Behavioural Design talk at TEDxGateway, Mumbai

Behavioural Design talk at TEDxGateway

Friends, I’m speaking at TEDxGateway on Bleep and Behavioural Design.

There are lots of interesting speakers lined up. So come over to NCPA, Mumbai on 8th Dec 2013 to listen and discuss some stimulating ideas and thinking that could change the way you view the world.

All the information is here – www.tedxgateway.com.

Hope to see some of you there,

Anand & Mayur.

How Michael Phelps’ coach trained him

How Michael Phelps’ coach trained him

We know how Phelps long torso and relatively short legs gave him an edge over others. But here’s perhaps a not-so-well-known insight into how Bill Bowman, Michael Phelps coach, created a habit in Phelps that would make him the strongest mental swimmer in the pool.

Ever since Phelps was a teenager, Bowman would tell him to go home and watch the videotape before going to sleep and when waking up. The videotape, however, wasn’t a real one. Rather, it was a mental visualization of the perfect race. Each night before falling asleep and each morning after waking up, Phelps would imagine himself jumping off, swimming flawlessly, visualizing his strokes, the walls of the pool, his turns, the water dripping off his lips as his mouth cleared the surface, the finish and what it would be like to rip off his cap at the end. He would lie in bed and watch the race and the smallest details until he knew each second by heart.

During practices, Bowman would shout, “Put in the videotape!” and Phelps would push harder and it worked. “We figured it was best to concentrate on these tiny moments of success and build them into mental triggers”, says Bowman. “If you were to ask Michael what’s going on in his head before the competition, he would say he’s not really thinking about anything. But that’s not right. It’s more like his habits had taken over. The actual race was just another step in a pattern that started earlier that day and was nothing but victories. Winning became a natural extension.”

On the morning of 13th August 2008, at Beijing four minutes before the start of the race, as he always did, Phelps stood behind his starting block, bounced slightly on his toes, came on the block when his name was announced, stepped off, swung his arms three times, got into stance and leapt off when the gun sounded. But as soon as he hit the water, he knew something was wrong. There was moisture in his goggles. As he approached the third turn the cups of his goggles were completely filled and he couldn’t see anything.

But Phelps swam calmly. Bowman had made Phelps swim in the dark, believing that he needed to be ready for any surprise. Phelps had mentally rehearsed how he would respond to a goggle failure. Phelps began counting his strokes in the last lap. Midway he increased his effort for his final eruption. He began anticipating the wall and the number of strokes he needed. Nineteen strokes, then twenty. He felt he needed one more. He made the twenty-first huge stroke and glided with his arms and touched the wall. Ripped off the goggles and looked at the scoreboard. It said World Record next to his name. When asked how it felt like to swim blind, Phelps said, “Like I imagined it would.”

One study on this topic by Sanders et al. was carried out on medical students. On top of their usual training—which included physical practice—half were trained in mental imagery techniques, while the other half studied their textbooks. When the students carried out live surgery, those who’d used mental imagery performed better, on average, than those assigned the book learning.

What’s playing in your tape?

Source: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Get over your fear of making a mistake

Get over your fear of making a mistake

Remember making a mistake at work or at home and the feeling attached with it. The word ‘mistake’ itself scares most of us. And that’s because unfortunately right from our childhood our focus has been on being smart, rather than putting our best effort. As a result we’ve learned to see mistakes as stupidity rather than building blocks of knowledge. However reality is just the opposite.

In her famous experiment in New York city schools, Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, gave more than four hundred 5th standard students a relatively easy nonverbal puzzle. Post test, researchers revealed the scores to the students and praised them. Half the students were praised for their intelligence. The researcher said, “You must be smart at this”. Other half were praised for their effort. “You must have worked really hard.”

Then the students were allowed to choose from two different subsequent tests. The first one was described as more difficult. The students were told that they would learn a lot from it. The other option was easy, like the previous test. Of the group that were praised for effort, 90% chose the harder test. Amongst the group that was praised for intelligence, most chose the easy test.

This fear of failing actually inhibits learning, as seen by his next set of experiments. She gave all the students an even harder test, originally written for 8th standard students. Kids praised for effort, got very involved. Many remarked, “This is my favorite test.” Kids praised for intelligence, were easily discouraged. Mistakes were seen as a sign of failure. After the test, students had to choose between looking at the papers of those who did worse than them or better than them. Kids praised for intelligence, almost always chose to bolster their self-esteem by comparing themselves to those who did worse. Kids praised for effort were more interested in those who scored more than them. They wanted to understand their mistakes, learn from their errors and figure how to do better.

In the third final round of testing with the same level of ease as the initial test, kids praised for effort raised their average score by 30%, while the smart group’s average score dropped by 20%. Praised for effort kids were willing to challenge themselves, even it meant failing at first, ending up performing at a much higher level. While for praised for intelligence kids, the experience of failure was discouraging that they regressed.

