Think bigger

360 degree BE

Carrot Rewards, a mobile app that spruiked its use of behavioural economics (BE) to engage 1.1 million users, filed for bankruptcy this year after failing to find an investor.

Which got me thinking: are businesses embedding BE in product design but overlooking its use to influence those who pay the bills?

BE on the inside

With loyalty points for petrol, travel and groceries as their prize, the Carrot Rewards app encouraged Canadians to walk more, get flu shots and complete health questionnaires. According to a media release, it was an “AI-driven wellness app that leverages behavioural economics and nudge theory to motivate and reward users for making better lifestyle choices.”

The BE component seems largely to have been the immediacy of reward, tapping into short-term bias, with small rewards promptly transferred upon completion of a task. User friction was also reduced, with easy ways to track tasks and transact points.

Did it work to improve health behaviours? A study in JMIR Mhealth Uhealth determined the app increased average daily step count by 5%, and as much as 21% amongst physically inactive users. So yes. Early signs were good. BE-ing the inside of the app was working.

BE on the outside

Here’s where I broaden my point though, because I don’t know the details of how the Carrot Rewards team sought to influence investors, I just know they clearly failed. What I have noticed amongst businesses that talk about using BE, including advertising and market research agencies, is they seem to limit their use to the mechanics of the product to be consumed.

In other words, the app’s usability but not the task of getting people to download it. The ad campaign but not the getting the clients to agree to it. The research but not getting the clients to use what’s discovered.

It’s a blinkered, siloed use of behavioural techniques and means great BE-powered initiatives are failing for lack of a BE-powered influencing approach. They haven’t BE-d the external positioning.

It’s like having the world’s greatest chef in the kitchen but failing to think how you will get people to the restaurant. What a waste!

BE 360 degree

Behavioural techniques are a 360-degree skills-set. By that I mean you can use the same techniques on:

  • Your customer (the consumer or user)
  • Your stakeholders (investors and/or leaders)
  • Yourself

In the case of an app, for example, that means within-app usability and functionality to drive behaviour of users. It means anticipating and overcoming resistance to downloading the app in the first place, and trying to get users to prioritise its placement on their home screen.

Further, it means securing investment to develop the app by influencing stakeholder perception of value. Ask yourself, “why they should they bother?” and “how you can minimise risk?” Use short-term bias to emphasis short-term advantages, nullify loss aversion by providing assurances in favour of the investment, and amplify the downside of missing out on the opportunity.

In terms of using BE on yourself, it gives you a roadmap of how to adjust your behavioural patterns. You can use environmental primes to change the course of your behaviour for example, like setting a motivational phrase as your morning login, the size of the plate you eat from and what music you play at what time.

The lesson from the failure of some BE-infused products is that it may not be the products at all, but rather how they are sold in.  BE on the inside isn’t enough. BE the outside too.

Why past behaviour is not really the best predictor of future behaviour

You’ve probably heard people say the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.  But is this true, and what does it actually mean?

Let’s start with people’s tendency towards routine. Most of us are creatures of habit because that’s how our brain finds relief from the daily deluge of decision-making. Having a routine to follow each morning means I can operate on autopilot and conserve my cognitive resources.

So yes, that I brushed my teeth every morning over many years means I am probably likely to brush my teeth tomorrow. My past behaviour is a solid predictor of my future behaviour, particularly in stable circumstances.

But it’s also true that I used to swim four times a week and now I do other exercise instead. My past behaviour as a committed swimmer did not predict my future behaviour. I’m pretty sure you are not doing exactly what you did 5 years ago either, so no, past behaviour is not always a predictor of future behaviour.

And it’s not just me. When I started working for publishers of the printed phone directory, millions of Australians used us each week. By the time I left and Google had asserted itself, our “loyal” users had left us. Past behaviour was not a reliable data point to anticipate the future because the world had changed.

What do we mean, then, when we say past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour?  Clearly it’s not always the case.

