Thinking

Understanding behaviour change

Find out how humans make decisions and how to tap into behavioural patterns to create long-lasting change in your organisation.

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Behaviour change - thinking and doing are not the same

Changing a habit is easier said than done. Many of us can identify particular behaviours we’d like to change in ourselves - whether it’s eating healthier, exercising more regularly or better money management - yet, identifying the behaviour and changing it are two very distinct activities from one another.

The good news is that by using behavioural science, we can improve our chances of making lasting change. Behaviour change is about understanding what encourages and deters people to behave in a certain way. By having such awareness, we can use nudges to positively influence both individual and collective behaviour to the benefit of wider society.

Decision making and behaviour change

Human beings do not rationally process all information. This may seem obvious, yet for decades the theory disseminated was that reason and logic underpinned all decision making - also known as rational-thinking theory. Humans make lots of decisions every day, and whilst some will be more rational than others, no individual is wholly rational. 

We also make impulsive, automatic and unconscious decisions too. Research in the last two decades has allowed us to rethink our understanding of how the human brain processes information. Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman popularised an alternative model for understanding thinking into two modes of thought; System 1 and System 2 in his book Thinking Fast and Slow.

Systems-1-and-2

Engaging System 1 and making fast decisions isn’t a bad thing, we use it to distinguish objects from one another and for general everyday decisions which don’t require strategic thinking. When more deliberation is needed, System 2 takes over and applies more reason and control than instinct. 

Both systems have strengths and limitations - but by understanding how our brains make decisions we can recognise why we often engage in certain behaviours even when we know it’s not the most beneficial thing for us. Eating unhealthy takeaway food or negating your sleep by binge-watching a TV series into the early morning hours are common examples of this - we know it’s not the best thing for us but this awareness alone doesn’t compel us to act differently.

Nudges and behaviour change

So what does this mean for behavioural change? If we can identify the behaviour we want to change, we can apply nudges - nudges put simply are an intervention which gently steers an individual towards the desired action. Behavioural change nudges are embedded in many products and services to empower individuals to make positive changes; apps which send reminders to exercise or continue your language-learning course are examples of this. Many also include gamification elements such as day streaks and points which provide a sense of achievement when we engage in certain behaviours consistently.

From quitting smoking to learning mindfulness, behaviour change has helped many individuals change to and maintain a new behaviour - but the application of behavioural change science has not been confined to just individuals. Governments around the world (including the UK) have behaviour change frameworks which provide guidelines to local governments and partners to support people in healthier behaviours. Behavioural change can be at the forefront of efforts to address major societal challenges such as public health emergencies and climate crises.

At Clarasys, we are a consultancy which works with organisations in both the public and private sectors. Regardless of the project, we want to help all of these organisations focus their efforts on people, the planet and prosperity. These areas of focus can all be underpinned by behavioural changes.

People

Improving the culture of an organisation requires changes to deeply-rooted behaviours. A new culture doesn’t simply occur by telling your employees to do something differently, it requires a shift in enough individual mindsets to create a collective change that sticks. By working with people and understanding their motivations for behaving a certain way, we can design nudges to help make a change to something new. Nudges should never be aggressive or misleading - you want to encourage someone to behave in a new way, not simply mandate that they do. 

Planet

Asking organisations what is the impact that they want to have is a powerful question. Most companies want to have an impact beyond being profitable for their shareholders. Knowing the impact you want your organisation to have can help provide a golden thread that runs through your organisation and all its activities. Considering the impact your organisation has on the planet isn’t just an ethical decision - attracting the best talent to your team and retaining your customers can be a matter of how well you have convinced them of your organisation’s behaviour or intentions.

Prosperity

Organisations can be prosperous without compromising the health of the planet and its people. There doesn’t need to be a tradeoff between being sustainable and being profitable - many sustainable activities e.g. reduced waste are compatible with economic profitability. Changing this mindset still held by many organisations, in conjunction with the positive behavioural changes we embed in our products and services, could go a long way towards shifting the dial the right way in the face of big societal challenges.

Takeaways:

  • Humans aren’t completely rational - knowing a behaviour change is beneficial is not the same as changing it, but understanding the way we think can help us create positive changes in our lives 
  • Nudges can predictably alter behaviour without impacting the autonomy of the individual
  • Organisations don’t change, people do - behavioural change science can be used to shift cultures, mindsets and create meaningful products and services that have impact.
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