Tuesday roundup


Looking back over the week that was, and sharing  a collection of stuff that grabbed my attention – usually focused on branding, behaviour change, strategy and creative.

1. Distracted driving

A very smart idea, perfectly executed. I love how it makes the invisible visible. It’s also using the power of social norms to change behaviour. While it’s showing that this behaviour is far more common than people might imagine, it’s also reinforcing the fact that the majority of people aren’t doing these things. The takeaway – if you are someone who texts, talks on the phone etc, you’re part of a dangerous minority.

2. Call a random Swede

A client who is being rewarded for embracing a genius idea.


3. Tackling obesity

When it comes to healthy eating and nutrition, food labelling can play an important role. Unfortunately it’s an area where there’s a distinct lack of clarity, and, let’s be honest, an embracing of confusion. Of course, people are free to eat what they want, but that choice should be an informed one. And labelling can help. So the idea that resurfaced last week of using exercise comparisons to help people translate the impact of calories would be a wonderful initiative. It’s been talked about before – I wrote about it a few years back. Let’s hope we can start employing simplicity and smart design to make it easier for people to make healthy choices.

4. Sports Talk Radio and men

I stumbled upon this fascinating little podcast via the CBC’s Podcast Playlist. The good, but mostly problematic side of the industry.

5. Good design and healthcare

A great little episode via CBC Spark on how we can make healtthcare more human.

6. Remembering Zaha Hadid

Vitra Fire Station – 1994. Zaha Hadid’s first built project

Zaha Hadid was an inspiring and creative force in architecture. I was lucky enough to visit the Vitra Design Campus last year. While there, we did a tour of the Vitra Fire Station that she designed in 1991 – a remarkable building. In this story from The Guardian, architects speak out about her success and the sexism that she confronted.

7. You’re alive. Do you remember?

And from Germany, this wonderful campaign for Hornbach. Refreshing, unique, hilarious, and inspiring. They’ve got to the emotional core of what it means to build and create something yourself. To Do-It-yourself.

8. Words I hate

It’s not enough that we have to endure the word disruption in countless presentations and talks from so called Futurists, trendspotters and the like – as if it’s something new. Now we get to enjoy fancy acronyms.


Conformity is irresistible

As perfectly demonstrated in this classic group think experiment from the 60’s, the desire of humans to conform is irresistible.

via Brain Pickings

There continues to be great opportunity to drive positive behaviour change using the power of social norms.

Of course, on the flip side, it brings out the worst in our humanity as well – the mob unleashed.

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.

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.

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.

White-coat syndrome and why environment matters

It’s great to see the growing appreciation of why context and environment matters in driving behaviour change.

And perhaps one of the better demonstrations of how our environment affects us in big and emotional ways is through what’s known as white-coat syndrome. This is a tendency for people’s blood pressure to rise when in a doctor’s office. It can affect about 20 to 25 per cent of patients (me included). What’s worse, if the doctor doesn’t consider this phenomenon, it can lead to incorrect diagnosis and unnecessary treatment for hypertension. But if the doctor is aware, steps can be taken to either take the elevated readings into consideration, or adopt different approaches that seek to relax the patient.

The lesson here is that without taking the impact of the environment into account, the wrong conclusion – and solution – can be adopted. If we don’t see the bigger picture when it comes to changing behaviour, millions of dollars can be wasted around the world trying to get people to adopt healthier activities. As argued by Philip Graves in Consumer.ology and Faris Yakob in his Uncovering Hidden Persuaders paper, we give too much weight to the power of attitudes. The evidence suggests that while attitudes might help indicate our intentions, they don’t always reflect what we do. This is because so much of our behaviour depends on the context – the who or what that surrounds us.

When we start to walk in the shoes of our audience, and understand how the things around them impact how they feel and what they do, we start asking the right questions, observe more deeply and challenge how we use research. This leads to inspired thinking, insights and ideas that have the potential to make a tangible difference. The positive examples are endless, but here’s a few that grabbed my attention recently.

  • A shopping cart nudge that understands the shopping environment and powers of social norms to give us a little bump.
  • A solution in healthcare that I wrote about a few weeks back
  • An approach out of Kenya aimed at getting bus drivers to reduce their reckless driving
  • A workplace safety solution highlighted in Switch by the Heath Brothers. It encouraged more workers to wear safety glasses – not by hammering away with an awareness message – but by replacing the glasses with designs that were  less embarrassing and almost cool
  • Malcolm Gladwell’s presentation on how the wearing of seatbelts were finally normalized in the US.

Understanding our environment, how we interact with it, and how it changes what we think, feel and do can lead to powerful solutions. It can serve us well as we tackle some of the biggest behavioural challenges of our society today – from obesity, smoking rates, binge drinking and much more…

12 Angry Men and 5 lessons in behaviour change

After re-watching 12 Angry Men yesterday (great movie), I started thinking how inspiring this movie might be for anyone working with communities and organizations to change behaviour for the better. Compressed into an intense and claustrophobic 96 minutes, the script and performances do a wonderful job of highlighting and exaggerating some big points when it comes to behaviour change. It’s kind of like a mini test-lab of social norms, nudging and the power of emotion all mixed up and working together.

I’ve put together a little summary of the five observations that stood out for me. It’s by no means exhaustive, but captures a few ideas that kept popping up after.

#1 – Looking up and out

In the early scene of the movie, as the jurors start to gather around the table, Henry Fonda’s character (Juror #8) deliberately separates himself from the group. He moves at his own pace, walks over to the window and looks out, and is the 2nd last Juror to seat himself at the table. It’s pretty clear that while he’s sizing up the group and their mood, he’s being careful to separate himself from the group, and maintain a different perspective.

