Category: Uncategorized (Page 1 of 32)

Behavioral Science “Beneath the Surface” – The Power of Rational Thoughts in an Unnatural Environment

Earlier this year I completed my PADI dive certification in San Diego, CA. Becoming dive certified has been a goal of mine for many years, one that had been consistently pushed off by either alternate priorities or due to time, financial, or geographic limitations.

I think it is important to note that this was completed as a part of my incentive program at work. The charge was to choose a personal development course (a class, a workshop, a program, anything really) that I saw value in and to observe the implications it had on work and life using a behavioral science lens.

In a prior semester, I had chosen to partake in a Duarte Design workshop to dive deeper into the best practices of communications and presentations utilizing the power of a story. After reviewing a significant amount of professional workshops, I identified a few that seemed interesting but overall, I was feeling a bit uninspired by the offerings that were out there. My manager and I had a conversation about it, and he encouraged me to dig a bit deeper and think outside the box. A new list was inspired and soon I was approved to take a PADI dive class so long as I could foresee value in it and commit to observing how behavioral science could be interwoven into the certification.

That’s pretty cool if you ask me. The idea that the company is interested in my personal growth inspires a heightened sense of admiration and loyalty. I know that many organizations have or are exploring similar programs and I would be interested in learning more about how that has impacted employee loyalty and retention. Send us an email here if you have partaken in a similar program and let us know your thoughts.

So, with that, what did I learn about human behavior 60 feet below the surface? As discussed in previous blog posts, the interesting thing about human behavior is that it can be observed or identified in any activity so let’s find out.

Rational Thoughts, Irrational Thoughts, and Adaptability

Before we can go to 60 feet, we need to begin at the surface. After a series of reading, modules, tests and prep (I’ll discuss these in a bit more “depth” later) I found myself at day 1, this day was 100% in a fitness club pool, no cool fish, no exciting sharks, no pretty coral – just me, an instructor, a bunch of gadgets, an old man swimming laps, and the realization that diving is a whole lot more than just swimming underwater.

After about an hour of orientation, some practice on dry land, and some instruction came the big moment I was waiting for – it was time to get into the pool and learn some skills! The very first skill is to practice breathing through the regulator underwater (for those who do not know, the regulator controls air flow from the compressed tank to your lungs). So, for the first time, fully geared up in a whopping 4’ of water, I placed my regulator in my mouth, began breathing and stuck my head under the water. Commence Panic. My brain immediately said, “No. This is wrong, you shouldn’t be doing this”.

Upon reflecting on this moment and asking myself why this happened I believe this comes down to the nuances of irrational and rational thought. Rationally I know my nose is covered by the mask, the regulator is connected to my mouth and a full tank of air is directly connected to it, allowing me enough air to easily last an hour below the surface. Irrationally though, I have spent 32 years knowing that humans cannot breathe underwater and my brain’s natural sense of panic and self-protection kicked in. For a few seconds, I was a caveman instinctually fighting for survival and grasping for the surface. Rationally everything was safe, but irrationally everything felt wrong.

After a few more attempts I’ll admit I had a moment of “hey maybe this isn’t for me…”. That is where the power of rational thought took over, I took a minute to think over the equipment, how it worked and how to use it. I knew it worked and that it was simply a process of learning a new skill. Through this deliberate thought process, I was able to push away the irrational panic, slow down my breathing, and go at it again and, voila I was calmly breathing underwater.

Within an hour we were at the bottom of the pool in the deep end and I was breathing away like the first moment of panic never happened. To me this is both fascinating and powerful – think about how much influence we have over our actions and reactions when we take a moment to think rationally, focus our intentions, breathe calmly, and use that focus to decrease our anxiety. The statement “just breathe” really can be a magical cure.

The irrational side of your brain has an incredible amount of power over you but by slowing down and intentionally rationalizing a situation you inversely have an incredible amount of power over the irrational side your brain. Don’t believe me? Try it next time you find yourself overwhelmed or nervous. Imagine if you used this the next time you were having a problem at work? The adaptability of humans is truly incredible when we put our minds to it.

Again, we would love to hear any insights you have on the subject – email us here!

Note: I have snorkeled countless times and never had a fearful reaction to breathing with my face in the water and yet this was very different. I can only conclude that it is the mental awareness that I was not directly connected to surface air and that everything was self-contained, and I was weighted enough to sink to the bottom, not float at the surface. In previous experiences plunging my head fully underwater to explore meant holding one’s breath and this was a hard habit to break.

In addition to these insights around rationality, I believe that activities like diving that require intense mental focus and push you outside of the limits of your everyday thinking help to exercise the brain and drive additional clarity in the everyday world. I am a firm believer that we have our best ideas in environments where we find personal inspiration. I often find that a few miles into a hike, a long bike ride, or on the slopes my mind tends to open up I have moments of revelation and clarity – a new bliss.

While it’s still early – diving seems to have this same power. By placing myself into an environment that diminishes some senses while heightening others my thoughts are able to gather an interesting sense of clarity. Diving is extremely meditative, and I found that it opens up an interesting opportunity to disconnect and free the mind. I often focus on many things or tasks at one time which can lead to a fog and mental drain toward the latter half of the day. Interestingly enough however, on the two afternoons following my open water dives, I found myself tackling the remainder of the day without the need for a break and with a heightened sense of focus.

