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The art of choosing, how to design choice to change behaviour

By | All, Behavioural Science, Citizen Behaviour

In most societies, if there is one value we hold dear, it is our freedom of choice. Having autonomy is a concept that directly speaks to our core as a human being. Suppliers of goods and services understand this and have submerged us in an economy of choice that can match everyone’s individual needs. It fits our need for agency like a glove. It allows us to be in the driver seat of our own lives. But is it? Is it true? Does abundance help us make better decisions? Does more choice mean more satisfaction? The answer is no. So, the question is: How we can master the subtle art of choosing to shape better decisions and positive behaviours?

The paradox of choice

Something interesting is going on which choice. It is a paradox, a concept cornered by Barry Schwartz. He describes the paradox of choice as follows: ‘Learning to choose is hard. Learning to choose, well, is harder. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is harder still, perhaps too hard.

So, what does this implicate? Is less indeed more? Well, yes and no. In most cases, too many options to choose from isn’t in our best interest. This has to do with our bounded rationality. We, as human beings, cannot make every decision in our daily lives wholly rational or, better put, with focused attention. There are too many decisions for us to deal with to do so. Just think about your morning. From the moment you heard your alarm go off, you had to decide to turn it off or snooze. You had to decide to stretch or do another roll-over on your side right into that comfy spot that has the perfect temperature; You had to decide to get up of sleep in for just a little bit longer. You had to decide to get dressed right away or get your first coffee in PJ’s first. As a matter of fact, you had to decide to have coffee indeed, or did you decide to have something else? Or did you make the decision to go pee first? I have not even begun to talk about the decision to check your phone, turn on the radio, heating or toaster yet. Or the decision to combine all of these with checking your to-dos of the day. And your day has only just started.

These examples all may seem trivial, but they’re not. It is estimated that your brain has to compute about 35.000 decision a day from minor ones to bigger ones. Your brain cannot process all of them consciously or with extensive thought; It would simply crash. Therefore, a lot of our decisions are made automatically and unconscious. As Nobel laureates Kahneman and Tversky have discovered, we have two operating systems in our brain: A deliberate and an automatic one. And the automatic one has the upper hand, which is a good thing. It simply shows our brain is wired to help us navigate as with as little effort as possible through life. Now back to too many options to choose from. Why does it work against us? 

The three reasons too many options don’t work or bounded rationality

  1. First of all, having too many options causes apathy simply as it requires too much cognitive activity. This can lead to decision fatigue[i](and, for instance, depending more on defaults) or even not making any decision at all[ii]. This phenomenon is called choice paralysis (also referred to as choice deferral).
  2. Secondly, when we have more options to choose from, we tend to make worse decisions as we tend to rely even more on our system one cues, and we know they can be biased[iii].
  3. And finally, the more options to choose from we have, the less satisfied we are with the choice we did makeThe more options, the more we feel we ‘missed out on.‘ In his book, Schwartz described an experiment in which participants could choose between six models of jeans. The experiment showed that the more choices people had, the less satisfied they were with their final choice. This matches Sheena Iyengar’s research, professor at the Columbia Business School and author of ‘The Art of Choosing’, that taught us that ‘The existence of multiple alternatives makes it easy for us to imagine alternatives that don’t exist—alternatives that combine the attractive features of the ones that do exist. And to the extent that we engage our imaginations in this way, we will be even less satisfied with the alternative we end up choosing[ii].

 

Just to come back to choice paralysis for a little bit. There is a cognitive bias related to this phenomenon called regret aversion. When people anticipate regret from a choice, they tend not to act at all. This can have grave consequences. A meta-analysis has shown that people’s behaviour to accept medical treatments are influenced more by avoidance of the regret of making the wrong choice than it is influenced by other kinds of anticipated negative emotions[iv]. Therefore, when designing a choice, you have to be aware that the number of options you present to someone also enhances the probability of regret, which enhances inertia. In the mentioned example, this has shown to impact behaviour concerning health seriously.

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Decision_fatigue

[ii] https://web.archive.org/web/20131130195656/http://www.columbia.edu/~ss957/articles/Choice_is_Demotivating.pdf

What causes choice overload

Different aspects can contribute to someone’s perception of choice overload. For example, the number of options or characteristics to choose from, time constraints, decision accountability or the number of complementary options[v]. Too many options to choose from could have a severe impact on the buying behaviour of your clients. Let me tell you about the so-called jams study. On a regular day at a local food market, people would find a display table with 24 different jams[vi]. On another day, at that same food market, people were given only six different jam choices. The effect on buying behaviour? The six choices showed a sales uplift of 1000%.

The difference between freedom of choice and reducing options

 From an ethical point of view, it is good to make a distinction between options and choice. We feel it can be a very effective Behavioural Design to help someone make better decisions by limiting an option, but you shouldn’t forbid a choice. This is the essence of nudging[i]. Let me illustrate the difference with an example. Limiting the number of options or take out some options altogether has, for example, proven to be very beneficial in helping people who are struggling with being overweight. One very effective way to fight this is to change eating habits. A lot of interventions have been developed and tested to help people change their eating patterns. From adapting food labels to more affective nudges, for example, by promoting the taste instead of a particular food’s healthiness. From a meta-analysis, aggregating data from almost 96 behavioural experiments on successfully promoting healthy eating, the most effective intervention turned out to change the plate and cup size[viii]. Taking an option (in this case, large 16 oz. cups) helped people eat less and still feel satisfied[ix]. Although you take away options with this intervention, you don’t take away the freedom of choice. People always have the choice to go for a refill or buy a second portion. Only, it turned out not many people do. By simply reducing options, you make it easier for people to change their behaviour.