Jonah Lehrer, editor, blogger and author says, “This doesn’t apply to only 5th standard students, but to everyone. Unless you experience unpleasant symptoms of being wrong, your brain will never revise its models. Before your neurons can succeed, they must repeated fail. There are no shortcuts for this painstaking process.”

We believe that’s how intuition gets developed amongst experts. Hours and hours of practice and lots of mistakes corrected. Any guess who in the Indian cricket team spends more time in the nets than the rest?

A way of boarding that saves time and lowers blood pressure

A new way of boarding that saves time and lowers blood pressure

Warning: This post is the longest we’ve ever written, but we think you are likely to find it rewarding.

There are long queues at boarding no matter which airline you travel by. And once inside the plane, we’re often waiting in line once again for someone in front us whose is trying to keep his/her cabin luggage overhead. Imagine the time that gets wasted for you and the airline. In this industry, more than any, time is money. The quicker the airline can board, the more it will be on-time, the more satisfied will be its customers, the more money it can make. But how can this be made possible?

Southwest Airlines in the US has a unique solution to this problem. Southwest doesn’t have seat assignments. Here’s how it works:

In airlines that assign seat numbers, when you’re trying to get to your seat, you’re not only waiting for someone to find their seat, you’re also waiting for them to put their bag in the overhead bin. So if you’re assigned to say, Seat 26A, you must wait until Seat 22C puts his/her bag in the overhead compartment.

But if you’re on Southwest Airlines, the procedure and behaviour of passengers is completely different.

So let’s say you’re flying on Southwest with a carry-on bag. You’re anxious about getting a window seat and making sure your bag gets in the compartment, so you check-in online 24 hours beforehand (the beginning of the check-in window), and are placed in boarding group A. Group A gets to board first.

Southwest keeps in mind that most people don’t care if they sit in row 10 or row 25, but they are likely to have a strong opinion about having a window or an aisle seat.

Fast forward to the airport. You arrive and get into the queue for group A, confident that there is a very good chance that you’ll get the seat you want and overhead space.

Now you’re walking onto the plane and suggested to move towards the further rows. The person in front of you has a bag and spots an aisle seat in row 25, and stops to put their bag in the bin. You’re a window person, and see one in row 21. The person behind you also wants a window, and stops at row 18. Notice what happened here: no one was held up because of the person in front of them. You all sit down, and the process repeats.

The boarding process becomes similar to a conventional boarding process as the seats fill up – if you’re in Group C (last to board) and say there’s only one window seat left and it’s at the very back of the plane, you have to wait 20 seconds for the person in front of you to claim their aisle seat at the front.

Compare this to a conventional boarding process: not only would you have had to wait for Seat 21C to put his bag in the compartment, Seats 21 A, B and D have to fight with their bags, and the other seats’ bags in order to fit their bags in. Multiply this by 30 rows, and you can see how this adds time to the boarding process.

What Southwest has done is eliminate that 20-to-30 second delay for 80% of passengers and instead limited it to, say, the 30% of passengers at the end of Group C. These passenger-to-seat delays add up quickly; and with roughly 130 seats each at 20 seconds each, that’s potentially 43 minutes of delays during seating! This, among other reasons, means that Southwest can turn around their planes in about 25 minutes, the fastest of any airline.

And not to forget, lower your BP. Travelers who are the most anxious about getting their preferred seat and their bag in the bin are more likely to check-in at the first second, earning them a coveted spot in Group A. But people in group B know there is, say, a 50% chance they’ll get a good seat and space in the overhead bin. Group C knows their chances are slim of getting either. The point here is that everyone has a rough idea of their probabilities and also that the probability is the direct result of their own actions, i.e., how quickly they checked in.

And the best thing I like about this way of boarding: I’ll never be seated in the wrong seat!

Big thanks to Michele Walk, Operations Manager at Engage for the information.

Brainstorms actually stifle creativity

Brainstorms actually stifle creativity

Back in 1940s, advertising executive Alex Osborn argued that it was possible to enhance creativity by putting a group of people in a room and have them follow a simple set of rules, like coming up with as many thoughts as possible, encouraging wild and exaggerated ideas, not criticizing or evaluating anyone’s comments. Not surprisingly it became a hit. Over the years, organizations around the world have encouraged their employees to tackle key problems using this approach, commonly known as brainstorming.

But the scientists aren’t convinced. (Nor am I). Brian Mullen from the University of Kent at Canterbury and his colleagues analyzed twenty studies that tested efficacy of group brainstorming and discovered that in the vast majority of experiments, participants working on their own produced a higher quantity and quality of ideas than those working in groups.

