The Covid-19 crisis requires behavioural change
at an unprecedented scale
Abandoned Zeedijk street in Amsterdam during the COVID-19 outbreak.
A tiny creature with massive powers
One tiny microscopic creature did something to humanity what no other animal was capable of doing:
It stopped us.
Everything we thought about the present and the future has been shattered to pieces in just a matter of three weeks.
The future turns out not to be as positive as we anticipated.
The present turned out much more fragile than we assumed.
It took a tiny little virus to evaporate the profits of the last ten years in a matter of days. It squeezed out a sizable chunk of your pension. It might kill your job, and it might turn the debts you took in optimistic times, into serious liabilities.
The Covid-19 crisis requires behavioural change at an unprecedented scale. In this blog we explore the wicked design challenges for behavioural change.
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This virus has thrown us abruptly into a forced behavioural change experiment, and we are struggling to adapt:
We need to figure out how to stay in quarantaine without making each other’s life miserable.
We have to find a way to be productive and creative while isolated from our teams.
We need to stay in mental and physical shape.
We’ll have to use our mental strength to avoid anxiety and depression and to be grateful for what we have.
And we’re going to get back in financial shape after this crisis. Surviving this one will provide us with valuable lessons for the future.
A Classic Wicked Behavioural Design Problem
If this is not a wicked Behavioural Design problem, then what is?
(Ok except for the climate crisis, which, by the way, is getting temporary relief from our ferocious efforts to finance our progress by pumping the CO2-byproduct of that progress into the atmosphere and the oceans, whereby we turn it into a problem the future generation will need to fix).
This forced social distancing experiment challenges us to change our beliefs and attitudes, change our behaviours and build new habits.
This crisis has all the characteristics of the ultimate behavioural design challenge:
It involves new behaviour.
We will need to break existing habits,
The behaviour we want to design will probably pay off in the far future,
While at the same time, we need to to be disciplined in the present.
In other words: although most people will want behavioural change, their habits, their context and their relative inability to resist instant gratification, will make it extremely difficult to succeed.
We then need to find ways to keep them engaged and to help them to build and sustain new habits.
We’ll need to leverage our psychological understanding of behaviour to help people to build the habits that:
keep them in a positive flow
get them to experience deep work
harvest the creative, social and intellectual capital of their team
be creative and productive
get them to experience gratitude, joy and wellbeing
contribute positively to the life of others
get them to learn new skills
trigger a curious and optimistic mindset
get them to grow as a person
get them to try new ideas and embrace uncertainty
Change behaviour and the rest will follow
This crisis forces us to practice virtue in the face of gigantic obstacles.
It provides us with a unique opportunity to practice calm, to inspire others with optimism and re-program our brain away from anxiety into fascination and desire for action.
All these positive outcomes can only follow from changing our behaviour first. We firmly believe that we will find calm, experience joy, get creative and feel the power of great collaboration, only if we act first. Our emotions and experience follow from our behaviour. Only if we can get ourselves to commit to new habits; only if we can prime ourselves into thinking differently; only if we infatuate others with our energy and excitement, we will be able to come stronger out of this crisis.
In the upcoming weeks, you’ll hear much more from us. But we also urge you to apply the behavioural design method to influence the minds and shape the behaviour of yourself, your beloved ones and your colleagues. Use the SUE | Influence framework to analyze behaviour, use the BJ Fogg method to come up with interventions for behavioural change, prototype, test and adapt.
There’s so much good work to do.
Let’s get it on.
