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Bursts of Color - Candy, Booze and Other Nudges

Bursts of Color - Candy, Booze and Other Nudges
By Geoff Donaker • Issue #66 • View online
A few years ago I helped professor Mike Luca write an article called Why COOs Should Think Like Behavioral Economists, which starts with the following story:
When Yelp was a startup with just 15 employees, the office manager began to stock the kitchen with drinks and snacks to get everyone through the long afternoons. Juice, water, fruit, chips, and as much candy as could be stuffed into the small kitchen drawer. Being at work was like being, well, a kid in a candy shop: a bottomless supply of Snickers, Twix, 3 Musketeers, M&M’s, Almond Joys — the list goes on.
And at first, everyone loved it. If a 3 PM hunger pang struck, it was a delight to find a Snickers to nosh on, without even having to leave the building. But within two weeks, one of us (Geoff, who was COO at the time) realized he was averaging a Snickers bar per day. This was a bit odd for two reasons. First, he had barely eaten candy bars in the years before that. Second, he didn’t really want to eat candy bars; he just did it as part of his newfound afternoon routine. A quick poll among coworkers revealed that the whole company had experienced a sharp uptick in candy bar consumption. Simply by existing, the candy drawer had created a cadre of candy eaters.

If you stock candy bars in the kitchen, they will get eaten
If you stock candy bars in the kitchen, they will get eaten
The Corollary for Alcohol
I enjoy a cold beer. And I’ve had fun times drinking with colleagues over the years. But looking back at the prevalence of subsidized alcohol at my various workplaces, I cringe. Beer on tap at the office; offsites at wineries; open bars at company events; whisky bottles as work gifts; weekly happy hours where the boss buys the first round. Given what we know from the candy bar story, it seems pretty obvious that any of these offerings will cause our teammates to drink more than they otherwise would. And for some, it will contribute to real problems, as my longtime colleague Michael Ernst shares in My Own User Experience. So as offsites, holiday parties and full offices return, I’d encourage us all to pare back the company-sponsored booze. I doubt we will miss it.
All Managers are Choice Architects
Of course choice architecture is much broader than deciding what food and drinks to offer. Back to Professor Luca:
Rather than telling people about their mistakes and hoping for improvement, changing behavior is partly about changing the environment in which decisions are made. Nudge, a 2008 book by Richard Thaler (winner of the 2017 Nobel prize in economics) and Cass Sunstein refers to this as choice architecture. And it turns out the workplace is full of opportunities for better or worse choice architecture. Just consider the following:
Stock a drawer with candy bars? Expect people to be tempted to eat them, even if they think they shouldn’t.
Display a performance metric on the wall? Expect it to rise, potentially at the expense of other ones.
Create more-diverse hiring committees? Expect that you may see a more diverse workforce.
Default 401(k) contributions to 6%? Six percent may become the norm. 
Every founder and manager is a choice architect, whether they like it or not. This kind of responsibility can be intimidating. But it’s also a wonderful opportunity… Because when we’re deliberate about the culture we want and the way we set things up, we are likely to get a lot of the behavior we hoped for.
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Geoff Donaker

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