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Dart Throwing Chimp

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

By | All, Self Improvement

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.

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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.

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Prototyping happiness

By | All, Health & Fitness, Self Improvement

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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The dark design pattern that made me quit Twitter

By | All, Behavioural Science, Self Improvement

The Behavioural Design of the Twitter Platform

Dear reader,

I deleted Twitter from my phone today. It drove me nuts.

I noticed that every time I opened Twitter, the platform is working hard to get me in an angry indignation mode. Under the “recommended for you”-header, partisan political messages are being suggested to me all the time. Twitter doesn’t do this because it thinks I’m interested in this content, but because its algorithms have figured out that angry people spend more time on the platform. I decided this week that I don’t want to spend more time on a platform that is actively using behavioural design to appeal to my darkest fears and desires just for the sake of being able to serve me more ads.

Twitter used to be my brain-feed. It was a delight to tap into the thoughts and links of smart people. However, the behavioural design of the Twitter-platform is triggering the worst in people: It triggers slogan-like writing, it rewards controversy with more likes and shares, and it allows people to hide their identity and reputation behind their avatar. Its design triggers outrageous behaviour and its algorithms fuel this outrage further.

I decided to switch my craving for interestingness to platforms where:

  1. The design of reputation is much better: People are much politer and wiser on Linkedin because their professional status is much more at stake
  2. Algorithms can’t play me. There’s no way for an algorithm to manipulate me when I’m listening to my favourite podcasts (Freakonomics Radio, Making Sense, The Knowledge Project). I decide to subscribe, and then the author has to work hard to earn my time. If not, I unsubscribe.
  3. Threes had to die for it: Books are still the number one source for interestingness. To take time to explore a subject through the writing of a skilled author is the greatest joy.

If you can read Dutch, this is a screenshot of my Twitter notifications. Twitter suggests under the “recommended for you”-headings three Tweets to fuel my anger: An “I love Trump tweet”, a “leftist elite gone mad tweet” and “Immigrant crimes are being tabooed (by the leftwing conspiracy of course)”.

image twitter

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How to nudge people to eat vegetarian?

Simple. A study of over 94,000 cafeteria meal choices has found that doubling the vegetarian options—from one in four to two in four—reduced the proportion of meat-rich purchases by between 40-80% without affecting overall food sales. (Thanks André Gubbels for the tip)

#Choice_Architecture #nudging

nudging vegetarian

Smart Vegan framing

Our daughter loves chicken filet. We discovered this vegan option this week in the supermarket. I think it’s brilliant framing. By calling it “Chicken free slices”, you can’t help but thinking about the fact that it’s meant to be a chicken replacement. This is a beautiful illustration of “don’t think of an elephant”. This brand did a brilliant job in making you think of vegan chicken filet by calling it “chicken free”

#Framing

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

Me and my first big catch #fuckitletsdoit

How to make New Years Resolutions that stick?

By | Self Improvement

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 | Self Improvement

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, Self Improvement, SUE Amsterdam & Behavioural Design Academy originals

How do you apply for a job?

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

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

A context of fierce competition for attention

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

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

How to trigger curiosity?

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

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

Summary: Think outside-in

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

Personal coaching is pointless: four reasons

By | All, Organisational Design, Self Improvement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

4. Change is about behaviour

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

 

The Behavioural Design of Personal Growth

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

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

Want to learn more?

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

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

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

mental models

Mental models: How to design for intelligent decision making?

By | All, Behavioural Science, Self Improvement

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

Charlie Munger

Worldly Wisdom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A list of mental models.

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

Want to learn more:

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

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

Tom, Astrid and the SUE | Behavioural Design Team

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

Want to learn more?

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

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

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

A clusterfuck

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

By | All, Self Improvement

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

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

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

Accelerating Complexity

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

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

Accelerating Complications

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

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

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

Human irrationality is making things worse

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

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

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

A happy ending

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

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

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

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

Enjoy the holidays!
Tom

Image courtesy: A great metaphor for a clusterfuck.

3 techniques that will supercharge your team’s creativity

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

Brainstorms must die

Before we get to the goods of supercharging your team’s creativity, there’s one thing that needs to be taken care of first: Dead to the brainstorm. Maybe it sounds a bit harsh, but sorry, there’s no pardoning act. Brainstorms should die. The ‘inventor’ of the brainstorm Alex F. Osborn gave birth to brainstorms in 1939. So, it’s about time for a makeover. But let’s not question his intentions. According to Wikipedia Mr. Osborn “Was frustrated by employees’ inability to develop creative ideas individually for ad campaigns, in response, he began hosting group-thinking sessions.” And it still holds true: Solitary creative processes have an entirely different dynamic and output than a process in which great minds collide.

But why, oh why, are we then all still trapped in those everlasting flip-over led sessions that feel like such a waste of time and resources and where great minds tend to collapse instead of connecting?

But why, oh why, are we then all still trapped in those everlasting flip-over led sessions that feel like such a waste of time and resources and where great minds tend to collapse instead of connecting? Looking at brainstorms from a human psychology perspective, there’s a quite simple explanation. When a group engages in a group think process, the leader of the pack prevails. It is just nature. The one who is the loudest is heard the most. And the highest in rank at the table is often followed. The real problem with this is that a group only delivers a fraction of the possible number of ideas in a brainstorm.

