Have you had the experience where you were thinking about something the previous night and had googled it or watched a YouTube video to learn more,  and your friend has written a post about it on Facebook or blogged about it the next day morning.

Or a friend sends you an article, you read it and suggest how you can take those ideas forward in your business – and he says “oh, that was exactly what I was thinking too”.

In the pre-internet age, when two friends or colleagues came up with the same thought or idea we would have said stuff like “we are on the same wave length” or more deprecatingly (!) “great minds think alike” or even more flippantly “ESP”.

What we show amazement at is how connected our minds seem to be. It may in reality just be that we know each other really well. We may have a lot in common, so the discussion proceeds in predictable directions. We may have been working otgether for so long that we are reading the same books and articles and watching the same videos or even have the same belief systems. My question in recent times has been, is the “connected” world enhancing these trends.

Can digital technology replicate the connected mind and continuously amaze us? Does it also freak us out as much as when we said “ESP” with rounded eyes at how uncanny we found it when people around us could “read our minds” or say exactly what we are thinking.

Such experiences have become common for us “netizens”. When that advertisement for a hotel in Shimla pops up, we know it is because some algorithm somewhere has tracked our air ticket to Delhi or Chandigarh which we have received in our inbox along with the cab booking to Shimla. Surely the hotels we will see as available for booking will be very different, than those that appear on the smart phone of some one who has taken the bus to Shimla from Ludhiana.

If we log in to Amazon, the books our friends have been reading, pop up as recommendations in our account.

We know that there is an overwhelming amount of information available with a few clicks on a key board or the first few characters on google search. Yet, more and more, digital businesses are putting a choice architecture in place, personalised for each of us, based on an understanding of our choice patterns and preferences. LinkedIn tells us that liking a post will ensure that similar posts are more visible to us, even though a large number of people in our network may be posting on a lot of other equally interesting things. The word for creating this kind of choice architecture is “nudges”

Deep research has gone into the principles of designing these “nudges” to help us make “choices”.  The book Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein of course was trying to help us create self-nudges to help us make better choices around health, financial freedom and happiness. The principles remain the same – whether we use it for business or personal life. So for example, if we want to make sure we do not miss our exercise routines, they suggest putting our walking shoes next to our bed, so as we wake up in the morning we slip our feet into those shoes and then our feet will automatically take us out of the house for the walk. That is a “nudge” towards the habits you want to create for yourself.

So much study has now gone into “nudging” customers, clients, employees and gig workers in the platform economy, towards certain “preferred actions and behaviours” that we can abstract it into clear principles.

Six principles you can use to create nudges

Small and seemingly insignificant tweaks can significantly change the way people react, interact with or behave in particular situations. When these small tweaks are very powerful, they are called nudges. What makes these nudges powerful? They use six basic strategies.

These strategies can be used for the good of the user, or for a business selling to the user. The ethical choice is of course when the strategy helps the user choose the best options for themselves and the business benefits because it is able to provide people with what they want.

Smart Defaults: When there are clear best options, you make those options the default selections. A good example of this could be a mail which says unless you opt out, we will continue to renew your health insurance. The reader then just clicks or unclicks a box to take a decision to stay or leave.

A terrible way to use this is to say the same thing, but make it really difficult for people to opt out of a spamming subscription list or service, by the simple device of making people go through six levels of pop ups to “opt out” till they give up in frustration. This is a method adopted by a lot of the large businesses in the internet economy. So they will abide by the letter of the “privacy” laws now being put in place across the world after the Facebook senate hearings and yet make it so difficult for people to figure out how to change their privacy settings and opt out of email subscriptions, that they just give up in frustration.

Clear Feedback: If you are using fitbits or other health tracking devices the app gives you quick and clear tracking information letting you know how well you are moving towards your goals. This is a good use of the principle of “clear feedback” as it nudges you towards completing/ achieving your goals. These nudges become even more powerful when a simple visual is shown – like a smiley or a crown when you achieve your goals. Clear objective impersonal feedback of this kind helps individuals and teams keep their eye on the ball and stay motivated.

Aligned incentives: You make sure that you  incentivise behaviour or choices you want people to make and do not set up incentive conflict. For example, the latest news is, the top fifteen most polluted cities are in India.  As long as polluting the environment is the most cost-effective way to dispose industrial waste this reality is not going to change. A good way to change this, could simply be to impose higher taxation slabs on polluting businesses. When it becomes more expensive to pollute than to set up non-polluting waste disposal systems, we set up an incentive system for more environment friendly behavior.

Structured Choices: Simplify and structure choices to facilitate decision making when there is an over-whelming number of choices available. This is what Amazon and Netflix do to help their customers choose.

Error mitigation: Knowing that people will make certain mistakes while using the product or service and building in nudges to help them pause and take a different set of actions. Like when a message pops up every time you try to close a file – saying “do you want to save the latest changes to this file”. This stops us from losing hours of work, just because the manager called us in for a meeting and in that moment of urgency we closed the file without saving our work.

Good mappings: Helps map actions and results easily without confusion. Like the simple mechanism of writing push or pull next to door handles and not leave it to users to figure it out each time with some heavy pushing and pulling.

Can you think of ways in which you will use these principles to create choice architectures to move your customers or employees towards “preferred” choices, actions, decisions or behaviors?

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