“The future of innovation is psychological, not technological”


Normally, the AI ​​Innovation Center at High Tech Campus Eindhoven is the place for in-depth technological research and talks about the power of data science and artificial intelligence. Not this day. Klaas Dijkhoff and Tom de Bruyne, the co-founders of SUE & The Alchemists, an applied behavioral science company, gave a two-hour talk on how understanding human decision-making is key to innovation successful. “Each successful innovation has figured out how to tap into deeper psychological needs, issues, desires, fears and beliefs. Discovering these psychological insights and addressing them in your product is what differentiates products that cling from products that don’t. »

Klaas Dijkhoff is a former minister, secretary of state, leader of the ruling liberal party, the VVD, and twice elected “politician of the year”. Tom De Bruyne is a behavioral scientist, entrepreneur and elected member of KU Leuven. With their new venture, they’re trying to figure out “the superpower of behavioral science”. “Understanding human decision-making is the key to successful innovation. The importance of the role of psychology is growing. But how do you influence minds and shape behavior?

Psychological innovation

Klaas Dijkhoff and Tom de Bruyne at the AI ​​Innovation Center

Building new technology is one thing, but understanding how we think, feel and behave is another. This is why Dijkhoff and De Bruyne are convinced that psychological innovation is far more important than technological innovation, which will have even more impact in the years to come, according to De Bruyne. “The future of innovation is psychological, not technological. This is the key to creating better products. But a lot can go wrong in this regard, he adds. “You can choose to manipulate certain human desires like Red Bull and Donald Trump do, but you can also choose to help people become more healthy, productive or wise.”

Dijkhoff explains that human beings operate on two systems. “System 1 controls our instinct and intuition, it defines our quick decisions, which account for about 98% of all our actions. This system sends messages and suggestions to System 2, which operates more slowly, turns those suggestions into beliefs, and acts more rationally than System 1.” Our instincts prevent most of us from changing our behavior, which is entirely due to system 1, as it continues to seek confirmation of our initial thoughts. “Confirmation bias: Even if you know something isn’t true, if it matches your beliefs, you’ll want to believe it. You will just ignore the facts. That’s why you want to drink Red Bull. You know it’s disgusting, but that knowledge won’t convince System 1.”

There are many opportunities for psychological innovation in practice, says De Bruyne. “To achieve this, we want to provide shortcuts to System 1, and post-streamline those. This is our basic framework.

Think about shortcuts

Tom de Bruyne
Tom de Bruyne

The presentation is filled with examples that show how behavioral science works in everyday life. We learn why Ikea puts the restaurant at the start of the store (“The food there is so cheap you immediately think the rest of the store can be had for a bargain too”) and why Louis Vuitton stores show you first the most expensive stuff (“it makes you want to buy their cheaper products”). It’s all about the architecture of choice, “thinking about shortcuts, anchoring people”.

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Thinking from the outside in and putting the user first makes you aware of the work at hand, adds Dijkhoff. “Promote the product or service as the best way to help people achieve their goals or solve their problems. Even if system 2 has no idea what this solution will really bring you, system 1 is already convinced. What we often see are solutions looking for a problem. Remember how Steve Jobs achieved this? You didn’t know why you needed this new Apple product, but you wanted it anyway.

A theoretical sidestep follows, on the unwanted behaviors caused by comforts and anxieties on the one hand, and the desired behaviors related to pains and gains on the other hand. After quoting Clayton Christensen with his famous milkshake-job-to-be done, other examples of behavioral design are presented. We’re learning how companies like Spotify, Airbnb, and Uber have all figured out where to put these System 1 shortcuts.

Another important element is how to frame the choice, says Dijkhoff: “When I ask my wife what we could do at the weekend, I normally give her a few choices. I know that if you give him just one suggestion, we’ll argue endlessly whether it would be good or bad. But if I present three choices, I subconsciously make sure that all three are things I would like to do. And we always find something nice. On another level, Dijkhoff shows how Brexiteers were able to “take back control” by offering the choice between mass immigration and money for the NHS. “Now it’s a prime framing. And very effective, because the Remainers had to start using rational arguments as to why that’s a weird way of saying it, but in doing so they were adding to the power of the Brexit arguments. It’s exactly the same with Donald Trump: he presented himself as a negotiator who would make the Mexicans pay for this wall. His opposition took him at face value, not his fans. He forced the opposition to talk about this problem which they really did not want to talk about. What could they have done instead? “Don’t let yourself be drawn into the opponent’s frame. Don’t react, or at least don’t pit facts against feelings.


So what does it all boil down to? De Bruyne: “Designing an intervention to make unwanted behavior impossible will help people overcome their inability to change. Motivate them by facilitating the desired behavior and triggering their behavior. That’s how I became a vegetarian.


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