Laziness, A Sustainable Resource

People can be lazy and often don’t find out all information relevant to the decision they are making. These decisions based upon limited information can lead to personally or environmentally destructive outcomes that people wouldn’t make if they thought a little harder.

This can be used to indict human beings, aren’t people terrible? I don’t see that. Some laziness is, literally, the only way people can possibly cope. Imagine treating every decision as worth getting “absolutely right” — you would be a wreck before breakfast.

Better to do as we all do and take shortcuts. This is the only reasonable way to behave in the real world. Luckily our shortcuts (heuristics) are often pretty effective.

Even when ineffective our shortcuts may be predictable. When people take predictable shortcuts we can help structure decisions to improve outcomes. This is popularly known as Nudging. People’s laziness, a quite sensible reaction to a complex world, can be employed to help the decision maker and society. If you want people to behave in a socially desirable way make it easy for them to do so and they will. They will probably even feel good about themselves.

Some people think structuring decisions is seedy, you are after all influencing people to make a specific choice. I don’t accept this; human beings influence each other every day in various ways. Influence will happen anyhow why not influence with a positive purpose? Marketers influence people to pick personally and environmentally destructive options all the time why not help them make decisions that make the world a better place.

If you want to know more about helping people make sustainable decisions look at the Ivey Network for Business Sustainability’s “Systematic Review: Decision Making”. As the authors say: “Ultimately, the recognition that behavioural nudges … are an effective and acceptable means of facilitating sustainable behavioural change will, we hope, translate to a proliferation of intervention techniques” to improve decision making.

Read: Joseph Arvai, Victoria Campbell-Arvai and Piers Steel (2012), Systematic Review: Decision Making, Network for Business Sustainability available here.