This website covers knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

Nudge: the choice is yours

I had been looking forward to reading more detail about the idea of Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's Nudge after seeing some excerpts of the book and reading related materials. It's an interesting overview of research on human behavior in choice-making circumstances and what to do with this information.

The basic idea of the book has two elements. The first is that research shows that the choices people make depend heavily on how the choice is presented. (People tend to pick the top candidate on a ballot. People go with the default settings in software or in 401K. etc. etc.) This design may be intentional or it may just have built up over time, but the result is that people lean in the direction that the design pushes them. As the authors are both economists, they highlight the notion that people do not act in the way many economists model them - they aren't purely rational. Economists assume people will make logical decisions when presented with appropriate information. People don't operate this way. They are influenced by many factors, such as what others around them do, past experiences, time pressures, complexity, etc. Many of the elements of "choice architecture" have to do with creating the environment in which people make these choices. I found this portion of the book most interesting, as it tied to a lot of things I find interesting with respect to change management and general sociology. I was a bit disappointed that there wasn't more to this section.

The second idea in the book is that if the "choice architect" is aware of their affect on people, how should they design their systems. This is the explicit acknowledgement of the nudge that design provides. The authors take a specific viewpoint on these nudges and give a wide variety of examples of how things work now and how modest changes could help people make better choices for themselves, while also allowing them to make other choices. The centerpiece of much of this nudge architecture is transparency (both information and process) and salience (information provided has to make sense to the people using it, not the people who provide it). They apply this idea to a wide variety of issues that appear in the newspapers: 401K investing (and investing generally), credit cards, healthy lifestyle, organ donations, environmental concerns, even "privatizing marriage."

But what makes a good candidate for a nudge? There are many factors, but I really liked one simple statement they made. If the activity is something you say, "I should do more of that." Or "I should do less of that," then you probably have a candidate for a nudge. Nudges can look like signs, or messages from friends, or default settings, or colors, or just about anything else that people use to help guide decisions.

I was surprised at how this book fit with other things I've read previously, such as the Heath brothers' Switch (my review) and Don Norman's recent book on design, Living with Complexity (my review). I found this both an advantage and a distraction. The advantage because the ideas fit well with the conception I had of design and encouraging change. The distraction was that many of the examples used were familiar from these books and from general reporting on science. The question I had was how the same research could be used in so many different iterations of books on related topics.

Improvement cycles apply everywhere

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