Top #8 Sunday Reads – #12

Sharing a few bits and pieces from the last week;

1. Great write-up on the so called Ministry of Nudges in the UK via the New York times

At the core of nudging is the belief that people do not always act in their own self-interest. We can be undone by anxiety and swayed by our desire to fit in. We have biases and habits, and we can be lazy: Faced with a choice, we are more likely than not to go with a default option, be that a mobile ringtone or a pension plan.

2. Another reminder via the Economist of the power of emotion in advertising – in part inspired by the thinking of Daniel Kahneman, a champion psychologist.

3. Here’s an elegant way to define the power of behavioural economics – by defining what it’s not – via Ideas42

4. A beautiful film that communicates the message of sustainability – Work Wear, by Patagonia

5. Great series & partnership between W+K and D&AD. Called I wish I’d done that, it features some the best in advertising and design talking about work they wish they’d done. In this example from W+K, founder Dan Wieden shares a wonderful idea focused on shifting cultural attitudes toward climate change.

6. A beautiful and respectful film to help build awareness for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities – “Because who is perfect?”. Created for Pro Infirmis, an organization for the disabled, the idea is original and confronting yet thought provoking.

7. In this lovely idea by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, “touch tours” are being offered for visitors who are blind and visually-impaired.

8. A perhaps my favourite video of the past few weeks. The folks at RSA created a charming and inspiring animation of a talk by Brené Brown in which she describes the difference between empathy and sympathy. Via the always brilliant Brain Pickings

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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 – #6

Here’s my summary of behaviour change stuff that has inspired me this past week.

1. Via the RSA, Transforming Behaviour Change – beyond Nudge and Neuromania. I’m yet to read this, but at first glance, looks well worth a look over my Sunday morning coffee.

2. Interesting Behavioural Insights toolkit from the Social Research and Evaluation Division, Department of Transport (London).

3. Great little interview (via the BBC) with Aza Raskin as he proposes a design renaissance in healthcare by making it easier and more enjoyable to use. Hat Tip @dickstar

4. Great graph showcasing the growth and reach of “Prospect Theory”. Hat tip @mhallsworth

5. Presentations available for download from last week’s Social Marketing Conference in the UK.

6. Great post here on the opportunities and differences of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations in gaming.

7. RSA keynote with Mark Earls and Alex Bentley launching their new book “I’ll have what she’s having“.

8. Does this change your mind about Afghanistan? Beautiful!

9. The Holstee Manifesto: Lifecycle Video. Lovely. Just makes me want to hop on my bike and ride. Making change fun and desirable.

10. An update on the growing movement (fueled by Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution) in the US away from flavoured milk in schools.

11. If you haven’t seen this already, the below is a great list from BJ Fogg on the top 10 mistakes in Behaviour Change.

View more presentations from Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford

Top 8 sunday reads

Here’s a few of my favourite links and video’s from the past week on all things behaviour change related . And just a suggestion to follow the Twitter streams at #behaviourchange and #behaviorchange for a constant source of inspiration and fresh thinking

1.The Unexamined Society by David Brooks. He reminds us that we’re in the golden age of behavioural research, so we can do better. Hat tip to @carolharnett

2.An essay from Mark Earls, and an extract from Digital Advertising; Past, Present and Future. As the champion of Herd theory, he reminds us again of the power of the social, and why we need get beyond the idea of “influencers” as a driver of behaviour.Via @creativesocial

Too many of us are still using ideas about human behaviour transposed (uncritically) from the old world. Take, for example, the notions about influentials and influence being peddled by the social media gang. On the one hand, the science is quite clear that most human social networks are not structured in the hub-and-stroke way that the influential hypothesis would require; on the other hand, things are a lot messier in the real world on- and offline. Influence is often mutual and many-directional. It’s not a one-way street, like some kind of human-enabled information micro-broadcast system!

3. False Choices. The bright lights of The Big Society.  A challenge to the Big Society, and the challenge that comes from the “paradox of choice”. Via @theRSAorg

4. Another reminder on the impact of our environment in the choices we make. In this case, the power of smell. Hat Tip @johnxkenny

5. A detailed report by the British Psychological Society on Understanding Bipolar Disorder. Available free for download through July

6. Another nicely presented plan by the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insight Team – this one focused on nudging people toward energy efficiency.

7. A reminder of the power of emotional storytelling. Hat tip @anna_planna

 

8. And for something a little light – some emergency safety advice. Via American Red Cross Oregon Trail Chapter and Failblog. Hat Tip @KarenSnider