Posts Tagged Evolutionary Psychology

A little bit of “nudging” on London’s South Bank

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Regular readers of this blog (?!?!?) will be well aware of my interest in all forms of human/social psychology and in particular my interest in the role of behavioural and social psychology in managing change.

It’s an area of study that’s become quite sexy of late, perhaps with the poster child being Steve Hilton himself, stripped bare and holding a well thumbed copy of “Nudge” in a strategic position for the annual Conservative Party’s WI calendar.

It’s all rather simple really. Just a recognition of what psychologists have been telling us for some time. How we make decisions/choices is a much more subconcious and often malleable process than we might like to imagine – a process which might be influenced (deliberately or otherwise) by a myriad of  subtle (or not so subtle) factors including deliberate commercial or political “nudging”.

No point in me regurgitating a century of study here. Just pick up an one of: “Nudge”, “The Tipping Point“, “Blink”, “59 Seconds: Think a little Change a Lot”, “Freakonomics” or “How we Decide (the list is potentially enormous) and indulge yourself.  In my opinion anyone embarking on a career in advertising, political policy, sales, marketing, change management, branding or religious outreach (Amen) should be forced to read all of these tomes and a few others besides before they darken the door of any self respecting employer in any one of those “industries”.  An interest in and understanding of the psychology and subtlety of human behaviour should be de-rigour for all.

I’ve been interested in the varied work of the in London for some time. Not least because I get to spend hallowed time most weeks in the company of one of it’s leading brand thinkers – Sean McKnight. At the end of last week The Engine Group (EG)  had this little piece on their web-blog: on the subject of behavioural psychology (or behavioural economics if you will). I thought it was good that EG are exposing more of their disparate teams to this discipline (although I’d blithely assumed they’d all be light years ahead in their public reflections) but more importantly it did make me think about a lovely example of behavioural nudging in action which I saw on Friday in London.

Opposite Gabriel’s Wharf on the South Bank, you will, during the course of the year, find a group of folks who use the small sandbank there to sand sculpt. They’ve been dong this for years. I’ll occasionally throw 50p down into the circle they’ve drawn in the sand to collect tips but never more. But of late they have adopted a new tactic to nudge us into giving “more generously”. They have set up two yellow buckets with a small portable bicycle bell set inside each one. There is a little note beneath each bucket inviting onlookers to throw some tips and “See if you can ring the bell”.

I invite you to pop along and watch what happens. Based on the last two five minute visits I’ve made, I  predict their tips are up maybe 300% minimum.

But why?

Because now not only are people throwing coins (tips) to reflect their appreciation of the sand sculptures; they are throwing coins to – much more importantly (and in some cases it seemed, exclusively) – see if they can make a small bell, in the bottom of a yellow bucket go ‘Ding’. It is a nudge to one of our strongest instincts and motivations – to succeed in a task that should be eminently achievable but is often frustratingly not. Add the public setting (no one likes to look bad in public and the ‘herding’ influence of others on our behaviour is more powerful than we may accept!), the fun atmosphere created as we try (and try) and the satisfactory feedback/reciprocation provided by the simple “ding” of a bell in the bucket and you have the ingredients for the perfect nudge.

I watched today as one lady asked “What happens if I hit the bell?”.  Having been told – “nothing, it makes a “ding””, she spent 3 minutes throwing coin after coin at the bell in the bucket to no avail; I threw a sum total of £1 in coins trying to hit said bell, as did my lowly paid companions.  Even more interesting was watching how a group of 6 people, who had almost walked past the sandbank, turned on hearing a faint “ding” (followed by great cheering from the friends of the aforementioned lady who, £5 down I reckon, had eventually hit the “jackpot”). Said party then each proceeded to throw coins at the yellow bucket with barely a glancing appreciation of the sand sculptures and so on until we decided to leave.

I bet if you asked 50% of those people 5 minutes after they’d left the scene what the two sand sculptures were that day, they wouldn’t even be able to tell you*. It was one of the most simple and stunningly effective applications of behavioural nudging that you’ll see in a social context in London today. For any male readers – it’s bit like those little flies on the back of certain “progressive” urinals (a subliminal target for you to aim at to reduce the amount of “splash-back”)…simple, yet deadly effective.

All those industries I listed, but most importantly, political policy, are (it would seem and we should hope) learning much from moving behavioural psychology and economics to the heart of what they do in both Policy formulation and execution. In an era when we have scarcer resources with which to encourage, facilitate and deliver some Big Society shaped national scale behaviour change then every arsenal in our weaponry much be drawn down.

There is of course more, much much more, to facilitating large scale human change than dropping a few bells in the bottom of a bucket (another blog on that subject is due) but it does demonstrate that for all our self congratulatory sophistication, we are simple animals in so many ways, driven by a few fundamental primitive instincts. The challenge is to harness that simplicity and those instincts to assist society in making smarter decisions about our health, wealth and happiness. In all those industries a fundamental question we must ask in shaping products, offerings or policies is this: which of our basic human instincts/longings/aspirations does this play to and therefore how best shall it be framed to lead “customers” to the most “appropriate” response.

There is a fascinating debate to be had about whether subliminal nudging is enough (or even immoral) or whether “customers” need to be granted a more active understanding of and participation in how certain choices impact both ourselves and others if behaviour change is to be sustained (and moral) but that’s for another day. For now, I’m off to sort out my bell and yellow bucket. You can find me outside the Ritzy in Brixton between 10am – 4pm; making daisy chains for tips….

*A rather fetching lady’s face and a starfish like creature were the order of the day….once you saw past those yellow buckets.

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Change – a personal experience

Someone unwittingly asked me recently to provide an opinion on the building blocks of change – and particular the ‘human considerations’ in the context of corporate Change Programmes.

When I had finished what my old mentor Louise Seymour used to refer to as a ‘Shane-a-logue’ some hours later, the person in question had vacated the scene and the lights were out. But I had a model and as anyone who’s worked with Accenture knows – that’s all you need baby.

For me the success of any corporate change programme is ultimately dependent on the composite of each individuals personal change experience. If enough individuals can embrace and adapt to the change then a critical mass will have been achieved and success will be realised. But ultimately it’s about mobilising individuals. And here’s one of my own models for consideration – at a basic level – the challenges of supporting individual change.

Shane’s Individual Change Success Model

 In this I suggested (perhaps naively – it was 2005) that there are only two fundamental people related issues which need to be addressed as part of any organisational change effort:

  1. Capability
  2. Motivation

People can either be unwilling or unable to change and possibly both. Can they change? Will they change? The challenge is to be aware of the need to address both sides of the equation and develop suitable interventions in each area.

I need to build out this embryonic model to demonstrate the sort of change activities required to support an individual’s change capability and motivation for change. But for example under the Motivational ‘pull’ area called ‘Reinforcement’ I’d expect to see:

  • A well defined, accurate and immediately accessible Business/Benefits case for the change program which those impacted can refer to in their ‘acceptance’ that this change is necessary/positive
  • Inspiring and courageous leadership
  • Inspiring and courageous communication
  • An authoritative and equipped change network.

Sometimes I see Change Plans/Stratgies that are so incredibly complex they become impregnable to even the most seasoned of Change Management professionals, never mind those who are going to be asked to change and so I still take comfort in this model as a reminder that evolutionary psychology can tell us a lot about managing people through change – even when ‘a lot’ is just a little.

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