How To Get People To Do Stuff – Susan Weinschenk #BWCBend #bendwebcam

October 15th, 2013

Bend WebCAM logoMolly, communications director of AdFed, one of the hosts, thanks Page One Power, a presenting sponsor of Bend WebCAM. She also wants to thank the workshop sponsor, Decipher. Decipher is an international marketing research firm with offices in Bend, California and London. Their specialty is an online survey program for brands and agencies. She highlights Decipher’s Women in Research program, empowering women in the marketing research industry.

Susan Weinschenk has been a behavioral psychologist for 30 years and is from Wisconsin. She points to the tools and props staged around the room. Susan helps us motivate and persuade people to take action. She started a blog called 365 Ways to Persuade and Motivate that will have a daily idea.

@thebrainlady #bwcbend presentation

@thebrainlady #bwcbend presentation

Susan starts the morning with a potato and a straw. She easily stabs the potato with the straw. We all want to get people to do stuff. You want your boss to fund your project. You want your client to purchase products and services. You want your spouse to take out the trash. How do we get them to do it?

What if you knew the science behind what motivates people to act? You could get them to do what you want easily. There’s a science to motivation and persuasion of people.

At the end of the workshop there will be a case study and in the meantime she wants everyone to think of something they want people to do. It can be related to your app or website, or it can be getting people to agree to something, like a client implementing your recommendations. This “< b>people vs. design” option will be the choice for all the exercises throughout the morning.

How to Get People to Do Stuff

In her book How to Get People to Do Stuff there are 140 strategies. Today we’ll cover these 7:

  1. The power of stories
  2. Tricks of the mind
  3. Instincts
  4. Carrots and sticks
  5. The need to belong
  6. Habits
  7. The desire for mastery

Pop quiz time! True or false?

pop quiz at workshop

Susan Weinschenk gives the crowd a pop quiz, answers to come at the end of the workshop.

1. The Power of Stories

People process info best in story format. The term used in research is “narrative.” The other way stories are important are self stories. We tell ourselves stories about who we are and why we do what we do. They are powerful moderators of behavior.

Years ago, when Susan first got into computers she was a PC person and a tech geek. Her husband was a Mac person and doesn’t like tech. In her house they had Mac vs. PC wars. Then iPods came out and both her children wanted one, so they got them for them. She looked at them and said that’s fun… but it’s an Apple product. Well, she rationalized, it’s not a computer so I’ll get one.

She had created a “crack” in her self story.

Then the time came to replace her phone. She decided to get an iPhone. She still rationalized it was not a computer, until it all snowballed. Eventually she had all Apple computing devices. By taking the first, small action of buying the iPod, that crack widened.

If you want people to make a big change, one way to go about it is get them to make a tiny little change they think doesn’t go against their own self persona. If we take an action we know goes against our self story then we’re uncomfortable — having to deal with cognitive dissonance. Break it down into a series of little steps.

The recommends the book Redirect by Timothy Wilson which outlines the science behind this phenomenon. In the book this example is shared. A group of college students failing after their first semester are brought in to see videos of older students about to graduate who had trouble their freshman year and had turned it around and what they did to turn it around. This self story was able to be adopted by a significant number of students who watched this.

2. Tricks of the Mind

Thinking, Fast and Slow: Daniel Kahneman – Recommended Book

There are two kinds of thinking: System 1 (Quick and Intuitive) or System 2 (Hard Effort Thinking). You can tell when someone is doing System 1 or System 2 thinking based on his or her eye pupil dilation. When you ask a difficult or System 2 question, the pupil’s dilate and get bigger. When you ask a System 1 question, the pupil’s get smaller.

–> Here’s a funny too: you can tell when someone has giving up as well if you pay attention!

System 1 thinking is fast and quick; where as System 2 takes more critical thinking.
Here’s another example, when she asked a question:

In a lake there is a patch of lily pads. Every day the patch doubles in size. If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake? 24 or 47 days?

System 1 reaction says it would be 24 days (the quick answer); System 2 and the correct answer would be 47days. Surprising, when the font was difficult to read (when reading the question), the question was answered more correctly!

Disclaimer: Most mental processing is unconscious. Everyone always asks is it ‘ethical’ to use this information to get people to do this stuff. She says that that is a moral decision that each person has to make for himself or herself. She does acknowledge that there is a line and that when she was writing her book and consulting, she struggles with it still.

