Let’s say you need to create big behavioural change. Huge — like getting the entire population to start a new habit. You could spend a lot of time, money and energy trying to educate people about the benefits. You could appeal to their better motives. You could introduce incentives. This would take years. Or you could turn the situation on its head. Here’s how it worked out for Singapore. Spoiler alert: it has saved thousands of lives, and will possibly save another in the time it will take you to read this. For Singapore, the question was: How do you get more people to agree to donate their organs when they, umm, no longer need them? As in: when they are dead. Ask people to consider their own mortality, then appeal to the altruist inside? That would cost a lot of money, but more importantly, time. Too many people on the organ waiting list were dying. So the Singaporean government took a more efficient approach. In 1987, Singapore passed the Human Organ Transplant Act. Every citizen became an organ donor overnight — by default. If you objected to donating your organs after your death, you could opt out. All of a sudden, it would take more steps to de-register as an organ donor than to register as one. The scheme was so successful that other countries — including the UK — adopted it too. There are many other great examples.
How do you reduce tooth decay in the entire population? You add fluoride to tap water.
How do you protect entire countries from iodine deficiency, the leading preventable cause of intellectual and developmental disabilities? You add a small amount of iodine to sodium chloride, also known as table salt. Every pack of it. So anyone who seasons their food — and that’s pretty much everyone — gets the needed dose.
How do you get primary school students in India to wash their hands? You add soap to their coloured chalk sticks. That’s what Savlon did.
If you’re trying to create a positive new behaviour, then instead of trying to change people’s habits, ask: can you change the default?