In his new show “Crowd Control,” bestselling author Dan Pink investigates a perplexing part of the human condition: We have no idea what we’re doing.
“One of the problems we’re trying to solve is the extent to which people glide through life oblivious to what is going on around them,” Pink told Business Insider.
This is obvious if you’ve ever walked down a sidewalk in London, Chicago, or any other major city.
When someone stumbles into your shoulder because they’re staring into their smartphone, you have pretty direct evidence that we’re not quite aware of our behaviour.
With “Crowd Control,” Pink is applying that understanding of human behaviour into a new medium.
In the new show, Pink and the crew at National Geographic makes subtle (and not so subtle changes) to people’s environments so that they act a little less ignorantly.
“If you can shock people a little bit,” he said, “you can actually flip the default.”
“We did this really cool segment in Washington, DC, where we created lanes for people on the sidewalk, for people with cell phones and for people without cell phones,” Pink says, “we actually marked up the sidewalks to create lanes.”
The behaviour change happened in two steps.
First, the team tried an authoritative tactic, wearing orange reflective vests and directing people into their appropriate lanes — either cell phone or not — and handing out pretend fines to people who didn’t obey the command.
It backfired: Pink says that several people “conspicuously ignored” the instructions, while others complained about being ordered around.
So they tried a lighter touch. Instead of wearing vests, team members walked up and down the cell phone lane to show that there was a social norm for following the lane, to a much better effect.
“The big lessons was that — in this realm at least — establishing a quiet social norm was more effective than imposing loud and directive authority figures,” Pink said.
The interventions go beyond herding mobile phone-transfixed pedestrians. The “Crowd Control” crew manages to get partiers in New Orleans to clean up their mess with a trivia-quiz trash can. In another segment, Pink prompts drivers to actually go under the speed limit with a little help from a cash prize lottery. In another, jaywalkers stop jaywalking when they have something to do while they’re waiting.
The big lesson is this: Little changes to an environment can change entire patterns of behaviour, whether people realise it or not.
“I’d rather have people gliding through life oblivious doing the right thing than people gliding through life oblivious doing the wrong thing,” Pink said.
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