Tuesday, July 15, 2014

shot with your own gun (or the META-return of the texas sharpshooter fallacy)

The sciences of human behaviour show that we all are susceptible to foibles known as cognitive biases.

These are processes of thinking that can sometimes lead us to making less than optimal decisions - particularly in conditions of uncertainty - or more often just relatively benign and harmless routine confabulations.

In the following case, the firm favourite - confirmation bias.

This is our tendency of people to favour information that confirms pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses.

And it's often compounded with a touch of the old texas sharpshooter fallacy.

Refreshingly, from time to time behavioural economists themselves are just as likely as any of us to be caught in these cognitive traps.

In theory, this analysis in Smart Company of how the celebrated Sarah Wilson’s 'I Quit Sugar' books and 'community' have helped a large number of people adopt more healthy behaviours seems to add up.

A slightly edited excerpt follows that links BE staples status quo bias, intrinsic motivation, loss aversion and social proof with positive and negative tension.

Here we go.

'[Wilson uses] positive tension to create anxiety about status quo [and] create an appetite for change.

By pointing to the gap between what’s undesirable now and what is a desirable future you can stimulate sufficient motivation in your customer to be open to changing their behaviour.

Loss Aversion tells us that people are more motivated to avoid loss than seek gain, so you need to work hard to reduce the perceived downside of progressing with you...overcoming negative tension to build people’s willingness to change.

By providing step-by-step meal plans as well as cooking and shopping tips, Sarah reduces people’s fear that a life without sugar is too difficult.

Further, through a thriving blog (engaging over 260,000 every day) and social media presence (over 385,000 followers) Sarah has harnessed a community of advocates and tapped into the behavioural principle of Social Proof.

People new to the materials or program who may feel anxious about whether it will work for them can have their fears allayed by seeing how many others have succeeded. There’s no surer anxiety-buster than knowing that someone else has done it before you.

This analysis is not wrong. We just smiled at it's possible over-theoreticalness.

[And before you start, sure, the irony of that statement is not lost on us...]

Another, perhaps simpler, explanation for the success of the 'I Quit Sugar' phenomenon can be found by applying the Fogg Behaviour Model.

Central to Fogg's theory is that increasing motivation is very hard and almost never works.

Making the desired behaviour easier, even where there is low motivation is generally a much better plan.

For Wilson's wannabe-sugar-free readers there is already likely to be a high motivation to change their behaviour, however because of a perceived lack of ability, it seems hard to do.

In cases like this Fogg recommends the use of a 'faciltator' trigger.

Make the desired behaviour easy by showing people who are motivated how to do it, easily.

Wilson's books, forums, recipes are facilitators, and this is how her empire has been built.

Buy making something that used to be hard, easy.

And branding it well.

Of course, there's more than one way to skin a cat, and the planner joke applies, sometimes what works in practice doesn't always work in theory.

Having said that, we are signed up for the Marketing Science Idea Exchange later this month, at which the author of the piece is conducting a couple of workshops.

In the spirit of idea exchange, hopefully we shall not be sent to the back of the class.

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