Think Better

Don’t listen to your customers

Our decision-making process has many flaws. It’s what makes us human. However, that’s not the story I’ll tell you today. The problem is on the other side of medallion. Organisations, people who design and build solutions, product managers, marketers (hey guys), and designers totally IGNORE this fact.

Let me tell you why

If you say this, I hear you.

“I don’t know how I ended up scrolling on Instagram?*” 

It’s normal. I do that too. Because we are irrational. Wait wait, of course, we are not irrational. We’re perfectly rational, however, we have some irrationalities when making a decision.

If you wanted to use your phone less, because using it brought you less joy than doing other things, you’d simply use it less. You’d stop scrolling. You’d stop checking. You would never sleep with your phone by your bed (Source)

But, we don’t do. Because our decision-making process has many flaws. It’s what makes us human. However, that’s not the story I’ll tell you today. The problem is on the other side of medallion. Organisations, people who design and build solutions, product managers, marketers (hey guys), and designers totally IGNORE this fact.

We assume people fully understand and can predict their own preferences. We assume people’s preferences outweigh all the irrational motivations exist in our environment.

It is wrong. We could never fix real-life problems if we built solutions around rational motivations.

We mistakenly ask these 3 questions

We ask people to understand their motivations around their behaviours. Sometimes we interview them. Sometimes it’s a focus group. Most of the time it’s a survey. These are great tools to surface actionable insights. Unless you don’t ask these 3 questions:

  • The Past
  • The Future
  • The Why

Asking about these three types of questions will mislead you. Let me explain why they don’t work.

Asking about The Past

When you ask people about their past behaviour, people answer what they think everybody else will answer. 

  • Did you ever text and drive? Of course, I didn’t.
  • Did you eat chocolate after work last week? Are you kidding? No way I did that. 
  • Did you work out 3 times last a week? HELL YEAH (didn’t even go for a walk)

You get the point. People give a socially acceptable answer. People forget about the details of the past when you ask about their past. 

Asking about The Future

When you ask people about their future they are imagining their ideal-self. So they will answer around their ideal-self, not their present-self.  

  • Will you be saving an additional 10% of your income for your pension? Oh, yeah sure. 
  • Would you eat an apple if we start serving them? Definitely. 
  • Would you purchase this cool app who has these amazing features? Shut up and take my money! 

But no one ever would. You get the point. In the future, everybody is a perfect person. Everyone will read more books, eat healthier, save more etc. But life is happening in the present moment. It means you have social pressure health concerns, expectations, work stress, costs, mood etc. when making decisions in the present moment. 

Asking about The Why

Because people generally choose the easiest option (or the default option). However, we assume we are completely rational when we have been asked a question like why you choose over yearly plan over a monthly plan etc. Because it’s what we have been educated. Classical economists claim supply and demand are the primary forces driving our behaviour. In theory, true. In practice? Don’t think so. Therefore this is the most misleading type of gathering information.

So what should we do? 

The short answer is behavioural design. Behavioural design is a problem-solving approach that uses insights from the field of behavioural economics to develop and design solutions than change behaviour for good. (Source

Behavioural economics is the field who study these decision making irrationalities. They disrupted the traditional economic theory that suggests we act only to optimise utility.  Behavioural economists have shown social norms, loss aversion, present bias, and more drive our decision- making as much as or more than classic time and money considerations. 

The behavioural design has 3 phases

  1. Do a behavioural diagnosis: Identify your desired behaviour and outline every step your users have to take to achieve it. 
  2. Identify psychological biases: Determine the barriers that get in the way of decisions and the benefits that motivate them. 
  3. Experiment: Choose one barrier to address an design an experiment to test.

If you are interested in this topic, I strongly encourage you to have a look at this Behavioural Design guide here.

Study what people do, not what they say

Create a meaningful behaviour change instead of asking people why they do what they do. As behavioural scientist Kristen Berman says, this is the future for organisations (and for us) that want to make people happier, healthier, and wealthier. 

The whole article has been inspired and hugely sourced by this fully insightful TED Talk of Kristen Berman. Hats off to her. Hats off to all behavioural scientists. Hats off to all great thinkers!

I’m helping ambitious people to master how to think better so they can live their life better. If you liked this post, join me and get signals in the noise.

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