the drug dealers stopped using that area to deal. The prostitutes went away.

I asked police to check their crime statistics for the block radius around the statue, and here’s what they found: Since 2012, when worshipers began showing up for daily prayers, overall year-to-date crime has dropped by 82 percent. Robbery reports went from 14 to three, aggravated assaults from five to zero, burglaries from eight to four, narcotics from three to none, and prostitution from three to none”.

Learn the Behavioural Design Method

The 2020-editions of the SUE | Behavioural Design Academy foundation course are now online

Hostile Design 

The makers of the 99%invisble-podcast, where I heard the story, framed this intervention as an example of hostile design. Design that aims at deterring bad behaviours. A bit like the paint in Hamburg’s party district that bounces off your pee when people urinate against it. Similar to the park benches that were designed in such a way that homeless people cannot use them as a bed.

I wouldn’t exactly call this intervention hostile. What I really like about this intervention is that one single attribute redefined the perception of the physical space from a trash bin to a sacred place. And once it was redefined through this statue, it started to shape people’s behaviour. It quickly became a holy shrine for the Buddhist community. And they began to take care of the place. Once they figured out that Dan Stevenson was behind it, the Vietnamese community started to bring him presents and paying him their respects.

What I also love about this story is that it’s such a powerful example of how little our brain needs to alter the experience of what we see. We don’t need many cues for our mind to attribute a completely different meaning to what we see. One Buddha statue from a home depot store sufficed to transform the perception, the experience and the meaning of place. And it redefined the behaviours that were expected and those that were forbidden.

As Charles and Ray Eams once summarized one of the essential lessons in design: The design is not in the details. The detail is the design.

Psychological magic is everywhere.
We have to learn to see it.

You can hear the whole story on the 99% invisible podcast

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…

Pissing in the well

By | All, Citizen Behaviour

Have you ever been to Ubud in Bali? Ten years ago it was the closest you could get to paradise. Today it transformed into a mass tourism nightmare. KFC’s next to McDonalds, an abundance of yoga studios and a plethora of overpriced organic restaurants, carefully catered to get the last dollar out of the pockets of the sophisticated soul searcher.

Vang Vieng in Laos is even worse. Once a little hidden gem on a river transformed itself into a binge-drinking paradise for English and Australian youngsters. The number one activity in Vang Vieng is tubing, which comes down to descending the river on a tube while being drunk. The view that made Vang Vieng so incredibly beautiful is now gone because they built backpacker huts in front of it.

These are just two classic examples of the concept of “pissing in the well“. A well is a common good in a community that – if managed well – provides prosperity for everyone. If a community in a remote village manages its access to water well, everyone will be able to thrive. If one person decides to damage it for personal gain, the well will dry up and everyone will suffer or die. This phenomenon is also often referred to as the tragedy of the commons.

Learn the Behavioural Design Method

The 2020-editions of the SUE | Behavioural Design Academy foundation course are now online

We’re pissing in every well we find

The wrongness of the core idea of capitalism that progress is made when everyone pursues their self-interest is never better illustrated than in the tragedy of the commons. The list of tragedies is endless:

  • We live in Amsterdam. It’s a beautiful city, but real estate speculation and mass tourism are gradually turning it into Disney-like attraction.
  • Watching a Frozen-movie with the kids on TV can be a joyful family experience until they ruin it with five advertising blocks.
  • We want to drive our cars as fast as we want to while musing about the beauty of the countryside. But while doing this, the quality of what’s left of nature is rapidly declining, precisely because we’re slowly suffocating it.

I can go on and on. We, humans, tend to piss in every well of beauty and prosperity we find.

I don’t know the solution to the problem, but I do know that the psychology of happiness points to some exciting directions. The key to living a happy life is not about consuming the things you want to have or to buy experiences. Life long happiness is all about living a meaningful life. It’s about forming deep relationships with others, through which your sense of self transcends. Happiness is about learning new things. And it’s about contributing to a more significant good.

