Bursting the bubble

One thing I often focus on when thinking about behaviour change is the bubble. So much of our behaviour is driven by the people and things that surround us – our physical environment and culture, our friends and colleagues, and the wider community. All of this contributes to a type of bubble that informs our world. We each have a bubble, and it creates a special type of social norm that drives and reinforces much of our behaviour. So unless we find ways to crack open this bubble and reveal other, often larger bubbles, people will continue to feel supported in their behaviour – whether, for example, we’re talking about smoking, binge drinking, mob riots, or immunization.

One project I worked on in 2011 was the 15andfalling anti-smoking campaign. The bubble we focused on cracking was the one that told kids that smoking was popular – in fact, they believed that 50% of young people smoked. The actual smoking rate was far different – 15%, so we set about breaking this bubble, and building a greater sense of resiliency for young kids to resist.

Top 16 Sunday reads – #10

Here’s my Sunday reads on behaviour change. It’s a longer list, since I’m just catching up from stuff over the past month. Hope there’s something of interest for you somewhere in these.

1. Great article via Wired on a New York Times Magazine story on “How companies learn your secrets”. A great reminder I think on why we need to continue to apply the same rigour and investigation when identifying insights that help change behaviour on critical community issues such as health promotion and energy conservation.

2. In another article commenting on the same Febreze example, Jonah Lehrer delves into the power of habits and how new ones take hold in the brain.

3. Promising work here from Change4life on those “sneaky drinks” many of us consume during the week. While I’d like to know what they are doing to support the message of course – especially on the issue of standard drink sizes etc – I do like that they are going with the flow of our behaviour and using “drinks” as the reference rather than units. The 5-a-day fruit and veggie folks  face the same issue of relevance in their communication – servings vs. cups vs something else? Relate it to the real world and go from there.

4. A new report from the Behavioural Insights team in the Cabinet Office (UK) on some of the early approaches and results of applying nudging in the UK – Applying behavioural insights to reduce fraud, error and debt.

5. Great little post by Tim Harford on how Nudging is proving to be a credible tool in behaviour change. I wrote something earlier in defence of nudging. While it’s not the silver bullet, we should consider it as one of the many useful ways we can shift behaviour.

6. A wonderful post on one of the best print ads you’re likely to read all year. A wonderful mix of genuine insight, strategy and creative, working together to get people to act. You won’t be disappointed.

7. The power of “perceived” social norms – or why Facebook might be making us sad.

8. Huffington Post on the The Secret to Pinterest’s success – we’re sick of each other. Much like Tumblr I think, although a much smarter interface.

9. Simple reminder here that behaviour change is about “shrinking the change” – and this opens up an entire variety of solutions beyond the individual – from our environment to the people surrounding us.

10. The world’s 50 most innovative companies via Fast Company. Clearly they understand a few things about people and behaviour change.

11. A recent study demonstrating that Pot smokers are twice as likely to have car accidents. Are we doing enough to change behaviour on this issue?  The human cost must be significant.

12. An impressive graph demonstrating the crazy growth of Apple devices – another reason why it really is a mug’s game trying to predict the future. Unless of course your Apple, although they are really in the business of making the future rather than predicting it. There’s a difference.

13. Exercise labels on food – a truly wonderful idea. 1 can of cola = 1 hour’s run. You can just imagine the backlash from the food industry…because we know it would work.

14. The challenge for introverts in a world rallying around groupthink. Great piece on why brainstorming and groupthink is not as effective as many might think. Balance is the word I think.

15. Beautiful and emotional work by Mercedes. A great reminder that when communicating product features, we needn’t just focus on the rational.

16. Finally, for something a little bit light and irresistiblyhappy on this Sunday Morning

Top 8 Sunday reads – #9

After a bit of a break and a week off sick, I’m back. Hope  you all had a wonderful holiday, and are enjoying your January wherever you are. Here’s some of my favourite stuff from the last few weeks.

