Image [cc] Brainware3000

As I was going through my Facebook feed this morning, I noticed an update from Amy Hale-Janeke that pointed to an article on “How to Stop Annoying Behaviors and Handle Offensive People.” For strictly research purposes only, of course, I read the article, which led to me watching Dan Pink’s 2009 Ted Talk, and then to Pink’s short video on Crowd Control: Top 5 Jaywalkers. It was extremely interesting to listen as Pink discussed how businesses incentive methods are shown to be ineffective when reviewed by social scientists. Methods meant to improve performance or behaviors, can actually create the opposite result.

In his latest project, Pink is looking at behaviors of crowds, and in the segments I watched, he focuses on some “lawbreakers” such as jaywalking and speeding. In a very simplistic summary, these types of behaviors tend to be automatic or unconscious (a.k.a. habits), or from the person not actually visualizing the results that come from this type of action. In setting up for the jaywalking episode, Pink mentions the following:

When we were shooting the show, I spent a lot of time watching people in the wild, folks just gliding through their regular lives—on the street, in the office, in a shopping mall, wherever. What amazed me was just how much of the time we operate unconsciously—guided by default behaviors and largely oblivious to what’s happening around us. I’d previously read the research on inattentional blindness, but to see it in action day in and day out was a stunner. It presented a real challenge in changing behavior—which is why we often used novelty, surprise, and sometimes even shock.

Watching Pink’s video on using gamification to reduce jaywalking (video embedded below), I got to thinking how such a method of novelty, surprise, and shock could be used to improve behaviors within our work environments. Could these tactics be deployed to enhance tasks that, while not as potentially fatal as jaywalking, might improve the results of behaviors that we know are substandard, but traditional methods (carrot and stick) don’t tend to work? I’m not giving any answers to my question, but I will throw out a few law firm behaviors that I think approaches of novelty, surprise, and shock would improve.

  • Not attending training session (or worse, signing up for training sessions and then not showing up.)
  • Time Entry (improving the task to entry time, proper coding of time, and improved descriptions)
  • Updating Client Relationship Management data
  • Entering documents into the Document Management System

There are probably dozens of other behaviors that we would like to improve/change. Perhaps through methods of novelty, surprise, and shock (maybe electric shock?), we can actually change the behavior for the better.