Leonardo Da Vinci: “Every action needs to be prompted by a motive.”
Nudge theory originated in work on rational choice theory in the 1980s at the University of Chicago, which showed that people are not always rational agents. This gave birth to behavioural economics and the science of choice. Two very influential books published close together, Nudge: Improving Decisions and Health, Wealth and Happiness by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler in 2008 and Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman in 2011, brought these ideas into the mainstream.
Some of the best-known concepts from these two books are:
So what is a nudge and why would we want to use one? A nudge is a deliberate decision made to influence human behaviour. Importantly, though, a nudge preserves choice. It shouldn’t require heavy-handed legislation or regulation. There is ethical value in not constraining human agency gratuitously. Nudges can also be very cheap to implement while generating significant payoffs.
Since nudge theory entered the mainstream, there have been many examples of successful nudges:
You’re sold on the idea. How do you nudge in practice?
The Nudge Unit has developed an EAST framework: Easy, Attractive, Social, Timely
How could nudge theory help your employees and customers?
Beware: if people know they are being nudged, they dislike it and will resist. It is important to remain transparent and honest throughout. For example, only tell customers that a product is your most popular one if this is backed up by sales data. When Richard Thaler signs copies of his book, he always writes ‘Nudge for good’ next to his name.
Links to further reading: