You know what my big soap box of 2010 appears to be? There is nothing new in the world of the psychology of learning. Just a few days ago I wrote a post about it. Today Ellen Reynolds from Dachis group wrote a post describing Kate Niederhoffer’s presentation about the psychology of teaching people new behaviors. The takeaway: People adopt a new way of doing things (like participating in social media) over time more easily when they are rewarded rather than punished.
If you’ve ever learned about animal training, you already know that’s true: the most effective way to create a new behavior long-term is to ignore undesired behaviors and react immediately and visibly to desired behaviors. From an operant conditioning standpoint, that’s positive reinforcement. Once you establish the new behavior and you want to see it happen more often, you change how often you reward the behavior. So once you’ve got people participating, your start varying the rate at which you reward them. In other words, surprise them with rewards if you want to encourage long-term change. Positive reinforcement changes behaviors and keeps people (and animals) motivated.
And that’s why Kate is so impressive (and rare): science has its place in business. It just takes someone both practical and “on their toes” like her to see it and call it out.