One of my favourite experiments ever was run by Robert Caldini to try and get people to reduce electricity usage. He tried four different approaches to get them to use less power. In summary, he left signs on people’s doors that said:
Use less power for the environment
Use less for future generations
Use less to reduce your power bill
Your neighbours are taking actions to use less, you can too
Then they tracked who used less power based by reading their electricity meters. They also asked people which message would have the biggest impact.
Interestingly message number 4 (the peer pressure message) was the only one that had an impact. And it was the one that people said would have the least impact. I’m always intrigued by things like this when as human beings we are so unaware of what influences our behaviour.
I think peer pressure, or social norms, are so powerful because we spent hundreds of thousands of years evolving in tribes, where fitting into the tribe was essential for survival. In other words, we are wired to fit in.
There are two ways you can use this interesting bug in our software.
Firstly, for yourself. If you want to change your behaviour, put yourself in a community where the desired behaviour is normal. Then your unconscious need to fit in will kick in and work in your favour.
Secondly, if you are trying to influence behaviour with your clients, help them by making the new behaviour normal in your community. An example of this is in Thought Leaders Business School we want to help our students write a book. So as much as possible we normalise this within the community. We have a ceremony at each immersion to celebrate new books. We have a bookshelf showing all the books students have written at the front of the room. We make writing a book one of the deliverables of the program. And bit by bit writing a book becomes a social norm.