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Posts Tagged ‘Habits’

An interesting article, fairly short, relevant for these times when we are told to do things we never did before for collective benefit, with wider implications and applicability. The original content is very lightly edited and recast here for easy reading and comprehension (highlighting is mine).

Here we go:

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Problem:

For the past two months, we’ve been told to wash our hands, wear face masks, and social distance. We’ve come up creative ways to do them all—with viral handwashing dancespublic pledgesZoom parties with live DJs, referred to as emotion-triggering devices. Judging by the beautiful photos of eerily empty public spaces around the world, most of us have been willing to comply—for now. But when will the novelty wear off? And what will happen to our new habits, still necessary for the public health crisis we’re facing?

Some countries, like Denmark and Austria, and several U.S. states, have already started to relax the strict stay-home regulations and are counting on their citizens to make smart choices to protect themselves and others. But are we confident that we’ll keep up our good behavior when left to our own devices? 

Solution:

Emotions are, by definition, temporary. So is attention. Using activity-mobilizing emotions such as fun, hope, anger, or fear can work exceptionally well to kick-start a new habit, but we still have months or even years of behavior change ahead of us. Before long novelty may fizzle out, motivation worn away and compliance unexciting. In fact it could get downright annoying.

Example: In 2009, designers created “Piano Stairs” at the Odenplan subway station in Stockholm. Each step was a piano key that made a sound when it was stepped on. The idea was to make it fun and easy for commuters to pick the healthy option of going up the stairs instead of taking the escalator. And it worked—for a couple of days. The initial excitement quickly gave way to the reality of rush hour, as commuters trampled over keys going up and down the stairs. To no surprise, the piano disappeared. But the video of the stairs gathered 23 million views on YouTube and is often still found in presentations by behavioral consultants.

So when the novelty fizzles out, how can we harness our current motivation and channel it into long-term change? The evidence is still sparse, but we do have several examples of behavioral interventions that have a longer shelf life. These are referred to as Nudges.

Nudges are of two kinds: Pure and Moral.

Pure nudges are simple changes to a preexisting choice environment meant to counteract simple inattention or laziness. They seamlessly blend in with their environment. They are typically not consciously noticed by the decision maker. Grabbing a ceramic cup conveniently stacked next to the coffee machine instead of a paper one from the cupboard does not require you to think about saving the rainforest before your morning coffee. The less conscious the nudges are the less they are prone to wearing off or even backfiring, regardless of whether you agree with the goal of the nudge or not. 

Two other examples of pure nudges: a) Perhaps the most successful example is Defaults. Individuals defaulted into pension plans, insurance in air-travel, two-sided printing, or renewable energy for their home seem to stick with the option. People either don’t notice it or don’t take the effort to change it from default b) Salience has also proven to be effective in the long term. Placing vegetarian food on top of a menu makes it more likely that customers will select it, and real-time feedback while showering reduced energy consumption of hotel guests. 

In contrast moral nudges are those that are fun or trigger fear, shame, or pride, rewarding “doing the right thing” with psychological utility or disutility. The nudges are meant to be consciously noticed. The most prominent one being the use of Social Proof—“9 out of 10 people in your city pay their taxes on time—you are currently not one of them” or “Compared to your neighbors with similar sized houses, you consume far more energy” or “Will you vote on Sunday? We will call you again and ask about your experience.” 

Social proof is powerful, no question—the frantic toilet paper buying we have seen in the past weeks was an unintended testament to that. In the short run, moral nudges can generate significant effects, but long-term behavior change is seldom. Further, moral nudges run the risk of backfiring. Individuals asked to donate repeatedly decided to opt-out of communication altogether, and others who regularly came out badly in comparison to their neighbors’ energy consumption were willing to pay money not to be contacted anymoreDeliberate defiance of these appeals could also explain the groups of college kids who went on spring break despite the health warnings or the Danish teenagers who now drive over the bridge to Sweden to party “because lockdown is boring.” 

Nudges can make it easier to do the right thing. All that said, taking past research in account, nudging on its own, whether moral or pure, won’t be enough to stimulate the required behavior change. The gap between what we want now (our lives to return to normal) and what we need to do (diligent maintain hygiene and continuous social distancing) is just too large. But that doesn’t mean lasting behavior change isn’t possible. We need to combine nudges with traditional economic incentives and regulations. Just like the traffic rules. We have laws, fines, and nudges (speed bumps or beeping seat-belts) that keep us and others safe on the road without invoking anxiety, shame, or fear every time we get into a car.

And designing the choice environment promoting/instilling long term habits. Example: Copenhagen, author’s hometown, has four large lakes in the city center, which have a small footpath around them that is popular for runners and people going for a stroll. At the start of the lock-down, the trail was converted to a one-way street to reduce the amount of tight face-to-face encounters. Currently, park guards control compliance, but already most people are in the habit of walking clockwise around the lake. A habit that can most likely be sustained with a simple sign and social norms. 

Like fighting climate change or obesity, overcoming this health crisis will be a marathon, not a sprint.  Our collective health depends on how we use these available mechanisms keeping in mind their long term impact versus the need.

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As it must have already occurred to you, interestingly these concepts are equally valid and useful to bring about changes in various aspects of organizational behavior!

The article by Christina Gravert may be perused here.

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There was a story posted here sometime ago how one man successfully turned around a murky vitiated ambiance in an org with some ordinary common-sense ideas.

