[Image courtesy of Mark Smith at Flickr Creative Commons]
“Too late – I took it to the bank,” said a friend of mine the other day on a WhatsApp chat.
I’d made what I thought was an ironic comment, but he’d taken it literally.
You know what they say about giving a thing and taking it back. By the time I tried to rope in my backhanded compliment, he was already basking in the warm glow of praise, unwilling to let it go.
We all ‘take it to the bank’ from time to time, often without realising it. We hear what we want to hear, project our thoughts and feelings onto the words of others, and often overrate our own abilities. It’s all part of being human – which is what makes us all endlessly fascinating.
I was thinking again recently about why we do what we do when I revisited Nudge for a project I’m working on.
This was the book that took the world by storm back in 2008, becoming one of The Economist’s must-reads of the year. It was so influential that the British government set up its own ‘nudge unit’, otherwise known as the Behavioural Insights Team, and Barack Obama appointed one of the authors, Cass Sunstein, as administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
The idea is pretty simple: you can make small changes that have big consequences. You don’t need to spend billions or deploy an army of civil servants. You simply need to understand what ‘nudges’ people to behave differently.
‘Psychological interventions’ – in other words, nudges – are incredibly powerful, because they hit the sweet spot and spur people into action. Here are some examples:
All of these nudges rely on the cognitive biases that most of us have.
Conformity bias is what’s driving the doctors and taxpayers: while everybody says they want to be different and individual, in practice they really just want to be like everybody else (which explains the irresistible pull of Facebook and other social media).
These cognitive biases are so pervasive we hardly even notice them any more. See if you recognise any of them (as I certainly do):
These mental flaws that we all have are not only fascinating to behavioural scientists. They’re also a way for marketers to connect with clients and prospects.
The more you understand human nature, the more you can craft a message that’s relevant, targeted and successful. One in which what you say is what they hear, whether it’s a marketing campaign or a WhatsApp chat.
And maybe this time, you can take it to the bank.
Find out more: