THE BLOG

Forget Macro, Forget Micro, Think Nudge

17/03/2014 13:05 | Updated 16 May 2014

Have you ever wondered how to change what people do? How to help them make "better" choices? How to kick bad-habits? How to avoid the pitfalls of stereotypes?

We live in a world where we constantly hear about needing to change what people eat, the amount people exercise, get people to save more, stop smoking, drink more responsibly........the list goes on and on and includes, here it comes, being more, you guessed it, INCLUSIVE.

How many millions of various currencies have been spilt into national, regional local, community and even organisational campaigns, using all sorts of clever stories and tag lines, aimed to get us to change our behaviour? I daren't make a guess.

The most power punched ones, at least from my limited view point, have been stop-smoking campaigns. You know, the likes of ads showing smoke coming out of children and babies' mouths and nostrils (vomit worthy). Topically, on the 11 Feb 2014, the FDA released "The Real Cost," a series of print ads and commercials aimed at curbing tobacco use in teens. I wonder what proportion of the teenage smoking population stopped for more than a couple of weeks, or hours, after seeing those?

When it comes to change, one of the most powerful ideas that I have come across recently owes its thanks to behavioural economics: The Nudge Theory.

"People don't always act rationally, in fact they tend to act irrationally but in predictable ways" say Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, who brought to prominence The Nudge Theory, in their 2008 book "Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness".

A behavioural nudge is about getting us to do something without restraining our freedom of choice and without changing financial incentives. No forbidding, no mandates, no pay offs.

How does this work? It's all about "choice architecture". Makes sense? The Rotman School of Management has created a brilliant video which explains the theory perfectly . Here is one of their examples.

Question: What's the best way to get people to stop littering?

Answer 1: Hand out fines for littering
Answer 2: Pay people for using rubbish bins
Answer 3: Place green footprints on the ground, pointing the way to the nearest rubbish bin.

Correct Answer 3. In 2011 they tested this out in Copenhagen and found a 46% reduction in people throwing rubbish on the floor.

Another brilliant one is about nudging for greater honesty. Why do even the most honest among us sometimes fudge numbers? Car owners filling out car insurance forms normally sign the "I've told the truth, honest gov" part after declaring the car mileage. By signing the truth declaration before filling in the mileage we feel more honest and are more truthful about the car mileage, to the tune of around 50$ higher premium per car.

For a really fun version of a nudge take a look at the piano staircase video.

On a very serious note ('scuse the pun), in the UK, David Cameron, the prime minister, has established a behavioural insight team to work on non-intrusive nudges to encourage Brits to eat healthier food, save and exercise more.

Now, wait for it.

'Nudging': The Cure for Corporate Gender Discrimination" is the stop in your (at least my) tracks title of a CBS story and the centrepiece of compelling work on "Gender Nudges" carried out by the fabulous Iris Bohnet, Academic Dean of Harvard Kennedy School and Director of the Women in Public Policy Programme.

One example of a Gender Nudge is - as Bohnet discovered - hiring and promoting men and women in pools rather than on a one-on-one basis. This significantly reduces gender discrimination caused by unconscious biases.

In her study, when evaluating one candidate at a time, the interviewers were much more likely to base their decisions on the candidate's gender, with male candidates preferred for mathematical tasks and female candidates preferred for verbal tasks - regardless of how the candidate had performed in the past.

In contrast, when a man and a woman were evaluated at the same time, the interviewers were more concerned with their past performance than with their gender. The gender gap completely disappeared. This meant the more qualified candidate was chosen for maths, regardless of gender.

Despite being a simple concept, coming up with good gender nudges is not as easy as I originally thought it would be. But here are some examples:
  • One of your team is putting together a project team which is not gender balanced. Send them back to build a gender balanced team.
  • Make "we can consider flex/part time for this job" in job description templates opt-out rather than opt-in. (This nudge is inspired by the Organ Donation Nudge, where people have to opt-out of organ donation rather than opt-in. In the UK 90% are in favour of organ donation, yet only a third sign-up. Imagine what a nudge could do to this statistic).
  • Start referring to "working fathers" to counter balance the ubiquitous "working mother" phase.
  • Use the words his, her, she, him in alternate patterns and in surprising ways, instead of his/her or even worse only his. Daniel Pink does this to great effect in his books.

The concept of The Nudge is new in the corporate world, but is starting to get traction in enlightened pockets. The Harvard Kennedy School will continue to delve deeper into this fascinating opportunity for closing the Gender Gap. Also in the coming months, an Inclusion Nudges Guide will be jointly published by Lisa Kepinski of the Inclusion Institute and Tinna Neilsen of Move the Elephant for Inclusiveness (that is not an inspired attempt at coming up with the most bizarre name for a non-profit ever, it's actually based on the work of Jonathan Haidt on the rider and the elephant which examines the relationship between our conscious/reasoned processes - the rider - and automatic/implicit processes - the elephant). 

Can you think of a Gender Nudge? If so, please let us all know.