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It’s Not Rocket Science, it’s Behavioural Science

Health, Psychology

Image by Flickr user Jen Scheer; used under Creative Commons Attribution licence

“It’s not rocket science, it just takes motivation and will!”

This was the conclusion from an audience member at our Knee High Project get together last week, an event exploring the need for more innovation, experimentation, and evaluation in the early years.

The point was that many businesses could make life easier for parents by making simple changes to their premises, for example if all coffee shops provided space for twin buggies.

It may not be rocket science but it does involve science. Behavioural science.

The audience member was an expert on early years, well aware of the problems that families face, full of ideas to tackle them and highly motivated to do something about it.

Most coffee shop baristas, managers or owners are not.

Last week I wrote a blog post about the curse of knowledge, the inability of better-informed people to understand why others just don’t get a problem.

Instead of adapting their language, they end up shouting louder (like us Brits abroad) and the problem persists.

It’s no use shouting if they can’t understand you.

It’s no use shouting if they can’t hear you.

There is often a disconnect between people who are aware of a problem – normally customers or staff – and the decision makers who have the power to solve it – normally directors, heads or chiefs.

Many organisations work hard to understand their staff and customers but surveys and suggestion boxes are perceived as black holes. They absorb lots of information but give nothing back.

If experts work on better communicating feedback, organisations need to make it easy for feedback – good and bad – to make it up and down the chain. The more transparent the process the better.

This is the first step.

The second step is ensuring that feedback is addressed.

No amount of information will lead to change if the person in charge lacks the motivation to do so. Improving the lives of families should be incentive enough but rational arguments regularly fall on deaf ears.

One reason is the ‘cold-hot empathy gap’. When people are calm and content – a cold emotional state – they find it hard to understand a hot emotional state, for example the frustration and exhaustion of parenthood.

The result is a false assessment of need and a lack of motivation to change.

Understanding what truly motivates people – beyond rational incentives – will help us design processes that effectively communicate feedback, close the empathy gap and improve the health and wellbeing of families with young children.

For starters, all CEOs should try getting their morning coffee pushing a twin buggy with a toddler in tow.

Maybe then we’ll get lift off.

© 2015 Warwick Business School and the Design Council