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Personal Behaviour

What Is Behavioural Design

What is Behavioural Design

By All, Behavioural Science Insights, Citizen Behaviour, Customer Behaviour, Employee behaviour, Personal Behaviour

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

 

1. Behavioural Design is about influence

How do you influence minds and shape behaviours? How do you change other people’s, as well as your behaviours? How do you help people to make better decisions? Isn’t it strange that the majority of all of our behaviours and communication aims at influencing other people? Yet, at the same time, we have no clue about the principles and laws that govern influence?

 

Behavioural Design is a systematic understanding of how people think and how they make decisions. This understanding forms the basis of thinking about interventions that lead to behavioural change. Maybe you want to influence the behaviour of your partner or children. You might want to influence your colleagues or managers. Some people like to develop a healthy habit for themselves or want to live a more sustainable life. Maybe you want to influence customer behaviour or win elections. No matter what the subject is, you can all think of them as a behavioural design challenge.

 

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

 

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

 

2. Behavioural Design is a method

The best way to think about Behavioural Design is to think of it as the combination of Design Thinking with the Science of Influence. Design Thinking is the method through which designers solve problems. Designers start with empathy. Through interviews and observations, they try to “fall in love with the problem”: Why do people do what they do and where could we spot opportunities for improvement? This insight phase forms the groundwork for creativity. First, designers develop as many ideas as possible, and then they prototype the most promising ones. They take the prototypes back to the real world and test them with real people to learn and observe how the prototype influences the targeted behaviour. Design Consultancy Ideo, the godfathers of Design Thinking, explain the process like this:

When you combine the method of design thinking with behavioural science, you will get design thinking on steroids or Behavioural Design Thinking. Because a better understanding of human psychology you will get:

1) Better insights into why people do what they do;
2) Better ideas on where to look for solutions;
3) Better prototypes, because you will have a much sharper understanding of what specific behavioural outcome you’re designing for.

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

More about Behavioural Design as method:

Would you like to power up your team or project with behavioural intelligence?

Feel free to contact us. We are happy to tell you more about our consultancy or academy. Helping you innovate, transform or grow levering insights from behavioural science in practice.

Contact us

No worries, no strings attached!

3. The ethics of Behavioural Design

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

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

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

 

Doctor Evil

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

More on the ethical side of Behavioural Design:

4. Behavioural Design is about designing choices

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

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

Thinking fast and slow

This simple list of influence levels teaches us that:

Behavioural Design is all about how we design choices and how we present those choices.

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

Kahneman and Tversky discovered that about 96% of our thinking is automatic and unconscious. Our brain is making most of the decisions for us by taking shortcuts – which they call heuristics -, with the goal of not having to invoke the 4% bandwidth of our slow, rational brain. In a way:

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

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

 

Our hard-wired tendency to persuade

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

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

The real challenge is to make a decision making extremely easy. More about designing choices:

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5. Behavioural Designers think ‘outside-in’

When we try to influence minds and shape behaviour, the most common mistake we make is to think inside-out. We take the benefits of our product or service as our point of departure, and we try to figure out how we could pitch those benefits so that people would realize the value of what we have to offer. Behavioural Designers work the other way around.

We take the human behind the customer as our focal point, and we try to figure out what this human needs to be successful.

Which anxieties, doubts, prejudices or bad habits he holds stand in the way of embracing the desired behaviour or which pains or frustrations we could solve for him.

The SUE | Influence Framework©

We developed the SUE | Influence Framework© as a tool to do outside-in thinking systematically,. This model brings all the forces to the surface that influence the behaviour of the people for whom we need to design interventions. The Influence Framework© consists of five questions we need to answer to understand why people do what they do and how to get them to act:

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

Finding the answers to these questions will provide you with a blueprint of where to spot opportunities for behavioural change. In this video, you can find a brief explainer of the SUE | Influence Framework©.

 

More about outside-in thinking:

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

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

It is foremost a very easy-to-use tool. It explains which four pieces of the puzzle you need to solve to create a context that will persuade someone into doing something and to have them keep doing it. What makes the tool so easy to use in practice, is that anytime you want to design for behavioural change, all you have to do is ask yourself four simple questions:

  1. How can we make sure someone WANTS to perform the new behaviour?
  2. How can we make sure someone CAN perform the new behaviour?
  3. How can we SPARK new behaviour at the moments that matter?
  4. How can we activate this new behaviour AGAIN and again?

 

When the new behaviour does not happen, at least one of those four elements is missing. The most important implication of this is that by using the SUE | SWAC Tool© as a guide you can quickly identify what stops people from performing the behaviours that you seek.

If a sufficient degree of capability (CAN) to perform a behaviour is matched with the willingness (WANT) to engage in that behaviour, all that is then needed for the behaviour to occur is to set someone into action (SPARK) at the Moments that Matter.

Maybe you notice that in the tool it says moments that matter. Not one moment, but moments. As we learned, behavioural change doesn’t happen overnight. Most of the times someone needs to be reminded of the desired behaviour more than once for it to happen in the first place. Furthermore, behaviour becomes easier when repeated. Therefore, we have to make sure we SPARK someone AGAIN and again to activate the desired behaviour. So, you need to design several interventions at multiple moments that matter. In practice your intervention strategy will look something like this:

The objective of most intervention strategies is to not only to change behaviour, but to change this new behaviour into a routine behaviour (a habit), so the new behaviour will stick.

Often your desired behaviour is new behaviour for people and that’s why it is important to spark behaviour AGAIN and again. Only then the behaviour will take place, as illustrated above as the BEHAVIOURAL CHANGE THRESHOLD. When your objective is to design repeat behaviour, it almost goes without saying that you have to make sure the desired behaviour is performed repeatedly. If you can make someone perform new behaviour over and over AGAIN, it can become automatic.

7. Behavioural Designers research, prototype, test

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

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

The importance of doing the research yourself

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

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

More about prototyping and testing:

Want to shape behaviour and decisions?

Then our two-day Fundamentals Course is the perfect training for you. You will learn the latest insights from behavioural science and get easy-to-use tools and templates to apply these in practice right away!

Download the brochure

Go ahead, it’s completely free of charge!

8. Domains of Behavioural Design

The number of applications for Behavioural Design is endless. Because in the end, most of the things we do as humans aim at influencing the behaviour of others. You can apply it from managing teams to the design of products. Or from getting people to buy products to changing the way they perceive a service or experience. And from the creation of financial habits, personal habits and healthy habits till the raising of children. At SUE, we’re particularly fascinated by six specific domains for behavioural change:

  • customer behaviour (product, marketing, sales)
  • citizen behaviour (government/society)
  • financial behaviour (financial independence)
  • voter behaviour (politics and government)
  • self-improvement (personal development)
  • team-behaviour (organisational design)

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

 

9. Start to learn more about Behavioural Design

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

  1. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter Behavioural Design Digest, in which we take a closer look at how influence works in daily life.
  2. Subscribe to one of the upcoming editions of our Behavioural Design Academy courses and master the SUE | Behavioural Design Method© to create next-generation, people-centred products, services, campaigns or policies.
  3. Book in-company training for your team and learn the method while applying it to a critical business challenge for your organisation.
  4. Hire SUE to run a Behavioural Design Sprint to fast-track your innovation, transformation or growth by leveraging behavioural science to develop people-centred products, services, campaign or policies with an evidence-based approach.
  5. Book SUE for a keynote or workshop (contact us).
  6. Check or frequently asked questions and discover answers to questions you didn’t even know you had.

How do you do. Our name is SUE.

Do you 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 45+ countries in applied Behavioural Design. Or book an in-company training or one-day workshop for your team. In our top-notch training, we teach the Behavioural Design Method© and the Influence Framework©. Two powerful tools 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 Behavioural Design Fundamentals Course brochure, contact us here or subscribe to our Behavioural Design Digest. 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
The SUE Influence Framework© Explained

The SUE Influence Framework© explained

By All, Behavioural Science Insights, Citizen Behaviour, Customer Behaviour, Employee behaviour, Personal Behaviour

The SUE | Influence Framework© is a powerful mental model we developed at SUE to analyse the forces that shape behaviour systematically. The framework will provide you with all the human insights you need to develop ideas for behavioural change. A deeper understanding of the forces that prevent people from change or boost behavioural change is essential to influence minds and shape behaviour. In this blog post, we explain the model step-by-step and illustrate it with lots of examples.

 

1. How does influence work?

For a complete overview of the essence of behavioural design, I want to urge you to read our blog “What is behavioural design“. For this blogpost, it suffices to understand that you need three ingredients for successful behavioural change: 

  1. Understand how people think and how they make decisions. (cognitive psychology)
  2. Know how you can analyse the forces that shape people’s behaviour (SUE | Influence Framework©)
  3. Learn how you can come up with ideas for behavioural change 

One of the biggest misconceptions of behavioural design is that it’s limited to this third ingredient. Think about all the persuasion techniques in the field of interface design and UX to boost online sales. Booking.com has turned these techniques into an art form

However, if you don’t consider what happens inside the human mind you try to influence, you can use as many persuasion tactics as you want; you’re not going to be successful. 