Find happiness in restoring the wells in 2020

So instead of pissing in the wells we visit, why not dedicate ourselves to joining forces to restore the wells that we are in the process of destroying:

  • bring back the sense of belonging in the communities we live
  • restore the wildlife in our regions
  • join forces to speed up the transition to a carbon-free world
  • restore the opportunities for kids who grow in poverty to get access to good education, proper role models and enough opportunities to climb the social ladder

These are the wicked behavioural design challenges for 2020 we are going to focus on. To restore the wells of beauty, meaning and prosperity, what a great mission for the next years.

pissing in the well behavioural design

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…

A cunning plan to nudge people into electric driving

By | All, Citizen Behaviour

The climate change issue is by far the most wicked behavioural design challenge in our lifetime. In about 10-20 years we will need humanity to change the fossil fuel motorblock under the hood of prosperity. And we will need to do this while we’re all high on consuming everything our carefully manipulated desires are told to want. This is the daunting taks for our generation.

There’s going to be a big need for behavioural designers to answer questions like: How are we going to get people, business and politicians to change their behaviour?

Let’s zoom in on cars to begin with: How do you get people to switch to driving electric? It’s actually much simpler than you think.

Learn the Behavioural Design Method

The 2020-editions of the SUE | Behavioural Design Academy foundation course are now online

There’s a big debate going on in the Netherlands right now. The Dutch government was forced to come up with measures to lower the level of CO2 emissions urgently. They came up with the idea to reduce the maximum speed on all highways from 130 till 100 km/hour. The argument seemed more than fair: It’s a relatively small effort, and it saves thousands of jobs in construction. You can read more about it in this article from The Guardian.

The country went bonkers, and the resentment was both fueled and harvested by the far-right populist parties. People don’t want to be told how fast they can drive. The topic is consistently being framed as a complot from the urban elite against the hardworking people.

At the same time, the government decided to stop giving tax incentives for buying electric cars. By the way: it was also brilliantly framed by the opposition as the Tesla-tax. A tax-cut that would only benefit people who are rich enough to buy a Tesla.

What if they would have approached both problems as behavioural designers?

As is all too often the case, the measures were taken with a lousy understanding of human decision making in mind. You don’t have to be a behavioural scientist to understand that taking away a privilege will backfire, no matter how good the intentions. Bas Erlings and Sophie Hermans, the campaigning masterminds behind the Dutch Liberals did a masterful job in framing the issue. They immediately framed it as a “lousy measure they only made to prevent thousands of people working in the construction business would sit at home at the Christmas table without a job”. The “lousy measure”-frame was repeated in national and international media.

But with a little bit of creativity, this could have been a fantastic opportunity to boost the transition to electric driving. The only thing they needed to do, was to allow electric cars to drive 130 in the fast lane. Every time you would see an electric car passing you on the highway, you would essentially see a riding billboard for electric driving. If you combined this with free parking and free chargers in the city-centres, where parking space costs a fortune and are challenging to find, that would spark a rush on electric cars.

However, this requires policymakers to think human-centered instead of looking at the problem through the traditional rational frame. You don’t need to incentivise humans if you can tap into psychological value: The desire to outsmart traffic, to have comfortable parking space and even the desire to be part of a smart group of people who outsmarted the masses by going electric.

But the problem, of course, is that these measures are just a little bit too exotic to say yes to if you are a policymaker. And therefore it’s a lost opportunity. As I argued many times before in this newsletter: policymakers should at least hire behavioural economists or behavioural designers to spot golden opportunities for behavioural change.

Read more about this topic in a blog post I wrote a couple of months ago: How Norway nudges its citizen to drive electric.

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…

How can you trust an expert?

By | All, Citizen Behaviour

Skin in the game

The problem with intelligence is that smart people doubt all the time, while stupid people (or con artists) are full of confidence because they don’t know they’re dumb. In psychology this is also know as the Dunning-Kruger effect. For most of our decisions in life, we don’t have enough information at our disposal. So we rely on people who are at least able to cast the illusion that they know what they’re talking about.

To be clear: there’s nothing wrong with outsourcing your thinking process when you have to make a decision about which mortgage to take, which house to buy, how to invest, which holiday destination to pick,… We don’t have the time, experience and mental capacity to do all the research ourselves.

But how do you know whom you can trust? An expert could be an overconfident nobody who happens to be great at bluffing? Or you might be dealing with an imposter who has a lot to gain from getting you to choose a specific option. Some people are very good at making us believe they know what they’re talking about. They are masters at designing the perception, from the self-confident posture, to the way they dress to impress, to the glasses that make them look smart. They throw in business lingo to signal sophistication and – this is the best trick in the business – they throw in a ‘why’-explanation. Nothing is more persuasive than explaining what you think with why you think it. Your explanation might be completely nonsensical, but most people will think “I have no idea what he’s talking about, but it sounds reasonable”.

