Nudge

I have been reading Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein and am finding it fascinating.

What is interesting about this book is that it can serve as a possible explanation as to why research companies often fail in generating valid human insights i.e. what motivates us. This can lead often to a weak ‘ad campaign’ being produced. This is because such research is based on the idea of the Rational Economic Man, but books such as Nudge and authors such as Gladwell are suggesting that man can often be irrational, inconsistent, ill informed, weak-willed and lazy.

There are flaws and inconsistencies in our decision-making apparatus and yet our models of human behaviour are still based around the idea that:

“each of us thinks and chooses unfailingly well…if you look at economics textbooks, you will learn that homo economicus can think like Albert Einstein, store as much memory as IBM’s Big Blue, and exercise the willpower of Mahatma Gandhi. Really. But the folks we know are not like that. Real people have trouble with long division if they don’t have a calculator, sometimes forget their spouse’s birthday, and have a hangover on New Year’s Day. They are not homo economicus.”

Rory Sutherland discusses this in one of his latest blog posts here. He talks about his frustration with the shallow nature of our models of human behaviour and the need for the use of anthropologists over the likes of trend-spotters. He thinks it is vital we welcome such behavioural theories as if we carry on speaking in “Marketingese – a language unintelligle to outsiders” then communicating ideas to audiences won’t work. This is because:

“we spend almost all out time attempting to change behaviour through overt persuasion – while paying no attention to influencing the other, barely conscious ways in which people behave.”

Thaler and Sustein explore the less obvious ways in which we can influence human behaviour through little nudges and influences to improve people’s lives and address many of society’s major problems. They look into the way we operate and the irrational decisions we often make. They also talk about how we often follow the crowd – which reminded me of Earl’s work in Herd and how such analysis can be used to improve living standards.

I am only half way through this book and would recommend you read it. I am thinking of doing a book review section on my blog in order to keep track of the ideas I have been reading about. I think it could come in handy. Someone tweeted last week that books were merely ‘padding’ and that the main ideas of a book could probably be put into no more two or three blog posts. Although this could be the case, I think reading a book can be of more value than reading ideas solely from blog posts. There is something about holding a book and turning its pages too…

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