Let me illustrate this with an example: You can use all the scarcity, authority, social proof in the world to persuade me to make my next city trip with Flixbus. But as long as you haven’t addressed my (probably irrational) prejudice that travelling by bus coach will be a social nightmare, full of annoying people, my brain will stay locked for every attempt to change my behaviour.

Flixbus

 

2. The forces that shape behaviour

The best way to think of the SUE | Influence Framework© is to think of it as a tool that brings the dynamic forces to the surface that shape behaviour. With this framework:

 

You will understand why people do the things they do and what prevents them from changing their behaviour.

Understanding these forces helps you to spot opportunities for behavioural change. Only when you have armed yourself with these opportunities you can start to come up with ideas. 

To illustrate this with the example from above. Only when you consider that I have anxieties, doubts and prejudices that prevent me from travelling by coach will you have the proper insight to come up with ideas to influence my decision-making. You will ask yourself how we might take away the prejudice that cheap coach travel equals a social nightmare. 

If you want to design a successful strategy for behavioural change, you will have to work outside-in. You start with learning what happens inside people’s minds, and you adapt your intervention to this understanding. 

Would you like to power up your team or project with behavioural intelligence?

Feel free to contact us. We are happy to tell you more about our consultancy or academy. Helping you innovate, transform or grow levering insights from behavioural science in practice.

Contact us

No worries, no strings attached!

The SUE | Influence Framework© has three parts, with a total of seven elements. We will delve into these three parts below.

  1. Part 1: Current and Desired Behaviour 
  2. Part 2: The Job-to-be-Done
  3. Part 3: Pains, Gains, Comforts and Anxieties

3. Current and Desired Behaviour 

The best way to think of behavioural change is that you need to have someone (or yourself) switch from a current to desired behaviour. This sounds obvious but is actually quite challenging. Because people need to stop doing the things they do and start doing something new. Stopping is hard because your current behaviour is full of comforts. You don’t need to think about it, and your behaviour is more than often driven by habits that are difficult to control. 

Furthermore, there are several difficulties associated with new behaviour too: Am I able to do this? Do I want it? Do I trust it? Do I get it? Can I afford it? What will others think of me? 

You immediately sense that, if you want to get someone from A to B, you will have to deal with several forces at work that lock us in our current behaviour and prevent us from switching to the desired behaviour. The SUE | Influence Framework© is nothing more or less than a tool to uncover these forces.  

4. The Job-to-be-Done

If you want to understand why people do the things they do, then the Job-to-be-done framework by Clayton Christensen is essential. In a famous Harvard Business Review paper, Christensen argues that people “hire products and services” for a job that arises in their life. Understanding the “job” or “task” is the key to understanding what motivate people to do the things they do. If you want to know how to get more people to buy milkshakes in a fast-food restaurant, you need to understand the job-to-be-done for which people would come in and “hire” a milkshake. In the famous lecture below, Christensen argues that most people who buy milkshakes at a fast-food restaurant buy them because they have a long and tedious drive to work. They want something to fill their stomach while keeping the commute interesting. The milkshake does this job better than any other product. It keeps you busy for at least 10 minutes, it doesn’t crumble all over you, and you can easily keep it in your hand while steering the car. 

 

Job-to-be-Done thinking unlocks a deeper understanding of the human behind the customer.

A while ago, we discovered in a Behavioural Design Sprint we did for a health tech company that the real Job-to-be-done for people with diabetes is to live everyday life. They want to be reminded as little as possible by their disease. People with diabetes look at every product and service through the prism of this Job-to-be-done. The unconscious question they ask themselves is: Does this product help me to approach my Job-to-be-Done to live a care-free life in which I am bothered as little as possible by my disease? This insight was crucial because, until that point, our client always communicated to people as patients.

Case: Zoku Amsterdam

The founders of Zoku Amsterdam had given themselves more than two years to figure out how they could design the ultimate hospitality experience for people who needed to stay longer in a city because of their job.

 

Zoku Amsterdam - Hotel Room

 

The Job-to-be-done that Zoku took as the critical opportunity for their prototyping is that people want to feel at home. They want to feel part of the community of the city. And this experience is precisely what most hotels don’t offer you. Every hotel reminds you in everything of the fact that you’re just a passenger. Zoku designed the room with this Job-to-be-done in mind. The centrepiece of the room is a dining/working table, not the bed. Lunch and dinner at Zoku are to be consumed at a long communal table. You can invite your customers for meetings, and they have daily activities in which you can participate. More about Job-to-be-Done:

Want to learn how to design behaviour?

Join our two-day Fundamentals Course and master a hands-on method to use behavioural science to develop ideas that change minds and shape behaviour.

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Join the 1.500 forward-thinking professionals who already graduated!

5. The forces diagram

We already argued above that the biggest challenge with designing for behavioural change is that people need to stop doing things. Furthermore, they have all kinds of insecurities and discomfort about the new behaviour we want them to perform. We have also argued that the best way to motivate them to embrace new behaviour is to connect with their deeper goals in their life (called Jobs-to-be-done). 

The third and final component of the SUE | Influence Framework© is four dynamic forces that push people towards or pull people away from the desired behaviour. The Influence Framework works with these four forces: 

  1. Pains of the current behaviour
  2. Gains of the desired behaviour
  3. Anxieties, doubts, and other barriers to the desired behaviour 
  4. Comforts of the current behaviour

Force 1: Pains

Pains are what people experience as shortcomings and frustrations related to their current behaviour.

Pains are often the problems to which a behavioural designer designs a solution. Pain and frustration trigger a propensity or willingness for change. The better you can connect with people’s pain, the higher the eagerness to change their behaviour.

In our behavioural design sprints, we often discover that they reward you with their trust if you can articulate people’s pain quite well. They appreciate that you understand their world. Every populist in the world knows that people are not interested in what you want to do. They want to feel instead that you get their pain. It’s a meme in every sales training that the best salesmen sell pain.


Force 2: Gains 

Gains are the positive consequences that people will experience when they perform the new desired behaviour.

Whenever I stay at Zoku, I can at least work in my room if I want. I can eat healthy without having to go out. I can enjoy hanging around in the big co-working living room with my laptop. I can impress my clients with the view, etcetera. These are all gains you will experience if you book at Zoku. 

However, these gains only make sense relative to the Job-to-be-Done. You appreciate the Gain of the design of your room, the shared breakfast table, the healthy food kitchen and the co-working living room because they all contribute to the Job-to-be-done of feeling at home in the city you have to stay in for work. 

Important to remember: Always connect the Pains and Gains with the Job -to-be-done

 

Case: Pains and Gains and travelling by train 

I often need to travel between Amsterdam and Belgium. I have stopped taking the car, and I only go by train these days. My Job-to-be-done is to spend my time as purposeful as possible. The Pain of driving my car is obvious: I can’t answer e-mails, write blogs, or finish reports. I’m utterly exhausted after a six-hour drive, of which I regularly spend two hours in traffic jams (Belgium is a traffic jam inferno). The Gain of travelling by train is also apparent: Travel time equals working time. I can read, write, or answer e-mails. For travellers like me, a power socket and a little table for my laptop are worth a lot.


Force 3: Comforts

Comforts are the routines and habits that get people to stick to their current undesired behaviour.

It’s not that I wouldn’t like to work out more often. And if I’m honest with myself, I do have the time to go to the gym in the morning. My only problem is that I have too many bad habits that stand in the way: I want to wake up slowly. I need to have breakfast. I need to bring my toddler to school (and she adores not cooperating). By the time I dropped her at school, my window of opportunity to go to the gym is closed. It’s already late, my stomach is full, and my mind is already at work. 

You could argue that everything is in place for me to start working out. I desire to have more energy and lose a couple of kilos (my JTBD). I feel the pain of not being fit. I know how much I enjoy the feeling of being healthy (gain), and I only have to walk 200 meters to my gym, so I can’t blame it on an inability to get there. As the co-founder of SUE, I’m pretty free to decide how I run my schedule (no anxieties). I can’t break through my comforts/ habits. What works for me is that my gym organises a 10-minute abs workout every hour. If I can make it in time to join this 10-minute class, I will probably stay a bit longer.


Force 4: Anxieties 

Anxieties are fears, doubts, prejudices and other barriers to the desired behaviour.

Anxieties could be all the things that prevent you from changing behaviour Anxieties could be related to: 

  • The desired behaviour: Too complicated, too hard, too socially uncomfortable, etc. 
  • The supplier: can I trust this supplier? 
  • My own capability: I’m not sure if I can do this or if it matches with my self-image. 
  • My environment: I don’t know what my significant others will think of this behaviour

Taking away Anxieties are often underestimated in a strategy for behavioural change. However, they form a crucial piece of the puzzle. Sometimes taking away anxiety is the last puzzle piece needed to turn an intervention into a success. Like in the Flixbus example I wrote about earlier: taking away my fears and prejudices towards coach travel and address the most critical force between me and the desired behaviour. 

Case: De Porsche Pitch

In The Perfect Pitch, a book by advertising legend Jon Steel about the art of pitching, the author shares the story of a pitch his agency won for the Porsche account. The killer insight that got them to win the agency competition was that advertising doesn’t need to persuade Porsche drivers. It needs te to convince non-drivers that Porsche drivers are not cars for men with a middle-crisis. They called it the “asshole factor” of a Porsche driver. Taking away these anxieties and prejudices towards the Porsche driver became the most genius advertising strategy ever for the brand.