We use self-confidence as a shortcut for competence simply because we don’t have the time to think about every choice we have to make.

…(continue reading below)

Learn the Behavioural Design Method

The 2020-editions of the SUE | Behavioural Design Academy foundation course are now online

Skin in the game

So how could you become better at making decisions? Nassim Taleb argues that the best shortcuts for good advice is if someone has got “skin in the game”. Skin in the game has got everything to do with accountability. When you have skin in the game, you can suffer from negative consequences. When you have skin in the game, you have your own money, reputation, time and future at stake if the choices you make or the advice you give don’t pay off.

This is precisely the reason why it’s utterly bonkers that corporate CEO’s make so much money. They don’t have skin in the game. They will benefit a lot when their actions turn out positive, but they won’t suffer if things go wrong. BTW, this is in a nutshell the explanation of the 2008 financial crisis. If you don’t suffer from bad decisions, you will make reckless and stupid decisions. Or decisions that will affect your bonus, and those aren’t necessarily aligned with the longterm goals of the corporation.

My co-founder Astrid and I are entrepreneurs (and married). This means we have all our money, our reputation, and our ability to have a pension, invested in SUE. If we screw up our reputation, we will end in poverty. This results in a huge incentive to work very hard to have satisfied clients. When you have skin in the game, you can’t afford failure.

Come to think of it. This is a useful shortcut for all kinds of decisions. If you need a banker, financial advisor, accountant, coach, or think of every professional service that you can rely on: go for the entrepreneurs. The big organizations might have the brand and the reputation, but often they will throw in their best people to get you as a client, and then they’ll hook you up with the junior staffers.

If you like this topic: Subscribe to the podcast “Naval”. Naval Ravikant is the co-founder of Angelist and the smartest geek on applying mental models to better decision making. The density of his thinking is mind-blowing.

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…

How Norway nudges its citizens to drive electric

By | Citizen Behaviour, Government & Politics

The surprising story behind
Norways spectacular rise in EV’s

Did you know that in Norway more than 60% of all newly bought cars are electric? Here’s the surprising story of how they used smart Behavioural Design Thinking to fight climate change and achieve their aggressive CO2-zero ambitions. They came up with a couple of interventions that provide people with daily reminders of how awesome it is to drive electric.

Principle 1: Trigger selfish motives

The Norwegian Government doesn’t want to turn you into an eco-fanatic. Neither don’t try to convince you to make the transition because of the environment. They just make it much more attractive for you to drive electric. The brilliant part of their strategy is that they didn’t stop at your typical tax cuts – although they are enormous. They turned the benefit in something far more system 1: Electric cars get a free passage at the Toll Gates, get free parking in a lot of municipalities and get permission to drive on the bus lane. In other words: they get to experience the benefits every day.

This brings me to the second principle.

Principle 2: feedback

A driver of an electric car gets constant positive feedback on their behaviours. Every time they use the bus lane to skip traffic jam, or every time they pass a toll gate for free, they get a chance to look at all those combustine engine suckers. They get visual reminders on a daily basis of how stupid one must be to drive the old school way.

The opposite is also true: Every time you get stuck in a traffic jam, and you see a Tesla or an electric Kia legally using the bus lane to cut you off, you get a painful reminder that your not part of the priviledged class of the country.

Principle 3: Take away barriers

The big challenge is still to tackle “range anxiety”. More than often, people in Norway buy an electric car for their second car, with which they commute to work. For the long distances, they still don’t feel secure enough that they could travel comfortably without having to freak out about finding a re-charge station on time. Norway is investing rapidly in charging infrastructure. Ability is not a detail.

Add the missing layer to make your growth happen

Join our Behavioural Design Academy and in just two days master the practical Behavioural Design skills to make growth hacking actually work. You’ll know how to influence behaviour and shape minds to boost your growth hacking tactics.

