How Debiasing Human Behavior Can Help Companies Innovate Better…

In the last few years, policy makers have built on advances in behavioral economics and psychology to develop a set of tools to tackle hard-to-change behaviors in areas such as healthcare, nutrition, recycling, driving, etc. For instance, in 2010 the Behavioral Insights Team of the British Government was founded. Since then it has grown from a “boutique” seven-person unit to a global unit with several hundred members in staff and offices around the world. Their work – which spanned 31 countries in 2018 alone – resulted in several innovative solutions that keep on improving human behavior.




A Harvard Business Review article just published by Scott Anthony, Paul Cobban, Rahul Nair and Natalie Painchaud with the title “Breaking Down the Barriers to Innovation,” adapts the ideas behind “behavioral policies” and “debiasing” to the innovation strategy office. In essence, the article explores how companies can use a similar set of tools to fight organizational behaviors that act as innovation blockers and as such help organizations reach their innovation goals.


However, whereas 97% of CEOs say that innovation is a top priority, 94% are dissatisfied with their current innovation programs…

Firms often tout innovation as one of their top priorities. A PwC survey, for example, shows that innovation is one of the hottest topics in Fortune 500 companies’ boardrooms. However, whereas 97% of CEOs say that innovation is a top priority, 94% are dissatisfied with their current innovation programs…


In the HBR article cited above, Scott Anthony and colleagues suggest that the problem often lies in well-known behavioral biases that get in the way of innovation success. The authors pinpoint organizational inertia as one of the major “barriers” to successful innovation. Such inertia includes the day-to-day routines and habitual practices that firms develop and that sit in the way of novel and useful thinking. Anything from dysfunctional meetings that block and hinder innovation, to employee misjudgment on how to spend their time.


Their proposed solution: BEANs


The good news is that the article suggests that - after identifying the critical behaviors that act as innovation blockers at their companies - senior executives may be able to neutralize such biases with smart, cheap and effective “behavioral interventions” which they aptly call “BEANs”, i.e., behavior enablers, artifacts and nudges.


The good news is: senior executives may be able to neutralize such biases with smart, cheap and effective “behavioral interventions” which they aptly call “BEANs”, i.e., behavior enablers, artifacts and nudges.

For instance, it is interesting to retain what BEANs actually are:

· Behavior enablers are tools or processes that make it easier for people to do something different

· Artifacts are things you can see and touch and that can trigger desirable behaviors or support new behaviors

· Nudges are simple tricks that promote change through indirect suggestion and reinforcement


How to Design Effective BEANs?

The authors also discuss how to develop and implement effective BEANs and ensure buy-in for those in an organization. For example, they should be (i) simple, (ii) fun, engaging and social, (iii) trackable, (iv) practical (i.e., smoothly integrated in existing processes and routines), (iv) reinforced (reminders, etc) and (v) organizationally consistent (i.e., fit with the company’s strategy and reward system).


Importantly, the article also clarifies the concepts with examples of how certain organizations – for example DBS, Southeast Asia’s largest bank – have been using BEANs effectively to stimulate innovation. DBS is a very interesting case. Once labelled as “damn bloody slow”, since Piyush Gupta took over as CEO in 2009 the bank has transformed itself into a “27,000 person start-up” and in 2019 became the first bank to simultaneously hold the titles of “Bank of the Year” (The Banker), “Best Bank in the World” (Global Finance), and “World’s Best Bank” (Euromoney). Not all of this was the direct result of applying BEANs, but it certainly helped. One example of a BEAN given in the article is the MOJO, an approach to promote effective, efficient, open and collaborative meetings. The acronym stands for two team roles: (i) the MO – the meeting owner who is responsible for the agenda, and timing of the meeting and to ensure all attendees get equal share of voice, (ii) and the JO – the joyful observer – who encourages everyone to participate and help the meeting run smoothly.


Read more: https://hbr.org/2019/11/breaking-down-the-barriers-to-innovation

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