The team at SUE | Behavioural Design
More blogs on Designing Citizen Behaviour
In this series we apply behavioural design thinking on how societies shape the behaviour of citizen
SUE | Influence Framework™:
Understand the forces that shape behaviour
The Influence Framework™ is a powerful mental model we developed at SUE to systematically analyse the forces that shape behaviour. The framework will provide you with all the human insights you need to come up with ideas for behavioural change. A deeper understanding of the forces that prevent people from change, or that could 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 full overview of the essence of behavioural design, I want to urge you to go to read our blog “What is behavioural design“. For this blogpost, it suffices to understand that you need three ingredients for successful behavioural change:
Understand how people think and how they make decisions. (cognitive psychology)
Understand how you can analyse the forces that shape people’s behaviour (SUE | Influence Framework™)
Understand how you can come up with ideas for behavioural change (BJ Fogg and the science of Influence
However, if you don’t take into account what happens inside the mind of the human 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 is going to be a social nightmare, full of annoying people, my brain will stay locked for every attempt to change my behaviour.
2. Analysing 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 be able to 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 take into account that I have anxieties, doubts and prejudices that prevent me from travelling by coach, you will have the right insight to come up with ideas to influence my decision-making. You will ask yourself the question: How might we take away the prejudice that cheap coach travel equals 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 mind, and you adapt your intervention to this understanding.
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The SUE | Influence Framework™ has three parts, with a total of seven elements. We will delve into these three parts below.
Part 1: Current and Desired Behaviour
Part 2: The Job-to-be-Done
Part 3: Pains, Gains, Habits and Anxieties
3. Part 1: 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. Part 2: 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. Christensen argues in a famous Harvard Business Review paper 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 you can 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 it because they have a long and boring 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 requires 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 a normal 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 incredibly important 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 2 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.
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.
We already argued above that the biggest challenge with designing for behavioural change is that people need to stop doing the things they do. 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:
Pains of the current behaviour
Gains of the desired behaviour
Anxieties, doubts, and other barriers of the desired behaviour
Comforts of the current behaviour
5.2. 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 if you can articulate people’s pain quite well, they reward you with their trust. 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 sales-men sell pain.
5.3. 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 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.
5.4. 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 in the morning to go to the gym. 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 feel the desire to have more energy and to 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 fit (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 just can’t break through my comforts/ habits. What works for me is that my gym organises a 10-minute abs-workout every hour. I know that if I can make it in time to join this 10-minute class, I will probably stay a bit longer.
5.5. Force 4: Anxieties
Anxieties are fears, doubts, prejudices and other barriers for 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 is addressing the most critical force that stands 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 persuade 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 turned out to be the most genius advertising strategy ever for the brand.
7. How to start 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 six interviews. If you conduct six interviews with 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 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 5 questions:
How might we help people to achieve their goals (Jobs-to-be-done)? (Job-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? (comforts)
Which anxieties, doubts, prejudices and other barriers do we need to take away? (anxieties)
What could be the psychological value that we can create for people (gain)
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 home abroad. This feeling gets even strenghtened 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 completely fed up with AirBnB-tourists.
9. The ethics of influence
We have argued above that a successful behavioural design strategy consists of three ingredients:
A deeper understanding of human decision-making
Understanding the forces that shape behaviour
Using principles from the science of Influence to come up with ideas and interventions for behavioural change
The SUE | Influence Framework™ is a powerful mental model to get a clear understanding of why people do the things they do, and what prevents them from changing their behaviour.
The SUE | Influence Framework™ is also the best guarantee that a strategy for behavioural change will be human-centred. When using this framework, Behavioural Designers always ask themselves the question on what they can do to help people to become more successful at what they do, or help them to overcome their anxieties or help them to break bad habits. if you take your time to build empathy with your target audience and you use the Influence Framework to analyze their behaviour, you will always spot opportunities to design positive choices.
PS: The mission of SUE is to unlock the potential of behavioural psychology to nudge people into positive choices about work, life and play. We use this mission as our guiding principle for everything we do. We’re very conscious of the fact 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 about the fact 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.
In this overview of our Behavioural Design Blog, you will find our essential reads, key concepts, and Behavioural Design Thinking applied to citizen behaviour, employee behaviour, consumer behaviour, personal development and politics and society.
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