Maybe the emphasis is on “best”. What other options are there? How can we predict behaviour without looking at the past?

Option 1. Big data

No doubt data and Artificial Intelligence are where business is heading. But that’s not an easy or inexpensive path to take. Most organisations I have worked with are struggling with the basics of consolidating antiquated legacy systems and data quality, let alone tuning these systems into powerhouse predictive models.

Retailer Target in the US is still cited as a rare example of big data’s potential. What did their predictive model enable them to do? Send pregnancy-related catalogues to a 16 year old who had not yet told her father her unexpected news. By tracking purchases of seemingly unrelated products, Target was able to predict her future needs. In simple terms, people who bought X, Y and Z had a high probability of being pregnant, so they sent her a catalogue.

But most of us can’t rely on big data. Aside from being expensive, it comes with other problems such as:

  • Data aren’t necessarily objective. Outputs from any data model are based on assumptions. Assumptions are made by people. People are subject to unconscious bias and blind spots.
  • Most models are constructed on a finite set of stable, or point-in-time, factors. For example, we might build a model around a current competitive set, exchange rate or seasonal pattern. These or other factors in the real world may change, invalidating the forecasted behaviour and requiring the model be rebuilt.
  • Answering what people do, not why. That someone clicks on a site tells you only that. You have to guess why.
  • Data don’t tell you how to solve issues. It’s relatively passive, and serves as a record rather than solution.

Option 2. Human wiring

For me, the answer to predicting future behaviour is where behavioural economics provides greatest opportunity. Based on experimentation, BE identifies specific principles that can be used to not only explain, but anticipate how people will behave. Think of it as a guide to how humans are wired.  We can know, for example, that to get someone to change from what they are currently doing to what we would like them to do, we are likely to encounter apathy (related to system 1 processing), decision paralysis (choice overload) and anxiety (loss aversion).

So is past behaviour the best predictor? No. Human nature is the best predictor. Learn how humans are wired to make decisions and you will always have a sense of how to shape the future.

Frame the gain or is loss the boss? The nuance of prevention vs promotion focus

Having working with hundreds of people over the eight years since I founded People Patterns I have observed two distinct approaches to new information or techniques.

According to Regulatory Fit Theory (RFT), some people are motivated by a prevention focus where they are attracted to resolving a perceived gap in their business. These clients tend to feel they are missing something and seek answers about how behavioural science can help.

Others are attracted to opportunity. Their promotion focus means they like identifying new ideas that can immediately improve their business.

The end point might be the same – applying behavioural science to improve everyday business and personal effectiveness – but the message that resonates is different. Life is easier for some, and less difficult for others.

How to apply Prevention and Promotion in your business

Your customers and staff will tend to have either a prevention or promotion focus too, which means you should adjust how you engage them accordingly.

For example, promotion-focussed diners in a restaurant spent more time on higher-level information (e.g. entrees, mains), where those in a prevention mindset were more goal-directed (e.g. specific dishes). When the structure of the menu matched their mindset, diners were willing to pay 17% more.

For customers or stakeholders who are prevention-minded, loss is boss. Speaking about the avoidance of negative consequences is powerful so use words and phrases like “gaps”, “missing out”, “waste”, and “avoid”.

For customers or staff with a promotion-mindset, frame the gain. “Opportunity”, “growth”, “win” and “save” will be your go-to words.

Which are you?

To make it easier for people to work out which of my products and services are best for them, I developed a short personality-based matching tool. To find out whether you are a Sleuth, Prospector, Mechanic or Physician, jump on the free online tool right now. Let me know whether your profile reflects your approach.

99% won’t.

99% of people will never use behavioural economics. 

That’s ok. I am writing for the 1%. Those who are frustrated with the status quo; who are looking to be better; who know they are missing something but just haven’t put their finger on what.

