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Influencing Behavior

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.” — Simon Sinek

The past few days I’ve had some great conversations about temporary action vs sustainable progress.

When I talk about Jobs to be Done, I prefer to focus on overall progress and change. Remember, innovation is about creating or capturing new value.

It’s not swapping out brand X with brand Y with no real differentiation.

Part of the conversation today turned to airlines. Seriously, doesn’t every business conversation turn to airlines?

The example given was Spirit Airlines. Everyone HATES Spirit Airlines, right? Yet, they’re still around. Because while we may complain about their poor customer service and price gouging, when we’re forced to actually take action, we choose the cheaper flight.

This is tough for me, because I come from the UX world. We want to make an enjoyable experience for our customers. We believe it’ll pay off in loyalty: retention and referrals. But sometimes, the math just doesn’t work.

I ended up going back to business school to figure out that formula. How can you understand what customers really value, and more importantly, how do you make the case for investing in figuring that out?

Which raises the question of short- versus long-term change.

One proposed definition of innovation is related to customers making progress in their lives. Rather than doing the same job over and over and over again [and perhaps ‘hiring’ different products to help them do so], are they able to move forward?

When the conversation of Spirit arose, I brought up Skybus. Skybus was the ultimate low-cost airline, based out of Columbus OH when I lived there. The first 10 tickets on every flight were $10! There was a huge shift in how people saw air travel there — weekend jaunt to NYC, anyone?

But it was short-lived. Skybus went out of business (because, duh, business model), and people went back to their old ways of travel. It wasn’t like there was a fundamental change in how we viewed or ‘consumed’ air travel. It was manipulation, and once the short-term promotion was gone, we went back to our old behavior.

Making incremental changes in how a product is produced or delivered is fine. It lowers costs, so ‘we can pass the savings onto customers! [or shareholders, as the case may be].

But when you focus your improvements on people rather than products, there’s the opportunity for exponential value creation. Think Peter Diamandis, “Wicked Problems” and Abundance. Can we focus our energy into making huge leaps in the world, rather than looking through a lens of scarcity?

Unfortunately, math comes up again. Focusing on customer — no, let’s say societal- outcomes is exhilarating. But what about the capturing of said value?

Who pays the bills?

The Open Source community is struggling with this a bit now. There are some things we do out of the goodness of our heart and sense of being part of a larger community, but that’s not necessarily sustainable.

Eric Ries came up with the concept of a Long-Term Stock Exchange, to get companies out of the focus on short-term returns.

“With the LTSE, [companies] spend more of their energy focusing on serving customers, less on the kind of distractions that cause a lot of value to be destroyed in today’s markets,” he [said]. “And therefore everybody makes more money.”

Certainly, companies can make money on the margins, eking out efficiencies and manipulating customers with promotions and promises. But is this just passing a limited amount of resources back and forth? It seems like it.

If we focus on helping people do the same jobs only slightly better, our lives will only ever be slightly better. And slightly better is generally not enough to really compel anyone to try something new.

Remember I talked about b-school? We got to read all about it.

Darnit, I said only 500 words a day. This could go on for much longer. So I’ll stop it here, would love to start a conversation and expand this further. Comments heartily welcome to these rambling thoughts..

Andrea Hill is the principal consultant at Frameplay. Frameplay is an innovation consultancy that helps companies become more customer-focused and thrive in a rapidly changing world. We do this by providing best practices, actionable insights and training without the price tag of those bigger ‘digital transformation’ consulting firms. Learn more at frameplay.co

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Andrea F Hill

Andrea F Hill

Sr UX Specialist with Canada Revenue Agency, former web dev and product person. 🔎 Lifelong learner. Unapologetic introvert. Plant-powered marathoner. Cat mom.