Want to shape behaviour and decisions?

Then our two-day Fundamentals Course is the perfect training for you. You will learn the latest insights from behavioural science and get easy-to-use tools and templates to apply these in practice right away!

Download the brochure

Go ahead, it’s completely free of charge!

6. Working with the SUE | Influence Framework©

 The Influence Framework helps you to build empathy for your target audience. Our Behavioural Design Sprints always kick off with five or six interviews. If you interview five or six people from the target audience, you will be able to fill in your Influence Framework©. For a proper Behavioural Design interview, there’s only one simple rule of thumb:   

Past behaviour never lies

When we conduct interviews, we always try to map human journeys. What we’re looking for is how real humans think, feel and behave. How does a successful journey look like? What about a failed journey? Why did people fail? What made them feel uncertain or uncomfortable? Why didn’t they do the things they wanted to do?  

In 5 or 6 interviews, you’ll get a clear idea about the Jobs-to-be-Done, the Pains and Comforts of their current behaviour and the Gains en Anxieties of the desired behaviour. It can also be gratifying to interview extreme users. Experienced people can tell you a lot about Jobs-to-be-Dones and gains. People who are struggling can teach you a lot about pains, comforts and anxieties. When you have mapped out these forces, you can spot opportunities for behavioural change by asking yourself these five questions: 

  • How might we help people to achieve their goals? (Jobs-to-be-Done)
  • Can we come up with solutions that solve pains or frustrations that people experience (Pain) 
  • Can we break into an existing habit? Or do we need to change a problematic habit? (Comfort)
  • Which anxieties, doubts, prejudices, and other barriers do we need to take away? (Anxiety)
  • What could be the psychological value that we can create for people (Gain)

More about this topic: 

 

7. Examples

  • The best way to think about the success of Uber and Lyft – aside from a nearly unlimited supply of cheap investor capital – is that they successfully eliminated all the pain from the taxi experience. Not knowing when your car is going to arrive, not being confident about whether the cabbie will rip you off or having to negotiate about the price. They brilliantly help you to achieve your job-to-be-done to experience the city. An Uber-Gain is that you never have to worry when you go out: You order an Uber when you leave the club, and within 5 minutes, you’re back on your way home.
  • Airbnb is a much more gratifying way to experience new places. This is the ultimate traveller Job-to-be-done. The pain that is associated with hotels is that they’re anonymous. They make you feel like an outsider-tourist. The Gain of AirBnB on an emotional level is that you can feel at home abroad. This feeling gets even strengthened on a functional level: Since you do your cooking and supermarket shopping, you can feel what it is to live like a local. There are some anxieties Airbnb needs to take away, like whether the place is as good as advertised (that’s why they always demand professional pictures). A relatively new anxiety is the worry that the neighbourhood might be sick and tired of Airbnb tourists.

7. The ethics of Behavioural Design

We have argued above that a successful behavioural design strategy consists of three ingredients:

  1. A deeper understanding of human decision-making.
  2. Understanding the forces that shape behaviour.
  3. Using principles from the science of influence to come up with ideas and interventions for positive behavioural change.

The SUE | Influence Framework© is a powerful mental model for understanding why people do what they do and what prevents them from changing their behaviour. It is also the best guarantee that a strategy for behavioural change will be human-centered.

Behavioural Designers always ask themselves what they can do to help people become more successful at what they do or help them overcome their anxieties or help them break bad habits.

Suppose you take your time to build empathy with your target audience, and you use the Influence Framework to analyse their behaviour. In that case, you will always spot opportunities to design positive choices. 

PS: The mission of SUE is to unlock the potential of behavioural science to help people make better decisions in work, life and play. We use this mission as our guiding principle for everything we do. We’re very conscious that behavioural design can be a ‘dark wisdom’ and that those who master it are often the ones with the worst intentions. We don’t want to be naive that people will abuse this knowledge to manipulate people. Still, we firmly believe that the world would be much better off if we can inspire more people with a better understanding of how influence works and do positive things with this knowledge. Please check out our Behavioural Design Ethics Toolkit here.

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How do you do. Our name is SUE.

Do you 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 45+ countries in applied Behavioural Design. Or book an in-company training or one-day workshop for your team. In our top-notch training, we teach the Behavioural Design Method© and the Influence Framework©. Two powerful tools 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 Behavioural Design Fundamentals Course brochure, contact us here or subscribe to our Behavioural Design Digest. 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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Six Rules For Designing Your Happiness

Six rules for designing your happiness

By All, Employee behaviour, Personal Behaviour

If there is one thing we as humans all want more control over, it is our own happiness. Thousands of self-help books have been written, bought and earmarked. Maybe one of the pieces of advice you have come across is this quote: ‘You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with’. From a behavioural science point of view, this is intriguing, as behaviour is strongly influenced by context. We all act and react to what happens around us. Can we learn from behavioural science what kind of people we must surround ourselves with? How can we influence our context to trigger behaviours that make us flourish as human beings? Or to go beyond this: How do these insights transfer to a business context? Can it help create better performing teams and more motivated talent? This blog post will give some answers from a Behavioural Design point of view.

Happiness: The five people you hang around with

You probably have heard or read it before that we as humans are hard-wired as social animals. When we grow up, we learn the values, norms, and desired behaviours by looking at others and adapting to them. We feel better when we fit in a group. We prefer inertia, but one of the key motivators for us to spring into action is when our group is threatened by another group. That’s why the ‘creating an enemy’ tactic is so vital in getting people on your side in, for instance, winning political votes. At one point or another, we all have been influenced by social proof to buy, book or belief something. From a happiness point of view, this also has a strong effect on us. You could say that:

Our quality of life equals our quality of relationships.

However, there is this interesting paradox. At the same time, we all live in an identity economy. We are constantly searching to answer that one question: ‘Who am I?’ and we repeatedly do and say things to establish our identity. This is not surprising as most of us were raised for autonomy. It is a merit to be independent, make our own decisions, have self-motivation, and have high expectations of our ability to direct our own lives. Happiness isn’t an option anymore; it is a mandate or almost a right to be.

You probably have been looking for ways to be happy yourself once or twice. If that’s the case, I better put it to you straight: behavioural research has shown that looking for happiness has no use at all. Reading all those self-help books, turning inwards, and searching for your inner purpose: Won’t do the trick. This doesn’t mean we cannot be happy; we simply must first understand ourselves a bit better. We need to understand the psychology of happiness.

Designing happiness: predicting our happiness

If we want to be happy, one of the first things we need to look into is our ability to predict what makes us happy. Let me ask you a question: Suppose you won a lottery, and 1 million euros are transferred to your checking account. Now imagine a completely different scenario. This time you had the unfortunate experience to be involved in a traffic accident that made you paralysed from the hips down. After a year, if I ask you what is your level of happiness? Is it the same in both scenarios or is one higher than the other? I suppose, you think your happiness level will look something like this: as a fortunate lottery winner you picture yourself being far happier than as a unfortunate paraplegic.

What if I tell you these are the wrong data? Daniel Gilbert PhD, professor at the Harvard Department of Psychology, researched this, and these were the correct data:

There was hardly any difference in happiness levels after a year. This was a profound insight into the psychology of happiness. Daniel Gilbert discovered that we all have a psychological immune system that helps us handle setbacks and prevents our happiness from being negatively influenced. It shelters us from the worst effects of misfortune.

This is important as this study has shown that we are not good at forecasting our responses to emotional incidents. We typically overestimate how long we will be unhappy after a negative incident, which, in turn, affects our behaviour and decision-making. According to Daniel Gilbert, PhD:

We underestimate how quickly our feelings are going to change in part because we underestimate our ability to change them; this can lead us to make decisions that don’t maximise our potential for satisfaction.

You can see how this may affect our happiness, or as Daniel Kahneman, PhD, who conducts research on decision-making and wellbeing, said:

What people tend to do is either avoid decisions, or they build in securities by over-relying on freedom of choice. If you have more options, this gives us the feeling of having more room to escape. However, behavioural research has also shown that having more options tends to have adverse effects on the quality of our decision-making. We often tend to pay more for more options, but this is a waste of money from a happiness point of view.

Designing happiness: what makes us happy?

But there is more. We now know that we are not good at predicting our happiness, but that doesn’t tell us what makes us happy. Behavioural science has something fascinating to say about this, too, as we have another psychological mechanism know as hedonic adaptation, also known as the hedonic treadmill. It refers to the human inclination to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.

You can compare it to a treadmill as even if a runner is running, he (or she) stays at the same place. If you do something you love or like the joy you get from it levels out. We all return to our happiness baseline. The mechanism helps us cope with unpleasant experiences but it also is a killer for joy. Happiness doesn’t last.

Maybe, you are now a bit discouraged if you can indeed design a happy life. You can. If there is one element that drives our happiness that researchers found repeatedly, it is curiosity. When we are open to new experiences, when we cherish the unknown, when we are inquisitive, it has been shown that we tend to hover above the happiness baseline for a more extended period. We can even shift our baseline a bit upwards.