I’m writing for the people who were like me 10 years ago. I was in a corporate job and feeling like life was harder than it needed to be.  Days were wasted in circular meetings, research didn’t provide usable answers, customers said one thing and did another, revenue was plummeting. I knew I was missing something. That we were missing something.

Then I read about behavioural economics. Then I started using it. Then I started helping others use it.

The only urgency is what you are missing every single day

The world won’t stop spinning if you don’t use behavioural economics. A bit like ageing, it will only be when you look back at a time when you didn’t have these skills that you’ll realise how much time you’ve wasted on the wrong things.

There’s no real urgency here. Of course you can wait until another day when you are, you know, less busy, more ready, have the perfect project, the perfect time…

All you are really missing is how to better work with and through other people.

How important is that to you?

Working with and through others in a better way. Every. Single. Day.

Your meetings, phone calls, projects, proposals, emails. Most of us send and receive around 130 emails a day by the way. Imagine if those emails got the desired response every time? If they advanced your work rather than bogged you down?

So here’s my hope. If you are part of the 1% who is aware enough to know you are missing something, and that that something is important, please, stop just reading and start doing. I’ll help you. Starting with this.

I’ve designed a free resource for you to identify where to focus your attention. It will give you immediate tips on what to do and how to get support.

Go on. Start. Complete your free behavioural audit.

Hot tips from the tennis

With the Australian Open heading towards the finals there are three business lessons from tennis I’d like to share.

1. Tennis umpires wear sneakers:

Walk in your customer’s shoes if you want to influence them

Tennis umpires wear tennis shoes, and not just for how they look. They wear sneakers so if they have to walk the court to assess its condition (e.g. after rain), they experience it the same as the players do.

The lesson: Empathy – your ability to see a situation from your customer’s point of view by walking in their shoes – is paramount if you want to successfully influence behaviour. By starting in their world you can anticipate why they may resist your offer and devise strategies to compel them to act. .

2. Second serve is always slower:

Behaviour changes when there’s something to lose

Same player, same task, but different behaviour because the stakes have changed; that’s the difference between the first and second serve in tennis. The first serve is harder, faster and closer to the line. Why? Because if you miss it you get a do-over. The second serve is softer, slower and further from the line because if you miss this time you lose the point.

The lesson: Your customer’s behaviour will change dramatically as soon as they have something to lose. If you are putting too much pressure on them they are likely to walk away because that is safer than losing their time, money and credibility with you. To overcome this issue you need to make them feel safe to commit, using money back guarantees and returns polices for example.

3. Hawk-Eye challenges:

Let your customers complain

Players are able to challenge a line-call three times per set of tennis. When they do, Hawk-Eye technology is used to model the precise location a ball landed, either confirming or correcting the decision of the line official.  The opportunity to dispute the call is important because it gives players a feeling of control over their circumstances, reducing the likelihood they will lose their temper.

The lesson: Your customers need to feel they have access to and are afforded due process. That means letting them know how they can return goods or lodge complaints, and making it easy to do so. As soon as a customer feels they have no recourse they will get extremely angry and make a bigger issue out of something than it needed to be.

Future proofing professional jobs

Those in professional service roles have been largely sitting on the sidelines until now, watching as retail, customer service and warehousing jobs have been buffeted by the winds of technological change.

I recently presented at the World Congress of Accountants and my message to accountants was they are on borrowed time. The topic was “The changing Role of the Trusted Advisor”, and I started with a scary reality check.

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2018 report on the future of jobs, skills like managing finances or technology are expected to decline in the next four years, and those that require “grey area” thinking (often called soft-skills) will rise.

Skills in decline

The upshot is any profession that has relied on its technical knowledge – like accountants and lawyers – will find the bulk of their role replaced by technology. Wherever you have an “if/then” scenario, you are at risk of replacement by an algorithm.

There is only one way to future proof roles in these fields – get better at the people side. That’s dealing in the murk of difficult, grey area decisions. The murk of influencing what people do.

