OPINION14 August 2020

From small seed to broad impact

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Impact Opinion

Seemingly tiny interventions can have a bigger ripple effect within organisations, writes Rory Sutherland. 

Ripple effect change_crop

Over the past few years, I have annoyed colleagues with my obsession with several fairly niche areas of human activity. Two of my most tedious hobby-horses have been the reluctance to adopt moist toilet paper and our glacially slow progress (until now) in adopting video-conferencing.

There is a method to the madness. Quite simply, I see these anomalies as a kind of Fermat’s last theorem of human behaviour – a puzzle to be solved not only because it’s challenging in itself, but because it may cast light on many other problems.

One of the mantras of Ogilvy’s behavioural science practice is ‘dare to be trivial’. In this we are influenced by complexity theory – you should never be afraid to suggest a tiny or seemingly oblique intervention, as they can have huge overall effects. There is another reason, too. Human behaviour doesn’t follow rules, but it does exhibit recurring patterns. Hence, patterns encountered in the purchase of Cadbury’s Creme Eggs might provide a template ...