In the past few months, I happened to come across some books and a lot of articles around habits.
What at least some of us who struggle to build a good habit (or get rid of a bad one) assume, is that habits are like finding a nice, quiet spot somewhere (at a beach, in the bus, or at the park). That once it’s done, it’s done.
What happens sometimes though, is that once you’ve found that spot, it suddenly gets noisy or crowded. Could be a group of people speaking loudly. Or someone on the phone, who forgets it is the phone’s job to transfer their voice to the person at the other end of the call, and instead they take it upon themselves to. Sometimes you can ask people to be quiet or more away, sometimes you can’t. So then you need to consider finding another ‘nice, quiet’ spot. And if you do, that spot might present its own set of distractions. So what started as a clear, single objective of finding a nice quiet spot, turns into a journey of staying in a nice quiet spot. I’d assume that’s how attempting to create habits is.
And I recently read the book ‘Flow’, where the author talks of something similar in the pursuit of flow – that it is not a destination that one arrives at, but rather a state that one must put effort into maintaining, despite internal distractions and worries, and despite changing and uncontrollable external environments.
About regular corrections or adjustments needed to stay on course. Like that saying, “Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.” Those of us who manage to roll with the punches, succeed with our habit or attaining flow. And those of us who don’t, are still assuming it is a destination rather than a journey.
When I wrote ‘Design the Future’ about Design Thinking, it had a brief overview of the behavioural aspects of innovation – from an innovator’s and user’s perspective.
There was a mention of nudges (not sure I used the term though).
I have been of the (possibly obvious) view that, as companies get increasingly sneaky, especially when selling ill-health or stuff we don’t necessarily need, that despite how creative their marketing gets, customers too keep pace by becoming resistant to the nudges.
I also think the Ben Franklin Effect probably wears off, and that people aren’t exactly suckers to keep giving. Of course, it varies for people, their preferences, value trade-off, etc.
Unless business are sincerely trying to benefit or create a good habit in customers, I’ve personally never been a fan of exploitative nudges. Which is why, while some soft drink or fast food ads and initiatives are creative and impressive, you know it isn’t promoting something great in customers.
Two recent events seemed to be a sort of divine intervention to nudges and business practices that aren’t exactly in the best interest of customers.
First, Cristiano Ronaldo removing Coca-Cola bottles during a press conference at the Euros coinciding with a $4bn fall in the company’s share price. Nothing against the company in particular, but not a fan of global giants that proudly continue to promote ill-health.
The Second, email marketing. While useful to businesses including mine to spread the word, it also has become increasingly sneaky in that they closely track numerous user interactions. I recently got an email about an offer. Opened the email because the subject line was interesting, but immediately realized I didn’t need it. Instantly, the next mail appears, asking if there was something missing in the offer (previous mail). That was pushing it.
As per developments discussed at Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) that ended about a week ago, Apple will be putting more limitations on email marketing and in-app advertising. They’ll likely be preventing marketers from knowing when users have accessed their emails, among other features.
During a recent project with a company trying to create a positive habit in customers, the analytics team had a list of around 140 data points/actions on the app to track. I found some more to take the tally to 200. While the overarching service is beneficial to customers, I wasn’t overly proud of my contribution and faced the moral dilemma of whether we should track so much, or simply create a more effective user experience that might achieve the dual objective: one for the customer and one for the company.
Interesting how some businesses offer invasive tech to businesses, and other businesses offer defense against such tech in the form of new features on their products.
Human behavior, never ceases to confuse. Or amaze.
We have had a maid coming for over two decades to do the dishes and mop the floor. And ever since I can remember, she has had the habit of leaving the water running on full flow while washing utensils. Every time a vessel was clean, she’d turn to keep it in a drip-basket, and turn back to pick another vessel, the water continuing to flow through all that; each time. No amount of telling or warning had any effect. We rarely faced water shortage, but knew how inconvenient it could be, even if it was because of some pipeline repairs.
Apart from a storage tank, stocking water up in buckets, and wondering if it would last till the supply became normal again. Those times also helped us get a perspective about what people with more frequent water shortages experience. Just trying to imagine how people in frequently drought-hit places manage. The same behavior extended to electricity. The maid left lights and fans on as she finished mopping each room, leaving me wondering which royal family she came from. But somehow, the maid seemed the least bit fazed about the wastage of electricity or that of water. It almost seemed like a luxury she was at will to use at her will.
Then, interestingly, over the next few years, I saw a similar behavior in other people. In myself and among friends. We knew how much we earn, and what all we want to buy or save it for. But still, every once in a way, we’d go buy something expensive but more importantly unnecessary, just on impulse. Something we really didn’t need. Something that would sometimes need us to cut back on expenses till our finances got back to normal.
We do the same thing with food and drinks. We overindulge even when we are more than aware it may not be great for our health. Even with something planned the next day, we’d wake up with a horrible hangover.
More often than not, it is an imbalance in another part of our lives that makes us knowingly or unknowingly do something that would logically be counter-intuitive. A mundane or stressful job has a good section of the working population living just to make it to the next weekend. We won’t change a well-paying job even if it is eating into that limited time we have left. So we compensate by eating more of something that gives a temporary satisfaction. We buy that gadget or service just because we can. We waste food just because we can afford to.
There’s more. Know how you can sometimes be thrifty on the home front? Remembering to switch off devices that consume electricity, when no one is using them? And we are the same people who leave air-conditioners on at hotels, and also manage to jam the key-holders to keep uninterrupted power to the room, even if we are going to be out for half a day, just so we may return to a refreshingly cool (or warm) room. We somehow imagine that since we’re paying for the room, it takes care of the costs. And that since it isn’t our house, all the energy and global warming messages somehow cease to be as concerning and real.
Human behavior sometimes tends to compensate for one or more stresses in our life, by unconsciously suspending one or more good habits or rules. And usually, the ones to go out first, are the ones that we hold in lower priority.
And then, the habits of the maid didn’t seem as odd. It was possibly a financial or family-related stress that made her compensate by being wasteful (read extravagant) at homes where she worked. She however, is illiterate. We, are not.