Designing an App? You need to influence people to download it.

Creating a website? You need to influence people to click.

Selling a driverless car? You need to get people to use it.

Being a “trusted advisor”? You need people to trust you.

A structured approach to influencing action

Accountants have had accounting standards to govern their technical work. Lawyers have precedent and legislation. What is the equivalent for professionals for behavioural influence? Behavioural economics. In my view a codified model of behavioural economics provides a common set of principles that define the basis of behaviour. Drawing on behavioural science means you can formalise how you engage with people rather than relying on guesswork.

Whatever job you have now or in the future, all roads lead back to influence. Become an expert in that and you will future proof your profession.

Behavioural economics and segmentation

“Dan Ariely points out that human beings are about 97% similar. Trying to segment your audience is important to some extent — those 3% of differences can be profound — but many of the drivers of behaviour are universal and not always rational, as standard economics would presume. Behavioural economics looks at the areas where that breaks down(1).”

Something I know many of my clients grapple with is how (and whether) behavioural economics intersects with segmentation.

Think of it this way. Behavioural economics is about similarities. Segmentation is about differences.

You can survive without segmentation, but you can’t thrive without BE. Of course, the two methods of understanding behaviour complement each other and work most powerfully in tandem.

Let’s say 100 people are in a room.

behavioural economics perspective suggests that everyone in that room is going to be influenced by the same forces as everyone else.  Forces such as:

  • Priming e.g. type of music playing and the height of the ceiling
  • Social norms e.g. who else is in the room and what they are doing
  • Defaults e.g. what drinks are being served
  • Framing e.g. what the drinks are called

By understanding these universal influences, behavioural economics gives us the most efficient way of shaping the behaviour of the group.  Our area of enquiry is not whether people will be influenced, but to what extent and in what direction.

segmentation view suggests there are sub-groups within those 100 people, and the best way to influence them is to articulate a message that accords with specific wants and needs. We typically use proxies like age, income, attitude, gender or geography to separate and differentiate.

For our message to be effective, according to a segmentation perspective, it needs to be tailored to people who share common characteristics, with whom it will resonate. No use sending me an ad for dentures if that is not something about which I am interested.

This is where segmentation gets tricky, however, because in order to make our message efficient, we need to develop segments as large as possible to capture as many people as we can. How deep do you have to go to be effective without losing economies of scale? Writing a personalised letter to every customer might be most effective, but wildly impractical.

Introducing BEgmentation

When it comes to BE and segmentation, they are best when used together in a specific sequence. I call this “BEgmentation”

BEgmentation

In BEgmentation, behavioural economics is the starting point, with each principle applying across the board. It’s an ‘opt-out’ model, where every principle is assumed to be in play unless there is good reason for it not to be.

Segmentation is the layer on top, where a more nuanced view of your audience can be developed. That means you could explore how segment 1 is impacted by messages framed differently, or how the same message impacts segments 1 and 2 differently, for example.

The key here is to start with BE so you know the foundations of how behaviour is influenced. If you start with segmentation, you end up having to repeat the process of working out whether a difference between groups is unique to them or something that affects all (i.e. a universal principle.)

It’s a bit like the difference between baking a large cake and icing it all at once, or making multiple cupcakes and icing each individually.

Segments of one will be a reality

BEgmentation is only going to become more important.  Traditional segmentation will increasingly be automated and personalised, with the customer’s digital paw prints scooped up and interpreted by algorithms and predictive analytics. Your role will less about defining the segments, and more about developing the pre-populated materials that can be delivered automatically.  

The only way to devise effective materials that are generic enough to scale but also be personalised is to start with a roadmap of similarities, not differences.

Imagine, you are advertising a dog food sale, for example. You devise an email to customers that, thanks to your knowledge of BE, includes a social norm. The algorithm then drops in the most effective representation of the social norm for each specific person (segment of one), increasing the odds they will respond. The email offer to me includes a picture of golden retrievers because the algorithm knows I have one, whereas my neighbour gets an email with pugs. We both click to buy.

