Shaping – the end

This post is combined with Part 1 and  Part 2 to complete, hopefully, the first revision of a speech for Worktech. In the previous sections we’ve covered Winnie the Pooh, existentialism, The Ikea Effect, Superman and Heraclitus. In this section we whizz through nudge theory, competing with China and the beermat test.


So we can’t change people – that’s overreaching, but we know that we can rely on the facts that

  • People like to feel part of a group
  • People like to feel like they are making independent decisions
  • People like to feel like their work is valued

We know that increasingly the ability of organisations to compete in the way they have traditionally (create a product, produce that product, market the product well and improve productivity to reduce costs) is being compromised by the ability of China to rapidly reverse engineer product and systemise its production, at volume, at low cost. So what does a world look like where you can’t change people and everything you do can be copied? It looks like a world where you change your bias from efficiency to constant, relentless progress. You play to your strengths by reducing the emphasis on duplication of product and increasing the emphasis on cycles of creation. From command and control to enabling. You help people work in groups, to make independent decisions and then you place value on that decision making.

  • Make people feel part of a group – enable communication, flexibility, cultural flags, strong sense of identity. Encourage people to create and play together.
  • People like to feel like they are making independent decisions – do one of two things – let them make independent decisions or let them think they are
  • Make people think their work is valued – celebrate failure, celebrate success, constantly learn, show visibility and credit throughout a project. We focus so much on progress we forget that the platform for it is the work already done. The people who build the platform like to be acknowledged.

That’s the takeaway based on science. Don’t listen to the people telling you how to change people – create an environment that opens doors for people instead of forcing them into dead ends. You can still influence decisionmaking significantly through ‘nudges’, small changes to the environment that force or influence choices. For instance

Placing healthy foods in your office canteen at eye level and making unhealthier foods less accessible would be a simple nudge

Or asking people to opt out of organ donation (rather than opt in) which increases the percentage willing to give organs by up to 80%

Or asking someone to sign to confirm they are telling the truth before they fill in an insurance claim (rather than to sign it at the end)  to drive down claims

Or increasing the percentage of people paying government fines by up to six fold by sending them a personalised text message

Or reducing the amount of people incurring charges from their bank for borrowing too much money by asking them to take several surveys about whether they borrow too much money. That one nudge changes behaviour for up to two years.

I can’t tell you if doing the above is ethical, that is a complex question, but I can tell you that it is possible to change people’s behaviour without having to change people. We control environment and messaging and, sinister as that may sound, that is enough to change decisions and behaviours. We need to use that control positively.

We have the technology both here and emerging that enables us to control an environment more effectively from ever before. We have the technology that could enable the autonomy to create like never before. We have a choice as to whether we use this technology to monitor and police or to provide insight to release. I vote for the latter, I completely appreciate the temptation of the former – but when did you ever know someone who created more effectively with someone looking over their shoulder?

Helping people feel they are making an independent decision to improve will always be more effective and sutainable than attempting to impose that change. It is how we are wired.

We can spend time being concerned about defending our historic industries or we can steal a march on creating new ones. It isn’t just social media and tech – it is whatever is still to be done in a new or different way. You only have to steal a look at Kickstarter to see that people are constantly creating – over $1 billion has been pledged to projects on just that platform, 5.8 million people have backed over 100000 Kickstarter projects. That is the future of product design and value.  That is the future of radical business – you trust the people making and servicing product to act as a group to make more of your decisions. Crowdfund your internal projects by deciding on resource allocation. We can do this now, we have the technology. Let’s use that technology to automate things that support  people, not try and take us closer to being robots. Western economies simply can’t win and can’t compete in a future driven by efficiency.

I’d like to leave you with something very low tech. Let’s talk beermats.

I visited Berlin just before Christmas and we visited the Zoo. My wife lived here for an number of years when she was younger and remembered the zoo as a highlight of her childhood, much like I remember Pooh Bridge. We took our 4 year old daughter and we were sure that she would enjoy it.

She didn’t. For her a Zoo didn’t make just didn’t make sense.

As we toured the bird enclosure, my daughter explained, unprompted, that she didn’t like the birds being kept in cages as they couldn’t fly properly. It made her sad.

I don’t have an educated position on animal rights and I’m not an expert on zoo design. I did say to my daughter that when she grows up I don’t think they will have zoos like this anymore, because they won’t want to take animals from their homes unless they will be happier in the zoo. If you built Berlin or any modern city now, starting from scratch, you would struggle to make a case for 84 acres of land to be dedicated to collection of animals from across the globe. Zoos are marvels of a past age, but they are to be appreciated in the present and not built for the future.

The Zoo is a hangover from a past age, where we collected wonders of the world in one place so people could be amazed at their existence. Whilst The Discovery Channel and wildlife programmes aren’t a straight substitute for the real thing, they are close enough for children growing up today not to have a requirement for zoos..

The Zoo fails the beermat test. If it wasn’t invented and I sketched the idea on a beermat whilst we were chatting in a pub you wouldn’t think it made sense. You might create conservation areas and animal sanctuaries and all sorts of things like that – but not the old fashioned zoo. The same is true of many organisations. We put people in cages and hope they’ll be docile.

Much of the modern world fails the beermat test. If it wasn’t in place already there is no way that you would design it that way.

I’m not an anarchist in the workplace and I don’t think I qualify as an idealist. I’m pretty pragmatic but I do principles. I told you I was going to leave you with questions and challenges, so here they are

1. How do you ensure we use technology and workplace environments to free people to create – rather than to control people to poduce?

2. How can you make sure that personally, each day you come out of the revolving door as Superman (and not Clark Kent)?

3. How do you avoid being the proud owner of a wonky wardrobe?

And finally a call to arms – go grab a beermat and identify what elements of your company structure, customer experience and ways of working would fail the beermat test. If you designed it from scratch is that what you’d do? If it gets you excited then do you really think you need a change management programme to get other people excited – or do you just need to appeal to their nature and let them help you build it?

If your company is as it is because of the past – and we all know it will be a different future – you should be changing all the time.

As Herclitus said ‘everything flows’, so please don’t put safety barriers on Pooh Bridge,

Thank you.

One thought on “Shaping – the end

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s