I think this is an interesting image to keep in mind when kicking off any behaviour change initiative. It’s important to seek a different point of view and start seeing the bigger picture – to look up and out. By looking up at the environment, you can start to size up the surrounding conditions and environment that are contributing to why people do the things they do. And by looking out, you can seek inspiration in unusual and surprising places. This might be reviewing what’s worked in other markets, or simply by talking to lots of different people who impact and experience the issue from a number of different angles.

#2 – Nudging toward a better choice

This movie does a pretty good job of demonstrating how people can be nudged in a certain direction by changing the way choices are presented to them.

Juror #8 knows that the he cannot force his opinion on the other jurors. They need to be nudged along, so that the choice to vote “not guilty” seems the more attractive one. Emotions are high in the room, and people are resistant to change. If there’s any doubt, he’s reminded of this early on in the movie when he stands alone against the 11 in voting not-guilty, and another juror barks – “You’re not gonna change anyone’s mind”.

So Juror #8 is cautious from the get-go. Whenever he’s asked if he thinks the kid is guilty, he constantly answers “I don’t know. It’s possible”. This may actually be what he’s thinking at the time, but it’s more likely he knows that he can’t box people into a corner by telling them what to do. He needs to continue to nudge them, giving them information that gradually weakens their arguments, many of which aren’t based on rational reasons as expected, but a variety of emotional influences (including their own prejudices).

Whenever we’re trying to change people’s habits, we know we’re dealing with complex forces and emotions. So finding a way to nudge rather than push is always going to be more effective in the long-term. In working on a Breastfeeding initiative a few years back, it was clear how emotionally charged the issue was. Our focus then was to ensure we didn’t add to the pressure, so we focused on delivering an empathetic message that would nudge, not push.

#3 – Empathy provides context

From the outset, Fonda’s character attempts to understand and “walk in the shoes” of the kid accused of murdering his father. He talks about what it must have been like for the teenager, constantly pushed around by his father, and living in rough and slum-like conditions. He wasn’t using these as excuses, but rather because it provided context for much of the evidence that was being used against the accused. Often this was effective at re-framing the issue, helping others to see things from a different point of view. For example, simply knowing that the boy lived in a violent family environment started to change how the jurors perceived much of the evidence. So rather than simply running from the scene of the crime, he may have been running away from another beating.

The same goes for behaviour change. Effective research, observation and collaboration can help us better understand the daily reality of the people we are talking to. So how might this affect our approach to an issue like healthy eating. While communicating the importance of eating 5 fruits and vegetables a day might seem reasonable, to a single-parent family without a car, shopping and cooking takes on an entirely new set of challenges. And if, as is likely, they already know they should be eating better, than its clear there are bigger issues at play, including their surrounding environment. Truly seeing things from their point of view is an obvious  first step, but often one that is glossed over. It may tell us that people’s limited access to fruit and vegetables is a bigger issue than any message we might communicate. In fact, messages like “5-a-day” may not always have a positive impact since it could make the idea of eating healthier beyond the reach of many.

#4 – Tone Matters

What’s also clear is that the more influential folks in the room (especially Fonda’s character) are those that make their points in a calm and steady manner. In comparison, those who lose their temper, shout and attempt to force their opinion on others quickly lose any ability to persuade. They have an impact on people, but not the one they seek.

It’s the same really when it comes to communication and behaviour change strategies. Attempts to scare people using fear tactics or other messaging designed to shock is a version that seeks to SHOUT at people. If we’re trying to influence people in our typical day-to-day conversations, making them angry and antagonizing them rarely works. So the same should apply with health promotion initiatives. We can’t shock or scare people into changing their long-term habits.

#5 – The influence of social networks

I’ve long been interested in the writing and thoughts of Mark Earls, with his focus on the power of the herd in driving what we do. While many of us aren’t likely to find ourselves as jurors, 12 Angry Men effectively mimics and exaggerates the incredible power of the group in swaying our actions – in this case, a choice that dictates whether a teenage boy lives or dies.

When the first show of hands is taken, it’s clear that many are being influenced by those around them. This explains why, when questioned on their choices, many struggle to define why they feel he is guilty – “I just thought he was guilty”.

And when Juror #8 chooses to stand alone against the 11, you feel the enormous weight pushing against him. Keenly aware of how others are being influenced by the group, we then have the key scene in the movie when he takes an incredible, but calculated gamble. Trying to weaken the influence of the group, he calls for a secret written ballot. It’s a dramatic and tense scene.

“I have a proposition to make for all of you. I want to call for another vote. I want you 11 men to vote by secret written ballot. I’ll abstain. If there are 11 votes for guilty, I won’t stand alone, we’ll take in a guilty verdict to the judge right now. But if anyone votes not guilty, we stay here and talk it out. Now that’s it. If you want to try it, I’m ready.”

His gamble pays off as one other juror stands with him in voting not guilty. This starts a gradual shirt in momentum and provides courage to others who are wavering.

There are two other wonderful scenes when the group bonds in a natural show of unity. In the first scene, the group gathers together as a collective in response to a violent outburst by juror #3. And in the 2nd scene, the jurors turn their backs one-by-one on Juror #10 when a sudden rant reveals his deep seated bigotry.

Of course, the big difference with this example and real-life is that most times we’re not even aware of the influence of the group or social norms on our behaviour. And most times we’re not cross examined or forced to defend why we do what we do – we just go along with what feels normal in our world. For example, if everyone around us smokes or binge-drinks, it’s easy to see why the decision to do either of these things would feel normal.  And that’s a big part of the challenge faced in initiatives that are focused on improving the health and well-being of our communities. Unless we understand the power of these social interactions first, we’ll have little chance of understanding how to impact these influences, and deliver change that lasts.

I’d love to know what you think? Have you seen the movie…and what insights or inspiration do you think it provides when it comes to changing behaviour.