This article also appeared in Smartcompany.

(1) http://adage.com/article/adagestat/advertising-dan-ariely-behavioral-economics-marketing/146001/

How to make behavioural economics a habit

If you know about behavioural economics, want to integrate it in your work but find yourself reverting to the old ways of doing things, awaiting the perfect project to apply it to, then it’s time to rethink your approach. Procrastinating means you are missing opportunities each and every day to become a more effective influencer. Here’s a two-step approach to make behavioural techniques a habit.

Step 1. Overcoming your own resistance

Adopting a new approach to how you do things, like intentionally applying behavioural economics (BE), is an exercise in behaviour change.

That means we can anticipate three potential barriers that stand between you applying BE and not applying BE:

  • Apathy – you can’t be bothered
  • Paralysis – you are confused
  • Anxiety – you are scared of getting it wrong

Overcoming Apathy

Embedding new knowledge and skills like BE is a brain-intensive exercise, requiring deliberate, System 2 thinking to displace System 1, habituated pathways.  In other words, you have to slow yourself down and interrupt your usual approach to writing emails, thinking about your customer, designing a presentation, interacting with colleagues and so forth. 

I know because despite being an expert in the field, I still have to pause and deliberately apply BE to how I interact. The habits governing how we write and speak are so entrenched it takes effort to do it differently.

The good news is that by slowing down up front, you get a better return on your efforts. For example:

  • Reformatting the way you invoice will take some time up front, but improve your rates of on-time payment from there on.
  • Rethinking the approach you take with a stakeholder may feel more effortful, but will mean a more successful (and less stressful) meeting.
  • Redrafting pro forma letters to customers will reduce the number of in-bound complaints you receive.

Overcoming Paralysis

With so much to know about behavioural economics, it can feel overwhelming. Where to start? What principles should you use in the email you are about to write?

When I am training people in how to adopt BE, I recommend narrowing choices by focussing on three things:

  1. Clarifying your behavioural objective – Who are you trying to influence? In what context? What are they currently doing? What would you like them to do?
  2. Anticipating why you may get resistance – Is Apathy, Paralysis and/or Anxiety most likely to be a barrier?
  3. Use one of two key BE principles per barrier – For Apathy, ensure there’s a benefit for Now Me (Short-term Bias); for Paralysis, signal the most popular choice (Norms), and for Anxiety, give them nothing to fear if they do take action and something to fear if they don’t (Loss Aversion).

Overcoming Anxiety

Being nervous about applying BE is entirely understandable; it’s like any new skill. Remember when you were learning to ride a bike? You were probably taken somewhere safe, away from traffic where falling wouldn’t hurt too much. You may have even had training wheels to keep you on track. Even if it felt like you’d never get the hang of it or you fell off, you persevered because not riding a bike was worse than these short-term tribulations.

In short, you had nothing to fear if you did try riding a bike but something to fear if you didn’t. So it is with applying BE.

  1. Give yourself nothing to fear – The key benefit my clients receive through BE coaching is less an understanding BE principles, and more about building confidence. Start with small scale, low risk applications. Try sending colleagues a BE optimised email, or rework a webpage that can be monitored for impact. Make sure your manager and/or peers are on-board so you feel comfortable trying something new.
  2. Give yourself something to fear – If you are serious about embedding BE in your daily work, put something on the line. As a start, list the downside of doing what you’ve always done and missing the upside of BE, and commit to sharing your results with the leadership team.

Step 2.  Creating a habit loop

Habits are created when behaviour is repeated and reinforced on a consistent basis. Using the habit loop model devised by MIT researchers (and popularised in The Power of Habit), we can break the anatomy of a habit down further as:

  • Trigger – what and when you are reminded to apply BE
  • Routine – what you actually do to apply BE
  • Reward – why you bother

In my experience, the biggest culprit in the failure to apply BE is an absence of a trigger. If you are not reminded to think and act differently when faced with a task, you simply won’t bother.