Designing happiness: the freedom security paradox

This brings us back to the paradox we started out with our innate need to be socially connected and independent. This paradox starts to make sense when we want to design our happiness. Esther Perel once said we all have two human needs: security and freedom. You could say we all balance between change and stability all the time. You need your freedom as it drives that so much needed imagination, playfulness, curiosity. However, it is much easier to change if you can jump of a stable foundation of people who are committed to your wellbeing.

It is also much easier to be curious if you are inspired by interesting people. In fact, if we get disconnected from people, we can experience all forms of stress: despair, sadness, exhaustion, confusion. Just think back at the Covid lockdown; these were all emotions people have genuinely experienced and suffered from. This leads up to a fascinating Behavioural Design challenge:

How can we design behaviour that makes us feel connected, curious, and playful?

This is also where our personal happiness and work happiness come together: the same behavioural interventions can work for both. In both situations, you are a human in a relationship with other humans. Losing the other is losing yourself.

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Designing happiness advice 1:
Create an interdependent context.

Maybe the most critical shift we need to make is a shift in our context. We need to design a context that is shaped for inter-reliance or inter-dependence. Make it okay to be dependent on each other. You can be playful and imaginative if you are not afraid that you will be judged. If you can rely on each other this creates collective resilience sparking the willingness to try new things. To accomplish this, you need to design for psychological safety. This is a shared belief held by team members (or partners) that it is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.

Research has shown that this builds team efficacy, learning and performance. But psychological safety also helps to establish stable relationships. It creates the courage to speak up no matter how you feel about yourself, you will open up about your struggles, and it helps you take a step toward what you want. It also helps you propose new plans and experiment together. Some tangible behaviours that lead up to psychological safety:

  • Be understanding: Summarise, use language like ‘Do I understand it correctly that you want.
  • Avoid blaming: Don’t say: ‘Why did this happen?’ or ‘Why did you do this?’, but ‘How can we make sure to make this better next time?’
  • Avoid negative: Don’t use negative words; it creates an interpersonal culture of rejection.
  • Manage speaking time: Making sure everyone can speak in an equal amount.
  • Explain decisions: you don’t need to have a democracy in everything, but it helps to explain a decision.
  • Be engaged: Make eye contact, don’t use phones in conversations, be present.

Designing happiness advice 2:
Surround yourself with complementarity.

This is where the five people that you surround yourself comes in. If you look back at the first intervention, you can imagine that:

Interdepend roles create strength.

So, look around those five people. Are they different from you? Do they complete you? Do you get energy from them, or do they suck the living daylights out of you? It maybe feels safer to hang out with like-minded people, but it can be very inspirational to talk and meet with people with different experiences and opinions. Some tangible behaviours:

  • Plan a meeting with someone who has a different opinion.
  • Make a list of the five people who could compliment you and schedule meetings with them.

Designing happiness advice 3:
Have a prototyping mindset.

What holds us back from being curious is the lack of courage to do new things. We know from behavioural science that it is crucial to believe in yourself. If you don’t have confidence, you struggle in your relationships, and you don’t feel very happy at work, you don’t cope well with stress, which causes you to lack motivation or energy. On the other hand, research has shown that having confidence can help you set boundaries, find balance in your work and private life, improve performance at work through better concentration and commitment to tasks.

This again affects whether we dare to engage in experiences that might feel uncertain or can be risky. Expectations of personal efficacy determine whether coping behaviour will be initiated, how much effort will be expended, and how long it will be sustained in the face of obstacles and aversive experiences. A great behavioural design intervention is to build confidence is to establish a prototyping mindset.

If you look at everything you do as an experiment, you cannot fail only learn.

Everything new is not likely to give us courage but approaching life, and new ventures as one big experiment builds trust in yourself. It’s the fuel for our curiosity engine.

Designing happiness advice 4:
Build respect and recognition.

Most relationships start to fail, both in your work and private life when you don’t feel valued anymore. We all have an innate need for respect and recognition. When we have the feeling we are not valued anymore, we cut ourselves loose. There is a straightforward behavioural intervention to make people feel valued. It is giving compliments.

There is more to it: a study from 2012 suggests that receiving praise helps our brain remember and repeat the skill when we try out a new skill. One-third of participants received compliments for their own performance, one third received for another participant’s performance, and the others received no compliments. The next day, the group that received praise for their own performance performed better on the task than the others.

Another benefit of giving compliments is that it can affirm desired behaviours, which can be helpful not only in your work but also in maintaining stable friendships or romantic relationships.

Designing happiness advice 5:
Be as pleasant at home as you are with your clients.

 

It may seem like an open door but be honest, have you have ever caught yourself changing your behaviour as soon as you got home? Whereas you could be interested, caring and curious in client conversations at home, you stop asking genuine questions to find out how your life partner is doing. You probably have heard about the seven-year itch. Well, in fact, research has shown you are actually dealing with a three-year itch. After three years, we think we know everything about our partner: what he she/likes, what he she/does. But do you? You’re not together for the most part of the day, so your partner does have new experiences, thoughts and dreams, perhaps. A simple behavioural intervention is to keep asking questions. Be interested. Do you have your phone in your hand when you’re talking to an important client or your boss? No. Treat your life partner or teammate with the same respect.

Designing happiness advice 6:
Leave your devices behind.

 

This makes an easy cross-over to this behavioural intervention. If you want to build a meaningful relationship with someone, both at work and at home, make sure you are engaged. Make eye contact, turn off that phone, don’t look at your laptop when you are in a conversation. This builds trust and respect that is needed to get playful, curious and experimental. Looking to improving your sex life? Leave the communication devices out of the bedroom!

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Summary: How to design happiness

Pursuing happiness is not an abstract matter and, most of all, not a matter of heavy, introspective labour. By using behavioural science, we can carefully design a context that balances our need for freedom and security. Both essential ingredients for a happy life. Our job is to make sure that the pendulum between the two doesn’t snap. We thrive and feel alive in social connection that sparks curiosity. These are the main drivers of our happiness. We need to rely more on each other. If we can stay connected, curious and playful, all our relationships will thrive. Some very simple behavioural interventions can help us design a context that helps us do so. And remember, you cannot always be happy, but you can always be curious.

Astrid Groenewegen

BONUS: free ebook 'Six Rules for Designing your Happiness'

Especially for you we've created a free eBook 'Designing Happiness'. For you to to easily keep the insights in this blog post at hand and use them at will—a little gift from us to you.

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Go ahead, it’s completely free of charge!

How do you do. Our name is SUE.

Do you 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 45+ countries in applied Behavioural Design. Or book an in-company training or one-day workshop for your team. In our top-notch training, we teach the Behavioural Design Method© and the Influence Framework©. Two powerful tools 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 Behavioural Design Fundamentals Course brochure, contact us here or subscribe to our Behavioural Design Digest. 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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A Behavioural Design Guide to Happiness in 2021

By All, Personal Behaviour

What is the secret to happiness? Which behaviours lead to a happier life? In this blog I want to explore how a deeper understanding of behavioural science can help us to design for happiness. I want to explore how you can use Behavioral Design thinking to nudge yourself into living a happier life.

Happiness comes in four chemical flavours.

The problem with designing for happiness is that happiness is a bit of a tricky state of mind. It comes in many flavours: excitement, joy, satisfaction, wellbeing, a sense of belonging, etc. So if we want to pursue happiness, what are we talking about? The most objective way to think about it is to look at the neurochemicals that produce happiness. In the end, our experiences are nothing more than triggers that produce neurochemicals: 

  1. Dopamine gives a person a sense of joy when a goal is reached or fulfilled. Dopamine comes in instant rushes, right before the moment of success. Think about: scoring a goal, crossing the finish line, winning a pitch, get a Tinder Match, beating your competitor, etc. 
  2. Oxytocin is the bonding hormone. Whenever you feel deeply connected with a loved one, or when you feel you truly belong to a group or community. Oxytocin produces a sense of bliss and a feeling of security. Sapiens is a social primate that needs this connection with others. 
  3. Serotonin is the wellbeing hormone that we produce when we achieve social status. Serotonin generates a feeling of self-importance. Your body releases serotonin when your investments in yourself, your skills, social life, and professional life start to pay off. There lays the difference with dopamine, a hormone that is all about instant gratification. 
  4. Endorphines are the hormones that produce a feeling of euphoria. Endorphine is the neurotransmitter that many of the well-known drugs activate. Its biological function is to mask pain. Your body releases endorphins, for instance when you transcend your limits in sports. E.g. Runners often refer to the endorphin rush when they talk about the runner high. 


The problem with happiness: Addiction to dopamine.

We live in a dopamine economy. Whenever you open your senses, you are under attack by an endless stream of messages that try to persuade you to go for instant gratification. The promise of snacks, candies, alcohol, processed food is that there’s instant gratification within reach. Social media is nothing more than a dopamine pump on steroids. It always tries to lure you back with notifications. After every social media notification lays the promise of a like, comment, important e-mail, offer, etc. 

The problem with dopamine is that it depletes. The more you chase it, the more dopamine you waste. The more dopamines you waste, the more you need to approach the memory of that feeling of initial satisfaction. The drama of the availability of instant gratification machines in our life (cheap calories, cheap social technologies), is that they make us crave for more, but in the long run, produce less and less happiness. 