What can we learn: Re-think incentives

First and foremost, we can’t compare apples with pears. Norway can issue this enormous tax cut because the country can afford it. The state – ironically – lives of the export of oil. Furthermore: they have – unlike most other countries – a heavy taxation in place on imported cars. A tax cut on the imported electric car quickly makes a significant financial difference.

But what we can learn is that there are far more clever strategies to get people to switch to electric driving. Instead of using the traditional taxation-stick, we could come up with benefits that have a much higher psychological value:

  1. Legalize autonomous-driving asap: Last week I saw a guy driving his Tesla while reading his newspaper. I realized I just saw the future. And it looked frikking cool.
  2. Give visual priviliges in traffic: To be allowed to cut traffic Jams by using the emergency lane, especially in a country like the Netherlands, will give you a guaranteed daily dopamine rush to the brain.
  3. Replace most parking spots in big cities like Amsterdam with parking spots that are exclusive for electric vehicles. Having to park your diesel on the outskirts of town, while having to take public transport to the city centre, meanwhile having to watch Electric Vehicle owners parking their car next to the canals for free: priceless.

The green revolution is coming.

We’re only using the wrong incentives to make it attractive.

Update: This post is the first in a series of a posts on how to use Behavioural Design thinking to tink about the climate crisis.

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.

sue behavioural design

Without influence your customer won't do what's needed for growth

Join our Behavioural Design Academy and master the skills to shape minds and influence behaviour. We trained people over 30+ countries and have a 9,2 satisfaction rate. Check out our free brochure. Don’t miss out on making your growth a success.

sue behavioural design
Pitcture depicting the Kock Brothers

The behavioural design of the economy. On incentives and rewards

By | Citizen Behaviour, Government & Politics, Organisational Design

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)

Behavioural Design is the missing layer

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

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.

sue behavioural design

Learn how to make the science of influence work for you

Join our Behavioural Design Academy and master the skills to shape minds and influence behaviour. We trained people over 30+ countries and have a 9,2 satisfaction rate. Check out our free brochure. Don’t miss out on making your growth a success.

sue behavioural design
how to influence the ones at power

How to influence those in power?

By | All, Citizen Behaviour, Government & Politics

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

Carole Cadwalladr speaking at TED2019

Carole Cadwalladr speaking at TED2019 – click for video

Influence 1: Public shaming works

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

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

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

Influence 2: We’re suckers for social status

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

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

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

Influence 3: Villify and glorify

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

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

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

Want to learn more?

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

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

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

How to create change by design

By | All, Citizen Behaviour, Health & Fitness, SUE Amsterdam & Behavioural Design Academy originals

It’s hard denying we as humankind are facing serious problems today, and things need to change. Global warming is happening as we speak, obesity is overtaking smoking as the number one cause of death.

And for most of us, it isn’t that we don’t care about these problems. Sometimes we care a great deal. Who wasn’t shocked after seeing Before the Flood, the stunning climate change documentary starring Leonardo DiCaprio? Who wasn’t moved by Jamie Oliver’s quest to start a Food Revolution knowing children didn’t even recognize real food like an ordinary tomato?

And even if you weren’t aware of these two specific examples: We all know some serious issues are going on.

It’s a framing game

But the interesting question is why don’t we act? Is it because the issues are too big to comprehend? Or do we feel too powerless to make a change? Might very well be, because they are, at least if you frame them as a problem for humankind or the world.

But if you look at global warming or obesity from a different frame, you come to realize they have one thing in common.

People.

You and me.

We eat sugar. We don’t go to the gym. We save time by buying processed foods in the supermarket. We drive cars. We take flights. We buy loads of packaging and forget to recycle. We love taking long showers and binge watch Netflix on the couch while eating crisps.

This way, you realize that the significant issues we’re facing in the world right now can be brought back to simple daily human behaviour. Things we can comprehend. Things which we could change.

So, why don’t we do it? Why don’t we cook with fresh fruit and vegetables? Why don’t we work out? Why don’t we go out and walk more often, for instance to the recycle container? The answer is simple: Because we don’t. It’s that plain simple. We can play the guilt trip or blame game for a much more extended period, but it isn’t relevant, and it surely doesn’t do us any good. Not us as people. Or us as humankind.

We’re all just irrational.

The only relevant question to ask ourselves is: How can we help people adjust this daily behaviour? How can we nudge people into making better choices on an everyday basis?