The secret to developing a BE habit therefore relies on identifying and/or creating triggers. Here are some to get you started.

Apply behavioural economics when:

  • Writing an email to colleagues
  • Creating a new website
  • Conceptualising or drafting a marketing campaign
  • Sending an EDM to customers
  • Writing a letter to customers
  • Preparing an invoice
  • Developing a letter of engagement
  • Responding to a pitch and proposal opportunity
  • Making a sales call
  • Considering market research
  • Preparing for an important stakeholder meeting
  • Participating in a strategy session
  • Navigating budget constraints

There are also some emotional triggers, for instance:

  • You’re not 100% certain all the bases have been covered
  • You’re frustrated that you are not getting the answers you need
  • You are sick of the same old, same old
  • You’ve noticed colleagues are all talk, no action
  • You’ve just lost a big account and are looking for answers
  • There’s a sense of dread or panic in the business
  • Your industry is changing and you feel out of control

Behavioural economics is an amazing opportunity to get better outcomes from every single interaction you have with other people. Don’t you think it’s time to get on your bike?

This article also appeared in Smartcompany.

When to apply behavioural economics to your business

One of the questions I most commonly get is “when would I use behavioural economics in my business?” In my experience there are typically four points at which clients are triggered to seek solutions BE solutions.

1. R&D phase

Research and development can be formal, like when a research firm is commissioned to explore a particular issue, or the business undertakes a product development process.

R&D can also be informal, where you are brainstorming ideas and want to inject a fresh perspective on your product or service, marketing approach or value proposition.

In the R&D phase things are conceptual and exploratory, which makes it an ideal time to run your assumptions about what customers want and how they are likely to respond up against behavioural science.

You will benefit from BE when you find yourself thinking:

  • Do we need a new website, and if so, what needs to be done differently?
  • Will this product or service resonate with customers?
  • How can we give this new idea the best possible chance of success?
  • We need new thinking on this issue – traditional market research hasn’t given us the answers we need

2. Deployment

At the other end of the development cycle, clients often engage me when they are about to hit the metaphorical button on a piece of work (e.g. going live with a website or EDM, sending a letter to customers, releasing a product or launching a marketing campaign) but just want to ensure it is optimised before it’s too late. As the saying goes, there is no second chance to make a first impression.

This is the pre-deployment stage where things are in the finishing stages, say 90% ready to go and you just want a final check. The good news is even at this late stage BE can make a difference by vetting the initiative against points of resistance, and tinkering with the malleable elements such as language, imagery and context.

There is another small window for applied BE at the post-deployment stage, where you’ve released something that hasn’t worked the way you expected (e.g. product take-up lower than required). Here we can use BE to trouble-shoot what’s happening to zone in on where corrective action is most urgently required.

You will benefit from BE when you find yourself thinking:

  • Are we sure about this? Have we covered all our bases?
  • What are we missing?
  • Am I 100% comfortable that we’ve done everything we can to get this right?
  • Why isn’t this working? How can we recover and get the traction we deserve?

3. Broken BAU

“Business as usual” is a funny beast because “usual” often means frustration, inefficiency and missed opportunities. In this bucket I include clients who have turned to BE in moments of crisis, like when you’ve finally realised that something is just not right. It might be missing out on too many pitches or completing a fraught strategic prioritisation process where, once again, the business has ended up with more priorities than you can handle.

You will benefit from BE when you find yourself thinking:

  • There must be a better way?
  • Does this have to be so hard?
  • Why aren’t we getting better at this?
  • We keep trying our best but falling short. Why?
  • Why don’t they get it? We need to do things differently!

