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


Poetry of change

One idea that caught my eye over the last week was this series of Haiku traffic warning signs out of NYC. Created by Artist John Morse and posted by the NYC Department of Transportation, these signs have started appearing on poles across five different boroughs within the city. They were also placed close to schools and cultural institutions (presumably museums, art galleries etc).

I found this idea both intriguing and timely given that I’m currently reading Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. Much of his focus is on what he terms System 1 and System 2, and how they work to inform the decisions we make. System 1 is essentially automatic and operates with little effort, while system two is more deliberate and controlled. We mostly rely on System 1 for daily decisions, while System 2 can be lazy at times. This means that many of the impressions and feelings it holds are informed by System 1.

While traffic signs generally focus on simple and visual messages that are universally understood, it also means that they can blend in and become part of everyday life, especially when targeting daily commuter traffic. In a way, they almost cease to exist after a while. However, these Haiku signs do an interesting job of shifting us out of the habits of System 1, as we make our way to and from work. These signs make us think – not too much, but just enough. The efficient and unique combination of words that we find in poetry means that we’re intrigued enough to want to read on and figure the story out. And of course, there’s a rhythm to Haiku that draws us in. It’s also an incredibly visual art form, painting a powerful picture.







“Poetry has a lot of power. If you say to people: ‘Walk.’ ‘Don’t walk.’ Or, ‘Look both ways.’ If you tweak it just a bit – and poetry does that – the device gives these simple words power.” – John Morse.

You can hear more of John Morse’s interview with NPR’s Scott Simon here.

While I’m not suggesting this approach should replace the power of simple and effective road and traffic signage, in combination, I think it’s a unique and interesting approach. It’s part of the many new and inspiring alternatives that are focused on driving behaviour change out in the real world. Bravo to NYC.