Psychology By Any Other Name

I love the book Nudge—the content’s pretty good, the title even better! But I hate—literally hate—the title of the genre. Namely, “behavioral economics.”

Oh for God’s sake.

Behavioral economics?


(Or as I like to call the field, “Economists discover humans.”)

But that’s actually not the topic of this post.

As I write I sit in a beautiful British Airways Club Class lounge in Heathrow’s opulent Terminal 5.

The lounge is big.
The lounge is well appointed.
There are two parts.
There is no distinction between the two parts in terms of access.
The “half” you come into has the food and drink, and the loos.
The other half has no amenities aside from a flight info screen.
The two halves are separated by a glass wall, with a simple door.
Push the door and, voilà, go from one half to the other.
(No signs, no labels, no designations at all.)


The half you enter, now, at 10 a.m., has a ratio of approximately (I counted but may be off a bit) three full seats to every entry seat—it is obviously “crowded.”

The other half has a ratio of 6 empty seats to every full seat! (And … the space between rows of seats is much greater.)

The simple (and totally transparent) dividing wall did it!
Three-to-one versus one-to-six.

Maybe the folks in the entry side like crowds? Not likely, since you see new entrants apparently looking for places with more privacy.

Maybe it’s no food and drink? Nope, the food and drink area is just as close to me, in the nearly empty side, as it is for those on the entry side; there just happens to be a door in the middle.


That is, there’s no “sensible” explanation for the radically greater share of free space on “my side” other than something like the assumption, “It’s on the ‘far side’ of the wall—I don’t belong there.”

The fun (and seriousness) of the nudge-behavioral economics-psychology “thing” is that the differences, like this one in the BA lounge, are often as not extreme. Not a ten percent difference. Or a twenty-five percent difference. (Which would, in fact, be a damn big deal.) But a 180+ degree flip: 3:1 vs. 1:6.

I could go on and on!
I love this stuff!
(Human psychology, that is—I’m not too keen on economics.)

Let me conclude with one pragmatic point: If you become a “nudgist” and a practitioner of “nudgery,” the good news is that you don’t have to be a Big Boss. These are, in 9 cases out of 10, “below the radar” phenomena. That is, most are unaware of the behavioral consequences of little nudges—and hence anybody at any level who takes the initiative is effectively allowed to play.

Bottom bottom line: This is very-wildly-insanely powerful stuff!!

Tom Peters posted this on October 29, 2009, in General.
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