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Behavior Change
How to Engage the 90% of Our Brains That Resists Changing Behaviour

In a rich and fascinating afternoon workshop on Monday, behavioural design experts Sille Krukow and Teis Andres of Krukow Behavioural Consulting explored their theory and tools on how conscientious companies can design the right environments in which consumers can achieve their sustainability aspirations.

Throughout the workshop, the Krukow duo explored how behaviour change can be achieved by observing and designing the surrounding environment so that the stakeholder is more inclined to choose the sustainable choice because it is the easiest pathway for them to choose.

Krukow utilizes behavioural economics and cognitive psychology to enable consumer-facing brands to structure the choice architecture that may nudge consumers and influence their behavior when faced with certain choices. Behavioural patterns and habits are very similar across industries, so it is easy to transfer the key elements of changing behaviour across sectors.

Is it possible to change human behaviour?

Behaviour design is used to move from having an ambition, such as getting consumers to choose a more sustainable product or service, to activating that ambition and making it happen.

Three doors to changing human behaviour

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These are three treatments that can be put in place for behaviour change to be instigated.

  1. Motivation – Inspire more sustainable choices.
  2. Knowledge – Educate why one choice is better than another.
  3. Incentives, bans and regulation – When the above two tools do not work, more forceful methods may be implemented.

However, Krukow explained that simply because people are motivated to change their behaviour and understand why they need to change, it does not necessarily mean that they will.

The Automatic Brain vs the Reflective Brain

Two types of thinking drive human behaviour: 90 percent of our brain functions on automatic thinking or habit, while only 10 percent uses reflective thinking to drive our choices; this kind of thinking requires much more effort and is not a dominant driver of human behaviour.

When it comes to activating sustainable purpose, the challenge is that, when people are making choices they are directed by their unconscious thinking 90 percent of the time. They are not driven by motivation, knowledge or incentives, but by instinct. Therefore our surroundings influence our behaviour.

During the next stage of the workshop, Krukow explored the method used in behavioural design to move from the behaviour change ambition to implementing it into a reality.

Outline the overall ambition

The first step is to identify the overall ambition or behaviour change that you want to instigate. When thinking about an overall ambition, Krukow advised focusing on a target audience, a specific behaviour and group of people that are measurable. Choice architecture – which takes into consideration the surrounding environment that facilitates behaviour on a daily basis - is then used to help achieve these ambitions.

“It is a matter of designing an environment that makes it easy for people to make certain choices, choices that help people succeed in reaching their personal sustainability goals,” Krukow explained.

Map out human behaviour

The next step in redesigning human behaviour is to map out behavioural patterns. Krukow analyses the existing systems where cues and guides are set up to direct people’s automatic behaviour. What is the existing choice architecture that nudges people’s decisions? Where are people failing right now to make more sustainable choices and how do we redesign the choice architecture to nudge them into a different behavioural pattern in that moment?

She described the importance of collecting data that showed what people are doing and why, and mapping out the different situations that are part of this focus area. This must be done through unbiased observation, without any preconceived notions of what information to look for, and observing the existing choice architecture. This mapping of human behaviour helps to unearth a problem-based behaviour that is measurable.

Apple product designers, for example, work with where people may fail in mind and design their products to facilitate easier pathways to their users’ success. The magnetic cord of Apple charger cables predicts that many people may forget to unplug their charger, so they designed the product to make it easier for them not to damage their device when this human error surfaces.

Integrate feedback mechanisms

The car industry uses feedback mechanisms to help people be successful in being safe when driving their car. When you press the lock button on the car key, the car gives feedback by making a noise to let you know it’s locked. This is transferable to the sustainability setting - for example, shower meters that show you how much water you have consumed.

Ultimately, if we only work with reflective thinking, the odds of change are only 10 percent (would you consider that a success?). This is why the proper choice architecture is key for evaluating solutions based not on people’s opinions but on what appeals to their automatic behavioural patterns.


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