Just one more argument against limiting freedom of choice (instead of options). We, as humans, are wired to want a sense of control and closely tied to this sense of control is our need for freedom and autonomy. If you do forbid a choice, you may, therefore, very well encounter adverse effects. People might start avoiding, ignoring or counterarguing. This is also why warnings backfire. We don’t like to be told what to do. It crosses our innate need for freedom. And if people are pushed into doing something, they push back. How many times did you change your mind or behaviour in your adult life because someone demanded you to do so? My parents and teachers still had that influence on me, but in daily life when we want to influence people, we need to allow for agency.

[i] https://suebehaviouraldesign.com/nudging/

 

But on the other hand, it works the other way around too, and on the more positive side of things:

 

Limiting the number of options can lead to more satisfying choices. 

Researchers did a meta-analysis[vii] comparing 99 scientific studies on choice overload. They found that choice reduction is most effective when:

 

  1. When people want to make a quick and easy choice
  2. When the product is complex (so fewer options help the consumer make a decision)
  3. When it’s difficult to compare alternatives

4. When consumers don’t have clear preferences

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All from your Home or Office.

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

Helping people choose in practice

How can you make that work for you in practice? Well, sometimes, it is a matter of framing. In other words, thinking about how you will present information to someone. Maybe you have kids, and well, most kids aren’t big on eating veggies. Mine isn’t, anyway. We, as parents, often tell our kids: ‘Eat your peas’. You’ll probably have more success if you give your kids a sense of control, designing the choice a different way. ‘Do you want to eat your peas or carrots first?’ This is a bounded choice. It can also work in our professional life. Let’s say you are in negotiation with a talent you like to attract for your team or organisation. Make sure you give them bounded choice that allows for agency. To make it more concrete: Often, negotiations come down to challenging the salary offer. Suppose you give someone the option beforehand to get awarded a higher salary and tie a condition to it; you design for a bounded choice. For example, you can have a higher salary X, but it implies X fewer days off. Your candidate still has freedom of choice, but at the same time, you prevented setting the stage for a limitless salary/bonus battle.

 

How far you should limit options depends on the behaviour you are designing. If you want someone to click on a button on your website, it is better to have one clear option. If you want someone to pick a health regimen, it works to have three options, with your preferred option positioned in the centre, as people tend to gravitate to the middle. If you want someone to buy a specific product, it works to show two options of which the left product (in Western countries) is a decoy that is priced much higher than your target product. This higher-priced product will act as a mental anchor that makes people feel your product is a perfect deal. You could also think about chunking. You can read about this here[i]. These are best practices from behavioural science, but it is always a matter of experimenting what works best in your situation. One thing remains the same for every situation: Less is always more when shaping decisions and behaviour. However,

 

You make people more capable of choosing from more options. You have to do it gradually.

A research team at a German car manufacturer ran an experiment[xii] with the manufacturer’s online car configurator. Potential clients using the configurator had to choose from 60 different options to configure their entire car. Every option again consisted of sub-options. For instance, to pick your car colour, you had 56 colours to choose from, picking your engine also four options and so on. It seemed logical to have people select an ‘easy’ option first. For example, colour is something that most people have a set preference. And then move to the ‘harder’ options like the engine. The experiment made half of the customers go through the configurator from many options (e.g., colour) to fewer options (e.g., engine type). The other half from fewer options to many options. The researchers found that they ‘lost’ the second group: They kept hitting the default button or aborted the process. The first group hung in there. They had the same information and the same number of options, only the order in which the information was presented varied.

[i] https://suebehaviouraldesign.com/applied-behavioural-economics-chunking/

If you start someone off easy, you can teach them how to choose.

So, if you have many options, present them from a few to more. To conclude, there is, in fact, an art to choosing. By understanding a bit more about the workings of human psychology can give you far more control over successful outcomes. You can choose to be more successful, in fact. How’s that for a change? Doesn’t it spark your sense of freedom?

Astrid Groenewegen

 

 

References:

[i] Schwartz, Barry (2004). The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Ecco.

[ii] Iyengar, S., & Lepper, M. (2000). When choice is demotivating: Can one desire too much of a good thing? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 995-1006.

Link: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/12189991_When_Choice_is_Demotivating_Can_One_Desire_Too_Much_of_a_Good_Thing

 

[iii] Johnson, E. J., Shu, S. B., Dellaert, B. G.C., Fox, C. R., Goldstein, D. G., Häubl, G., Larrick, R. P., Payne, J. W., Peters, E., Schkade, D., Wansink, B., & Weber, E. U. (2012), Beyond nudges: Tools of a choice architecture, Marketing Letters, 23, 487-504.

