The first observation from us was that – apart from just shutting down the elevators altogether – there is unlikely to be a one-size-fits-all magic bullet to solve this. On the other hand, we know from research that people are very susceptible to the environment. Running mostly with System 1, we tend to do what fits together with the environment. And, unfortunately, our environments support elevators much more than stairs.
- The restaurant menu is in the elevator
- There’s a mirror (apparently many women use this to check their hair when arriving)
- The carpets for cleaning your feet direct you to the elevator
- The staircase might smell, or be badly lit
- You can get stuck in the staircase if you forget your keycard
All these features make the elevator easier or more comfortable than the stairs. Considering that the elevator has a comfort factor advantage from the start, small wonder people refrain from using the stairs!
All in all, our solution proposal was quite simply a collection of such small items. Since the point of the seminar was to look for cheap solutions, we just proposed a sign, pointing to the elevator and stairs, with “encouraging” imagery to associate stairs with better fitness. Fixing the above list so that the stairs also include a mirror and a menu also cost almost nothing. In fact, the advantage can even be reversed: remove the mirror etc. from the elevator, and replace them with just a poster saying that walking one flight of stairs a year equals a few pounds of fat loss (it does).
For a heavier solution version, we noted that you could make the stairs vs. elevators a company wide competition, by for example tracking people in the hallways with wifi, Bluetooth etc. Additionally, stairways could have screens showing the recent news, comics, funny pictures, or anything that fits with the company culture. On the other hand, we said that probably most of the change can already be achieved with the above cheap suggestions, and so ended up presenting that as the main point.
From a meta point of view, I really had a lot of fun! It was great to apply behavioral science to a common problem – and I was surprised with the amount and quality of ideas we had. Combining people from different fields and backgrounds turned out to be a really good thing. I know it’s a kind of platitude, but I really now appreciate the fact that novices can create big insights by asking even really basic questions, since they come without any of the theory-ladenness of academic expertise :) I have to say that a fun and competent team made for a great evening!