Innovation and behavioural science

Published by Nick Murphy on

Innovation and behavioural science

Table of contents

What’s all this talk about innovation and behavioural science?

If you work in innovation — whether in product development or service design — you should be thinking about the role of behavioural science in your work. Why? Because if you don’t, you’re not considering how what you produce will work, in the real world, with real users.

If you don’t, your product might still work, it may even work exceptionally well, but if you don’t know why, how can you reproduce that work next time around?

These are the challenges we’re faced with every day in the world of innovation.

Ah yes. What’s innovation again?

Innovation is about selecting the right tools to solve a problem, as unencumbered by the existing rules of the game as possible. The goal in innovation is to find a solution to a problem. There are three ways to do this:

  1. Develop an entirely new concept (very rare)
  2. Develop an alternative to an existing concept (very common)
  3. Deploy an existing concept in a new context (the most common)

Behavioural science has a role to play in each of these scenarios.

abstract digital image of a creative and innovative thinking mind

Why use behavioural science?

There are countless methodologies out there to help you design and develop great new products and services: Jobs-to-be-done, customer journey mapping, design thinking and plenty more. Each one is valid and should be carefully considered (and their important lessons learnt). However, they all tend to fail in one area — They assume that you, the creator, know what you want your target group to do.

That might seem like a “duh” moment. But what if you don’t know what you want your audience to do? What if you know what outcome you want to achieve but don’t know how to express it as something a person does, something you can measure, something you can see in the real world?

That’s where behavioural science comes into the equation. Once you recognise that you’re trying to understand what a person does in each context, you can then start to think about what product or service will help them to do that thing.

Ok, so behavioural science is about understanding what people do. How hard can that be?

Very hard. Understanding how different people will respond to different circumstances and the effect that will have on their behaviour is hugely complex. Taking our lead from one of our favourite behavioural science models, COM-B, understanding what people will do in each context means we need to understand three things:

  1. Their motivation
  2. Their opportunity to change (factors that make the behaviour possible)
  3. Their capability to do the behaviour

Behavioural science, therefore, provides us with a set of tools for understanding how people behave in each context.

That’s all fine and dandy. But what does that have to do with product or service design?

At this point I would hope that the implication is clear. But let’s draw it out to be sure. Using behavioural science will help you to understand what your users want to do, and ways that you can help them achieve that goal through rigorous assessment.

Sounds great! How do I do it?

There are several tools to help you with that rigorous assessment. And we’ve developed one of them. But the main part of it is:

  • Understand your objectives or what problem you’re trying to solve
  • Analyse how the people involved in the problem will be affected by a change
  • Find good research to help you solve the problem
    • Firstly, by looking for other people who’ve solved similar problems
    • Secondly by researching your target groups
  • Understand the psychological components that will affect your target group as they navigate change
  • Distil these findings into a plan of action and test your solution with a control group and a test group

Following a methodology in this way helps you to remove errors in the design process that could affect the success of your product or service.

abstract digital image of a creative and innovative mind

That’s a lot to think about. What next?

We’re here to help!

We’ve developed powerful tools to help you do this type of work. And we love talking about the role of behavioural science in product and service design. We’ve even built some of our own products using these principles.

If you’d like to talk about how you can apply behavioural science principles to your learning or any other elements of our behavioural science mantra, please contact us.

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