1. The great work continues from W+K for Lurpak. “Healthy doesn’t have to be humdrum”

2. If you’re in the mood for a quiet and inspiring documentary, check out Buck. It’s about a real-life horse whisperer. If only more people showed the empathy to each other that he shows toward horses.

3. A wonderful story on how cycling is helping deprived schoolgirls in India

4. A little random I know, but this video of a crow sledding down a roof with a “found” sled is incredible. Reason #1008 as to why animals are far smarter than we give them credit.

5. The Garden is another great documentary about the fight for community and sustainability, as a community garden in L.A fights for survival. The aerial shots of the Garden are awesome – a real oasis in what looks like an industrial wasteland.

6. Loving this 360 panorama of London via the Berg blog

7.  I’m loving both the fun & simplicity of the Nike+ Fuelband idea – plus the ability to set a specific goal each day. Both are important combinations when helping people change behaviour. As BJ Fogg suggests in his top ten behavior change mistakes, it’s important to focus change around concrete actions rather than abstract goals (e.g. “walk 15 mins today” vs. “get in shape”).

8. How do you rebrand and redesign the idea of teachers? Lovely design and strategy work here from Brooklyn-based Hyperakt.

In defence of Nudging

Two articles today got me both inspired and frustrated.

The first is a well written, thought-provoking and balanced paper from the RSA titled Transforming behaviour change: Beyond Nudge and Neuromania. It provides greater context around the RSA’s Social Brain project, with much of it focused on the importance of “Reflexivity”

Sociologists identified reflexivity – our capacity to reflect on the conditions of our action, and thereby shape our own lives and identities – as a key component of twentieth century selfhood. The RSA suggests that ‘Neurological reflexivity’ – the capacity to reflect upon and directly to shape our mental processes – may be a key feature of the twenty first – Matthew Taylor

The paper suggests that the RSA want to take a bold step to help make the intricacies of decision-making more transparent – to provide what they term “transformational learning” to help people better understand the various forces that cause us to make the decisions we do. Once we have this knowledge, they argue, we are in a stronger position to make better decisions.

While this seems a noble approach, it rises up like Everest to me. Taking on the very essence of our nature as social animals seems like a herculean task, and I question whether it can be applied at scale and to the broader population.

What I did really appreciate was their much needed caution against Neuroscience, warning against what they term “Neuromania”, and its focus on separating the brain from its inevitable social context – cultural influences, social norms, and other learnings.

However, it was in its criticisms of nudging that I found it less effective. Their main point here is that nudging is not transformative.

Nudge changes the environment in such a way that people change their behaviour, but it doesn’t change people at any deeper level in terms of attitudes, values, motivations etc.

My counter to this is that sometimes it doesn’t need to. Nudging can shrink the change, by making the desired behaviour easy and simple to choose. In these cases, nudging can move people into a new behaviour without necessarily changing attitudes or values. Since people don’t like their beliefs or attitudes to be inconsistent with their actions, they will shift their values and attitudes to fall into line with their new behaviour. I’ve referenced Jon Howard’s excellent presentation on this very subject in an earlier post here. It’s worth checking out.

The second article that I referenced earlier was this one published via Slate (a great magazine with wonderful podcasts by the way). However, this article discussed some of the more common and weaker arguments against nudging of late.

It suggests that benevolent meddling won’t help us make good decisions. But it misses the point. Every day we’re meddled with and nudged in our decisions whether we like it or not. While it’s not the panacea, choice architecture does play a role in our behaviour. From the way products are arranged in a supermarket, to prompts of “want fries with that”, to upgrading to bigger TV’s, or simply copying what those around us do, we’re constantly influenced, nudged and bumped by the things around us. So rather than meddling with our choices, nudging is one tool that helps us fight back and even the odds.

