If Alexander the Great had overseen the development of Schiphol Airport’s urinals, he would have moved the designer forward and to the right.
You see, Alexander had a system that made everything in his army work: life was a competition, and winners were rewarded in the most public way of all – they were given the honor of being put in danger. Remember, when you’re carrying a 20 foot long sarissa on your right side and have a shield the size of a sewer lid hanging over your left shoulder, your right side isn’t protected unless your partner overlaps his shield over you. When you’re on the extreme right hand side of the formation, it’s just you and the breeze. So how do you make people vie for the honor of exposing themselves to danger? You make it clear in words, behaviors and rewards that they’re better soldiers, which was an effective message to the hyper-competitive Macedonians of the third century BC. Right is better than left and front is better than back. The single phalangite in the front rank on the far right, in other words, was the single best soldier in Alexander’s army. And the poor slob in the back row on the far left side was the worst. And he wanted to move up, because he probably never heard the end of it.
Schiphol Airport’s famous urinals have flies etched in the bottom of the bowl. We, being guys, like nothing more than a good fair fight – so we aim for the fly. We nail it. And we don’t stop until, well, we’re done. And by then, we’ve done our duty and the urinal designer has done theirs. The restrooms are famously clean by a statistical mile, proven no doubt by one of industry’s most unrecognized and long suffering researchers.
We like closure, in other words. And competition creates closure in that it gives us a universally accepted framework to identify winners and losers. When we ask things of people they may not otherwise volunteer to do – from as highly charged a situation as putting one’s life in more danger than your fellow soldiers to as non-life threatening a scenario as peeing on the porcelain fly – we have greater compliance when we give them a chance to get closure by doing it.
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. We want closure. Compliance is often a case of giving your audience a chance to finish what is currently undone, even when you have to manufacture the framework within which your undone act is situated.
. Competition gives us the opportunity to order our thinking towards this end of closure. We want to know where we stand versus our peers. Make an onerous task into a reward and attach status and cache to what would otherwise be avoided.
. From the psychological principle of consistency, we see that we are more likely to behave in a manner consistent with our own previously stated positions. Once we’ve embarked on a path of action, we tend to face significant personal and inter-personal pressure to see the job at hand finished and well done.
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My business partner at Decision Triggers, Dr. Steven Feinberg, cites a loyalty campaign once done in a major retail chain where participation rates rocketed when the counter person just punched not one, but three spots on the customer’s card. With only seven to go, and measurable progress towards goals already behind them, their purchase behavior actively changed. More frequency, more loyalty – all for a few extra punches on the card.
Creating opportunities for closure helps us get willing compliance. What’s undone because it’s unattractive or onerous? What do your people shy away from doing? Make a competition out of it – give people closure – and see if you can make them fight for the right to do it.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.