Jul 062016

What it looks like to practice nudge design with a two year old child

My son who is two years old resembles a non-stop, opinionated, continual diatribe of gibberish, bundle of energy, turning everything upside down and pulling everything else off the shelf, perch or place.  He is a walking disaster that leaves messes in his wake and turmoil in his path.  His name is Augie and he is a curious, intuitive, manipulative and amazing little boy.

In regards to managing Augie, I quickly recognized the brilliance of Mom leadership and the power of nudge design.

When I try to discipline or direct our little monster it ends with defiance and tears.  When Mom interacts with Augie it is re-direct, cajole, persuade and engage.  She is direct and firm, with well-established expectations and boundaries; but, he often feels as though it was his idea while following Mom’s wishes and he even has fun doing what was certainly headed to be a battle and standoff moments earlier.

Nudge design is not gentle directions or indirect commands; it requires that leadership consider what motivates and inspires a person to act and design solutions with all stakeholders in mind. 

Whoever invented the cleanup song, “clean up, clean up, everybody, everywhere, clean up, clean up, lend a hand and do your share….” was a genius.  And, don’t even get me started on the quiet game.  Pure Brilliance!  The first time I saw the quiet game work, for a twenty minute drive home, I could not believe it.  Didn’t the three kids of 10, 7 and 5 years of age see they were being manipulated?  How did this resemble a game?!  But, they found fun in the challenge and maintained complete silence all the way home and into the house.  That is nudge design!

So, you might say, “How is that nudge design?”

The definition of nudge design:  To create an environment: which inspires action instead of pushing or pulling the individual or group to act.

A simple cleanup song engages the child in a playful way; it redirects their attention away from the task at hand and reframes the activity of picking something up as a game.  It creates a win/win scenario between Mom and child where everyone gets what they want.

In Augie’s case, it is pretty certain anything Mom or Dad asks him to do will be answered with “no.”  He’s driven by his own impulses and desires and not really open to anyone else’s wishes.  Now, I’m not saying organizations have people who act like petulant two year olds; but, we all act easier on our own agendas; especially when we don’t agree with the other’s ideas or commands.

Organizations can practice nudge design by considering their employee’s needs and wants and then aligning the mission of the company and day to day tasks.  Leadership must write their own “cleanup” songs; but, their song titles might be “Make money,” or “Serve your customer well.”  This happens in the hiring process, development of a strong culture and constantly in matching the strengths of employees to the needs of the organization.

What Moms know is kids are predictable.  They have three core things which drive their actions and instead of fighting or challenging these motivations, they appeal to them.  Kids want to eat, they are cranky and unreasonable when tired, and they want to play non-stop.  That’s it.  So, Moms never question this, they just utilize whichever factor is driving the child at that moment and make it work to achieve the desired outcome.

Employees are driven by three things:  Compensation, respect and opportunities to advance.  Paying someone more is not always the best solution to getting desired results.

If Augie has one of his younger sister’s toys and she is crying because she wants it, Mom will offer a more interesting toy to the little monster and return sister her toy.  If Augie has dug his heals into the notion that he will not eat his peas, Mom will entice him with something else he wants to get what she wants.  “Augie, you want cookies for dessert, you have to eat all the peas on your plate.”  Mothers are natural Design Thinkers, if the two year old has everyday tasks such as brushing his teeth, taking a bath, or changing into clean clothes, these all become games or songs which turn a certain struggle into a fun game for the child.

Manufacturers of baby products implement nudge design into every aspect of their products:  Cribs with mobiles for the younger children or towels which resemble animal costumes are examples of turning a practical product into a fun, engaging toy which ultimately serves the parent’s objective. 

The designers of children’s products imagine what will engage and motivate the child to “play-along” with the original intent of the furniture, device or bouncy chair without the adult’s primary objective being front and center.  But, the designers do not stop with engaging the child; they consider what would best serve the parents or adults utilizing the product.  They consider all stakeholders and create products which satisfy the varied interests.

Moms utilize nudge design to get results from the most difficult people, two year olds.  They practice Design Thinking as a way to consider all stakeholders and create solutions which satisfy all the people affected, at the level in which they operate, considering what’s uniquely important to each individual.  Organizations can learn a thing or two from Mom as they deal with their “two year olds.”

Nudge design on a two year old is the same as design for any target audience, any age.  It requires imagining all the stakeholders, people who have an investment in the product or service or impacted by some element of the product, process or service.  The good designers not only meet the needs, but exceed expectations. 

Moms are great examples of Design Thinkers as they practice a holistic approach to solving wicked problems every day.  The only difference is their solutions are rarely met with high bonuses and a special parking space; although, their issues are often equally challenging as the fortune 500 company crisis.




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