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The Power of Fifty Bits: The New Science of Turning Good Intentions into Positive Results Hardcover – January 19, 2016
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From the Publisher
The New Science of Human Behavior by Bob Nease
In a few short years, we have been tipped, blinked, nudged, switched and swayed into admitting to ourselves and to others that we are more like Homer Simpson than we are like Mr. Spock. The question is no longer whether people are rational. We are not. The question is, now what? What practical solutions can marketers, human resource professionals, teachers, parents, and other real people use to improve behavior?
I wrote The Power of Fifty Bits to definitively answer that question. 'Fifty bits' refers to a fundamental limitation with which our brains are saddled, the implications of which are just now being appreciated. Of the 10 million bits per second that our brains process, only 50 bits is devoted to conscious thought. This means that to a great extent, we are wired for inattention and inertia rather than attention and choice. As a result, we often experience a gap between what we want to do (were we to stop and think about it) and what we actually do.
Understanding this intent/behavior gap is critical for developing effective behavior change strategies. If you assume that bad behavior stems from bad intentions, you'll pursue solutions aimed at changing underlying intentions (e.g., stronger incentives, more education, better persuasion). But when you realize that bad behavior instead comes from good intentions that lay dormant, you instead craft solutions to activate the good intentions that people already have.
The Power of Fifty Bits explains in simple terms how our brains—and thus many of our behaviors—reflect the instinctual and automatic systems that served us so well long ago and far away. More importantly, it will arm you with seven specific and proven strategies to improve behavior. Using accessible, entertaining, and relevant stories and examples, I've written The Power of Fifty Bits to be the world's first 'how to' field guide that you can use to powerfully advantage better behavior for you, your loved ones, your coworkers, and your clients. It's a fun and effective approach that's changed my life, and I hope it will do the same for you.
“In many ways, [this book] is yet another one of Bob’s cleverly engineered systems, expertly designed to hook you with an enigmatic title, hold you with delightful stories and deep ideas, and ultimately leave you better than you were before-wiser about people in general, and about yourself in particular. ” (From the Foreword by Daniel Gilbert)
“Want to learn how to design approaches that spur others to achieve their goals-and that do the same for you and your own goals? With clarity, eloquence and humor, The Power of Fifty Bits shows you how.” (Robert B. Cialdini, Author of Influence)
“If you want to understand how the environment you live in can be reshaped so that your intuitions, fears, hopes and dreams can best be managed and aligned with your best intentions, I recommend you read this fun, challenging, and useful book.” (Arthur Caplan, Professor of Bioethics, NYU Langone Medical Center)
“The Power of Fifty Bits shows you how to produce outcomes that have both high financial effectiveness and high acceptance by employees.” (Bob Ihrie, SVP, Compensation & Benefits Lowe's Companies, Inc.)
“The Power of Fifty Bits is a great resource for creating state of the art programs to promote wellbeing. Combining evidence for effective behavior change with practical advice, this book will transform your thinking and put you on a path to a much better life.” (Helen Darling, Strategic Advisor, National Business Group on Health)
“Bob Nease is a pioneer of implementing social science in business and healthcare and we are lucky to have him share his expertise.” (Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational)
“This book proves that scientific insight doesn’t need to be dry and boring. If you want to learn how to make your organization more effective, or just to make your own life better, read it. It’s full of behavioral science insights in a fun, readable form.” (Peter Orszag, former director, Congressional Budget Office)
Focusing on activating good intentions that many people already have can be much more effective than trying to change their intentions through education and increased incentives…a thoughtful, easy-to-digest approach for individuals and organizations seeking to foster better choices. (Kirkus Reviews)
From the Back Cover
Even with the very best of intentions, people often fail to make wise choices for themselves—whether for their health, their finances, or their business decisions. Yet it doesn’t have to be that way—thanks to the science behind fifty bits design, a set of principles that helps close the gap between intentions and actual behaviors.
Of the ten million bits of information our brains process each second, only fifty bits are devoted to conscious thought. This means that humans are wired for inattention and inertia, so we often choose without thinking and act against our own interests. Understanding this is the key to any behavior change, from increasing charitable donations to reducing unintended pregnancies.
As the former chief scientist of Express Scripts, a Fortune 25 health care company, Bob Nease is an expert on applying behavioral sciences to the health care industry. He realized that providing financial incentives and tools—an approach that assumes patients will act rationally—was not having the outcome that he expected. Instead, he had to reengineer patients’ environments in order for their natural inclinations to lead them to the best decisions. In a nod to the brain’s fundamental cognitive limitation, he called this approach “fifty bits design,” and now he applies his knowledge to the wider world, offering important, practical solutions that marketers, human resources professionals, teachers, and even parents can use to improve the behavior of others around them and get the positive results they want.
