Lesson of “Environment Matters” from Dan Ariely at the 2013 BC HRMA Conference

Jessica Lau

Jessica Lau

Today, I attended my first BC HRMA Conference and it was an amazing experience. Not only did I have the opportunity to meet very genuine and experienced HR practitioners, I had the privilege of learning, and sharing experiences alongside them. It was an opportunity to network and attend engaging speaker sessions where I gained valuable lessons.

In particular, the session with Dan Ariely, entitled “Predictably Irrational: How Behavioral Economics Impacts the Role of Human Resources” really impacted me. To begin, I must say Dan is such an engaging presenter with a great sense of humor. If there is any way you can gain access to his presentation from the BC HRMA Conference, you must watch it.  I can’t tell you everything I gained from his presentation, as it would probably be like a 10 page essay but one of the lessons I learned from him is that “environment matters” so try to control it. This is how he showed us his one of his lessons…

Dan showed us a very interesting graph of the percentage of people in various European countries that are willing to donate their organs after they die. There was a dramatic difference between different European countries. I was looking at the graph, trying to figure out the reason for the differences. Of course, with a passion and interest in diversity and cultural differences, I tried to compare if there was a difference in cultures between the areas where donations were lower than countries where donations tended to be higher.  Recognizing that some of the countries where donations were low shared cultural similarities with countries where donation levels were high, I was stuck.

Dan told us that the difference was simply based on the way the form was written. This surprised a lot of us (I could tell through the gasping and shocking reactions around me).  It was a simple “opt-in” and “opt-out” on the form that created such a dramatic difference. What he was trying to communicate was that simple, changes in the environment such as choice architecture, can make a big difference in the results. He later went on to show us other examples to prove what he tried to communicate.

How this links to HR professionals and business leaders is that we may want to be more thoughtful and careful when asking questions: giving choices, designing things and creating processes. But as Dan showed, the environment matters, so I do believe you can utilize it to help you and your business grow.

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