10 Nudgestock Talks You Mustn’t Miss
2022 marked the tenth anniversary of Nudgestock, the can't-miss festival where creativity and behavioural science intersect.
We’re such big fans of Nudgestock at 42courses that we’ve sponsored it for the past few years.
So when we say it’s worth it, we mean it.
The annual festival, curated by Ogilvy Consulting, features a wonderfully eclectic mix of talks from leading thinkers and practitioners in behavioural science, marketing and creativity.
For those who have not attended this fantastic event, we’ve selected ten must-see talks from the last ten years to whet your appetite.
1. Laurie Santos ‘Monkeynomics and the Origins of Irrational Decisions' (2013)
The first ever Nudgestock was hosted at a Digital Shoreditch event in the heart of London.
Despite being brand new, it attracted twenty-one speakers of unbelievably high calibre, including Nassim Taleb, Professor Paul Dolan and, most notably, Dr Laurie Santos.
Laurie is a prize-winning, TED talking, Yale psychologist and her talk posed a thought-provoking question:
Is it just humans who make financial errors, or if you gave monkeys their own form of currency would they make similar mistakes?
Motivated to find the answer, Laurie and her team introduced some monkeys to small metal tokens and taught them how to trade them with humans for food.
They then performed a series of experiments to observe how the monkeys would ‘spend’ the tokens in different contexts.
The results were fascinating.
Not only did the monkeys make ‘rational’ choices in many of the same ways as we do, but they were also similarly ‘irrational’ in certain contexts.
This suggests that our biases are evolutionarily hardwired and explains why some are so incredibly hard to overcome.
But whilst we can’t ignore the similarities to our tree-dwelling cousins, the most interesting discovery Laurie and her team made was the key way we differ: our desire to exchange ideas.
No other primate seems to care about sharing information for the sake of it as much as we do.
This peculiarity confers enormous advantages and explains our species’ dominance, but it sometimes results in foolish behaviour.
Indeed, we are so predisposed to copy the ideas of others that we do it even when they aren’t in our best interest.
Just think of teenagers goading each other on to jump across train tracks or ‘tombstone’ from ever-increasing heights into the sea below.
Whether we like it or not, our minds have evolved to meld with others, so we must be selective about whose minds we choose to partner up with.
Three takeaways from Laurie’s talk:
1. Our thoughts are not as original as we think. Our minds are essentially made up of the minds of others.
2. This ‘thought collaboration’ is a good thing because it allows us to innovate by building on old ideas to create new things.
3. To generate good ideas, surround yourself with smart people. That way, you can be sure you’re mind-melding with the right minds.
2. Dr Dan Lockton ‘Designing With People in Behaviour Change’ (2014)
The success of the first-ever Nudgestock meant the event was moved to a bigger venue the following year.
London’s buzz was swapped for the charming coastal town of Deal in Kent.
Why? It may or may not be related to Rory’s second home being conveniently nearby! 😂
With it came plenty of fresh air and some even fresher thinking.
2014’s standout talk came from Dr Dan Lockton, a Professor at Carnegie Mellon & Eindhoven University.
In twenty gripping minutes, Dan explained how the design of everything impacts our behaviour.
This is important because many designers don’t truly understand how the people they are designing for think or act.
Instead, they make assumptions which lead to products that work against rather than with their users.
Dan argues that every discipline (not just design) believes it understands human behaviour and, as a result, adopts one of two approaches:
People are inherently bad at making decisions, so experts need to intervene and help them
People are inherently okay at making decisions, so experts should learn from them.
The truth is that neither approach is right or wrong as it depends heavily on the context.
In support of the first point, Dan explains how many objects are designed to be a deterrent. The goal is to prevent people from doing something.
Just think of those airport benches designed specifically to discourage sleeping.
These creations ultimately fail because people are clever; if they feel they’re being pushed in an uncomfortable direction, they just find a way around it.
Regarding his second point, Dan highlights another element that the traditional design approach overlooks: people use things in ways their designers never intended.
Instead of drawing criticism, Dan suggests that designers use this information to do a better job.
Ultimately, his talk is a rallying cry for design that is people-centred and inclusive.
Rather than locking themselves away for a while and then revealing their creations, designers should instead involve the people they’re designing for.
