Behaviour is the new internet

Tomorrow’™s internet is already here, says Prof. Amir M. Sharif, Acting Head of Brunel Business School

Addiction is a terrible thing. For those who are addicted, they find it hard to stop being addicted. And for those who are not addicts, they can’t understand how you can become addicted. It’s a strange and complex situation – and this is now extending to our relationship with technology as well. You only need to look at the palm of your hand, on your desk, in your handbag, on your bedside table, in your house or even in your car. So-called “smart” devices are now the de rigeur weapon of choice for all manner of generation X, Y’s, Z’s, silver surfers and Alphas of both male and female varieties.

This “smartness” is not necessarily technological though.

Even though we may continue to wonder at the wonderful benefits of being able to do multiple things at once with our smart devices (making voice and internet calls, surfing the web, connecting with others, contributing to social conversations, taking pictures, managing our daily lives, getting directions – and, yes, playing games too) all these things are driven by one factor: Behaviour.

Behavioural studies have now become a fashionable addendum to any conversation about how we live, engage, react and deal with the environment around us. Most ubiquitously, these concepts have arisen via the field of behavioural finance advocated by notable economists such as Amos Tversky, Richard Thaler, David Sundstein, Werner De Bondt, Daniel Kahnemann and others. This has been adopted as a mantra for explaining how failures inherent in decision-making can occur. As such, ‘nudge’-based thinking was taken up by both US and UK government administrations around 2008 following the economic crisis as a way to design so-called choice architectures for voters as well.

But businesses and organisations in general have been much slower to incorporate behaviour as part of their core strategy and operations. At a time when it is becoming increasingly recognised that products and services are in fact ecosystems, and brand loyalty is an emotional attachment, organisations must now consider behaviour to be a unique and vital component of competitive advantage. It may even be a sixth force (alongside Porter’s other well known five forces); or indeed a tenth business component (as part of Osterwalder and co’s business model canvas).

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Business schools and universities at large need to now consider how to incorporate the science of behaviour, and hence psychology, as an underpinning facet of how humans work, interact and make decisions in order to achieve objectives. Behaviour sits comfortably alongside a range of other topics such as service/user experience design, organisational and crowd dynamics, social networking, branding, data science, mobile computing, mass personalisation and decision-making.

This “magic ingredient” about how we make value judgments, also propelling a whole range of associated concepts. For example, these ideas bind together what Natalie Nahai calls online (web marketing) persuasion; it is the foundation of the gamification that Gabe Zichermann, Jane McGonigal, Kevin Werbach and others opine; and most recently, has been the focus of what Nir Eyal in his book, Hooked, calls “habit forming” products .

But what this suggests is more than just behaviour itself. The breadth of how behaviour can be used means that new frameworks or typologies of how we can use human psychology in wider terms is emerging.

This could mean the birth of a new field, that of Addictive Design. This means not only incorporating behavioural approaches in a contextual outlook, but also means bootstrapping behaviour into business models such that the very fabric of what an organisation, a product or a service constitutes is linked directly to what makes it exist in the first place (humans!). This is not so much about ROI, but about ROB (return on behaviour). Technology itself will no longer going be a primary driving factor that will help to improve decisions. To coin a phrase, we already have the tools – we now need to finish the job.

Tomorrow’s internet is already here – we are the frontier. And that, is a very addictive idea that can be taught.

The views and opinions expressed are personal and that of the author and are not those of Brunel University

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