Change behaviour, not just attitude

What is the purpose of our job?

We say we want to change attitudes, but that’s a pretty small ambition.

Surely, what we really want to do is change behaviour.

We might want to make people more likely to do something, we might want to stop people from doing something.

But before we can change behaviour, we have to look at the cause of that behaviour.

If we understand the motivation behind it, maybe we can change the behaviour.

In Estonia, they wanted to change the number of deaths due to drivers speeding.

They tried the usual things: threats, fines, advertising tragic consequences.

They found the same as most countries, it doesn’t work.

But instead of just carrying on with the same old failed remedies the way most of us do, they’re trying something different.

They’re looking at the reasons why people speed.

Often, they’re late or frustrated with traffic or just want to get somewhere quicker.

So the law enforcement authorities address that motivation.

When the police stop someone speeding, they make them wait at the side of the road.

If it’s a first offence, and they’re doing 20 miles over the speed limit, they make them wait for 45 minutes.

If they’re doing up to 40 miles over the speed limit, they make them wait for an hour.

So the punishment isn’t just a fine you get in the post several weeks later.

The punishment is that you’ll be late for the thing you were breaking the speed limit for.

The punishment is immediate, and relevant, and embarrassing.

In Finland, meanwhile, they have a different way of addressing motivation.

Their solution is a fine, but they recognise finance isn’t a constant.

A fixed fine may be a lot more prohibitive to a poor man than a rich one.

So they have a sliding scale of fines according to the perpetrator’s income.

The person’s average daily spending is calculated from their tax returns.

A day’s spending is halved and counted as one unit.

Penalties are then: 15 miles an hour above the speed limit = 12 units; 25 miles an hour above the speed limit = 22 units.

For the average person, a fine may be $400.

But businessman Reima Kuisha was fined $50,000 for driving at 65mph in a 50mph zone.

He complained about unfairness, but his income the previous year had been $7m.

A senior Nokia executive was caught doing 45mph in a 30mph zone and fined $100,000.

One reason a sliding scale is necessary is that rich people are more likely to speed.

In a research study carried out at the University of Michigan in 2012, it was found the upper and middle classes were "more likely to favour unethical decision-making" than the lower class.

The study showed them more likely to: break the law driving, tell lies in negotiations, cheat to win a prize, take valued goods from others, endorse unethical behaviour at work.

This stemmed from a more favourable attitude towards greed than the lower class.

That’s why the Estonian and Finnish police don’t just impose a fixed penalty for speeding.

They look at the three kinds of motivation for speeding.

  1. A belief you’re saving time.
  2. A belief you can easily afford the penalty.
  3. A belief you’re being clever by breaking the rules.

Then they impose penalties that dismantle those motivational beliefs.

We can learn from them how we can change behaviour by addressing motivation.

Not just the action, but the reason for the action.

It’s more powerful to get upstream and change behaviour than just attitudes.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three

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