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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

Dry intellectual pursuits solving problems on the ground

Mint WSJ featured us in the latest Lounge edition (March 10, 2012). Niranjan Rajadhyaksha has put together a fantastic piece titled 'The new think tank' on how dry intellectual pursuits are solving real life problems on the ground. Tara Thiagarajan a PhD in neuroscience from Stanford has built her analysis of poverty using the principles of physics, non-linear dynamics and biology. She is demonstrating how network theory can explain why people are poor. Kaushik Basu, a highly respected technical economist is helping the Indian government design efficient public policy using game theory. V Srinivas, a biologist is using auctions to ensure local communities have a stake in tiger conservation. The story also features how FinalMile is solving day to day complex behavioural problems using the principles of  neurosciences and behavioural economics. Read more here

Currency Of The Mind

In the recent past academic literature is abound with discussions around how classical economics is poor at explaining or predicting human behavior. For example, what explains Warren Buffett - spend a lifetime earning, only to give away his immense wealth to philanthropic causes one fine morning? And what happened to that elusive utility maximizing, self interested being whom we use to build our economic models? If Warren Buffett is an exception, let us look at ourselves and the world around us. We make new year resolutions only to break them the next week. We keep money in our savings account and take loans at higher interest rates or revolve debt on our credit cards. We swear to eat healthy only to binge on the sinful sundae that we just spotted on the menu. Some classify this behavior as “irrational”, almost accusing us of going against the rules - the rules set by economic models. But today we have a much better understanding of how the brain takes decisions and what it tries to achieve in the process, thanks to advances in Neuroscience. We now know that the currency of the mind is not money or economic utility, but emotions. We also know that the connection between emotion and motion is not just etymological, but a fundamental fact of the human (as also other animal) brain. Emotions drive us to action. What is more important, action that maximizes “Emotional Utility” and not necessarily Economic Utility. Seen in this light, most human behavior falls into place. It explains why we pay money to engage in adventure sports, chase inconsequential goals in online games, enjoy gambling, prefer spending time on facebook rather than more materialistic pursuits etc. If we appreciate this fundamental truth, we would have a much better understanding of what drives people to action. It will help design interventions that can influence behavior much far more effectively. And, perhaps governments and other social agents can attach more importance to things that matter most to societies. For starters, we would stop referring to societies as economies and stop measuring progress using the single, dry dimension of economic growth. Instead, we would focus a lot more on understanding the rich and colourful world of emotions and what maximises them. It will help us define well being, based on what is truly important to us.

We are partners in The India Backbone Implementation Network

  Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 9.59.13 AM   Implementation has been a major problem in India, particularly in public policies and programs. Planning Commission jointly with India@75 foundation has launched a unique initiative- India Backbone Implementation Network (IBIN) to remove bottlenecks for improving implementation of policies. Pronounced as ‘Ib’+ ‘In’, IbIn combines ‘Ib’ meaning now in a Hindi dialect and ‘In’ for India. It echoes the founding ethos of IbIn: India Now. Final Mile is proud to be a partner in this ambitious initiative. At the core of the implementation problem is behaviour of individuals, agencies and groups and the lack of coordination between them. An accurate interpretation of the problem will help us design interventions to influence the behaviour of stakeholders involved in policy implementation. Final Mile hopes to bring in its expertise in Behavioural Sciences and Design to drive collaboration and improve coordination among the agencies involved in policy implementation. We understand that its a long journey, but one that we must start now. MORE ABOUT IBIN "Citizens in India are fed up with foundation stones strewn across the country by political leaders yearning for the limelight. They want more ‘finishing stones’.  Projects are stuck in tardy processes of approval and snarled in inter- departmental wrangles. In India, a highly diverse as well as democratic country, consensus is required for all stakeholders to move together, forward and faster. This consensus cannot be commanded. We need another mechanism specifically designed to bring people with different perspectives together: to listen to each other, to distill the essence of their shared aspiration for the country, and define the critical principles they will adhere to in their work as partners in progress. In other words, a backbone capability within the system, that supports collaborative approaches to solving complex/multi-layered issues, is required. The India Backbone Implementation Network (IbIn) will play this role. The concept of the IbIn has been developed through extensive discussions to determine the root causes for coordination and implementation failures within the country and explore methods of coordination and effective implementation adopted by other countries. The concept of an IbIn has also been incorporated into the 12th Plan. The architecture of IbIn has been designed along similar principles as the TQM movement of Japan. TQM was a movement of adoption of new techniques by several organizations to improve performance in multiple places in Japan. The objective of IbIn is to promote widespread capabilities in the country to systematically convert confusion to coordination, contention to collaboration, and intentions to implementation. " (Excerpts from

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