Make everything difficult

Author: Andrew Drummond , Behavioural Designer,

A puppet’s thoughts on ethical behaviour change.

People are puppets, some might say.

A compelling crossbreed of marionettes and automatons.

System 1 controls our strings, where each string is a different bias and heuristic (mental shortcut), enabling us to make more decisions and quickly.

System 2 is our more autonomous, conscious, rational self, capable of pulling against the strings if necessary. System 2 compromises speed for quality. Its movements are slower, but more deliberate and considered.

Recently we’ve been getting better at identifying the purpose of each string in System 1 - over 180 biases and heuristics have now been defined.

As marketers, we are able to appeal to the System 2 rationale, and manipulate the System 1 strings by either making it easier or more difficult for them to be pulled. This makes us powerful persuaders, insightful influencers, and ultimately able to ‘nudge’ people to behave a certain way.

But is System 1 something we should be manipulating in this way? Does it not challenge a person’s autonomy if we’re able to pluck the strings that move them?  

Cass Sunstein acknowledges this, stipulating that ‘nudging’ should only be used to make people “better off, as judged by themselves”. 

Put the puppet strings in the hands of the puppets instead of trying to take hold of them ourselves, perhaps.

The problem with that is that an individual’s judgement isn’t always trustworthy and reliable. System 1 clouds the judgement of System 2.

People are susceptible to mistaking a decision influenced by bias for a perfectly rational decision (choice supportive bias). And often people trust the previous decisions they’ve made, rather than re-evaluating a decision every time they receive new, updated, or different information (self-consistency bias).

If we really want to influence people to do what’s best for themselves, as judged by themselves – we need to make sure that those judgements are as unbiased as possible. And to achieve that clarity of judgement, before looking to appeal to System 1’s cognitive biases, we should try to disrupt them.

Temporarily loosen the influence of the strings.

Snap people out of System 1 to System 2.

Add barriers. Add friction. Make everything difficult.

Start a thinking revolution.

And once we have mitigated the possibility of judgement being manipulated, either by us (the strings are still safe in the hands of the puppet) or by the nonconscious self (decision making or behaviour has been made difficult), maybe then we can consider (consensually of course) influencing some of the strings ourselves. Making things easy as well as difficult. Confident that we are not simply helping people be better off as judged by themselves, but better off as judged by their rational selves, their conscious selves, their ‘real-boy’ selves.



Andrew Drummond has been a puppet real boy for many moons and a puppeteer behavioural scientist for fewer. A recent graduate from the University of Stirling’s Behavioural Science for Management MSc, Andrew is now enjoying work at Corporate Culture as a Behavioural Designer.