Buddhists try to solve this problem by detaching themselves from every desire. They argue that the desires we chase are not our desires anyway. When we desire beauty, success, wealth, admiration, and victory, we all become a slave to a passion that is not our own. We copy these desires from other people, and we assume that the success stories that we see in the media are the ultimate goals for successful living.

While we assume they will deliver happiness in the end, they produce a lot of misery and a continuous state of dissatisfaction. 

I never found the Buddhist answer completely satisfying. Perhaps because I grew up in two of the greatest cities of under the rule of the Dukes of Burgundy: Ghent and Bruges. There’s just too much joy in feasting, and in being passionate and gluttonous once in a while. However, I do recognize that the chase of desires is a dead end. I’ve seen too many seemingly successful people, who keep chasing more and more success, but without being happy or satisfied. 

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The solution: Design for Serotine and Oxycotin. 

In an podcast interview with Naval Ravikant, I overheard the quote:

Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.

That’s such an elegant phrase. It suggests that we should go for the happiness that follows from investment in mastery and connection with others. You produce serotonin when you finally get in shape. It’s in the flow you experience once you master your craft. It’s in the joy you feel when you can apply your creativity, intelligence, experience to solve problems.  

You produce oxytocin when you have deep and meaningful friendships. When you can experience the joy of being with people, you can fully trust. People that always pull you in delightful and effortless conversations. People who care about you and people who appreciate the fact that you care for them. 

The things in life that take investment, that are a bit risky, and that require pain and abstinence upfront, are the things that produce happiness. 

Five practical behavioural design interventions to achieve happiness.

The guidelines above are still a bit abstract. ‘Design for Oxycotin and Serotonin’ is not exactly a practical guideline. I want to propose five practical behavioural design principles that will lead to the behaviours that release the right mix of serotonin and oxycontin, topped with a little bit of dopamine.

Intervention 1: Framing. Frame life as a game.

This is one of the simplest ways to live a happier life. Think of everything you do as a game. If you think of your relationship as a game, you will have much more fun with it. Your goal is to crack the code of how to keep the relationship playful and how to maintain curiosity. The same rule applies to work: Work is a game. You need to figure out how to get good at it. If you don’t take risks, you’ll never make progress, and you’ll remain stuck in the same bland level. If you take a chance and it doesn’t pay off, you will always get a second shot. 

However, there is a pitfall; A game can become an addictive dopamine pump. People too often don’t understand when to stop playing the game. And the moment this happens, the game will play with them. The tail starts wagging the dog. Too often, people get trapped inside status games or success games. At this stage, the game start to produce misery, anger, competition, stress, anxiety, and fear of losing status. 

There’s a big difference between “game” and ‘play”. Once you reach a level where you can enjoy the game for the sake of playing it, then you can truly enjoy it for its own sake. I have this approach to most games in life. I don’t care if I win them or not, as long as I enjoy the game in itself. That usually suffices to make a very decent living. It also prevents me from detaching my happiness from the outcome of these games. Granted, that’s a bit easier to say when you are the company’s owner, but I have always had this approach this game-frame to life. 

Intervention 2: Fuck it, let’s do it. The 5-seconds rule.

One of the most critical behaviours that lead to happiness is the pursuit of curiosity. Curious people learn more, meet more people, get more achievements. In other words: Curiosity produces both dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. To force yourself to experiment and try things out is one of the best approaches to living a happier life. We’ve written about the “fuck it, let’s do it” approach in the past. The essence of this philosophy is: treat your whole life as a continuous set of experiments. You should be running experiments all the time to figure out if they make you happy. If they don’t: cancel the experiment and be grateful for what you’ve learned. This way, you will never experience failure again. Instead, you have learned that some things don’t work for you.

Intervention 3: Create Forcing Functions.

For the body to produce serotonin, we need to do the things that require investment, effort and abstinence. Think of eating healthy, getting fit, growing in your job, etc. However, our senses are bombarded continuously with dopamine alternatives to serotonin. Why go to the gym if you can watch Netflix right now? Why cook for an hour, while you can order a pizza? Why read a book, if Facebook is full of instant gratifications? 

At a certain point, we need to find ways to manipulate or force ourselves into serotonin behaviours. For instance, I have made a deal with a personal trainer to train me three times per week for six months. In the first weeks, I wouldn’t say I liked every second of it. I called her my closest thing to a Nazi. But I had no excuse to skip training. I had a gym subscription for more than four years, but I never could get beyond the initial suffering phase. Now, after four weeks, I even start to enjoy it.

Intervention 4: Priming. Do Misery Benchmarking.

Misery often follows from benchmarking with people who are more successful than you. We always seem to look up. But isn’t that insane? If you read this blog, chances are very high that you are part of the 1% of the world that is educated, financially well-off. Whenever you are a bit bored, confined to your house, blaming the pandemic for your misery, think about the refugee mothers with babies in tent camps in Lesbos, whose babies are being bitten at night by rats. See if you still think your sense of entitlement is justified. 

Intervention 5: Practice gratitude.

I won’t spend too much effort on this one. The value of gratitude should be a well-established idea by now. Practising gratitude leads to a more fulfilling life. Furthermore, it primes your brain to focus its attention on the good things in your life. By doing this every day, you gradually train your brain to pay attention to the good stuff. 

That’s it. 5 interventions to hack your happiness hormone system. Try them: You’ll love it.

Tom De Bruyne
Co-founder SUE Behavioural Design

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

BONUS: free ebook 'How to Design your Happiness.'

Especially for you we've created a free eBook 'How to Design Happiness.'. For you to keep at hand, so you can start using the insights from this blog post whenever you want—it is a little gift from us to you.

Download ebook

Go ahead, it’s completely free of charge!

How do you do. Our name is SUE.

Do you 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 45+ countries in applied Behavioural Design. Or book an in-company training or one-day workshop for your team. In our top-notch training, we teach the Behavioural Design Method© and the Influence Framework©. Two powerful tools 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 Behavioural Design Fundamentals Course brochure, contact us here or subscribe to our Behavioural Design Digest. 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

The Behavioural Design of Joy and Happiness

By All, Personal Behaviour

These are challenging times and it’s not obvious to keep up the positive spirit. That’s why I want to explore some thoughts on how to apply behavioural design thinking to inject more joy and happiness into your life.

How to design joy and happiness?

‘Winter is coming’. Whenever these three words were uttered in ‘Game of Thrones’, you knew misery was nearby. Today they seem to have the same effect when talking about the psychological drama called reality. This winter, the pandemic is coming, the recession, climate catastrophe, and the end of democracy. Pessimists seem to have a competitive edge these days in debating contests.

And yet, I would like to argue that we don’t need to become pessimists, as long as we make some simple decisions based on behavioural science. Here are two simple behavioural rules to maintain an overall level of happiness.

 

Rule 1: Design Attention.

This one sounds trivial but is critical. What you focus your attention towards, influences your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Research amongst older people demonstrated that happy older people apply a simple heuristic to life: They decided that life is too short to spend their attention to people and events that make them unhappy.

Attention is a choice: You can choose to be consumed by thoughts and feelings about what other people think or say. Or you can decide not to pay attention to it. You have to learn to appreciate that everyone is fundamentally insecure about life and death, and they all try to cope with it in their limited way. That’s a very liberating thought. By the way, the expression “to pay attention” is quite literary true: You pay the price to your psychological wellbeing by investing your attention in things that deplete your energy and happiness.

Attention also means: Not allowing your attention to be hijacked. I have deleted all news apps, social media apps and their little notification bastards from my smartphone because I know they are designed to seize my attention for monetization. The amount of time that becomes available for family, friendships, reading, and fishing in the Amsterdam canals is bizarre.

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Rule 2: Design a Happiness Habit

A second rule is to instil habits that drive happiness. Or more importantly: practices that help you to prevent distraction from living a happy life. For instance, Astrid and I start every monthly MT-meeting with checking how the past months have scored on the most critical drivers of psychological happiness:

  • Experiencing flow,
  • Chasing curiosity and novelty,
  • Achieving success and accomplishment
  • Having meaningful relationships
  • Growing and learning as a person.

These are the most important ones. (Tip: If you want to learn more about the science behind this, check Astrid’s lecture on the psychology of happiness at Behavioural Design Fest 2018 (Dutch). We use these happiness criteria to decide where we need to intervene in our work and our life. A great company should feel like a well-designed game in which flow, missions, achievements, curiosity, experimentation and adventure are central to the setup of the company. If we wouldn’t keep asking ourselves these questions, we would all gradually slip into boredom.

I’m fully conscious of the fact that financial stability and good health are necessary conditions for the above to be true. If you are uncertain about your capacity to sustain yourself or your family, you will be eaten by stress to survive. But unless we take back control, others will hijack our attention, manipulate our desires, exploit our talent and creativity, and eat away our limited time on eath.

If you look at it this way, living a happy life is a pretty simple behavioural design briefing.

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Dart Throwing Chimp

How to Smell Bullshit? 7 Rules that will Improve your Judgement

By All, Personal Behaviour

The great philosopher Bertrand Russell once said “The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt”. In work, life and politics there’s an overwhelming amount of bullshit being sold as knowhow. Here are 7 behavioural design rules to smell, attack and destroy bullshit

In the famous book “Superforecasting“, Philip Tetlock tells the story of how experts are on average not better than dart-throwing chimpanzees when it comes to predicting the future. Even worse, Tetlock discovered an inverse relationship between the fame of an expert and the accuracy of their prediction. In other words, TV-Pundits performed even worse than dart-throwing monkeys. The simple explanation for this remarkable feat is that pundits have this single big idea, mental model, or ideology in their head that they use as a template for everything.

