…small and apparently insignificant details can have major impacts on people’s behavior. A good rule of thumb is to assume that ‘everything matters.’ In many cases, the power of these small details comes from focusing the attention of users in a particular direction.

- Nudge, page 3

You make thousands of decisions a day. More importantly, these choices do not occur in a vacuum. It is impossible to not be influenced when making these decisions. When you order lunch off a menu or select a color of paint at the hardware store someone has spent a lot of time subtly helping you make a decision one way or another. Before you become too alarmed about evil marketers with ulterior motives, Professors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, authors of Nudge, believe that you can use this knowledge to your advantage. They call anyone who has influence over decisions a choice architect.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Be a choice architect

"A choice architect has the responsibility for organizing the context in which people make decisions. If you design the form that new employees fill out to enroll in the company health care plan, you are a choice architect. If you are a parent, describing possible educational options to your son or daughter, you are a choice architect."
- Nudge, page 3

Why is the “add to cart” button located on the right side of Amazon’s page instead of the left?  Why do some ATMs wait to dispense your money until after you have removed your card? A choice architect or a group of choice architects decided that for one reason or another that the right side of the screen was preferable to the left and that maybe ATM patrons would be less likely to leave their card if they were required to perform an additional action. A choice architect forms the situation where people make a decision and makes a judgment call about that decision. Depending upon how well that architect does, the result could resemble something as baffling as filing your taxes or as simple as buying a book with a single click on Amazon.

A choice architect understands that decisions must be made and utilizes discreet means to help those making the decision better their lives. So remember, whether you are sending around a signup sheet for the holiday potluck or presenting a retirement plan to incoming employees, how you frame the choice matters.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life


"To count as a mere nudge, the intervention must be easy and cheap to avoid. Nudges are not mandates. Putting the fruit at eye level counts as a nudge. Banning junk food does not."
- Nudge, page 6

Choice architects employ nudges to improve decision making. The authors describe a nudge as something “that alters people’s behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives.” An example of a nudge would be a cafeteria that replaces its regular garbage cans with a three compartment container saying: recycling, compostables, and landfill. Nudges are subtle suggestions and do not remove someone’s ability to choose. With the cafeteria, someone may still choose not to recycle. A nudge can be something as simple as removing the trays from cafeterias to help reduce the amount of food someone eats because it is more cumbersome to transport it to a table.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Improve the default

"…setting default options, and other similar seemingly trivial menu-changing strategies, can have huge effects on outcomes."
- Nudge, page 8

Making decisions can be a taxing process. Think about how easy it is to listen to the radio compared to having to select each song and build a playlist. Often the default settings are never changed because it takes time to make good decisions.

The authors explain that due to the “status quo bias”, people often leave default settings in place. How many papers did you write in college penned in Times New Roman, or how often do you pay for a monthly gym membership you never use? Default options have staying power because when a decision has been made you can move onto something else.

Default options can help with more than just seemingly small impact decisions. Often default nudges exist to help you make better decisions ahead of time so you don’t have to remember to do so in the moment, such as an automatic deduction for a savings account or a sleep timer on the TV so you can get to bed on time.

After reading Nudge I tried to find ways to improve my decisions through small unobtrusive means. I relocated select files and office supplies near my desk to the other side of the room, twenty feet away. Now when I need a paper clip I have to get up and move from my desk. This nudge helps me get in a few more steps/activity during the day and keeps my desk uncluttered. Win, win.

I have tried to improve some of my default decisions. By purchasing bell peppers and hummus from the grocery store instead of ice cream when I want a snack I am, by default, making better choices because I made the default a better option.

In the comment below, let us know what you can do to nudge your way to better decisions.

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Jakob Browning

ABOUT Jakob Browning

I am Jakob Browning. This fall I'll start my final year of law school. I enjoy running long distances. I have three younger brothers who will all probably be taller than me soon...
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