Three takeaways from Dan’s talk:
1. Design with people, not for people. In other words, don’t assume you have the solution before you’ve worked out the true problem.
2. Learn from how people ‘misuse’ products. They might reveal a clue to a better design.
3. Behaviour change can be about seeing people as the problem or solving people’s problems.
3. Richard Thaler 'Private Sector Nudging: Norms, Ethics and Manners' (2015)
Just three years in, Nudgestock welcomed its first Nobel prize-winning speaker, Richard Thaler.
Talk about hitting the big leagues.
For those that don’t know, Richard is an economist and Professor of Behavioral Science and Economics at the University of Chicago who co-authored one of the most popular books on behavioural economics, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Money, Health, and the Environment.
For sixty eyebrow-raising minutes, Richard shared some of his favourite insights into human behaviour, including:
1. We love ‘money-back’ guarantees. This is because we’re naturally cautious, and this type of offer suggests that any risk has been eliminated.
2. You can increase enjoyment by separating your purchases from their consumption. A pre-paid holiday to an all-inclusive resort is a prime example.
3. We are not very good at ignoring sunk costs (these are costs we’ve already paid that we can’t recover).
Richard points out that businesses can use the above and other quirks of human nature that behavioural science has revealed to improve their bottom lines.
But, he cautions, with power must come some control.
Businesses need to balance their desire for growth with ethical responsibility.
For example, it might be profitable in the short term to raise prices during high demand for a product (think snow shovels during blizzards or Uber taxis during rainy weather), but it will likely do damage in the long run.
Thaler also touches on the politics of paywalls, online subscriptions and the ease of cancelling.
Three takeaways from Richard’s talk:
1. Consumers like deals.
2. If you have to raise prices at peak times, don’t do it on more than one occasion.
3. Be fair with your customers, and if you can’t, seem fair.
4. Dr Tali Sharot ‘Influencing A Predictive Brain’ (2016)
Tali is an Israeli/British/American neuroscientist and Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL who is one of the world's leading researchers into optimism.
In her talk, she explains what works and what doesn’t when it comes to changing minds and behaviours.
To understand this for herself, she embarked on a research project to understand what people think about the future.
In her research to see how people would be impacted by negative events in their lives, she found the respondents would twist the narrative to create a positive outcome.
This led to her reading up about the optimism bias (the tendency for humans to believe the future will be better than the past and overestimate the likelihood of positive events happening to them whilst underestimating the likelihood of negative outcomes).
Further research revealed what was happening in the brain that might explain this.
All human brains (including those belonging to pessimists and people suffering from depression) remember or ‘encode’ positive information better than they do negative information.
This leaves us with an overall positive image.
So how can you leverage this optimism bias to your advantage regarding behaviour change?
According to the research, the following three principles are fundamental to influencing behaviour change in others:
1) Immediate rewards (create a positive feedback loop where participants can quickly see the impact of carrying out the desired behaviour)
2) Social incentives (show how other people are adopting or complying with the desired behaviour)
3) Highlight progress (show how participants are progressing towards the ultimate behavioural outcome)
Three takeaways from Tali’s talk:
1. Human beings are optimists by default. Even divorce lawyers who should know better vastly underestimate the likelihood of getting divorced. Similarly, small business owners vastly overestimate their chances of success.
2. If we don’t like the news we receive, we find ways to ignore it, reinterpret it positively, or distance ourselves from it.
3. The above points help explain why warnings have little impact on people‘s behaviours. Just think of the number of people who open cigarette packs with grizzly pictures of the impacts of long-term smoking on them.
5. Meik Wiking ‘Secrets of the World’s Happiest People' (2017)
In 2017, Nudgestock put on another incredible lineup of speakers, including the dashingly handsome and charismatic author of the million-copy selling The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living, Meik Wiking.
He is the founder of the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark, and his talk describes his journey to uncover the scientific answers to the following questions:
How do we measure happiness?
Why are some people happier than others?
And how do we improve quality of life?
Whilst the above questions seem straightforward, getting answers to them is anything but.
Meik suggests that part of the problem is distinguishing between the terms ‘happiness’ and ‘quality of life’.