If you believe passionately in free-market capitalism, then all of your predictions will be formed through this template. What Tetlock also discovered was that society greatly rewards lousy forecasters who have strong convictions than cautious forecasters, who express themselves in probabilities. People with strong opinions just make better TV. I guess this explains why total nitwits who deny the imminent threat posed by the climate crisis, always seem to outplay the more cautious scientists who are 100% sure about the size of the danger, but ever careful on how it will play out, and in which time frame. There simply is no way to predict the precise behaviours of the rapid changes in an incredibly complex ecosystem as our planet.

People with strong opinions just make better TV.

Bullshit is everywhere and on an epic scale. In this blog, I want to share some convenient rules of thumb from behavioural design to help you to smell and fight bullshit and form better judgement yourself.

Dart Throwing Chimp

Rule 1: Don’t mistake outcomes for good judgement

Never suspect a direct relationship between outcomes and the quality of the decision, unless an A/B test can prove it. 

The British government under Margeret Thatcher once launched a zero-tolerance policy to fight youth criminality. No matter how small the crime, kids would end up in jail. The problem, of course, is that there’s no way to prove it worked. If crime rates went down, it could have been attributed to dozens of other factors. It’s like the story of the man who sees a guy carefully throwing powder on the side of the street. When asked what he’s doing, the guy says “this will keep away elephants”. “But there are no elephants here”, the man answers in astonishment. To which the guy replies: “Great powder, isn’t it!”. 

The only condition in which you can safely say that you’re confident your action makes a difference is when you’ve done a randomised controlled test. This is an experiment in which you test one variable by assigning a random group of people to two groups. The only difference between both groups is the one variable you want to test. When Uber decided to temporarily shut down 100 million of the 150 million dollars of digital advertising spend for a week, they discovered it did absolutely nothing to their performance. They were pissing away the money, and they only found out about this after doing a proper A/B test. They eventually closed down 120 million of the 150 million dollars of their programmatic advertising budget. 

“We turned off two-thirds of our spend. We turned off $100 million of the annual spend out of $150 and basically saw no change in our number of rider app installs. What we saw is a lot of installs we thought came through paid channels suddenly came through organic. A big flip flop there, but the total number didn’t change.”

Rule 2: Never confuse reasonable with rational

Confidence and arguments that sound reasonable, are how experts get away with bullshit. 

As I wrote in an earlier blog, we tend to mistake confidence for competence. This mechanism is a classic ‘system 1’-shortcut. Our brain doesn’t want to waste too much energy on actively analysing a problem rationally, so it tries to answer a question by using shortcuts. The confidence of the bullshitter is a handy shortcut that allows you to make up your mind without having to think. Unconsciously, your brain thinks in a split second: “He looks like an expert” + “He seems confident about his stance” + “they allow him to say this on TV, so there must be some importance in what he says” + “He must have some information that I don’t have” = He must be right. 

This reminds me about one of my all-time favourite movies “Wag The Dog“, a secret service spin-doctor Conny (played by Robert The Niro), has a memorable conversation with movie director Stanley (played by Dustin Hoffman). They both successfully staged war between the US and Albania, just to divert the public attention from the fact that the president had sex with a cheerleader, just days before the election. 

Stanley: “There is no war
Conny: : “Of course, there’s a war. I’m watching it on Television“.

The solution to this rule:
Always ask for second opinions on important decisions. It’s not because an expert sounds confident that you should take his word for granted. Even the emperor is naked underneath their clothes. Furthermore, never give the information you got from your first source to the second source, because this will unconsciously influence their judgement.

Rule 3: Attack vagueness

Never let people get away with vague predictions because they can never be held accountable. 

If a pundit says: “This decision by the European Union will very likely push the economy into a recession”, and after a year this prediction hasn’t materialised, they can always get away with “oh, just wait. It hasn’t happened yet” or, “I said very likely. That didn’t imply I was sure”. Vague predictions are compelling: They sound reasonable, and they always allow you to get away with things. 

In the Ancient Greek City of Delphi, people went to see the high priest called Pythia, to ask for predictions. High as a kite, she murmured some incomprehensible sounds, that were interpreted by her nodding assistance, who seemed to indicate that they understood what she was saying. They translated the outcome in verses, so they could always be assured that there was still lot’s of room left for multiple interpretations.

The Solution to this rule:
Most pundits are really good at using the same techniques that the Pythia priestesses used in the 8th century BC. You can freak them out if you push them to be more precise about their prediction. If they can’t, then accuse them of bullshit.

Rule 4: Always suspect confirmation bias

When you hear someone defending their judgement with research: Always look for confirmation bias

The business model of firms like McKinsey or Boston Consulting Group is to provide arguments for a decision that was already made. This is called Franklin’s Gambit – the process of creating or finding a reason for what one already has a mind to do. 18th-century inventor Benjamin Franklin first stipulated this principle. Kahneman would call this principle the confirmation bias: the tendency to look only for evidence that supports one’s convictions. 

The irony of Franklin’s gambit is that it’s probably nowhere as persistent as in a discipline that always insists on projecting an image of ultimate rationality: the financial sector. In the years leading up to the 2008 crisis, report after report was commissioned and published that underscored how genius the so-called mathematical models were and how incredibly successful the financial sector was in creating value and wealth. 

Counterfactual evidence was being ignored with force: Whistelblowers were bullied; credit rating agencies blackmailed (or participated in the scam); the financial press had all kinds of perverse incentives not to spoil the party because that could hurt the stock market. Etcetera. 

The solution to this rule:
There are some fascinating experiments with blue teams vs red teams. Some investment firms assign a red team that will get a big incentive if they can bring up the arguments to kill the deal that the company is working on. This setup prevents the firm from being too blinded by the prospect of success. 

A more straightforward approach: always look for counterfactual data and learn a great deal by how the other party responds to this data. If they use it to improve their argument, you will get a better hunch about whether they know what they’re talking about. 

Wag The Dog

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Rule 4: Always look for Skin in the Game

Always check how much skin in the game the other has. 

I have written about this topic before in this blog so that I can be brief here: If someone is trying to persuade you to buy something from him or her, always try to get a feeling if he or she can both win and lose. The one simple intervention that could take away most of the excessive risk-taking in the financial sector is to introduce punishments next to bonuses. If I would offer you a chance to win big if you win, but lose nothing if you lose (because you’re playing with my money), wouldn’t you be tempted to play as much, and as risky as you can? That’s the financial crisis of 2008 in a nutshell in behavioural terms.

The one simple intervention that could take away most of the excessive risk-taking in the financial sector is to introduce punishments next to bonuses.

Like Warren Buffett once said: If you sit at a poker table and you don’t know who’s the patsy: you are the patsy. 

The Solution ot this rule:
Never buy or trust people who have nothing to lose and much to win, whether that’s money or a good reputation.

Rule 6: Expect Goodhart’s Law at work

Goodhart’s law: never trust metrics that are KPI’s

Have you ever heard about the Net Promotor Score? The magical, simple metric that predicts future success, based on how likely customers are to recommend the product or business to their friends. To measure NPS, you ask the one question: How likely are you to recommend this product/service and people have to rate their satisfaction from 1 to 10. 

This metric is highly problematic for several reasons: 

  • First of all: My 5/10 could mean the same thing as your 7/10. Attaching a number to a subjective feeling is very personal. 
  • Second: You have to measure the NPS by the percentage of promotors (the percentage of customers who gave you a 9/10 or 10/10) minus the percentage of detractors (the percentage of customers who scored you under 7/10 is). If you have 0 people rating you with a 9 or 10, and 10 people rate you with a 7/10, your NPS will be -100. If you have two people rating you with a 9/10, but 8 people gave you an angry 0/10, you will end up with an NPS of -60. In other words: You won’t see how dramatic you’re doing, because you’re NPS goes up. 
  • Third: Therefore, it’s quite apparent how much incentives there are to influence the NPS. When your bonus depends on improved NPS-ratings, there’s so much you can do to manipulate the numbers: Avoid asking the question to angry customers, give happy customers extra nudges to fill in the questionnaire. Present the question at a peak moment in the customer journey. Etc. 

This phenomenon is called Goodhart’s law, and it says: every metric that is used as a KPI, loses its value as a metric. If you give targets to police officers, they will get highly incentivised to harass people, just to meet their goals. If you connect funding of Universities to performance thinking, universities will become incentivised to attract as many students as possible, shut down departments with fewer students and skew investments only towards hard sciences. If you introduce individual bonuses, people will be very incentivised to meet their bonus at all costs, even if this would imply getting into a fierce competition for resources with other departments. 

When a KPI is introduced, it will start to direct the behaviour of the people affected by that KPI. 

The Solution to this rule:
Whenever you’re involved with planning and goal setting: Always look for perverse incentives. They’re everywhere. And they’re nearly always neglected or thought of as trivial. The problem with KPI-setting is that it’s the people who pretend to be rational, who do the thinking. They usually think of human behaviour as nothing more than a nuisance to their spreadsheets.