Here comes another story how a dark horse turned around a loser into a shining paragon of performance! Of course his ways were different and very interesting with applicability far beyond in org dynamics, public institutions, government of the land…A war of a different kind.

Read on:

<<an extract>>

On a blustery October day in 1987, a herd of prominent Wall Street investors and stock analysts gathered in the ballroom of a posh Manhattan hotel. They were there to meet the new CEO of the Aluminum Company of America—or Alcoa, as it was known—a corporation that, for nearly a century, had manufactured everything from the foil that wraps Hershey’s Kisses and the metal in Coca-Cola cans to the bolts that hold satellites together.

Alcoa’s founder had invented the process for smelting aluminum a century earlier, and since then the company had become one of the largest on earth. Many of the people in the audience had invested millions of dollars in Alcoa stock and had enjoyed a steady return. In the past year, however, investor grumblings started. Alcoa’s management had made misstep after misstep, unwisely trying to expand into new product lines while competitors stole customers and profits away. So there had been a palpable sense of relief when Alcoa’s board announced it was time for new leadership. That relief, though, turned to unease when the choice was announced: the new CEO would be a former government bureaucrat named Paul

O’Neill. Many on Wall Street had never heard of him. When Alcoa scheduled this meet and greet at the Manhattan ballroom, every major investor asked for an invitation.

A few minutes before noon, O’Neill took the stage. He was fifty-one years old, trim, and dressed in gray pinstripes and a red power tie. His hair was white and his posture military straight. He bounced up the steps and smiled warmly. He looked dignified, solid, confident. Like a chief executive.

Then he opened his mouth.

“I want to talk to you about worker safety,” he said. “Every year, numerous Alcoa workers are injured so badly that they miss a day of work. Our safety record is better than the general American workforce, especially considering that our employees work with metals that are 1500 degrees and machines that can rip a man’s arm off. But it’s not good enough. I intend to make Alcoa the safest company in America. I intend to go for zero injuries.”

The audience was confused. These meetings usually followed a predictable script: A new CEO would start with an introduction, make a faux self-deprecating joke—something about how he slept his way through Harvard Business School—then promise to boost profits and lower costs. Next would come an excoriation of taxes, business regulations, and sometimes, with a fervor that suggested firsthand experience in divorce court, lawyers. Finally, the speech would end with a blizzard of buzzwords—“synergy,” “rightsizing,” and “co-opetition”—at which point everyone could return to their offices, reassured that capitalism was safe for another day.

O’Neill hadn’t said anything about profits. He didn’t mention taxes. There was no talk of “using alignment to achieve a win-win synergistic market advantage.” For all anyone in the audience knew, given his talk of worker safety, O’Neill might be pro-regulation. Or, worse, a Democrat. It was a terrifying prospect.

“Now, before I go any further,” O’Neill said, “I want to point out the safety exits in this room.” He gestured to the rear of the ballroom. “There’s a couple of doors in the back, and in the unlikely event of a fire or other emergency, you should calmly walk out, go down the stairs to the lobby, and leave the building.”

Silence. The only noise was the hum of traffic through the windows. Safety? Fire exits? Was this a joke? One investor in the audience knew that O’Neill had been in Washington, D.C., during the sixties. Guy must have done a lot of drugs, he thought.

Eventually, someone raised a hand and asked about inventories in the aerospace division. Another asked about the company’s capital ratios.

“I’m not certain you heard me,” O’Neill said. “If you want to understand how Alcoa is doing, you need to look at our workplace safety figures. If we bring our injury rates down, it won’t be because of cheerleading or the nonsense you sometimes hear from other CEOs. It will be because the individuals at this company have agreed to become part of something important: They’ve devoted themselves to creating a habit of excellence. Safety will be an indicator that we’re making progress in changing our habits across the entire institution. That’s how we should be judged.”

The investors in the room almost stampeded out the doors when the presentation ended.

One jogged to the lobby, found a pay phone, and called his twenty largest clients. “I said, ‘The board put a crazy hippie in charge and he’s going to kill the company,’ ” that investor told me. “I ordered them to sell their stock immediately, before everyone else in the room started calling their clients and telling them the same thing.“It was literally the worst piece of advice I gave in my entire career.”

Within a year of O’Neill’s speech, Alcoa’s profits would hit a record high. By the time O’Neill retired in 2000, the company’s annual net income was five times larger than before he arrived, and its market capitalization had risen by $27 billion. Someone who invested a million dollars in Alcoa on the day O’Neill was hired would have earned another million dollars in dividends while he headed the company, and the value of their stock would be five times bigger when he left.

<Impressed?>

So how did O’Neill make one of the largest, stodgiest, and most potentially dangerous companies into a profit machine and a bastion of safety?

By attacking one habit and then watching the changes ripple through the organization.

“I knew I had to transform Alcoa,” O’Neill told me. “But you can’t order people to change. That’s not how the brain works. So I decided I was going to start by focusing on one thing. If I could start disrupting the habits around one thing, it would spread throughout the entire company.”

<end of extract>

Grab the book ‘The Power Of Habit” (2012) by Charles Duhigg and go to pages 97-109 to find out more on how the miracle was wrought. Of course there are many other interesting anecdotes too and theories in the book also worth perusing.

A copy of this book was available here for reading (copyright implications not known). The link does not work now. May be it is moved to a new site.

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Source: pdfbooksinfo.blogspot.com and image from Amazon

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