4. Staff development

The desire to develop team skills is another trigger for clients. Often it coincides with finding yourself in a new job or role, or planning your training budget for the year.  But why BE particularly?  Often my clients have read a book, watched a TED talk or seen me in the media or presenting at a conference. The key is your curiosity about what BE can mean for you has been sparked.

You will benefit from BE when you find yourself thinking:

  • There’s something in this “behavioural economics”, but how can I apply it in my business?
  • I’m sick of the same old training courses that don’t shift the dial
  • How can I give my team skills that will have immediate impact?
  • How can I get my team to read from the same page when their skills and perspectives are so different?

This article also appeared in Smartcompany.

Nothing harder than soft skills

A landscape designer friend of mine was telling me about a client whom she had to talk out of pulling the pin on a project. Despite having the process of drainage works explained, the client freaked out when she saw her garden being dug up. She changed her mind and didn’t want to proceed. What was the designer to do?

Another friend, a CEO, was in the midst of contract negotiations with one of their biggest clients.  A group of representatives from the client were touring the site and one of their number was being particularly finicky, making the CEO’s team very defensive and annoyed. As my friend said, “It wasn’t what he said, it was the way he said it”.

There’s nothing harder than soft skills

What skills do you need to be effective in business? Well, you typically need some technical expertise that provides value, whether that’s being a landscaper designer, accountant, lawyer, baker, or candlestick maker. But these “hard skills” are not enough; you also need to have skills in relating to others – people skills. So called (annoyingly) “soft skills”.

Let’s consider then, how many hours you put into formalising your technical skills? For many of us it’s at least 13 years of schooling followed by trade or university qualifications and then years spent at the coalface of our craft.

What about your “soft skills”?  How much formal training have you had to learn how to most effectively relate to and influence others? I’m guessing not much. I’m guessing most has been informal – learning through trial, error and observation – and resting on the assumption that because we’re human, we should know how humans tick.

Now consider, how much of your day is spent on technical vs. soft skills? Where is your energy directed, and where would you like it to be?  

If you are like most of my clients, the majority of time, energy and angst is spent on people issues – the soft skills domain. Can you see the problem here? 

When faced with a real-life issue, like how to talk a client around when they are threatening to pull out, or how to respond to a prickly contract negotiation, we tend to wing it.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and this uncertainty means we waste a lot of time, energy and emotion on guesswork.

No wonder we get stressed.

No wonder conversion rates are low.

No wonder the hardest thing about working is dealing with people.

It is my belief that there is nothing harder than soft skills. Think about it. Pilots have a manual to fly a plane. Where’s the manual to influence another human being?

It’s here, and it takes the form of behavioural science. A whole lot of researchers are out there probing the depths of behaviour and providing answers on what will and will not work when trying to engage and influence others.

Which gives you an opportunity. If you want to be more effective in your work, it starts and ends with formalising your soft skills. My role in this is to distil behavioural science into what it means day-to-day for you.  Want to make sure a client doesn’t get anxious and pull the pin? Let’s talk about the role of communication, expectations and assurances to overcome loss aversion. Want to unearth reasons a client is being finicky? Let’s talk about norms, the curse of knowledge and framing.

It’s not just for now. Your future depends on soft skills

Formalising your soft skills through behavioural science will not only benefit you now, your future depends on it.

The movie “Hidden Figures” tells the story of a group of women who performed calculations for space agency NASA. Recognising that IBM computers were being installed to replace their jobs, one of the women retrains her team of “human calculators” to instead work as computer programmers, elevating their skills and securing their value.

In the last 60 years the world has moved beyond IBM, of course. Now Artificial Intelligence is the technology that will replace most tasks. Just when you think your profession is safe, footage pops of a new advancement that makes your “hard skills” redundant.

Take, for example:

So where does that leave us? How can we provide value beyond that a robot can produce? Only by being an expert in relating to others. Only by being able to anticipate and address resistance. Only by having excellent behavioural soft skills.

This article also appeared in Smartcompany.