Ingenuity to transform habits

Written by Shombit Sengupta | Shombit Sengupta | Updated: Jul 21 2014, 03:23am hrs
Changing the behaviour of a products end-user does not happen by chance. Only an enterprise with special motivation can make it happen, as I wrote last week. Behavioural change is extremely physical. Theres got to be some bodily object that interacts with people for behaviour to change, no intangible theory can do this job at the mass level.

Shaving behaviour: The straight razor where the blade folds into its handle, what roadside barber shops still use, was invented in 1680s. In 1901, Gillette initiated the double-edged safety razor with replaceable blades. To modernise mens shaving habit, Gillette invented the single-side razor. Introducing the razor and blades business model or inexpensive razor with disposable blades, Gillette grew its business tremendously. The beauty here is the high-tech blade; its expensive but gives a large number of shaves, the razor picks it up from its packaging socket, men dont touch it. Its so efficacious, simple and safe that women are attracted to use it.

So year after year with single focus Gillette follows every generation, social trend, state-of-the-art engineering with precision manufacturing to innovate and revolutionise the way the world shaves. The Fusion ProGlide with FlexBall Technology theyve just announced has a maneuverable handle that moves, adjusts, pivots across a mans facial contours to allow capturing every facial hair. This is a grand example of Gillettes drive for world leadership by constantly changing mens practical behaviour.

Walkman, the incredible behaviour changer: History shows that Philips, the fundamental inventor of many products, could barely get registered in peoples minds as a behaviour changing agent, whereas newcomer Sony, not a fundamental inventor, successfully did so with the Walkman in 1979. The behavioural change Walkman established was phenomenal; people moved around with little earphones, hands-free, enjoying music with a personal device. Being able to transform habits often comes from single-focused, creative entrepreneurial challenge. Sony masterminded entertainment devices with the Walkman, but it diversified, then ran into losses. The big behavioural change Sony Walkman introduced has shifted to Apple. Sony lost focus on entertainment devices for the digi-tech generation when it de-rooted its creative ingenuity into too many directions.

Smartphone: Changing peoples habit and behaviour through the smart mobile phone, Apple dynamised the finger touch. Monopolistic Microsoft missed the boat with people shifting from laptop to mobile phone. Till a few years ago, I was comfortable with my BlackBerry, the typewriter replica. The day my IT engineer changed my dumb phone to a smartphone, I was lost as in an Indian crossroads junction where you dont know where to go. But just a few days usage changed my habit. I could never imagine Id write articles and books on the touch screen. Just look at how these industries have not only innovated but contaminated people to change their product usage behaviour.

Fast food: Eat slowly is our social nicety when hosting a meal for invited guests. Yet along with 118 countries worldwide, India has abandoned specific, food-related cultural nuances to embrace typical American fast food like McDonalds. Europeans hated this time is money fast food concept, resisting its entry, but when at midnight you dont find any restaurant open in rural Europe, a McDonalds welcomes you. In fact, McDonalds has democratised society globally. A low economic strata family now dares to eat at the extremely expensive Champs Elysees high street of Paris because affordable McDonalds is there. Also tourists amidst alien ways and food habits make a beeline for the predictably familiar McDonalds.

In places famous for gastronomy like France and Italy, McDonalds tweaks its menu and decor to attract localites. In Milans 14th-century Piazza del Duomo with Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the worlds oldest and beautiful shopping mall, theres luxury brand Prada on the left, Louis Vuitton on the right, Cartier, Gucci, Ferragamo all within eyeview jostling for prominence. I was amused to see the bright yellow M twinkling at the edge, saying Im lovin it and attracting heavy traffic in total defiance of the dissonance traditionalists feel. The only food connecting poor, rich, old and young across heterogeneous India is the jalebi, which is why my book is called Jalebi Management to represent everyone. Indias traditional food habit is different every 500 km, but McDonalds with the same veg and non-veg menu is mesmerising all age groups across south, east, north and west. This is the $28 billion McDonalds incredible spirit of changing the eating behaviour of Indians.

Never so easy: Behaviour change through product usage is not always easy. Take the e-cigarette thats trying so hard to shift smokers. The response is minimal as e-cigarettes merely give flavoured vapour that simulates tobacco smoking. Actually, the main question is, do cigarette companies really want their business model to change Is the e-cigarette an eye-wash to fool the public and regulators that peoples health is not being damaged As the e-cig is not addictive it doesnt work towards behavioural change. So will smokers and cigarette companies forget about changing behaviour and continue to injure health

Enterprises need a different mindset to change the end users behaviour: Its the ingenuity of the enterprise that drives new behaviour creation. Before the digital age crept up on us, human behaviour took time to change. Digi-tech now helps speed up innovation for industrial production to satisfy human needs. Corporate ideation for changing and sustaining the customers behaviour tomorrow will be very different and challenging because of fast-changing digi-trends. An innovative but traditional mindset company can make profitable growth, but when it can command the mechanism of changing behaviour, it enters another league and metaphor.

The substance of changing customer behaviour always requires a distinct spark. The product or service has to be extremely humane and uplift routine to ideal habit. Societys drivers may start the change in a small way, but if its really scientific it quickly shapes up to addict the masses who are the followers in society.

Shombit Sengupta is an international consultant to top management on differentiating business strategy with execution excellence. Reach him at