 

How to supercharge the creative capital of a group

But there’s an upside to this: Research shows that teams are terrible in coming up with ideas but great in selecting ideas. So, if we fix the ideation part of the process, we can create magic. In fact, three simple behavioural design techniques can have a massive impact on the creative output of a group. They will help you to unlock the creative potential of a group, even of presumed non-creatives.

Research shows that teams are terrible in coming up with ideas but great in selecting ideas.

 

How Might We Questions

The first technique has to do with a human psychology principle that’s called the Framing Effect: How information is presented shapes our opinions about it. In this case, it is the question from which you jump-start your creative thinking. You can drive creative output by designing the problem using these three magic words: “How Might We?” Feel how the “Might” instantly liberates you: It urges you to go ahead and explore, to free your mind, be boundary-less, an explorer or pioneer even. Compared to its tight ass brother ‘Can’ it makes a world of difference. Just feel what it does to you when you frame the question as ‘How Can We?”. The ‘Can’ immediately forces you to think about the possibilities and even worse the impossibilities; practicalities also, harshly limiting the number of ideas already at the start of the process.

 

Brainwriting

When getting to the ideation part of the creative process we’ve to keep a few human psychology principles in mind. The first is social proof: People tend to follow the lead of others. Sometimes this manifest itself in the social bias of Authority: We have a strong tendency to comply with authority figures. Or we adjust our behaviour to reflect positively on how peers see us: The Reputation bias. The job to be done in the ideation phase is to reduce the biases that could potentially reduce the creative output and install a free-flowing non-judgmental exchange and ideation process that sparks everyone’s creative fire.

You’ll be amazed by the number and diversity of ideas you as a group will come up with in such limited time. From everyone. The bold and the timid. The upper rankers and the climbing uppers. The creatives and the presumed non-creatives.

A technique to do so is Brainwriting. Instead of coming up with ideas as a group, you start by thinking about ideas as an individual. The method is simple. Determine a ‘How Might We Question’. Give every person a stack of post-its. Set a timer for a brief period, somewhere between 5 and 10 minutes, and then as an individual write down as many ideas as possible, no talking, just go wild by yourself. Write down every idea that pops into your mind on a separate post-it. After time’s up, everyone shares his/her ideas with the group. Stick them on a large piece of paper. Describe them if necessary. But don’t comment on each other’s ideas just yet. All you do is grouping the ideas that seem similar. You’ll be amazed by the number and diversity of ideas you as a group will come up with in such limited time. From everyone. The bold and the timid. The upper rankers and the climbing uppers. The creatives and the presumed non-creatives. Then use the third technique to select the ideas.

 

Dotmocracy

A fundamental concept in behavioural psychology is making target behaviour easier to do. A well-known psychological phenomenon in groups is social compliance. It’s very challenging for an individual to go against the norm, breaking the rules, to think differently. Social deviance is a hard behaviour to show, as it triggers another psychological principle: Loss Aversion. Humans prefer eliminating the risks of loss over increasing the odds of winning. And the most significant loss in a group process is rubbing against the hairs of the highest ranked person in the group and dealing with the personal retributions. But it’s precisely that kind of social deviance of going up against the top-ranked person in the group that helps to select the best ideas. A simple technique to eliminate this pressure and to fight compliance is called dotmocracy.

Loss aversion: Humans prefer eliminating the risks of loss over increasing the odds of winning.

 

The technique is simple: Everyone gets two same colored dots. Everyone groups around the paper with all ideas and at the same moment, you stick a dot on your two favorite ideas. Could be two dots at the same idea, could be dots on your ideas, could be dots on two different ideas. Just pick the ideas that you think have the most potential. Nobody can follow the lead of others, and you instantly get a clear overview of the best ideas. Usually, as a group, you discuss the selected ideas with two dots or more where people are asked to elaborate on the reason for picking the idea. After the explanation, the second round of dotmocracy should be done, placing dots on the ideas that came out as best in the first round. Although sometimes sticking dots at the same time is sometimes impossible (the best group size is therefore 5/6 people), the process shows people authority is not an issue. Everyone’s vote has the same weight. There are no larger dots. No different colored dots. No order of placing the dots.

 

If you only have 30 seconds of reading time, this is what you have to know:

  • Three behavioural psychology techniques can help you to boost the quality and diversity of your creative output;
  • It can help you make your creative output more qualitative as you can involve stakeholders from very different backgrounds, making your ideas more multi-layered and distinct;
  • It offers you a method to come up with ideas on your own without being distracted or disturbed, but at the same time the process involves interaction with others to make ideas better;
  • Instead of working for days on ideas, you come up with ideas fast, and you already get feedback after 15 minutes. Enabling you to make your ideas better or to kill the ideas that appeared not to be as good as you thought at first;
  • It offers new established multidisciplinary teams, such as scrum teams, easy to apply techniques to come up with creative output.

 


You might also like to read:

How to create change by design

 


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

In two days of high-end master classes, we train people as certified behavioural change directors. We teach them to unlock the powerful principles of behavioural psychology and use The Behavioural Design Method™ to translate this knowledge into actionable skills to influence personal behaviour or the behaviour of customers, employees, family members or the general public.

Cover image by BntOman ♥ Ƹ̵̡Ӝ̵̨̄Ʒ✿ under Creative Commons license.

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