Words matter. This week we learned that we’re changing our “you did your job” rating from Solid to Achieving. Seriously, I wonder how much leadership and people time we’ve lost over the past however many years arguing about that word solid. Personally, I found a solid rating somewhat deflating and frustrating. Achieving however makes me go <shrug>. Yeah, you’re right. I did a Thing but I didn’t do it spectacularly, fair enough. Good on whoever pushed that change through. Long run, I suspect it’ll be a highly successful nudge.
Which gets me to the word nudge. The central conceit of this argument is that small changes in language and approach can yield big changes in behaviour and outcomes. I’ve been reading a lot about nudges. If you’re just getting started, I’d recommend the NYTimes article by one of the co-authors of Nudge. For me the concept really gelled when I listened to the Freakonomics podcast on Big Returns from Thinking Small. It got me thinking about how we can influence societies, organisations, and individuals by making very small tweaks to their environment.
Let me give you an example. Take a look at this picture. Now it’s possible this is a whimsical art project. However, what it actually happens to be is a nudge. The objective is to get drivers to stop crossing into the bike lane and hitting people. Apparently, people in the bike lane wasn’t sufficiently discouraging. Neither were traffic cones; You can tell by the grimy posts that trucks and big cars were still crowding the bike lane and hitting them. So they put googly eyes on the posts. Hitting a post is one thing. Hitting a cute little post with sad eyes is something entirely different. Googly eyes for the safety win.
Now if I could just invent a nudge to get my family to clean up after themselves.
“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightening and lightening bug.” ~ Mark Twain