The science of human behavior is a river of with exclamations, curiosities, prevarications and humble confusion. But among the currents and eddies often there are useful insights that help us navigate daily life.
One such notion was introduced by Jason Hreha, a Stanford graduate and one-time co-author with Dan Ariely. Hreha is now Global Head of Behavioral Sciences at Walmart, the world’s largest employer.
About a year and a half ago, Hreha was talking with a former member of President Obama’s Social and Behavioral Sciences Team.
According to Hreha in a recent email, the small group became a roaming behavioral economics consultancy during the final three years of Obama’s presidency. They worked on various projects, big and small, across various agencies.
After a few different case studies, says Hreha, it became clear — the Social and Behavioral Sciences Group was all about simplification.
Every single project the person described to Hreha, involved taking some bloated government process or solution — and making it smaller, quicker, easier.
An example. Pretend the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) wants to increase the health insurance application rate, but it just so happens the application process is 45 minutes long and requires people to fill out a health-status questionnaire.
The behavioral sciences SWAT team would want to cut down the application length as much as possible (from 45 minutes to 10) by eliminating or shortening steps. In this case, the team might ask DHHS to re-design the form so that healthy applicants can fill out the health-status portion with a couple of clicks (“I am a healthy person”, etc.).
Since healthy applicants are the ones least likely to use health insurance, a tweak like this could increase the application rate for this group — important because this group pays for health care they rarely use.
Bureaucrat-designed processes tend to be longer than necessary, so a behavior-change strategy focused on shortening and simplifying government forms makes a lot of sense.
Which brings us to the three types of behavioral interventions.
Simplification is all about making a behavior easier.
Motivation is all about making a behavior more enjoyable or exciting.
Instigation is all about making a behavior salient or top-of-mind. It’s about reminding people to do a behavior.
The White House behavioral team was focused on simplification, which made sense for the types of problems faced in government.
But in our personal lives and the business world, points 2 and 3 are equally important.
Whenever you’re facing a behavior problem related to brand or business, it’s useful to think about these three categories.
Ask yourself: Is there a way to make this behavior simpler? Is there a way to make this behavior more intentional, enjoyable or exciting? Is there a way we can make sure this behavior is memorable and repeated?
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Patrick Hanlon, Author of Primal Branding
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