01 Oct 2019

A rocket-inspired formula to boost behaviour change: less friction, more fuel

Why do we make bad decisions even when we know we shouldn’t? Psychologist Dan Ariely shares a fascinating perspective on behaviour change in this recent TED Talk

Ariely explains that there are lots of things that we know we should be doing but we don’t do, e.g. exercising, eating healthily, saving for our retirement, even washing our hands after using the loo(!).

So why don’t we? Let’s face it, we’re “told” to do these things many times. But this is the problem – you can’t just “tell” people and expect them to do what you say. Take for example, texting and driving. We tell people it’s dangerous and expect they’ll stop. But they don’t. Worldwide, nearly 25% of car accidents are caused by texting while driving. 

If “giving information to people is not a good recipe to change behaviour”, then what is? 

Ariely advises that if we want to change behaviour, we have to change the environment. 

We need to think about behaviour change in the same way we think about sending a rocket into space. When we send a rocket into space, we want to do two main things:

  1. Reduce friction to make it as aerodynamic as possible
  2. Load as much fuel as possible

So how does this correlate with changing behaviour? Well, if we want to change people’s behaviour, we have to make it easy for them (less friction) and we have to give them lots of motivation (more fuel). 

This insight is useful when it comes to influencing customer and employee behaviour:

  • Customers: How can I make it easier to do business with me (less friction)? How can I motivate them to buy / keep buying from me (more fuel)? 
  • Employees: How can I make it easier for my employees to be productive (less friction)? How can I motivate them to perform (more fuel)?

And we’re not talking big changes here – some tiny tweaks can reduce friction. Ask yourself: Where do we have too much friction that it’s impacting the desired behaviour?

So the next time you spot a gap in your employee or customer experience – between where you could be and where you are – don’t just provide more information. Instead, apply the formula: less friction and more fuel. And you might see that gap starting to close.