Being nudged and getting visceral

The economics of happiness has come into sharp focus, offsetting a general retreat on financial returns and the near-on collapse of Ireland’s economy and potentially Portugal, Spain, and the Euro. Some might call it emotional rescue.

In the post-bureaucratic age, part of the essential nature of digital, real-time, ‘visceral’ business, is that organisations value, develop and work with collective free will.

With free will comes the irrepressible, autonomous and authentic instincts in all their diversity, and this lies at the core of human nature.

Theyare the characteristics that propel how we learn and develop as individuals and, collectively, as a species. Psychologists have known for over fifty years that self-actualisation is an essential, if not the ultimate, component of happiness.

The virtual world of the world wide web is now in place, established as a high value intangible asset. Equally intangible counterparts – quality of life and the value of well-being – have arguably been late to the party. It makes sense they are on the radar, equally recognized.

When people are connected globally online, where we are doesn’t matter as much as how we feel. This alters previous terms of reference and  impacting upon traditional measures of value. It may even change the fundamental nature of conventional social, commercial and political terms of contract.

Human universals’ make other, previously crucial, boundaries less interesting and less important. Happiness is a worldwide measure.

This map illustrates the extent to which leading digital global brands are now capable of occupying share of mind or wallet globally. They are now the territories we’ve traditionally thought of as our ways and means of government. Citizenship today, as well as how we accrue value, can come in many forms and contexts.

Brand value has to some extent set the agenda over the last two decades when it comes developing an approach to an intangible economy. Brands have established ways of evaluating and measuring qualitative and quantitative value and tangible and intangible reward.

The challenge now is that a large expanse of marketing thinking is as misconstrued and as close to obsolescence as the old economics of wealth generation

Nudge’ thinking, that’s at the core of the thinking within the Behavioural Insights Unit looking at the National Index for Well-Being, is potentially a similar race to the bottom regarding value generation.

When we look back on‘nudge’ thinking, it may well turn out to be as clumsy and awkward as the first mobile phone in the hands here of its proud inventor, Martin Cooper.

Phone old

The reason why is ‘nudge’ thinking makes virtually nothing out of the things that move people at a deeper and more visceral level than surface interaction.

Devoid of connection with gut-level and instinctive understanding and visceral stimuli, nudge thinking is instead reliant on conditioning, predicted formats for management. Marketing remains a slow, mechanical means of leadership.

Nudge thinking runs the risk of being a replacement for inspiration. Leadership is at arm’s length from innovation, creativity and all the attendant growth that’s implied.

The interest in asynchronous events, the ones you can’t make-up, the ones that fascinate because they don’t fall outside the known model, and the ones beyond the obvious don’t come from ‘nudge’ thinking.

Nudge thinking works on the basis of incremental benefit. It doesn’t account for opposable views, nor encourages the energy and dynamism that comes out of freely expressed ideas and opinion. It doesn’t accommodate the thrill of the new, the unexpected or the mindblowing.

A necessary ingredient of your brand idea, or your successful leadership as a social organisation, is the capacity to cope with and contain the inherent friction of truly dynamic, ‘visceral’ business.

Organizations and individuals handle objections poorly when they see them as a threat to defend against. Acting ‘off-script’ is seen by ‘nudge’ thinkers as unwelcome and unhelpful. This, however, is precisely where to find  the prospective value many organisations need.

By taking techniques like gamification and putting it into the behavioural economic pot, the essential qualities of enjoyment and play move to an absurd mechanical domain with inherently limiting implications, as some of the smarter designers are now suggesting. But digital organisations and movements can thrive by upskilling and recognising their constituents’ creativity, ability to innovate. Asynchronous insights can feed solutions and growth opportunities, and these are the propellants for national progress and collective well-being.

The risk is that what emerges out of nudge is sludge, a place where the edges of both technical capability and human connectivity are blurred and blunted, where the opportunities for resonant, relevant, instinctive and visceral experiences are sidelined, defeated by the very model that’s supposed to develop them. This has profound implications for what we might term well-being overall.

The spread of nudge thinking as a management and marketing ideology is fashionable at the moment, but it does ask fundamental questions about the ways governmental and organizational momentum plays into it and presupposes that people can be conditioned.

Nudge thinking is the GM equivalent to spontaneous, organic growth and diversity. It is grown in the petri dish of the boardroom, lacking real time and data-enabled bio feedback.

Every organisation aspiring to be effectively networked might want to give this behavioural and economic equation some thought. What constitutes socio-economic well-being for a social organisation exactly? How can it create a differentiated culture that stands out, distinctive and sustainable from the bottom-up, not just modelled from the top-down?

As John Hagel has put it ‘we need the productive friction that comes from bringing together passion and wisdom’. If organisations want to galvanise, mobilize and develop options for growth, is nudging them the answer, or should they be visceral?

You decide.

Visceral handprint big Chris Bailey cropped small

Photo by Christopher Schmid. Featured image by Paula Bailey

  • Steve Bridger

    Anne – there is some brilliance in this post. Thank you for sharing it.

    “Interesting stories come from asynchronous not synchronous events, the ones you can

  • Anne

    Steve, thank you for your eloquence as always; adding to your thought and that conversation that was so thoroughly enjoyable – how come it is at the moment of, say, the Chilean miners rescue, the whole world can come together to share the moment?

    Perhaps it's because as a story of deep human connection it touches something, a deep human yearning at the core of our being and the power of that connectivity is a universal truth. That, I think, is what leadership should be capable of engendering.

    We're in an age where those human universals – those commonalities that bind us – are as prominent now as the differences, because of networked connectivity and communication. That's what we are capable of sharing now, more of those things that move us, way more than a nudge can.

    I really appreciate your comments.