The reason, group brainstorming fails, is because of a phenomenon called ‘social loafing’. Simply put it is diffusion of responsibility. When people work on their own, their success or failure is entirely due to their own abilities and hard work. If they do well, the glory is theirs. If they fail, they carry the can. However, add people to the situation and everyone stops trying so hard, safe in the knowledge that, though they will not receive personal praise if the group does well, they can always blame others if it performs badly.

Years of brainstorming may have inadvertently been stifling, not stimulating, creative juices. So have faith in yourself, work alone, regroup to discuss your ideas with your team and kick ass.

Self-portrait by Mayur Tekchandaney

Traffic jams can be eased by gamification

Playing games could ease traffic congestions

Billions of hours, fuel and money gets wasted in traffic congestions. Though there has been some progress in the last few years in Mumbai with the starting of the Bandra-Worli sea-link and the fly-overs being built, there’s a strong feeling that it may not be enough. Take the case of Delhi. Delhi is most privileged to have more than 21 per cent of its geographical area under road space. Delhi has built the maximum roads and flyovers. Yet its roads are totally gridlocked. While the government has targeted to increase the usage of public transport from existing 40% to 80% by 2020, it will extremely difficult to curb the ‘status’ tag of cars.

Singapore has had the ERP (Electronic Road Pricing) system that charges extra dollars for using congested zones during peak hours. So do London and Stockholm. However congestion charging has come under criticism that it favours the rich and that it adversely affects retail businesses in the congested zone. So could gaming come to the rescue?

Two experimental transportation projects are under way in Singapore and Silicon Valley that aim to improve commutes through gaming. In one of the experiments, conducted by Balaji Prabhakar, a Stanford engineering professor, more than 17,500 Singapore commuters have enrolled. Participants in the Singapore program shift their commutes to off-peak hours to earn credits, which can be traded for a chance to win cash.

So rather than only punishing traveling in peak hours, this program also rewards traveling in non-peak hours.

Balaji Prabhakar said during a recent talk at the university’s campus in Palo Alto, California, that 11-12 percent of users in Singapore have shifted off-peak. Men tend to shift later, he said, while women generally shift earlier. He says that 11% might not seem much, but they’re enough to make a difference in traffic flow. He ran a successful project for employees of Infosys called INSTANT (Infosys-Stanford Traffic project) in Bangalore in 2008-2009 and is now running the project at Stanford University as well.

I’m wondering how this could be implemented in Mumbai as public transportation is neither electronically controlled nor linked to each other. However prices of public transport can be controlled manually. So imagine the ticket prices of road transport – bus, rickshaw, taxi and the sea-link like toll is increased by 25% in peak hours (8:30-10am and 6:00-7:30pm), but is also decreased by say, 10% during off-peak hours. Could it work?

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

Does porn increase or decrease rape?

Does porn increase or decrease rape?

Pornography is illegal in India and is seen by most as something that is detrimental to society. Many people outside our country, like in the US (where pornography is legal) too believe it is detrimental to social order, contributing to the degradation of women and leading to rape and sexual assault or other sex related crimes. But there are others who argue the other way, saying that pornography is an expression of fantasy that provides pleasure and can act as a positive displacement activity for sexual aggression.

This debate as well as the increasing coverage of rapes in Indian media got us to research whether or not pornography led to sex related crimes and rapes. Here’s what we found:

Tons of research has been done on this. Quoting few of them here. Findings of Goldstein and Kant, 1973 found that rapists were more likely than non-rapists US prisoners, to have been punished for looking at pornography while a youngster. These two also found that strict, religious upbringing to be highly correlated with sexual offences. A 1984 Canadian study by McKay & Dolff for the Department of Justice of Canada reported, “There is no systematic evidence that suggests that increases in specific forms of deviant behaviour, reflected in crime tend statistics, eg. rape, are causally related to pornography.” Diamond and Uchiyama, 1999, studied the situation in Japan  – as explicit materials were readily available, the incidence of rape had dramatically decreased over the past few decades. Studies from Croatia by Landripet, Stulhofer & Diamond done in 2006 and of US and China done by Diamond also showed significant decreases in rape as pornography became increasingly available.

Reason sighted for this ‘Porn up, Rape down’ phenomenon is that, erotic inclinations to rape, flash, other sexually offensive behaviour, etc might have been used in real life encounters as a means of resolving a lustful inclination. The ready availability of pornography in contrast, may have facilitated a more convenient and more socially tolerable solution of masturbation.

Whether you agree to the above or not, here’s something to think about – when we express our opinion on pornography we think about its effect on others, not on ourselves. While we may not think that pornography is harmful or capable of inciting sexual offenses, we think it might have such an effect on others.