Nease offers a set of powerful and effective strategies for change:
• Require Choice: compel people to deliberately choose among options
• Lock In Good Intentions: allow people to make decisions today about choices they will face in the future
• Let It Ride: set the default to the desired option and let people opt out if they wish
• Get in the Flow: home in on where people’s attention is likely to go naturally
• Reframe the Choices: set the framework people use to consider options and choices
• Piggyback It: connect the desired choice or behavior with something people already like or are engaged in
• Simplify…Wisely: make the right choices frictionless and easy; make the wrong choices more difficult
The Power of Fifty Bits is the first how-to guide that provides step-by-step instructions for helping customers, employees, co-workers, and clients get the results they truly want.
Advance Praise for The Power of Fifty Bits
“In many ways, this book is yet another one of Bob’s cleverly engineered systems, expertly designed to hook you with an enigmatic title, hold you with delightful stories and deep ideas, and ultimately leave you better than you were before—wiser about people in general, and about yourself in particular.”—from the foreword by Daniel Gilbert
“Want to learn how to design approaches that spur others to achieve their goals—and that do the same for you and your own goals? With clarity, eloquence, and humor, The Power of Fifty Bits shows you how.”—Robert B. Cialdini, author of Influence
“If you want to understand how the environment you live in can be reshaped so that your intuitions, fears, hopes, and dreams can best be managed and aligned with your best intentions, I recommend you read this fun, challenging, and useful book.”—Arthur Caplan, professor of bioethics, NYU Langone Medical Center
“The Power of Fifty Bits shows you how to produce outcomes that have both high financial effectiveness and high acceptance by employees.”—Bob Ihrie, SVP of Compensation and Benefits, Lowe’s Companies, Inc.
“The Power of Fifty Bits is a great resource for creating state-of-the-art programs to promote well-being. Combining evidence for effective behavior change with practical advice, this book will transform your thinking and put you on a path to a much better life.”—Helen Darling, strategic advisor, National Business Group on Health
“Bob Nease is a pioneer of implementing social science in business and healthcare, and we are lucky to have him share his expertise.”—Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational
“This book proves that scientific insight doesn’t need to be dry and boring. If you want to learn how to make your organization more effective, or just to make your own life better, read it. It’s full of behavioral-science insights in a fun, readable form.”—Peter Orszag, former director, Congressional Budget Office
Top customer reviews
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Nease serves as a great role model for this "new science of turning good intentions into positive results." His book is easy to read and understand. He also takes the high road and talks about how the brain is "wired for inattention and inertia"-- more diplomatic terms than the ones I've been using. (I still love Matthew Lieberman's observation that he makes in his book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect that we're all "mental coach potatoes.") "Inattention and inertia" sound so less threatening compared to "mental couch potatoes who stick with the status quo."
Based on Nease's work at Express Scripts and interest in wellness, women's reproductive health, and other health care issues, the book also features great examples that many readers should relate to.
And from a behavior designer's point of view, Nease is wise to emphasize that somebody has to do the work; it won't just go away. Yet, if you really want people to use your service or do something new at work in addition to everything else they're doing, it often behooves you to take the time and devote some resources to behavior design, which often means shouldering a lot of the work. Among other steps, you've got to create an attention-getting "ask" and then figure out the best way to turn that "ask" into an "act." In my experience, thanks to studying with Dr. BJ Fogg, considered the father of behavior design, I've learned that people are more inclined to act if they'll have a "simple, social and fun" experience. They'll ignore you or drag their feet if it's too hard.
I do wish Nease had acknowledged BJ Fogg and his work in the book, especially since both studied at Stanford, and BJ has his Persuasive Technology Lab based there.
Nonetheless, considering how few books are available on behavior design, this is a great one to have by your side if you want to help yourself and others put into motion the good intentions that already exist.
But there is plenty of new ground to cover, and Nease guides us through nearly all of it. As interesting as all of the books to date have been, they leave readers with little clue as what to do next. Nease grabs that idea and runs with it. Based on his work as the chief scientist at a large healthcare company, the book lays out a easy-to-follow and proven framework for improving behavior at work, at home, and in our communities.
The basic premise is that bad choices aren’t the results of misplaced intentions. Instead, most of our bad behaviors reflect good intentions upon which we fail to act. At the root of the problem is a stunning cognitive limitation (and the basis for the somewhat cryptic title): of the 10 million bits of information that our brains handle each second, only 50 bits are set aside for conscious thought. Nease argues that scarcity of attention leads to an “intent-behavior gap.”
This disconnect between intention and behavior is a critical insight because it changes the focus of efforts to improve behaviors. All too often, Nease says, we assume that bad behaviors are the result of bad intentions, and that leads us to try to change peoples’ underlying intentions. The results of these efforts are often disappointing… because bad intentions aren’t the problem.
Instead, “The Power of Fifty Bits" offers seven strategies for “activating” the good intentions that most people already have. Each of these strategies is brought to life with engaging, everyday examples. (I was surprised at how pervasive these strategies are in my daily life. Without the fifty bits framework, however, I just didn’t see them.) The book also offers suggestions and examples of how to combine the strategies to maximize their effectiveness.
This is a well-written, scientifically grounded, fun, and accessible field guide. If you are serious about changing behavior among your customers, colleagues, family or even yourself, read this book!
-John Beshears, behavioral economist and assistant professor of business administration at Harvard Business School