Riblet#27: Seize the Habit!

It is easier to change people’s behaviour (e.g. towards recycling or water usage) at a time of major change such as a house move than at other times. And the window of general openness to change generally lasts for about three months around that major change .  Those were the findings of a University of Bath study testing the “habit discontinuity hypothesis”.


Openness to change during a period of disruption is an opportunity for organisations of all kinds to change the “mental model” that people have of their products or services.  The mental model is how people think of those products and how they engage with them.  Normally that model is hard to change because people are creatures of habit – habits are comfortable and change is not. For example, a lot of people only like to exercise at the gym, and a lot of people like to use their tablets for reading books or for watching movies but don’t think of using it for anything else.  Lockdown is a major change that has disrupted these habits.  


Peloton is an at-home fitness company. It upped the free trial period for its app from 30 days to 90 days and got 1.1 million downloads in six weeks; and Amazon has started giving away one-year subscriptions to live, and on-demand cooking classes on the Amazon Fire tablet. For many, exercising at home or attending cooking classes via their tablet may now have become new habits, and it was this period of uncertainty and change that enabled it to happen.


Uncertainty affecting so many people is a time for organisations to re-think the mental model of their business because there may be no better time to do it.  And the same can apply to ways of working, processes, meeting protocols, training, etc, so there is a window for ditching ways of doing things that only persist through habit.


Change always brings risk and it always brings opportunity; when assessing both, it is important to include consideration of human behaviour otherwise you may fail to identify a risk or recognise that opportunity.


Data Source: Fortune magazine.


Note: this blog will now be moving to its former Friday morning slot.

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