Choice architecture

I recently returned from the latest ECI Fellows meeting, which focused on behavioral ethics. This post is part of a series where I share my insights and lessons from the meeting.

I love paradigm shifts.

I love how they tickle my brain and put me in a state of awe.

My favorite ones are the shifts who force me to see myself differently. It happened recently when someone told me I was a “choice architect.”

Choice architecture is often associated with consumer influence. But the practice goes beyond lowly tricks to make people spend money they don’t have to buy stuff they don’t need to impress people they don’t like. For example, we use round tables to foster group discussions. Or we paint lines on the road before a steep curve to provide the illusion of speed and make people “choose” to slow down.

It turns out that similar tricks can make people more ethical. If we ask employees to promise to tell the truth before they complete a questionnaire, they will be more truthful than those who certify after the fact that they have answered truthfully. If we create a cross-functional team, its members will consider a broader set of ethical perspectives than if we have a homogeneous team. If we place tent cards about ethical decision-making on conference room tables, more people will raise concerns during a meeting.

I never thought of myself as a choice architect but all ethical leaders must see themselves as such and create environments where ethical choices are easier to make.

Now I can look at everything I do under a new light. I have a new tool. It’s like starting fresh.

I’m tickled.

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