I recently read the book Nudge by David Thaler and Cass Sunstein. Subtitled Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness, the book connects to the movement in behavioural economics which looks at what people ACTUALLY do when faced with choices, rather than what they OUGHT to do if they acted rationally.
Thaler and Sunstein talk about people acting as 'choice architects' for their customers or users. For example, the way food is displayed in a cafeteria will affect the choices made by the customers. There is no way out of having an affect, the question is how to use the affect - to promote health, to make money, whatever. Tiny changes can have large impacts on what people choose - they call these Nudges.
One interesting facet is the role of 'priming'. When people are told or asked about something, they are much more likely to have this affect their choice than if nothing is said. This is an unconscious thing, people are not aware that they are being affected. The authors refer to a classic experiment in 1965 (Leventhal, Singer and Jones at Harvard) about tetanus injections. Educative lecture about risks leaves students convinced to get the injections - but only 3% actually follow up. Others had the same lecture, then given a map with clinic circled, asked to look at diaries and make a plan for when they would go, and also plot the route they would take to the clinic. 28% followed up - a 9 fold increase.
Another aspect is the importance of feedback and frequency in making decisions. People make better decisions if they make such decisions often, and if the feedback is quick. So, some people make poor decisions about, for example, getting married - partly because such decisions are very rare and the feedback takes a long time. About much more mundane things (what to have for lunch, what kind of movie do I want to see). Simply practicing doing something two or three times can have a very positive affect on the quality of the decision in the eyes of the decision-maker.
I see a link to SF here. Our small steps are very much in this line of things which can be decided and done quickly, in an everyday way, with fast feedback, and tried again quickly if they seem useful. An interesting connection. I have written to Richard Thaler about this and he asked me to send info on SF which they might use in their blog (you can see it on their website www.nudges.org
). I'll keep you posted.