Anchoring on a number
When you give people a number to anchor on, people buy more product. The higher the number, the more it sticks in their head. Example: If you were to say that there’s a limit to 10 product items per person, people will likely buy closer to 7 items. If you say there’s no limit, they will buy closer to 3 items.

Another area of psychology is giving three pricing options to consumers and offering the highest option first, then the middle and then the least. Correctly, most will go toward and choose the middle option versus offering the lowest option first than moving up, consumers will pick the lowest option. This is great when sharing pricing information with your customers

So how will you use this information? Changing your web design, talking with your employees, your spouse?

The group breaks off into pairs or triplets for 10 minutes to talk about applying the power of stories or tricks of the mind in context of persuasion with people or design.

After we re-group, we’re sharing the ideas we came up with in our teams. A writing coach says her dilemma is talking to people and they’re excited to get started and that’s the last she hears from them. The idea for motivating is using stories of other clients to show how the pain got resolved. They also had the idea of immediately trying an on-the-spot writing coach session that comes away with actionable ideas.

Q&A Time:

Q: Have you seen a difference in resolving conflict with someone upset when approached with system 1 or system 2?

A: Susan hasn’t seen this in practice but her instinct is that when someone is in an emotional frame of mind, their system 2 thinking isn’t turned on. If you could switch them into system 2 you might get them out of their emotional state, which could be a good thing. If you could get them to start thinking of things in deep thinking, heavy way you may be able to switch off the emotion and get them thinking logically.

Q: People seem to be more system 1 or 2 by nature, like programmers are likely system 2-heads. Is that something we should try to switch based on the problem at hand?

A: She says that people are actually system 1 by default, yet some enjoy system 2 more than others. Don’t think that just because someone enjoys logical problem solving that they’re not walking around in system 1.

3. Instincts

We share reactions with other animals and even reptiles.

new, mid and old brain

New brain is labeled in the top left, mid brain is labeled at the top right and old brain is labeled at the bottom right.

  1. New brain: Logical and conscious thought goes on
  2. Mid brain: Processing emotional and social info
  3. Old brain: We share this part of the brain with reptiles; it scans the environment and asks 3 questions: 1. Can I eat it? 2. Can I have sex with it? 3. Will it kill me?

We have to address all 3 brains with our questions and websites. They’re all operating all the time.

If we’re dealing with food, sex or danger we’re highly engaging the old brain. Then the other parts of the brain that handle logical thinking are not as loud in the internal mental processing. This also helps explain why we’re more motivated by fear of loss than potential of gain.

4. Carrots and Sticks

Let’s talk about Rewards vs. Punishment and whether that is motivating or not. Casinos understand the science behind the idea of rewards really well.

Tangent: In ads, you will do anything to raise the level of arousal (danger, sexual themes, elevated music, etc.) If you in a high arousal state, you will remember more information.

Skinner’s Operant Conditioning
Here’s the Rewards idea: Behavior-→Reinforcement-→More behavior

When the person does a good behavior, you give them a reward (something they want) and then they will continue to perform the behavior. Sometimes it’s hard to know what each person wants as positive reinforcement. Rewards are to create positive reinforcement and increase the target behavior.

There is also negative reinforcement where you take away something that they don’t want. For example if you meet your deadline, which in turn stops your boss from nagging, you will in turn meet more deadlines.

Punishment is different. We are looking for a decrease in the target behavior.
Here’s the idea: Behavior→Punishment→Less behavior

Casinos use a ‘variable ratio reinforcement schedule’ where it is based on the ratio of time vs. reward. It is the most powerful schedule to use when you want to get someone to continue behavior (Casinos do NOT use continuous reinforcement – always getting positive reinforcement). Continuous positive reinforcement works for pets for instance especially when you’re trying to establish a NEW behavior. Then, after time, you can transfer to ‘variable ratio reinforcement schedule’ to continue to get more positive behavior.

There are actually five different types of ratios but the ‘variable ratio reinforcement schedule’ is the most influential.

We tend to fall back on rewards when it comes to people but it shouldn’t be your first go to. When I’m thinking about which is best to use when you’re looking to change behavior of others, try using the ‘Power of Stories’, ‘Instincts’ and ‘Power to Belong’ first.

