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Wadala Experiment at WSMConference, Dublin

Earlier this month, we presented the Wadala Experiment Case Study at the World Social Marketing Conference in Dublin, Ireland. The 2nd World conference brought together an audience of 600 behavioural change experts from 40 different countries.


The Wadala Experiment was the only case study presented at WSMConference that drew on learnings from Cognitive Neuroscience and Behavioural Economics to tackle social problems (trespassing in Mumbai). Behaviour change in larger societal problems, including healthcare, savings, and road safety can benefit greatly if we change our thinking and approach these issues in a more fundamental manner.


With the success of the Wadala Experiment Case Study, we have demonstrated how Behaviour Architecture™ can be used effectively to bridge the gap between AWARENESS and ACTION, a point which most social marketers, and even consumer marketers, are grappling with today.

The sweet ingredient to making better decisions

If you have a parole hearing, when should you schedule your slot so that you get a favourable decision? The graph below might shed some light on that question.

In this graph, Shai Denziger captures the results of 1112 parole hearings in Israeli prisons over a ten-month period.


The vertical axis is the proportion of cases where the judges granted parole. The horizontal axis shows the order in which the cases were heard during the day. And the dotted lines, they represent the points where the judges went away for a morning snack and their lunch break.


What the graph shows is extremely noteworthy. At the start of the day, the odds that a prisoner will be successfully paroled is 65%, before nosediving to 0% within a matter of few hours. The judges take their first break (as shown by the dotted lines), and the successful odds climb up to 65%, before plummeting again. Ditto for the proportion of successful paroles after lunch.


Danziger found that the three prisoners seen at the start of each “session” were more likely to be paroled than the three who are seen at the end. That’s true regardless of the length of their sentence, or whether they had been incarcerated before.


Whether prisoners are let off or not could merely be a function of when their cases were heard.


An easy explanation to this could be the aspect of “choice overload”. In repetitive decision-making tasks, once we’ve drained our mental resources, we suffer from choice overload and start opting for the default choice.


For the judges, the more decisions they’ve made, the more depleted they are, and hence they end up making the default choice – in this case, deny parole.


But if we look at things more fundamentally, a clearer picture emerges. Glucose helps you make better decisions.


Glucose is the only fuel used by the brain cells for mental activity. Since the neurons don’t store glucose, they depend on the bloodstream to supply a constant amount of this fuel.


As the judges make more decisions, their brains are getting drained, thereby creating a propensity to look at more immediate decisions (getting back concentration and focus on the current task) rather than understanding the prisoner’s situation and taking appropriate decisions.


The implications of glucose on decision making and its effect as seen in judges’ decision making are huge.


The brain is an energy optimizing machine. Making decisions takes a lot of effort, and too many of them make us feel tired.


In organizations that demand lot of mental task from their employees, productivity can be increased by creating an environment that leads to making fewer decisions. Google is a frontrunner in recognizing this aspect and creates an environment that reduces distractions (thereby keeping glucose levels higher), because of which it’s employees go on to create things that Google is so well known for.


As erstwhile CEO Eric Schmidt put it…


“Let’s face it: programmers want to program, they don’t want to do their laundry. So we make it easy for them to do both.”


This is a fundamental way of looking at how organizational productivity can be increased. If more companies start thinking in this manner, it can only open up doors for a new era in innovation, creating a happier bunch of employees who can then do whatever they do in the best

