It was the summer of 2017, and a friend of mine recommended a book titled Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. As I dug in, I began to learn about behavioral science, a field of study which investigates the social, cognitive, and emotional factors that impact our behavior. I was fascinated. I began to understand the extent to which our decision-making occurs outside of our conscious awareness.
I was in awe of Thaler and Sunstein’s work. They referenced study after study, all of which helped to illustrate the internal and external factors that nudge people to act. These are actions that people believe they completely control, but the evidence suggests otherwise.
These are actions that people believe they completely control, but the evidence suggests otherwise.
I had spent nearly a decade helping companies build software products, and I was familiar with a number of the high-level concepts from Nudge. For example, leveraging social proof in the form of testimonials: If other people say your product is quality, it increases the likelihood that prospective buyers will purchase your product.
However, I quickly learned that I was merely scratching the surface. There were decades of research with the sole goal of figuring out what drives human behavior. It was more than just putting testimonials on a website and calling it “social proof;” rather, it was understanding the fundamental building blocks that explain why we do what we do.
As I dug into the research, I learned that ninety-five percent of our thoughts, emotions, and learning happen before we are consciously aware of them. However, much of today’s technology is built based on the other five percent.
As I dug into the research, I learned that ninety-five percent of our thoughts, emotions, and learning happen before we are consciously aware of them.
This is the part users can articulate when they’re in focus groups, when they’re filling out surveys, or when they’re providing feedback to builders about what they think the next version of your product or website should be.
The stories users tell us are often post-rationalizations of their decisions. They did y because of x. If you want them to do more of y, put more of x into your technology. You do what your users asked, but you find yourself running in circles.
“The way we typically build technology and run startups reflects the way we do everything else in society; ask people what they need and give it to them. Or, better yet, take a guess about what people need and then use our intuition to build the thing we think they need,” said Julie O’Brien, Director of Behavior Change at WW (formerly Weight Watchers).
It’s not that your users are intentionally lying to you, it’s that much of our decision-making happens outside of our conscious awareness. Most of the time, you’re asking users to provide explanations of behaviors they don’t truly understand themselves.
“When you do this, it leads to building products that under-perform because they don’t account for the ways in which humans make decisions. Rather, they are built around our assumptions and what users tell us, but users don’t know what they want,” she added.
“The way we typically build technology and run startups reflects the way we do everything else in society; ask people what they need and give it to them.” — Julie O’Brien
When we build technology, we look to solve the obvious issue; the issue our users tell us about, which narrows our thinking and prevents us from asking questions about what other underlying behaviors could be driving the problem.
What if we don’t really know why we do what we do?
What if we don’t really know why we do what we do? What if we can’t articulate, or even understand our true motivations for using a certain product or service? What if even when we think we know why we did something, we’re wrong?
Decoding the Why — How Behavioral Science is Driving the Next Generation of Product Design.
In this article I shared an excerpt from my book, Decoding the Why.
Also, you can grab a free e-copy of my book Decoding the Why — How Behavioral Science is Driving the Next Generation of Product Design.
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