5. The Need to Belong

Susan asks for 7 brave volunteers to come to the front of the room for a demonstration. This group will create a “musical interlude” with the noise makers from the table. There’s a cow bell, a tambourine, a wood block, a couple shakers and a variety of sizes of drums. Everyone picks a percussion instrument and asks them to begin drumming. A coordinated (if slightly haphazard) rhythm emerges.

percussion group

A group of volunteers on percussion instruments synchronize to a rhythm.

The observations from the larger group after the exercise is done:

  • They synchronized into rhythm.
  • They were looking at each other, looking for cues, maybe who is the leader.
  • Then the group started looking at Susan, ask if wondering if they were done.
  • Once they found the rhythm, people started taking chances.

We have a strong want to belong. It’s psychologically painful not to belong to the group. This group synced pretty fast; they wanted to make the music together. And while someone emerged as a leader, people went along, okay with that.

When people act together, especially with movement and sound, the group bonds. There’s actually a release of oxytocin, a chemical in the brain that makes us want to bond together and socially bonds the group. This group synced faster than most, and she suggests it was because this talk is longer than her normal 1-hour workshop. So this group has been together longer, we’ve laughed and clapped together, too, which are also bonding experiences. There’s research that shows that when people sing together their heartbeats sync.

She spoke at Wal-Mart and learned that at every meeting the gathered group does a Wal-Mart cheer. It involves clapping and singing, and she realized it’s a bonding activity.

An experiment: In a room, one person is brought in to sit in a chair and another person is running on a treadmill. The heart rate of the person sitting in the chair matches the person running when told that their birthdays are the same. Just thinking they have something in common causes a syncing.

Nouns vs. Verbs: It’s more compelling to talk in terms of defining a person rather than taking an action.

“Be a Voter,” “Be a Donor,” “Be a Member” are more effective calls to action than “Vote,” “Donate,” “Join.”

Social Validation: Someone says they need help. When they ask one bystander, they got help 85% of the time. When they ask a group of 5 bystanders they get help 31% of the time. If a group is not doing something about it, then any individual is not likely to take action.

Testimonials and reviews are the main way of giving validation on a website. The more info you provide about the people leaving the review (stories, personas, pictures) the more powerful the testimonial will be.

Reciprocity: If you ask “Will you donate?” and offer a gift, 18% agree. When asked with the offer of a gift, 35% donate. Gifts make people feel indebted and want to reciprocate.

If you ask for something big and they say no, when you ask for something smaller, they’re more likely to say yes because they feel they owe you. If you make the first and second requests too wildly different, the effect doesn’t work. You have to play with what’s the request that’s kind of unreasonable but not wildly unreasonable compared to what I really want.

6. Habits

You can actually create new habits really, really quickly (not the 3 months like everyone says).

Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning (we’ve all heard about Pavlov’s dogs, right?)
Here’s his idea: Stimulus → Response

The dog theory:
Meat → Salivate
Meat + Bell → Salivate
Bell → Salivate

There are lots of laughs in the room about the same type of people conditioning of attention and grabbing their cell phone when they hear the ‘notification ding.’ Yup, guilty.

We all have things that we do by habit (about 80% of things we do daily). The interesting things is how we create them, how we change them and how we get others to change them.

Tip: Go see B.J. Fogg’s exercise on It will walk you through how to change three tiny behaviors and he’ll walk you through how to create it a habit in less than a week. If you attach it to a previous habit, you can easily create a new one. Of course, it needs to be something SMALL!

To break a habit, you’re going to attach a new habit to a previous behavior so that it interferes with the new habit.

7. The Desire for Mastery

In the book she lays out case studies to invite readers to start thinking of which strategy is the best approach for a problem. That’s an important way to start thinking about these approaches.

If 15 years ago you were to say that people will create content for no discernible reward at all, it may not seem likely. Wikipedia is an example of this in action. We have an innate desire to learn new skills and master them, and if you can tap into that you have a powerful motivator.

The desire for mastery is stimulated by:

Task requiring special knowledge and skills. Tom Sawyer was able to get people walking by to paint a fence by making it look like fun, seem desirable, and explaining that it takes special skills. People were encouraged to show that they have those skills.

Autonomy. Giving people the perception of control about what they do and how they do it.

Lots of feedback, but not with praise. It has to be objective, neutral feedback. Stimulating the desire for mastery is a very internal experience, and it’s associated with the flow state. In a flow state, time slips away, they’re kept in it with constant feedback, and they’re getting lots of feedback.

Answers to the quiz: true, true, false, false, false, false, true

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