The challenge is that people use these as umbrella terms, so Meik and his team have been on a quest to break them down into different elements and use visual tools to help people respond in a way that can be measured scientifically.
Despite these challenges, he shares the encouraging fact that more and more governments are measuring their population’s happiness and quality of life.
And that’s something that should make everyone smile.
Three takeaways from Meik’s talk:
1. Social support is the best indicator of whether we are happy or not: whether online or in person, keep your social networks healthy.
2. Money is best spent on activities and experiences that connect us with other people: sharing an experience gives it more value.
3. Happiness can be measured and is a key indicator for many government policies.
6. Michael Pawlyn 'Biomimicry & Biophilia: Nudge or Shove?' (2018)
June 8th 2018 witnessed the sixth Nudgestock Festival and yet more mind-expanding talks from some of the most interesting voices in behavioural science and beyond.
None more so than the talk from the renowned British architect Michael Pawlyn who was part of the team behind the extraordinary Eden Project.
Michael’s talk focused on the powerful lessons we can learn from nature via the fascinating fields of biophilia and biomimicry.
To highlight the potential of the former, which describes the innate human instinct to connect with nature, Michael opened with an extraordinary story about how hospital patients recovered more quickly, given a view of nature.
Architects can use this knowledge to design buildings which give people biological forms to look at and surround them with natural materials.
If biophilia is about nature-inspired design and how it can improve our wellbeing, then biomimicry is about nature-inspired design and how it can solve practical problems.
Perhaps the most well-known example of biomimicry is the story behind one of the 20th century’s most popular inventions: Velcro.
The Swiss engineer Georg de Mestral was out walking his dog when it got caught in some bushes.
When the dog finally broke free, he noticed some burrs had attached themselves like limpets to the animal’s coat.
Intrigued about what might cause them to grip so tightly to the fur, he examined them under a microscope.
What he discovered resulted in the creation of Velcro.
Three takeaways from Michael’s talk:
1. You can use nature to create buildings that improve well-being and not just by putting plants on desks!
2. Nature is an infinite source of inspiration to help us solve problems.
3. Biomimicry can be used as a tool for innovation to improve business outcomes.
7. Tricia Wang ‘How Marketing Mistook Clicks For Customers' (2019)
Tricia Wang is a global tech ethnographer and the co-founder of Sudden Compass, a consulting firm.
Her talk opens with a story about corn (maize) being one of the world’s most important and misunderstood technologies.
What’s this got to do with marketing, you might ask?
To cut a long story short, European explorers were quite taken with this remarkable new food.
They thought it could be a cheap source of nutrition and wasted no time bringing it home to add it to their diet.
The problem was that people started dying not long after they did this.
In their haste, the explorers had not learnt how to make corn nutritionally usable.
Tricia Wang uses this story to illustrate our readiness to take new technologies at face value, believing they are the silver bullet for our current problems.
She suggests our love affair with big data is a similar case of magical thinking.
We are so keen to believe in big data that we suffer from ‘quantification bias’ (the unconscious bias of valuing the measurable over the immeasurable).
Tricia asserts that the speed and complexity of data-driven advertising make it difficult to see how an ad actually performs.
Organisations have stopped listening to people skilled in the time-tested methods of listening and watching customers.
In other words, qualitative research and behavioural economists have been sidelined.
So what can be done about it?
Tricia argues the issue is that little attention is paid to customers except what they click on. In other words, we conflate reaching the customer with understanding the customer.
We must integrate qualitative data to get the full ROI from ad tech.
Because as Rory Sutherland says, “All big data comes from the same place - the past”.
Three takeaways from Tricia’s talk:
1. We’re obsessed with big data and believe it’s the answer to all our problems.
2. We conflate reaching the customer with understanding the customer. Little attention is paid to customers except what they click on.
Therefore, to get the full ROI out of ad tech we have to integrate qualitative data.
8. Bri Williams ‘Lazy, Scared and Overwhelmed’ (2020)
With most of the world in lockdown due to COVID-19, Nudgestock became an online-only event.
Inspired by the Live Aid music event, the Ogilvy team started the stream in Australia and travelled across the globe, creating almost 12 hours of live content!
And it just so happened that a lady from the land down under, Bri Williams, gave 2020’s standout talk.