While I’m not suggesting nudge theory will single-handedly solve major behaviour change issues like the obesity crisis, without considering our environment as part of the solution, we’re unlikely to succeed either. Nudging, behavioural economics, the power of the herd can all work together to help people lead healthier lives.

Beyond the Nudging of Thaler and Sunstein, I also find the more general term of nudging useful as it suggests a more natural way of helping people move toward healthier behaviour by going with the flow of human nature. Nudging can help us appreciate that in many cases, the majority of people have the information they need, and already understand they should exercise more and eat better. And in the case of smoking, numerous studies tell us people who smoke want to quit. So it’s important we’re worrying about the right things.

Anything that helps us take that first step toward new and healthier habits is a good thing in my view.

Take this recent example from Massive Health called The Eatery. With over 200,000 photos of food taken in just 1 week, they are making change fun, interesting and social.

The people around us

I’ve talked about it here before, but when I first get involved in any behaviour change or health promotion challenge, I like to start by looking up and out. For me, this means looking up beyond the individual and out toward the social or surrounding influences that contribute to our behaviour. Our attitudes aren’t fixed, but move around depending on the context in which we make decisions. As we bump into these other influences, they can reinforce or challenge our behaviour.

When we think beyond the individual, it can open us up to some really interesting and powerful influences on behaviour. Take this effort to tackle domestic violence that launched in India, and has since gone global. Bell Baiao or “Ring the Bell” seeks to bring violence against women to a halt by calling on men and boys to ring a door bell to speak out.

Or this effort from Kenya focused on reducing reckless driving, particularly with local bus drivers. The idea focused not on the driver, but on the passengers – encouraging them to complain when they felt endangered. Results of the trial, called Heckle and Chide are here.

Ultimately these efforts focused on the same end goal of behaviour change. But they re-framed the issue and attacked the challenge from another angle.

It’s easy to think about the ways this might inspire other behaviour change approaches. For example, how might we take on the issue of people talking on their cell phone while driving? Instead of focusing on the individual driver/ talker, we could engage the people around them. For example, it’s fairly easy to tell when chatting with someone on their cell whether they are driving. So messaging could encourage people who “receive” calls from people driving to ask them to pull over, or call back when off the road.

What about other health promotion challenges – including obesity, binge drinking or smoking? How might we look at the surrounding influences and the power of the social to change behaviour?

Top 11 Sunday reads

My blogging has been a little slack lately – but with a renewed focus, I’m hoping to get going again. I thought I’d kick it off with  an updated list of some of the stuff that has inspired me over the last few weeks. It might be of interest to anyone while enjoying a weekend cuppa.

1. A link to the UK Insights team and their thinking on sustainable development.

2. The Fearless Cottage blog is an “informal clubhouse” for inspired and fresh thinkers. Led by Alex Bogusky (co-founder of Common), you can catch up on how the latest generation of concerned citizens are helping drive a new era in sustainability.

3. The Guardian Sustainability blog is always a great resource

4. Great list of top 10 links on green behaviour change initiatives

5. The Natural Change Project is a fascinating report documenting the efforts by the 2011 WWF team (Scotland) to cultivate new leaders in sustainability. Nicely presented as well.

6. This article from Wired talks about how we’re inherently social animals. The influence of others change how we tell stories about the past.

7. Via the International Journal of Advertising, this is a wonderful article by Faris Yakob outlining some great books for anyone interested in marketing, communications and a deeper understanding of human behaviour.

8. The British Psychological Society’s report on the psychological impacts of childhood obesity

9. Check out The Guardian’s new and very clever Twitter-based search assistant – @GuardianTagBot. As they say “It’s rather like playing fetch with our articles, videos, galleries and audio.” I’ve tried it – works quite nicely.

10. I wrote about Chipotle’s wonderful work on an earlier post. Here’s a follow up – again, wonderful storytelling. It’s great to see a brand with a clear purpose. You can find more at www.cultivatefoundation.org

 

11. And finally…A wonderful video on Beauty – part of The Feynman Series.