I believe the answer is behavioural design. If you want to change behaviour, you need to understand behaviour. You need to know how people make decisions. Why they do things and why they don’t. You need to understand human psychology.

Recent years the understanding of behavioural psychology has skyrocketed. We now know more about the human brain than ever before. To me, the biggest eye-opener was that we all are entirely irrational. Not just a little bit, but for the most part.

We all think we consciously make decisions, we all believe that we control our thinking. But in fact, most of our decisions are made through shortcuts – such as heuristics and biases – and have nothing to do with a rational or controlled thinking process. As one of the groundbreaking researchers in behavioural psychology Daniel Kahneman has put it:

We are very influenced by completely automatic things that we have no control over, and we don’t know we’re doing it.

That explains why the blame and guilt trip game isn’t beneficial. How can you be blamed or feel guilty if most of the time we’re just doing things automatically without even knowing we’re doing it? Dr. Kahneman says it even more prosaic:

We are blind to our blindness. We have very little idea of how little we know. We’re not designed to know how little we know.

To conclude behavioural psychology has given us powerful insights into the human mind.

Challenging a commonly accepted assumption

To me, a crucial part of solving the puzzle of making this world a better, healthier, happier place is the realization that behavioural psychology challenges a commonly accepted assumption that people who make poor decisions, made the conscious decision to do so. But science has shown us that’s not true.

Still, millions of euros are invested in campaigns to convince people to act differently, targeting their thinking capacity. That’s just money down the drain.

But what is the answer then? Understanding how the mind works is just one thing. But how do you translate scientific research into practice? How can it stop me from eating pizza? From buying sneakers for comfort instead of running? From buying plastic bottles instead of refilling my own? How can we apply science to daily life?

Behavioural design is the answer

I think a behavioural design is the only answer. I do realize design instantly opens up associations about the visual, about aesthetics. But if you look at design in a broader sense and if you take a closer look at what designers do, you see their job is to find new solutions to problems using creativity. And there are some fascinating things to learn from the way they work:

1. Just as behavioural psychologists, designers have always taken humans as a starting point. When designing a new chair, they want people to be able to sit on it. When designing a new fountain pen, they want people to be able to write correctly.

2. Just as a behavioural psychologist, designers do empirical testing. Designers have always used early testing with prototypes. They build scale models; they make paper cut dresses, they make beta releases. They watch how people interact, react or behave. And then measure, learn and adapt.

A lot is written about design thinking. Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO – one of the leading innovation companies – has written a great book on the subject: Change by Design, if you want to get some more in-depth information.

Behavioural design is the symbioses between two things: behavioural psychology and design thinking.

To me, Behavioural Design is the symbioses between two things: behavioural psychology and design thinking. If you combine those two worlds, you’ll be able to come up with better products, with better ideas and better interventions that will help people make better decisions, as you take people and their irrational decision making into account when developing an idea.

Change will come

But to get back to us as humankind tackling the world’s problems, my belief is design thinking is indeed an answer. It will help you:

– See that obesity, and global warming are both behavioural problems on an individual level, making them comprehensive and tangible;

– Understand people most of the times aren’t unwilling, but unable to change their behaviour, making you realize you need ideas that enable them to make better decisions;

– Use design thinking to come up with ideas that influence people’s daily behaviour and get evidence-based results by testing them at an early stage;

– Experience that change will come

– The first step in finding wicked answers to wicked problems is reframing a question to a behavioural challenge.

 

Behavioural design teaches us that the first step in finding a great answer is reframing the question to a behavioural challenge. By doing this, you’ll automatically end up with people. You’ll end up with us. At you. And if all of us make a change on a daily basis, we make an impact. We can change the world. I am convinced.

Astrid

 

 

 


You might also like reading:


 

Astrid is the founder of SUE Amsterdam and The Behavioural Design Academy. Our mission is to unlock the power of behavioural psychology to nudge people into making positive choices in work, life, and play.

In two days of high-end master classes, we train people in unlocking the powerful principles of behavioural psychology and teach them our Behavioural Design Method™ that translates this knowledge into actionable skills to influence personal behaviour or the behaviour of customers, employees, family members or the general public.

Cover image by welovecostarica.com under creative commons license.

Want free training, tools, and tips in your inbox?

Join 2500+ others. Sign up right here, right now for free.