Earlier this week I enjoyed listening to Bruce MacGregor, Managing Partner of design giant IDEO, at the Sustainable Brands Conference in Monterey, CA.
His talk was focused on how you drive change. He name-checked Nudge, Predictably Irrational, and other recent, important books on changing behavior. Some fun examples included this crowd favorite: Airports that etched a little fly into urinals for men to aim at saw an 80% reduction in, well, pee on the floor.
MacGregor demonstrated how hard change really is with one shocking statistic: Only 10% of people facing a life-threatening situation — as in the doctor says change your behavior or you die — make the changes necessary.
Here were his three principles on driving real change:
- Speak joy, not fear. Example: The Wii Fit gets people playing and exercising without guilt; instead of focusing on a message of fear ("get up off the couch or else!"), the Wii promised fun — and fitness was a side benefit.
- Use judo: harness existing momentum towards a new goal. Example: Bank of America's "Keep the Change" program, which rounds up your debit purchases to the nearest dollar and puts that extra in a savings account. Customers have saved $2 billion so far.
- Create the crowd. Example: Japan's Cool Biz program. When the country wanted to get companies to raise the thermostat in the summer (it was so cold in most office buildings, that you needed to wear your jacket), it had the Prime Minister come out in public in short sleeves with no tie. They also held a fashion show with execs wearing no jacket or tie.
These ideas have important meaning for the sustainable business (and social) movement, particularly the principle of creating joy, notfear. For forty years of Earth Days and ever since the iconic "crying Native American" ad that disparaged modern environmental recklessness, "doom and gloom" has dominated environmental messaging (often for good reason: the Gulf spill is exhibit 1). Advocates for environmental awareness have often played off fear to create a sense of urgency in the general public.
But companies and environmental NGOs need to paint a picture of what a sustainable world could look like and describe how much better, healthier, and profitable our lives and businesses could be.
Successful eco-products follow the pattern of the Wii story. The Toyota Prius — putting aside for the moment the recent safety issues — has been extremely successful because it's an exciting new technology that people have fun using. And as I mentioned a couple weeks ago, Pepsi is trying to make recycling more fun with its new "Dream Machines"that take your bottles and give you points toward rewards.
The three IDEO concepts are deceptively simple, but powerful reminders of how to drive real change. Focus on what brings real fulfillment and joy, leverage momentum, and gather a crowd to build more profitable, lean, and yes, fun, organizations.