Seven Strategies for Fifty Bits Design

May 10, 2016
In his book, The Power of Fifty Bits, Dr. Bob Nease highlights how we will benefit from leveraging a set of specific strategies that bridge the gap between the good intentions that we already have and our day-to-day choices and behaviors.

Bob Nease

The main hypothesis of The Power of Fifty Bits is that people are wired for inattention and inertia. Our brains – and thus our natural inclinations and many of our behaviors – were built for a different time and place. Because we can’t pay attention to everything all the time, nature has equipped us with a handful of shortcuts. These are shortcuts that allowed our ancestors to navigate a dangerous environment effectively.

Unfortunately, that environment has changed more quickly than the wiring of our brains.  The shortcuts that worked so well long ago on the African savanna are routinely failing us, as evidenced by the persistent gap between our good intentions and the behaviors in which we actually engage.

Just as nearsighted people benefit from lenses that correct the faulty optics of their vision, we will benefit from a set of specific strategies that bridge the gap between the good intentions that we already have and our day-to-day choices and behaviors. Because applying such principles is a deliberate re-engineering to address the fundamental processing limitation of our conscious minds, we call it fifty bits design.

Seven strategies are at the core of fifty bits design. Three of these strategies are powerful mechanisms for activating the good intentions that most people already have. We can think of these as the “power” strategies; you should use them if possible because it has been repeatedly demonstrated that they can measurably improve choices and behaviors. In addition to these power strategies are three “enhancing” strategies, as well as one overarching strategy.

Three “Power” Strategies

  • Require Choice – mandate that people stop and deliberately choose among options
  • Lock in Good Intentions – allow people to make decisions today about choices they will face in the future
  • Let It Ride – set the default to the desired option and let people opt out if they wish

Three “Enhancing” Strategies

  • Get in the Flow – go to where peoples’ attention is likely to be naturally
  • Reframe the Choices – set the framework that people use to think about and react to options
  • Piggyback It – make the desired choice or behavior a side effect of something that is already attractive or engaging

One “Über” Strategy

  • Simplify… Wisely – make the right choices frictionless and easy, but create hesitation when a suboptimal choice is likely. I use the term “über” for the final strategy of making some things easy and others hard because in many ways it’s the overarching idea for all the strategies: put people on the path to better choices and make that as easy as possible, and slow them down to consciously choose if they’re headed in the wrong direction.

Excerpted from The Power of Fifty Bits: The New Science of Turning Good Intentions into Positive Results by Bob Nease. Copyright © 2016 by Bob Nease. Provided courtesy of Harper Business, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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