Rule 7: Status Anxiety affects Judgement

Never underestimate status anxiety as a driving force of bad decision making

In his magnificent book Alchemy, Rory Sutherland asks his reader to imagine the following story: Suppose you have to book a flight to New York for your boss. You know JFK is a nightmare: Long cues, lot’s of delays, endless transfer walks and when you finally leave the airport, you’re rewarded with a traffic hell till Manhattan. So you decide to do something slightly less obvious: You book a ticket to Newark, New Jersey: This is a much smaller airport, you can see the Manhattan skyline from the airport and traffic is pretty OK. The thing is: you have now taken a risk by trying something new, against the obvious popular choice. If it goes right, your boss will hardly notice. But if something goes wrong, like a flight delay, you will be blamed for stupid decision-making. “What were you thinking!” “There’s a reason why everyone flies JFK!”. 

Rory Sutherland has this brilliant quote:

“It is much easier to be fired for being illogical than it is for being unimaginative. The fatal issue is that logic always gets you to the same place as your competitors.”

The problem with being imaginative is that it usually defies ‘common practice’ or ‘common sense’. And doing something different can trigger all kinds of unwanted consequences: You can be held accountable for taking a decision that didn’t work out. If you would have followed standard practice, nobody will blame you. You can also be blamed for not respecting authority. I have written before about how the nuclear disaster in Chernobyl can be read as a story of layers upon layers of bosses that were highly incentivised not to hear bad news. So they didn’t get to hear bad news. The reactor was so unstable that it took nerve-racking skills from the operators to keep it afloat. One fatal mistake triggered a cascade of nuclear reactions that caused the nuclear meltdown. 

The Solution to this rule:
Always try to understand the forces that shape the behaviour of the other. Use the Influence Framework to map their pains, gains, habits and anxieties and Jobs-to-be-done: Try to understand how they define success? What keeps them awake? What are the things they are accountable for? Whom do they have to convince in their organisation? How is their relationship with those stakeholders? Only when you understand the social web around the other, you will get a better understanding of what prevents them from bold or confident decision-making. 

Also Read: The psychological prize of being rational is being unlikeable


More on Personal Development / Self-Improvement

A series on blogposts on how to apply behavioural design thinking to design a better life.

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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Prototyping happiness

By All, Personal Behaviour

If I asked you to think about the secret of life, love and happiness, the answer you’d probably least expect would be… prototyping. And yet, I want to argue why prototyping is the open gate to living a happier life. Psychologist Todd Kashdan claims that the number one driver for living a happy life is the pursuit of curiosity. Curious people experience new things, meet new people, experience success, develop new skills, get surprised, etc.

Fear of failure kills curiosity

However, when it comes to the pursuit of curiosity, fear of failure is the big elephant in the room. Our daily life, as well as our professional life,  is filled with a near panic fear for failure: Fear of embarrassment, fear of being held accountable, fear of being confronted with our limitations, the fear of imposter syndrome, etc. The sole purpose of most meetings is to cover the risk of taking risky new decisions.

My co-founder and wife Astrid have a simple mantra to break this pattern. It’s called prototyping. Our default answer to exciting new ideas is: “Great idea, let’s prototype it”. Prototyping comes down to experimenting with a minimal version of something, to figure out what works and what doesn’t work. You can apply this to startups, marketing, but also to your professional and personal life.

Eric Ries argues in the Lean Startup that we shouldn’t think of startups as mini-enterprises, but rather as learning projects. A startup is an experimentation lab in which the founders need to figure out how to generate paying customers before the money runs out. They do this through frantic tweaking with the product, service, proposition, marketing and communication.

The biggest threat to startups is the “reality distortion field” of the founders: the ability to convince themselves and their stakeholders that they have a killer product. But too often, they only discovered too late they were building a solution in the search for a problem.

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Prototyping everything

The cool thing about prototyping is that you can never fail. You can only learn. That’s why Astrid and I prototype everything in our life: From working at home to working where it’s summertime. From the creation of a presentation deck to the development of a new training programme for the Behavioural Design Academy. From running half a marathon to living plant-based and going for zero-emission. We slice the problem into its smallest components, try out a minimally viable version and try to figure out what we could learn. Failure is not an option because every outcome of the experiment is exciting and can help us to make better decisions.

There are only two psychological barriers that cripple innovation: the fear of failure and the ego desire to be seen as an expert. They both block curiosity and hence the road to mystery, excitement, discovery and a little wiiiiii when you discover that something works.

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Me and my first big catch #fuckitletsdoit

How to make New Years Resolutions that stick?

By All, Personal Behaviour

Build new habits, experience adventures and
improve your happiness in 2020
through Dehavioural Design

Good Luck with your new year resolution

Every year we humans engage in this collective ritual called New Years Resolutions. We somehow seem to believe in the illusion that the symbolic crossing of December 31st to January 1st unlocks a new door to untapped willpower and ability to change our behaviours and habits.

The beauty of a ritual is that it gives hope. The problem with rituals is that they don’t work. Bad habits are just too strong to change. Willpower dips fairly quickly. Temptation to give in to instant gratification is everywhere. Our lives play out in a choice architecture in which the most convenient option is to keep doing what we’re doing.

And yet, this time of the year is the perfect time to make some changes. So why not do it properly? New Years’ Resolutions are all about changing behaviours and building new habits. So let’s apply some behavioural design thinking to the problem.

Step 1: Always start with the Job-to-be-done behind your desired behaviour

A core concept of Behavioural Design is outside-in thinking. When we think about changing behaviour, we pay much more attention to the deeper goals and dreams behind the behaviour. To use the famous meme by Clayton Christensen: “We hire certain behaviours to achieve our jobs-to-be-done”. We go to the gym, because we want to lose weight, which is a functional job-to-be-done. We might want to lose weight to boost our confidence, which is an emotional job-to-be-done. And both goals might be instrumental to even a deeper social Job-to-be-done: To be seen as attractive by others.

When you apply Job-to-be-done thinking to New Years’ Resolutions, it’s pretty evident that the real job-to-be-done behind those vows and pledges is to increase your overall happiness. So before you choose a behaviour you would like to change, you should first have a clear understanding of the behavioural drivers behind happiness. Astrid did a keynote on this topic on Behavioural Design Fest 2018 (in Dutch). In this talk she referred to the work of Prof. Todd Kashban on happiness. His argument is that the number one driver to live a happy life is the pursuit of curiosity. Curious people perform behaviours that lead to happy outcomes: They experience achievements, they learn and master new things, they get to meet new people, they experience flow, etc. Happiness is not something you can find, it’s something you stumble upon.

So the big question for your new year’s resolution should be: What can I do to pursue my curiosity?

To answer this question, you’ll have to ask yourself a couple of related questions:

  • Which obstacles should I take away?
  • What prevents me from pursuing my curiosity?
  • What are bad habits and beliefs that keep me getting stuck in the same patterns?

The easiest way to find answers to this question is to use a second key principle of behavioural design thinking: look for past behaviour for cues.

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Step 2: Past behaviour never lies: look at past behaviour for cues. 

A powerful behavioural design principle is that past behaviour never lies. If I’d ask you how many times you want to go to the gym, you’d probably say three times per week. If I would ask you how often you go to the gym, you might still answer: “at least once a week”. However, if I’d ask you if you could walk me through the last two times you went to the gym, you will give me all the reasons and excuses why you didn’t make it to the gym in the last couple of weeks. And those are interesting, because they can give us all kinds of clues of the bad habits and other behavioural patterns that stood in the way of performing your desired behaviour.

Past behaviour never lies. So instead of making New Years Resolutions, it’s way more interesting to look at what happened last year. What made you happy? What sucked the energy out of you? What gave you a proud feeling of achievement? What gave you a sense of purpose and meaning? Which friends made you feel great? Which habits prevented you from doing the things you love? Which activities got you entirely in the zone?

Tim Ferris suggests to take some time to look at your calendar and spot the bright spots and dark spots. But go deeper than that. Most meaningful interactions or bad habits can’t be traced down to specific events. They’re part of your daily patterns.

Every quarter, my co-founder (and wife) Astrid and I start our two-day Quarterly Meeting with taking a whole morning to answer four questions. The answers to these four questions form the basis for the interventions we plan for the next quarter at SUE. Our principle is: Happiness first, the rest will follow. The questions we ask ourselves are:

  • Did you experience flow in the previous months? Can you give examples?
  • Did you experience personal success? Can you give examples?
  • Did you learn something new? What did you learn that excited you?
  • Were you able to contribute to the success of others?

By asking these questions, we immediately get an insight into the most critical drivers of our happiness. Sometimes we suck on one of these dimensions, and sometimes we feel we suck at all of them. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as we come up with behavioural interventions to tackle them. The principle is exactly the same for making New Years Resolutions.

Me and my first big catch #fuckitletsdoit

Step 3: Prototype your New Years Resolutions

A third fundamental Behavioral Design Principle is prototyping: Whatever you think the solution is: prototype it first. Find a minimal version to test your desired behaviour and figure out if it works and under which conditions it works. Two things bothered me last year: Bad weather was depressing me, and I get miserable if I don’t have time to think, read and write. So we prototyped the idea of study weeks abroad. Our first prototype was fun, but it didn’t work. We spend a week in January in Morocco with our two year old daughter. Let’s say she had different ideas about family fun. A second prototype was that Astrid and I would do a monthly reading and writing retreat of four days, in turns. That worked incredibly well. We both got in deep work mode every time, and while the other was away, it was great fun to spend a couple of days as a single parent taking care of the little one. Our next prototype next year will be to spend two months in Thailand working as digital nomads.