Source: Pornography, public acceptance and sex related crime: A review by Milton Diamond in International Journal of Law and Psychiatry

Illustration hidden by Mayur Tekchandaney

Words can work like drugs

Words can work like drugs

Words have been known to have the power to affect behaviour change when used appropriately. As Rudyard Kipling said, “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”

Here’s an interesting case that illustrates this point. Richard Wiseman, an experimental psychologist and author wanted to find out if it was possible to increase donations by creating the perfect charity box. He created four charity boxes. Each identical in shape and size, and all advertised the same charity – National Literacy Trust. He placed each box at one of the four randomly selected tills at the Borders bookstore, UK. Each carried a message that psychologists believed would be effective:

‘Please give generously’

‘Every penny helps’

‘Every pound helps’

‘You can make a difference’

Which one do you think collected the most amount of cash?

‘Every penny helps’ worked best, containing 62% of all contributions. ‘You can make a difference’ was at second place, ‘Please give generously’ at third and ‘Every pound helps’ was last at fourth place.

Why did this happen? According to work done by psychologist Robert Cialdini from Arizona State University, many people are concerned that putting a very small amount of money will make them look mean, so end up giving nothing at all. ‘Every penny helps’ legitimizes, and therefore encourages, the smallest of contributions. In contrast ‘Every pound helps’ had the reverse effect.

Meanwhile I thought I’d end the year with a tweet I read recently – ‘Do not worry about the past & the future. This moment needs your attention, this is where your life exists.’

Wish you Merry Christmas and a rocking 2013.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

Its all about the food, bugger

Its all about the food, bugger

Want your meeting to go well? Want to get that much needed approval from your client in that meeting? Want the participants at your workshop to be in a good mood? Want your wedding reception to be remembered?

You got it. Serve good food.

To understand how food can make you happy, it’s important to understand how the brain regulates mood. The brain uses neurotransmitters as communication signals to communicate with the rest of your body and to issue its commands. Typically, serotonin is the neurotransmitter most linked to happiness. Foods that aid serotonin production include fish, chicken, cheese, spinach and bananas.

While some foods have been proven to physically affect your brain chemistry, others make us feel good just by eating them. These are Comfort Foods.

Psychological studies have turned up evidence that the comfort foods we crave are actually artifacts from our pasts. We all have memories of happier times, and by eating foods that remind us of those times, we symbolically consume that past happiness. Comfort foods can also be linked to specific people in our lives: Eating a specific food that a loved one favored can produce happy thoughts by triggering fond memories or associations of that person. This makes comfort foods fairly unique to each individual. If your childhood birthday parties represented the pinnacle of happiness for you, you’d likely crave birthday cake or some variation of the dessert when you’re feeling the blues.

Although comfort foods (or the events attached to them) vary from person to person, the foods we associate with comforting or happy emotions vary by gender, as well. A 2005 Cornell University survey of 277 men and women found that females tend to seek comfort in sweet and sugary foods like ice cream, while males prefer savory comfort foods like steak.

So know the food that leads to happiness and know the likes of whom you are serving to.  Foods’ the reason for Laughing Buddha’s happiness and could well be the reason for your happiness too.

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

The Power of Scent

 

The Power of Scent

We usually use scents (perfumes) to feel fresh, confident, smell good and to attract the opposite sex (well, same sex in some cases). But scents can have uses beyond our imagination. Here’s one brilliant way, designers at Rodd Design and The Olfactory Experience have used the power of scent.

They’ve created a product called Ode. Ode is a product that releases authentic, high-quality food aromas at particular times in the day to help stimulate appetite and rekindle an interest in eating – discreetly and unobtrusively.

Ode has been created as part of Design Council and Department of Health’s design challenge program ‘Living well with Dementia’. It’s a project to find new solutions for the people of UK that have been diagnosed with dementia. Dementia is a decline of mental abilities such as thinking, reasoning and memory. Dementia usually occurs in older age. It is serious enough to diminish everyday functions in a person’s life such as driving, everyday duties like personal hygiene, dressing, and feeding.

Weight loss is common to most people with late-stage dementia and can be an early indicator of the condition’s onset. Ode is a discreet system that is less stigmatizing and more inspiring than an alarm or constant reminders to eat. Initial research suggests it can stimulate real hunger subliminally.

Fragrances are released in short sharp bursts, acting as a strong appetite trigger and then dissipating rapidly so users won’t become inured to the effect. A subtle light indicates the device is working and also communicates when fragrances need refilling.

Ode is a beautiful and subliminal way of changing behaviour. It can have implications much beyond the application of stimulating hunger amongst people with dementia. It can be used by hospitals to stimulate appetite amongst various kinds of patients or by spas to improve relaxation or by offices to promote alertness. The possibilities are endless. What applications come to your mind?

Illustration by Mayur Tekchandaney

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