Rory Sutherland Rory Sutherland

Make life easier and all else will follow

All one wants is for a normally sane individual not to tear their hair out over the simple things in life

You can try to change people’s minds, but this is difficult. You can bribe people to change their behaviour, but it’s expensive. Far simpler is to make the new behaviour easy and enjoyable in and of itself.

Recently, colleagues of mine were asked how to promote the habit of recycling domestic refuse. They explained there was no need to mention the environmental benefits at all. ‘Just make sure everyone has two pedal bins, not one.’ Regardless of people’s attitudes to the environment, what really matters, as Martin Luther King might have said, is not the colour of their politics but the contents of their kitchen.

To encourage pension saving, the government spends more than £20 billion annually in tax rebates. To swathes of the population, this enormous and wasteful incentive is entirely unmotivating. What finally did persuade eight million people to join workplace pension schemes was something called auto enrolment — a fancy government term for ‘You don’t have to fill in any sodding forms’.

Likewise, economic models of free trade set great store on whether the EU tariff on cheddar after Brexit will be 3 per cent or 4 per cent. This is largely irrelevant: trade facilitation matters more than tariff reduction. A better starting point for UK trade policy might be to ensure that a normally sane individual in the UK can send something overseas without tearing his frigging hair out.

A few months ago I sent a small box of British foods to an expat friend in Canada who was recovering from cancer. They crossed the Atlantic in ten hours, then spent three days in a warehouse in Toronto.

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