Chances are you haven’t heard of them yet. Don’t worry, by the time you’ve got to the end of this book, not only will you be bristling with creativity, you’ll also be something of an expert on the humble but powerful nudge. What is a nudge? At its most basic a nudge is a little change to our behaviour or thought patterns that can have a disproportionately large impact on an outcome. A nudge can be making things a little easier, a little simpler and sometimes, a little more motivating. Leaving your gym kit next to your bed so you’re more likely to go to the gym in the morning – that’s a nudge. The closely spaced aisles in supermarkets that make us feel like we’re travelling too fast, so we slow down and buy the items they want us to buy. That’s a nudge too. Putting pictures of kids on road signs to get us to slow down. All simple nudges that can have a huge effect.
Nudges can often seem obvious but as humans we become such creatures of habit that we frequently need to be prodded, both metaphorically and physically, into waking up to the possibilities of the world around us. Nudges can be as simple as renaming or reframing things so that we think of them in a different, and more positive, way. Like the brilliant Organising Committee for the London 2012 Olympic Games, renaming ‘volunteers’ as ‘Games Makers’. It entirely changed the way we viewed a worthy chore. Who on earth wouldn’t want to be an Olympic Games Maker? It became the hottest ticket of the entire Games. Another simple nudge of this kind was renaming the non-drinker on a night out as the ‘Designated Driver’ – instantly transforming a zero into a hero.
A nudge is the choice, the action, the use of language or ‘the thing’ that nudges us in a particular direction – influencing how we see the world and decide to act. Nudges don’t require a big lifestyle change. You don’t have to become a monastic devotee or find an extra three hours in your day for a difficult set of rules and regulations. No one has the time for that. The key to nudges is that they are small, simple changes that can have surprisingly far-reaching effects. (Probably why they are called ‘nudges’ and not ‘shoves’.)
‘Nudge theory’ has been about for a while, but in scientific terms it is barely out of nappies. It is part of a field of study called behavioural economics that won a Nobel Prize in 2002. It was such a new thing that the Nobel laureate in question, Daniel Kahneman, had effectively invented a whole new science. In 2010, the UK government, realizing the potential power of nudges to shape the behaviours of the population, launched the world’s first ‘nudge unit’. It proved so successful that there are now hundreds across the globe, including the highly influential Social and Behavioral Sciences Team in the USA and the Behavioural Insights Unit in New South Wales, Australia. These small, often invisible, interventions have had us doing all sorts of things that we don’t really want to do but, in truth, are mostly for our own good. Like paying our taxes on time, driving at a safe speed, even cutting down on sugar. Let’s face it, if they were things that we really wanted to do, chances are we would probably be doing them already.
As knowledge of nudge theory spreads, we are being nudged more and more. Unfortunately, though, not always in the right direction. From elections to referendums to radicalization, it is all too easy for people with bad intentions to take something that should be good and use it for ill. Now no longer the preserve of governments and academia, nudges are being heavily invested in by big business, eager to get you to buy this thing over that thing, or take this path over that one, while convincing you that it was your idea all along.
But we want to focus on the use of nudges for a positive outcome. We want to use these little actions to make you – yes, YOU – a more creative person. Nudges have been widely discussed and implemented in the political corridors and boardrooms of the world. Now we want to bring them into living rooms, so that we can all use them to help realize our hopes and dreams, and benefit from being a little more aware of when others are nudging us. Nudge theory is too interesting, too big and too important to leave in the hands of a chosen few; we want to set it free in the wider world. We want to put the power of nudges into your hands. To help you unleash that amazing person that’s inside you – your inner creative genius. Go easy though. They’re a lot more powerful than they look.