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The power of habit…

November 15, 2012

Those of us in the design and innovation community think we have a pretty healthy appreciation for the power of habit – and the challenge of changing behavior with innovative new products and services. Those of us that do it for a living like to think of ourselves as enlightened experimenters, operating on a much higher plane behavior flexibility and rationality. Maybe not so much.

I had that point driven home for me in a fairly personal and dramatic but humorous way a while ago by one of my co-workers. We were chatting about which personal care products we use when I made the mistake of mentioning what brand of shampoo I prefer, sending one of my co-workers into fits of hysterical laughter.

It took me a minute to figure out what was going on before his source of bemusement hit me. You see, for those of you who don’t know me, I’m pretty much… bald, and have been for probably a good decade. What little hair I do have is kept cut short. Not premium shampoo material. It’s certainly not likely to need depth, body, sheen and luster.

Behavioral habits – no matter how silly or obsolete, no matter how compelling the alternatives – die very hard.

Which is not to say I shouldn’t or couldn’t use shampoo (most bald guys I know do use shampoo – soap is generally too harsh). It’s just that until that pivotal guffaw by my erstwhile colleague I’d never even thought about it. It had simply never occurred that my rationale for purchasing shampoo was sadly outdated. For the last 15 years I have diligently shopped for, purchased, stored, and applied shampoo for a gradually receding and eventually negligible amount of hair without ever giving a thought to any of it. I simply kept doing what I’d always done even though it didn’t make all that much sense any more. For years. And you wonder why our clients –no pun intended - pull their hair out trying to change consumer behavior!

Therein lays one of the fundamental challenges present to anyone in the innovation space. Behavioral habits – no matter how silly or obsolete, no matter how compelling the alternatives – die very hard. We are creatures of irrational and sometimes frustrating habit. We are creatures of pesky, quirky and sometimes frustratingly entrenched habit. It’s part of what makes our job of innovators so darn hard. Of course that’s also half the fun.

For my part, I think I’ll go shampoo shopping tomorrow with a different perspective.