Link: https://www.jstor.org/stable/23259227?seq=1

 

[iv] Brewer, N. T., DeFrank, J. T., & Gilkey, M. B. (2016). Anticipated regret and health behavior: A meta-analysis. Health Psychology, 35(11), 1264-1275.

Link: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/307949693_Anticipated_Regret_and_Health_Behavior_A_Meta-Analysis

 

[v] Chernev, A., Böckenholt, U., & Goodman, J. (2015). Choice overload: A conceptual review and meta-analysis. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 25(2), 333-358.

Link: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/265170803_Choice_Overload_A_Conceptual_Review_and_Meta-Analysis

 

[vi] Iyengar, SS and MR Lepper (2000). When choice is demotivating: can one desire too much of a good thing?  Journal of Social Psychology, 995-1006.

Link: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/12189991_When_Choice_is_Demotivating_Can_One_Desire_Too_Much_of_a_Good_Thing

 

[vii] Alexander Chernev, Ulf Böckenholt, Joseph Goodman (2016). Corrigendum to choice overload: A conceptual review and meta-analysis. Journal of Consumer Psychology, Volume 26, Issue 2, April 2016, Pages 333-358.

Link: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1016/j.jcps.2014.08.002

 

[viii] Cadario, R., & Chandon, P. (2019). Which healthy eating nudges work best? A meta-analysis of

field experiments. Marketing Science.

Link: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/318420196_Which_Healthy_Eating_Nudges_Work_Best_A_Meta-Analysis_of_Field_Experiments

 

[ix] Thaler, R. H., & Sunstein, C. R. (2008). Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. Yale University Press.

Link: https://www.amazon.com/Nudge-Improving-Decisions-Health-Happiness/dp/0300122233

 

[x] Schwartz, B. (2004). The paradox of choice: Why more is less. New York: Ecco.

https://www.amazon.com/Paradox-Choice-Why-More-Less/dp/149151423X

 

[xi] Iyengar, Sheena (2010). The Art of Choosing: The Decisions We Make Every day – What They Say About Us and How We Can Improve Them. Hachette UK.

Link: https://www.amazon.com/Art-Choosing-Sheena-Iyengar/dp/0446504114

 

[xii] https://www.ted.com/talks/sheena_iyengar_how_to_make_choosing_easier

Want to learn more?

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

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

You can download the Academy brochure here, contact us here or subscribe to Behavioural Design Digest at the bottom of this page. This is our weekly newsletter in which we deconstruct how influence works in work, life and society.

Or maybe, you’re just curious about SUE | Behavioural Design. Here’s where you can read our backstory.

sue behavioural design

Why motivating people for climate action is problematic.

By | All, Behaviour in Organisations, Citizen Behaviour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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All from your Home or Office.

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

Intention is a bad recipe for motivating people for climate action

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

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

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

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

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

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

How might we break this behavioural pattern?

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

This can work to our advantage.

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

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

The solution: Make sustainable choices more desirable.

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

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

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

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

Tim Versnel.

Tim is a Behavioural Design Lead at SUE.

In his spare time he’s a councilor for the Dutch Liberal Party at the City of Rotterdam

He recently co-autored a book with Klaas Dijkhoff, Group Chairman of the Dutch Liberal, in which they plead for an optimistic renaissance based on fresh liberal concept.

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

 

Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

Want to learn more?

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

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

You can download the Academy brochure here, contact us here or subscribe to Behavioural Design Digest at the bottom of this page. This is our weekly newsletter in which we deconstruct how influence works in work, life and society.

Or maybe, you’re just curious about SUE | Behavioural Design. Here’s where you can read our backstory.

sue behavioural design

Where to start? This is golden era for Behavioural Design

By | Behavioural Science, Citizen Behaviour

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

Amsterdam empty streets during Corona

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

A tiny creature with massive powers

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

It stopped us.

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

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

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

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

Make Behavioural Design work for you

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

This changes everything

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

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

A Classic Wicked Behavioural Design Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All behaviours that matter are difficult to change.

Amsterdam empty street 2

Book a virtual Behavioural Design Sprint

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

Wicked behavioural challenges to work on

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

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

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

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

 

Change behaviour and the rest will follow

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

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

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

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

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

The team at SUE | Behavioural Design

More blogs on Designing Citizen Behaviour

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

sue behavioural design
SUE's Influence Framework™

SUE | Influence Framework Explained

By | All, SUE Amsterdam & Behavioural Design Academy originals

SUE | Influence Framework™:
Understand the forces that shape behaviour

SUE | Infliuence Framework™

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: 

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

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 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. 

Flixbus

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. 

Master the Behavioural Design Method

In our two-day masterclass Behavioural Design Fundamentals, you will learn how influence works and how you can come up with interventions for positive behavioural change.

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, 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.

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:

5. Part 3: The forces diagram

5.1. Four forces 

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: 

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

SUE | Infliuence Framework™

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)

More about this topic: 

8. 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 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:

  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 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. 

More about our mission at SUE

More about human-decision making (system 1 system 2)

More about ideas for behavioural Change (BJ Fogg Model and Cialdini)

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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