A Nobel Prize for Behaving Disruptively!

Written by Martin Lucas

The Behavioural Economics Professor Richard Thaler won a Nobel Prize!!! The time to knock down some doors to understand human behaviours better is with us!

He co-wrote Nudge in 2008 which brought Nudge Theory to the world. An extract from Wikipedia:

One of the main justifications for Thaler's and Sunstein's endorsement of libertarian paternalism in Nudge draws on facts of human nature and psychology. The book is critical of the homo economicus view of human beings "that each of us thinks and chooses unfailingly well, and thus fits within the textbook picture of human beings offered by economists.”

They cite many examples of research which raise "serious questions about the rationality of many judgments and decisions that people make".

Nudge theory is very practical, the main context is that you can take behaviours that the majority of people do and create change by altering the environment where those behaviours occur. Here are some examples:

Problem 1: Guys pee everywhere when using urinals.

Nudge: Put an image of a fly inside a urinal, people will aim at the fly instead of well, everywhere!


Result: Win! No pee on the floor, this is a very celebrated nudge theory outcome.

Problem 2: Donation boxes in coffee shops. People don’t donate that much.

Nudge: Psychologically when we feel someone is watching us, then we change our behaviours to be nicer, better, kinder.

Let’s add eyes to the donation box.


Result: A 237% increase in donations simply by adding eyes.

Side Note: This is now being trialed in South London schools to reduce bike crime AND it’s working.

We (my team) have been working on all this for 2.5 years, I have been working on behaviours my whole life. It is a blessed relief that Thaler gets a Nobel prize, it means more people will stand up and realise that science knows more about how people think and behave than ever before. You can read all about Professor Thaler here.

I am interested in pushing the boundaries and challenging science to do more and know more. Here is why:

Personalised Nudges

I will let you in on a little secret, one that I hinted at before, Nudge Theory works based on common mass behaviours:

Men pee everywhere at urinals - That is true for at least 50% of people.

People are kinder when being watched - This is true for at least 75% of the world.

They are general assumptions that visual data and real life data can confirm, then you can suggest, aka nudge someone to do something differently. What they don’t account for is the needs of an individual. We all pee, so nudge theory doesn’t need to care about how I pee versus how you pee.

When it comes to mass behaviour change - a needlessly complex term - on its most basic level, it is giving a person more of what they want and less of what they don’t. The phrase to note in that last sentence is ‘a person’, that was where we began 2.5 years ago, an idea:

Could you map the neuroscience of a brain and apply that to mass audiences to understand how they think and behave as a collective when considering which product, service or company to buy from or work for?

Nudge Theory opened the door to our minds which helped us understand the science of decision making and how to address that in the business world. We are actively involved in theories, research and creating change in the world of addiction (Harvard, Stanford), Trauma (charity), Education, Recruitment, Fashion, eCommerce, Data Science, UX, CRO, VR, Marketing, Advertising & Sales. The commonality is to understand the patterns of how people think depending on the experience they are going through and the action they are considering. The expertise is neuroscience, which makes the marketplace agility so wide.

If for example, I am looking to buy a polo shirt at a price range under £40, then my decision making is happening unconsciously. What happens is that my brain analyses tonnes of variables about colour, shape, past experiences, things my friends or partner said and voila ‘I want that one’. When this happens you have the conscious thought of knowing which one you want.

This is all great theory, but what if you could take a million customers who like a brand and zero in to understand each of them as the individual they are? If, and it’s a big if, you can then create personalized experiences.

Let’s press the pause button and think about life as you know it. Imagine being treated like an individual and not feeling like a number in everything you encounter in life. You know, things such as:

Eye contact and courtesy in customer service.

A salesperson who listens to you and hears what you actually want.

Interactions where they understand what you desire and what you strongly don’t want.

It’s an interesting concept isn’t it, this idea of human to human contact that is based on showing you respect and understanding of all your personal needs? It’s safe to say that all of us would appreciate a world more like this in our day to day life. Now what if you had the same respect, understanding and experience in your digital life?

It is like trying to finding a needle in a haystack

How can you understand what one person needs if you are dealing with a million customers? The answer is behavioural imprinting. The terms comes from the animal kingdom and represents how animals adapt and learn from one another with a series of behaviours. We used the same methodology to analyse and figure out how what we do online, on social media, the way we react to emails, what we do on websites, and the connected dots inbetween, it uncovers all the behaviours and preferences you leave being in your digital life. You can build an algorithm that helps you personalize experiences so each individual customer only gets more of what they want and less of what they don’t. The needles can be found, it just takes a bit of effort and some groundbreaking science.

All hail Professor Thaler, opening doors in his own disruptive way. We are running behind him cheering and adding new ideas.

If we can tell you how your customers think and we could use that insight to tell you what they want, would you be interested?