Guiding people to make good decisions

There’s a wonderful book called Nudge by Richard H. Thaler and  Cass R. Sunstein. It is full of interesting tidbits that involve getting people to make choices that are good for them. Rather than using punitive measures or trying to motivate people to do things that benefit them, the authors talk about making simple changes that can have a big impact. They use examples of arranging food in the cafeteria line so that the healthy foods get chosen first, setting  up enrollment programs, and even organ  donor programs at the DMV.

How it works.
Recently I found a great example of “nudging” behavior at the Napa Valley Vintners offices. We were teaching a class there and had served food and beverages. We were cleaning up the food items and went into the kitchen to throw away the trash. 

That’s when we had to make a decision – we had to choose between two different ways of disposing of our waste:

Option A – Recycle

Option B – Don’t recycle

Here’s what struck me about this setup — it was the words they chose on each of the bins:

Option A was to  “Recycle” . It made you feel good to do the right thing.  

Look at the wording for Option B. They didn’t label the second bin “trash” or “garbage.” They labeled it “Landfill”. I had a visceral response to that word. I could barely force myself to put anything in that bin. Who wants to be the horrible person responsible for adding to a landfill? Your natural inclination is to avoid that bin at all costs.  The word creates a powerful visual image in your mind and motivates you to put as much as you can into the recycling bin. 

What they didn’t do
They didn’t need a single sign encouraging me to recycle. There weren’t lists of what qualifies and what doesn’t. There was no hall monitor watching to report any garbage infractions. They inspired me to do the right thing. One simple word choice made all the difference. Kudos to the smart person at the Napa Valley Vintners who took the time to think about the little things.

How can you make it easier for people to choose to do the right thing in your company?

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