I also prototyped things like:

  • Wim Hoff Ice Men Method: Loved it. Doing the breathing exercise and cold showers 3x week
  • Fishing: I asked a couple of people to teach my son and me to fish for pike and zander. I posted a #deartoask on facebook, and more than ten people offered to help me to learn the techniques. The picture above was our first zander last summer.
  • Set an epic goal: Climbing the Mont Ventoux by racebike is a dream, but I couldn’t get myself to turn this goal into manageable actions. This year I’ll make a new attempt.

It doesn’t matter if things don’t work. The fun thing is that you’re following your curiosity to see if it could work for you. That’s already incredibly powerful in itself.

Note: In 2019 we developed a program to turn desires into experiments, and coined it Fuck It, Let’s Do It. Look at Astrid’s keynote at Behavioural Design Fest to learn more about it (in Dutch, working on subtitles, sorry). We did several workshops with entrepreneurs and it actually transformed some people’s life. If you’re interest in doing a half-day workshop for your team, contact Susan for more details.

 

Step 4: Tiny Habits 

A last Behavioural Design puzzle piece is “tiny habits”: If you want to change habits: make them tiny. I can’t recommend enough the new book “Tiny Habits” by our intellectual hero BJ Fogg at Stanford. I am currently doing a 21 day plank challenge. It only requires me to try to do a plank once a day. After two weeks I already improved from 1.15 minutes to 2.50 minutes. The idea behind tiny habits is that when you turn your goals into tiny achievable actions that don’t require much willpower to perform, you will gradually expand your effort.

I put up a sheet with 21 boxes and put it up to our front door (BJ Fogg would call it a trigger), so I would always get a reminder that I must not forget to do my daily plank.

trigger for the 21 day challenge

Summary 

What I tried to argue is that you can take your New Years Resolutions to the next level with Behavioural Design Thinking. If you’re committed to changing your behaviour and habits this year, ask yourself four questions:

  1. What are my deeper goals, desires and Jobs-to-be-done behind the behaviour I want to change?
  2. How does this contribute to improving my happiness levels?
  3. What behaviours and habits stood in the way of the pursuit of curiosity last year?
  4. Which experiments do I want to set up to figure out what works for me?
  5. How can I make the desired behaviour tiny?

Happy 2020!

Tom

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elderly Couple

The Behavioural Design of Love and Desire

By All, Personal Behaviour

The wicked design problem of love
and desire in long term relationships

The Behavioural Design of Love and Desire in long term relationships

A long-term relationship is a classic behavioural design challenge. How do you keep being in love? And how do you keep the desire burning? What are the specific behaviours that add up to the more abstract goals of love and desire or passion? Let’s approach the problem with a behavioural design lens.

The tension between love and desire

What is the secret of desire in a long term relationship? Esther Perel did a brilliant Ted talk on that subject back in 2013. She opens her talk with the following riddles:

“So, why does good sex so often fade, even for couples who continue to love each other as much as ever? And why does good intimacy not guarantee good sex, contrary to popular belief? Or, the next question would be, can we want what we already have? That’s the million-dollar question, right? And why is the forbidden so erotic? What is it about transgression that makes desire so potent? And why does sex make babies, and babies spell erotic disaster in couples?”

In her talk, she argues that our desire for love and our desire for adventure are in deep conflict. On the one hand, we want to feel safe, secure, nurtured, and respected by the other, and the thought of being rejected is profoundly terrifying. On the other hand, our desire to be loved is killing for passion and lust. Because lust needs play. Passion thrives on transgression, which can be translated literally as the act of crossing a line. Lust thrives on fantasy and on being able to act out on that fantasy.

The big drama with developing a loving relationship is that it’s killing for desire. And desire fuels lust. There’s no line to cross, no curiosity to explore, no space for excitement and fantasy. Romeo and Julia would end up as an average bored couple if it weren’t for the barrier in between them that worked like an aphrodisiac for their desire.

The feminist philosopher Camille Paglia wrote in her first bestseller “Sexual Personae” a brilliant line on this tension between love and desire.

Love is the endless cycle of pursuit, triumph and ennui (boredom).

What I love about this quote is that Paglia proposes a simple solution to the paradox of love and desire: turn it into an endless cycle.

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A long term relationship is a behavioural design.

When you’re in a longterm relationship, your identity is the compound effect of all the tiny interactions you had with each other. Over an extended period, the daily little rejections, insults, not being nice to each other, eventually shapes your identity. You have learned to stop expecting more, and to avoid conflict. You try to tell yourself stories that this is how it’s supposed to be, and that you should be happy with what you have. There really is no limit to the capability of people to convince themselves that they should be happy and grateful, even if they don’t feel anything anymore.

It’s not that difficult to think of a long term relationship as a behavioural design. Behaviour that gets rewarded or suppressed over a long period eventually becomes a habit. And your habits define who you are.

You are what you repeatedly do. But what you repeatedly do is triggered by the context you are locked in.

When you think about it, you can think of every deviant behaviour as a perfectly understandable reaction to the environment: Is a depressed partner a sick person, or does he suffer from the feeling that he’s useless and that he’s not wanted or relevant to others anymore? Is a cynic partner born as a cynic, or has she learned that there’s no point in protesting?

How to maintain love AND desire? Let’s explore the behavioural design rules that can keep you in love for the rest of your life and the rules that will prevent your desire from fading out or switching object.

The behavioural design of love

There’s a big philosophical discussion about the difference between feeling in love and love. I love my kids, but I don’t experience the emotion of being in love. However, I do experience that emotion with my partner. So when I’m talking about the behavioural design of love, I am talking about that emotion of still feeling in love with someone.

The simple answer, IMHO is that there’s no such thing as Romantic Love with a capital L. That love only exists in movies, or when there’s a barrier that stands in between the lovers. It’s precisely that barrier that is essential for the emerging of passion. Everyone who was once in a relationship with a married person knows what I’m talking about. To paraphrase Camille Paglia: Romantic love fades into ennui once the pursuit leads to triumph.

Long term love is the compound interest you reap from daily behaviours. My wife Astrid and I agreed at the start of our relationship that we will never be unkind to each other, that we’re always going to do our best for each other and that we’re never going to take each other for granted. This might sound big and abstract, but we bring these commitments to life in small daily behaviours, from complimenting for dinner, touching each other when we cross, bringing a cup of tea without having to ask for it, bringing little treats from the shop, putting on some candles when the other is about to come home,…

These things sound trivial, but what they do is they provide little daily signals that remind the both of us of how special the other still is. And the compound effect of those daily affirmations pile up, even after 10 years.

The behavioural design of passion, desire and lust

Esther Perel talks about the simple behavioural design rules that fuel desire: Allow the creation of some distance. Find ways to maintain a bit of mystery around each other. Keep surprising each other. Find ways to be able to look up to each other. Try to be a fanboy and fangirl as long as you live. And try to maintain a level of independence. Nothing is more killing for desire than neediness. To quote Perel:

“I have yet to see somebody who is so turned on by somebody who needs them. Wanting them is one thing. Needing them is a shot down and women have known that forever, because anything that will bring up parenthood will usually decrease the erotic charge”.

The best couples have found ways to cultivate desire. But when desire is gone, lust will fade away,… or look for new objects of desire.

Love and desire are wicked design problems.

The design of a fulfilling long term relationship is as much a wicked design problem as the challenge to get people to recycle, eat healthily, get fitter, take climate action, etc. Just like with every wicked design problem, the real challenge is to design specific behaviours that eventually turn into habits. Habits change attitudes and attitudes transform identities. Love and desire are nothing more than the compound interest a series of tiny practices.

Learn more about the mental model of Compound Interest on the Farnam Street Blog: Why Small Habits make a Big Difference.

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We Want You - Uncle Sam

The Behavioural Design of Applying for a Job

By All, Personal Behaviour

How do you apply for a job? From a Behavioural Design point of view, this is a fascinating question. When you are applying for a job, there are several challenges you need to overcome. It’s a multi-level game in which you need to figure out how to reach level 3 or 4 with one single run. This blog post will tell you which levels are important and how to reach them.

 

A context of fierce competition for attention

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

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

How to trigger curiosity?

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

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

Summary: Think Outside-In

An application is like professional flirting. It might take a little more effort to go from Awareness to Interest to Desire and Action. Sometimes it even takes a couple of years. But just like with every every challenge to influence someones behaviour, you have to think outside-in: Try to figure out what the Job-to-be-Done is of the person you try to persuade, then take away their anxieties, then present yourself als the best solution to their pains and make them understand how hiring you would offer them gains that are incredibly valuable.

 

One more thing: At SUE we prefer to recruit within our network of Behavioural Design Academy alumni,or people who participated in one of our Behavioural Design Sprints.  The simple reason is that are already familiar with the Behavioral Design Method©.

 

I hope this blog post inspired you to rethink the way you design your application process approach. Good luck!
Tom

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