The Power of Fifty Bits | Bob Nease

Summary of: The Power of Fifty Bits: The New Science of Turning Good Intentions into Positive Results
By: Bob Nease


Embark on an insightful journey with ‘The Power of Fifty Bits’ by Bob Nease, where he reveals the brain’s limitations in processing information and how this plays a crucial role in our decision-making process. This book demonstrates how humans are wired for inattention and inertia, resulting in individuals making suboptimal choices despite having good intentions. By understanding the ’50-bits’ bandwidth limit, you can discover strategies to bridge the gap between intentions and behaviors, employ three power strategies to change customers’ behaviors, and learn six basic strategies to help users achieve desired outcomes.

The Brain’s Evolutionary Quirk

The brain’s emphasis on swift automatic actions rather than deliberation is due to its evolutionary adaptation to resolve survival challenges. The industrial revolution triggered new issues that still affect the brain using outdated patterns. People’s behavior is a result of inattention and inertia, creating a gap between what they desire and what they practice. For instance, snakes trigger a disproportionate fear response despite only being involved in a few deaths compared to bicycles and heart diseases.

The 50 Bits Bandwidth Limit

The human brain’s 50 bits bandwidth limit causes a disconnect between intentions and behaviors, leading to ineffective solutions in behavior change. Suboptimal customer behaviors are a result of good intentions left dormant due to forgetfulness or procrastination. The assumption that faulty intentions are the cause of these behaviors leads to misconceptions and ineffective solutions. Understanding that customers may not know what they want and even if they do, they might not put in the effort leads to a different set of strategies that are more effective in bringing about change. Closing the intent/behavior gap involves learning how customers make decisions and  providing solutions that go beyond persuasion such as enrolling the patient in automatic refill programs or providing timers that beep when medication needs to be taken. By understanding the 50 bits bandwidth limit, behavior change professionals can design solutions that take into account people’s inherent inattention and inertia, thereby leading to more successful outcomes.

Simple Rules of Human Behavior

Human behavior is guided by simple rules of thumb such as fitting in, avoiding losses, and prioritizing immediate rewards over future benefits. These rules evolved in our calorie-scarce past as a way to increase survival chances.

In the book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” author Daniel Kahneman discusses how humans have evolved to have automatic behaviors that are guided by heuristics or simple rules of thumb. These heuristics have evolved in response to the calorie-scarce environment that humans lived in during their evolution.

One of the most important heuristics is the need to “fit in.” Humans identify closely with groups and behave in ways that their group condones. This makes them feel included and valued in their community, increasing their chances of survival. Another important heuristic is the desire to “avoid losses.” People will work harder to avoid a loss than to win a gain because every loss is relative to a specific reference point. For example, in golf, people work harder to achieve the par value on each hole because failing to do so feels like a loss.

The third heuristic is to prioritize immediate rewards over future benefits. The human brain is wired to discount future benefits relative to present ones, making it difficult to engage in behaviors that have long-term payoffs. This is why many people procrastinate or struggle to stick to a long-term plan, such as daily exercise.

Understanding these heuristics can be helpful in many areas of life, from developing effective marketing strategies to improving personal habits. By recognizing and accounting for our natural tendencies, we can make better decisions that align with our long-term goals.

The 7 Strategies to Influence Customer Behavior

Learn how to effectively change customer behavior with the 50-bits concept. This book outlines three power strategies to alter behavior, three enhancing strategies to encourage desired choices, and an overarching strategy to accomplish all six. These strategies can transform customer behavior, ultimately leading to increased sales and customer satisfaction.

The Power of Deliberate Interruption

Overcoming inattention and inertia in decision-making involves arousing people’s conscious awareness and spurring a deliberate choice. This is the essence of “50-bits design” – creating a deliberate interruption in a routine process to seize people’s attention and encourage them to choose actively among their options. PetSmart Charities’ success is an excellent example – requiring customers to decide actively during the checkout process led to a remarkable 85% rise in individual donations. Designers need to provide people with enough information to enable their decisions, and what constitutes “enough” depends on the situation and whether the customer can alter the choice later.

Making Good Intentions Stick

Making good intentions stick requires pre-commitment, which allows individuals to decide in the present that makes future behaviors much harder. Designing for pre-commitment differs from designing for making an active choice. provides pre-designed contracts for specific goals like weight loss and quitting smoking, and it also allows the user to create customized contracts. The user commits to the contract by submitting a credit card and is fined for failing to achieve their goals. The fine is donated to a disliked cause, further reinforcing the commitment’s seriousness.

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