We like simple answers. We like one-trick ponies. We like easy.

This laziness also applies to our incentive program design. Too often solution architects stop early and design a program with a singular dimension and hope it will achieve the goal. But we can do better. 

To keep me from falling victim to one-trick pony thinking I remind myself of this exchange between two characters on the show Archer. Archer is an animated show about a spy company for hire featuring inappropriate “phrasing” on the FXX network. Trust me. It may be animated but it is not a kid show.

The dialogue I think of is between Lana – Archer’s love interest and Archer, the titular James Bond archetype and no love of Lana’s, and it goes like this:

Lana: What do you think you’re doing?

Archer: My job, Lana.

Lana: And what part of your job exactly is groping my a#$?

Archer: The part that calls for spy-craft. C’mon, we’re posing as newlyweds, so-

Lana: Yeah, posing!

Archer: And I’m drunk on nuptial bliss.

Lana: You’re drunk on champagne.

Archer: Eh, little column A, little column B.

And, up until I did my “research” for this post (i.e.: watching Archer reruns) I didn’t know that expression hailed from mid-century Chinese restaurant menus.

Neither Here nor There

This post isn’t about Archer. This post is about the fact your incentive program also needs a little Column A and a little Column B.

You can’t run as effective an incentive ONLY using rational incentives – “do x get y.”

Incentives are choice architectures and when you use them, you’re asking your participants to do some mental calculus to decide if the reward is worth the behavior change. That is a very rational process. What if the reward isn’t appealing or isn’t enough? Zero behavior change.

But if you put a little Column B in the mix – some social psychology, or some applied behavioral economics, then you have an additional lever to pull to influence behaviors. Now you’re hitting on something that isn’t rational – a more emotional part of the decision-making apparatus in our brains. Your program now has added impact.

This works in reverse too. Too much Column B isn’t good either.

Unfortunately, now that behavioral economics is all the rage, I see programs everywhere that rely solely on behavioral economics.

They work.

But not nearly as effectively as those that take advantage of what I call the Archer Rule: A little Column A and a little Column B.