Monday, 6 July 2020


 “Nudge Theory” popularised by Thalers, Sunstein and Halpern in 2008  became very popular. David Cameron, Barack Obama, the World Bank, UN and the EU were supporters. It showed how suggestions rather than instructions and positive reinforcement could change behaviour more effectively than more doctrinaire methods. In behavioural economics it was the go-to philosophy.

I liked it. In my mentoring establishing a positive platform of optimism focusing on good things rather than trying to implement a programme of radical behavioural surgery has always seemed the better way forward and upwards.

Change is funny stuff. We may proclaim ourselves as advocates of change and of wanting to be ahead of the curve but most of us are more timorous and want to inhabit the known world rather than shooting off to Mars.

It’s the little things in life that make the biggest effect. When we embarked on a programme of post-coronavirus home improvements by hiring a genius called Darren, the swathes of  fresh white paint in a lightwell and renovated and repainted doors earned approval. However it was the tidying up and concealing of unsightly electrical leads in our library and the mending of a dripping garden tap that got bigger smiles, applause and delight. Fixing minor irritations is a key to happiness.

Similarly small successes in customer service are what we remember more than the predictable reliability of Amazon. I ordered a case of wine last week from a local wine merchant, Butlers of Brighton. They promise next day delivery but on this occasion they delivered it an hour later. Amazing.

I emailed the nursery at Leonardslee to see if they had delphiniums to replace the lupins which has done their turn. I got an email from Maxine their deputy head gardener, explaining how to cut back the lupins so as to get a second flowering and a tutorial on perennials. Amazing.

Little things, all of these, but they stick in one’s mind and restore faith in humanity. They are like the skilled adjustments a great driver achieves. We live currently in a world of handbrake turns or, as Matthew Syed put it in the Sunday Times, people trying to drive a tanker without a steering wheel. No nudging towards improvement. No attempt to learn from failures.

Our system , we’re told is broken, useless, needs destroying and rebuilding. I see the Germans call our Prime Minister ‘das Großmaul‘ – big mouth. Others I know call him other things but this isn’t another Bash-Boris piece. Just this…do we really believe that in the midst of the pandemic, a tottering economy and a battered and upset electorate the right course of action is revolution?  Surely what we need is quiet, systematic competence. We need some BMW engineering not eccentrically different concept like the disastrous Delorean.

If there’s nothing else the past few months have taught us it’s to make decisions carefully, see them through and then critically execute them effectively. Nudge to success. Not just bound hopefully to infinity and beyond.


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