Bri is a psychologist and one of Australia’s leading experts on behavioural influence.
Bri’s presentation certainly upended the stereotype of the dull PowerPoint presentation.
In fact, she positively smashed the mould on boring slide shows whilst cleverly explaining the behavioural science behind it in her talk Lazy, Scared and Overwhelmed.
She explains her Williams Behaviour Change Model, which describes three barriers you must overcome to succeed in changing someone’s behaviour.
Humans are lazy by default, so we like to stick with the status quo.
Bri argues that you need to make it easy to do the right thing and hard to do the wrong thing to overcome this barrier. Or make your offer seem better or more interesting than the alternatives.
We find too many choices overwhelming.
Bri says the way to address this is to make it clear which path is the best one to take.
We are more driven to avoid loss than seek gain.
To overcome fear, we need to give people nothing to fear if they DO take action and something to fear if they don’t.
Three takeaways from Bri’s talk:
1. Business is about getting people from Point A (where they currently are) to Point B (where you want them to be), and ‘nudging’ helps us do this more effectively.
2. To get people to carry out the desired behaviour, you must first overcome the three barriers of laziness, overwhelm and fear.
3. To overcome lazy thinking, we must reduce effort and maximise reward.
9. ‘Happy Hour’ with wine expert Joe Fattorini (2021)
The second year of the pandemic kept us glued to our laptops and learning from experts all over the world.
One of those was Joe Fattorini, or ‘Obi Wine Kenobi’ as he’s known in wine circles.
Joe is the presenter of The Wine Show and shared some of his favourite stories in an entertaining fifteen minutes.
The first concerned the creators of a new wine app who made a rather unusual discovery: people’s palettes seemed different at home versus in a work setting.
This struck them as totally illogical.
Why would the wine you prefer change simply because you’ve moved location?
The answer is that wine is much more than the sum of its flavour components.
French sociology has long been aware of this.
They’ve known that the right wine depends on the situation; you’ll drink something very different watching the telly at home versus trying to impress a client.
Research has also shown that people rate the same wine differently when presented in different bottles.
Another study demonstrated that wine tastes better if poured from a heavier bottle than from a light one.
This presents a huge environmental challenge because more than half the carbon emissions of a bottle of wine come from making it and moving it around. To reduce those emissions, we should be drinking wine out of boxes.
The problem is that drinking from a ‘bag in a box’ or a ‘goon bag’ as they’re known in Australia doesn’t sound very appealing!
So how can we make those more attractive to people? What should we call them instead?
Three takeaways from Joe’s talk:
1. Professor Charles Spence found that the mere sound of a cork popping out of a bottle of wine adds to the perceived value of the wine.
2. The same wine simply tastes better objectively in a bigger glass (try not to use this as an excuse to drink more 🍷 )
3. More than half the carbon emissions of a bottle of wine come from the bottle, making it and moving it around. So to reduce those emissions, we should drink wine out of boxes.
10. Matthew Syed & Dr Iain McGilchrist ‘Diversity and the Creative Brain’ (2022)
Nudgestock 2022 was the tenth anniversary of Ogilvy’s annual festival of behavioural science and creativity.
The lineup was as brilliant as ever, making it hard to choose the standout talk.
Nevertheless, we decided on the conversation between the author and The Times and The Sunday Times columnist, Matthew Syed and the psychiatrist and deep thinker, Dr Iain McGilchrist.
Their talk entitled ‘Diversity and the Creative Brain’ explored everything from fighter jets designed to be unstable to ‘choking’ in professional sports and the world’s most dangerous motorbike race, The Isle of Man TT.
(For a sense of just how mad these riders are, check out this video of the fastest-ever lap of the circuit - we promise it’s not speed up!)
It was a real treat to hear two dynamic minds in a discussion.
Three takeaways from Matthew and Iain’s talk:
1. There are two types of diversity - ethnographic and cognitive. Nevertheless, our culture shapes the way we think and solve problems.
2. Cognitive diversity is critical to innovative thinking.
3. The left and right hemispheres of the brain operate very differently. The left is serial, reductionist, analytical and precise. It sees a world where everything is black or white. By contrast, the right is open to possibilities and considers the whole picture.