Getting inside the Indian entrepreneur's brain

We wrote an article in the Hindu Business Line about how the Indian Entrepreneur uses intuitive intelligence and ignores conventional wisdom that large multinational marketers use to market their products. Biju unravels the science behind those intuitive decisions. For those who would like to save a click, the article is reproduced here ....................... Getting inside the Indian entrepreneur's brain The Hindu Business Line; Oct 28, 2010 Biju Dominic The Indian entrepreneur brings a large dose of intuitive wisdom to his business decisions. His decisions look very different from those discussed in business schools, but deliver tremendous results in the market place. Business school educated professionals rarely grasp the greatness of those decisions at the outset. Nor are they able to unravel the science behind those intuitive decisions. So they are incapable of effectively countering those decisions. When Karsanbhai Patel launched Nirma washing powder in the Seventies, the launch television commercial was seen as bizarre. Even today, an unwritten norm of the advertising industry is that the brand name should appear just once, that too during the last few frames of the TVC. In the Nirma launch commercial pack shots, brand usage shots and brand benefit shots and the brand name “Nirma” were repeated many times. The whiz kids of the advertising industry thought the commercial would be the first fall of a small-time Indian entrepreneur who was just learning the tricks of the trade. When M. P. Ramachandran of Jyothy Laboratories launched Ujala liquid whitener to take on a large established MNC brand, he did not splurge on glitzy television commercials. The launch ad of Ujala in local magazines asked people to send in a short poem using the words ‘Ujala', ‘clothes' and ‘whiteness'. Instead of using the best copywriters from the best advertising agencies to write eulogies about the brand, ideally in English, here was an Indian entrepreneur who was asking the consumers to write something about the brand and its benefits, that too in their mother tongue. While the innovative business ideas of Nirma and Ujala have been replicated, the communication ideas during the launch of these two brands have never been fully understood. With the emergence of Cognitive Neurology as a fundamental science to explain all aspects of human behaviour, we are in a better position to decipher the science behind even the most intuitive decisions of the Indian entrepreneur. A memory is formed in our brain thanks to connections between millions of neurons and the electrochemical stimuli that pass between them. Any memory in turn is connected to several other associated memories. The strength of a memory depends on the strength of its neural connections. All marketing activities aim to strengthen the neural connections between a particular brand and the benefit it caters to. How do we strengthen the brain's neural connections? If electrochemical stimuli pass between a set of neural connections repeatedly, the neural connections become stronger and stronger. So the repetition of stimuli is key to strengthening any memory. This has been understood very well by organised religion and political parties, the real masters of mass persuasion. Repetition of prayers, chants and slogans are an integral part of their daily rituals. So when Karsanbhai Patel repeated the brand name and brand images multiple times in Nirma's launch commercial, he was intuitively following a memory strengthening exercise that has been happening in the churches, temples and the streets of this country for centuries. After the Korean War, many of the American soldiers who were captured as prisoners of war came back from Chinese prisons as strong believers in communist philosophy. American psychologists who wanted to find out how this brainwashing happened were surprised to find that no violent methods were inflicted on these prisoners to alter their belief systems. Chinese authorities just got these American prisoners to write down what they wanted them to believe in. Yes, getting your consumers to write down their liking for your brand dramatically increases their loyalty towards your brand. Jyothy Laboratories received thousands of poems written by the consumers. There would have been ten thousand others who wrote a few lines on a sheet of paper or at least thought of a few lines of a poem in their brains. In the brains of all these amateur poets, millions of neurons related to ‘clothes' and ‘whiteness' would have formed a very strong connection with brand Ujala. There are many great marketing ideas that are lying unused because no one has discovered their true worth. To know their true worth we need to polish them using the science of cognitive neurology. So the next time you need to insert the line ‘I love XYZ brand because …' at the end of the brand contest form, would you consider it a legal requirement or as one of the most powerful ways to build strong loyalty for your brand? .......................

Wadala Experiment features on The Boston Globe

(Screenshot from The Boston Globe) Our work to minimize deaths due to trespassing on Mumbai's railway tracks, called the Wadala Experiment, has been featured by Boston Globe in their Ideas section. The online version is out, and the paper version will be featured in this Sunday's (May 7) Ideas Section. The article details the Wadala Experiment and what we did. It also explains how we apply scientific principles into all our assignments thereby developing a fresher perspective on observing and explaining behaviour, and modifying it in a desired manner. Take a read; how does this new perspective alter the way you've been approaching behaviour change all along?

Affordances: Designing for action

As designers we constantly ponder ‘What is the ultimate measure of success for design?’ In my opinion its easy adoption by the end user, which basically means minimizing cognitive load in comprehending the designer/designs intent. Affordance is one such concept that can help us better understand user-interactions with designed artifacts. Consider this how many times have you pushed a door that should be pulled open, or pulled a door that should be pushed open? This picture shows a door giving mixed messages: The sign explicitly tells you to push the door open, but the handle implicitly tells you to pull the door open; because, after all, handles are for pulling on! The property of an object, or an environment, which allows an individual to perform an action is known as ‘Affordance’. Affordances are catalysts for deriving a desired behavior/action. The term ‘Affordance’ was first coined by the perceptual psychologist,  James J. Gibson in his 1977 article "The Theory of Affordances" and explored it more fully in his book The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception in 1979. Gibson’s theory stresses that affordances are all “action possibilities” furnished by an artifact/environment, which may or may not be perceived by the user, but are dependent on the users capabilities. In 1988,Donald Norman in his book, “The design of everyday things” appropriated the term affordances to refer to “perceivable action possibilities”. It makes the concept dependent not only on the physical capabilities of an actor, but also the actor's goals, plans, values, beliefs, and past experiences. A classic example to elaborate the significance of Affordances: I once worked in an office where the entrance door opened only in one direction. However there were identical handles on both sides. Since handles afford pulling, people constantly struggled with the door. Had the designer replaced the handle outside with a flat plate it would have instantly solved the problem, because a featureless surface affords pushing. The concept of affordances is not unique to any particular artifact or environment and also applies to a wide variety of scales. This emphasizes the universal applicability of the concept of Affordance across different design fields.   Image source:

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