My advice? Find an activity (or two, or three) that allows you to become both hyper-focused and disconnected at the same time and use it to your advantage. For Steve Jobs, it was a daily walk – a moment inspired by habit and focus that helped him maintain a state of mental clarity. For me, it’s being outside and active. Carry a notebook, or if you can do so without breaking your contemplation stop and jot down some simple notes on your phone, some may be nonsense, but some just might be your next big idea if not a stepping stone it. If not possible in the moment, jot them down as soon as the activity is over.

All that said though, PADI training is a bit of BS. 

I mean that as a compliment. Prior to participating in the course, there is a series of eLearning modules that need to be completed. When I first sat down to take them, I was underwhelmed with the format and content but as I got deeper into them, I found myself impressed with some of the nuances of Behavioral Science (BS) that were sprinkled throughout.

Here are a few I noticed and why I believe they have value.

  • Throughout the learning, there is an emphasis on planning your next steps and writing them down. We know that written goals and goals stated out loud can actually help drive adherence and follow through. In addition, there is a “priming section” that allows you to review in advance each key takeaway that you are supposed to learn in that section – by priming my focus on these key insights I found that my time was better utilized in the modules themselves.
  • Habits, habits, habits. There is a strong push toward habit development in both the modules and the active training. Habits help us utilize mental shortcuts and lower the mental load that it takes to perform an activity. By creating a systematic series of habits from pre-dive planning to handling situations as they arise, the PADI system creates a solid plan for minimizing errors that could lead to dangerous situations below the surface. The training also emphasizes the need to minimize panic (i.e. engage rational thought) and allow the habits to take over. Stop, think, act.
  • Lastly, this is small, but each training and certification makes you accept a diver statement before submitting. Studies have shown that reciting an honor code or an institutional credo before signing a document increases integrity and honesty. It’s a stretch, but I cant help but wonder if this simple concept has increased the honesty of those submitting the self-examinations and knowledge-based work and, again a stretch, perhaps it has even saved a life? We may never know but it’s an interesting thought.

I think the PADI modules have a long way to go and still need to work through the weeds of BS, but I am quite impressed by the insights that they have applied so far.

At the end of the day, there is SO much more that goes into diving than I realized. That being said, I believe there is also so much more that can be learned and inspired by it than I realized as well. Try it with these insights in mind, it may just have the same impact on you!

Shoot us an email now to see how these same insights can be applied within your organization or life. If you found this interesting, share below!

Cover Photo by Sebastian Pena Lambarri on Unsplash

Creating Your 2019 Total Rewards Budget? Think: “Culture, Trust, Communications”

2019 is rapidly approaching. The pressure is on you to formulate and calculate budgets for next year’s incentive and rewards programs. Are you covering all of the bases?

Like most, you need to balance: rewarding top performers, targeting the right motivators, harmonizing cash and non-cash incentives, and staying aligned with your corporate philosophies. All the while, fitting these factors into your overarching financial budgets.

BUT, have you considered if your program is leveraging the human dynamics that are at work in your culture?  Are your programs targeting the right behaviors and tapping into the right human motivational drives? These human factors are the keystone to acceptance, performance, and ultimately success. Remove that keystone, or design it improperly, and the pillars come crashing down.

Image: Designing with human factors v.s Designing without human factors.

Let’s look at a quick case study to see how human dynamics impact your programs. We recently partnered with BehaviorAlchemy to complete a total rewards audit for a large international pharmaceutical sales organization. It is important to note that when we complete a rewards audit, we don’t just look at the program itself, we look at the human elements that it impacts. It’s not just about the numbers, although we do analyze those, it’s also about the behaviors.

For this project, we were tasked with determining why the company’s current total rewards structure was not hitting the mark when it came to field buy-in and performance.

Our behavioral reward audit process involved qualitative interviews with senior leadership to explore the key strategic aspects that are needed moving forward.  We then conducted a series of focus groups with field managers and sales representatives from across the organization. These focus groups were used to access the perceptions of the field and understand how the current reward framework drove attitudes and behaviors. In addition to the focus groups, we conducted several one-on-one phone interviews with the field and other key stakeholders in order to deeper explore some of the insights we uncovered from the focus groups.  Finally, we analyzed this data using a behavioral lens to see how we could improve or change the various reward components to drive greater engagement, motivation and ultimately performance.

What we anticipated what was that there would be an issue with the incentive design itself.

What we learned was that there were much larger issues at play. Concerns around organizational trust, organizational mission and vision, leadership, goal allocation biases, and communication that took an otherwise well-designed program and squeezed the life out of it. The interpretation of the plan was negatively impacted by an overall lack of trust in leadership and corporate culture.

Because we sifted past the purely tangible elements of the program and folded back the behavioral layers, we were able to learn that the issues the company was experiencing went well beyond the program design and the rejection was amplified based on complex human elements derived from issued within the corporate structure.

Now you’re probably wondering, how do you fix this? Understanding the problem is only a small part of the battle. The short answer is shameless self-promotion – let us audit and fix it for you! The long answer – communication, communication, communication, and did I mention… communication? In more complexity, it is a combination of things that can include design, training, structure, culture, understanding where your toxic roots are and removing them, and more – but communication is the most often overlooked and the biggest “bang for your buck” place to start.

Communication is the bridge between leadership/the company (in this case you) and your team. It’s simple – if that bridge is poorly constructed, your employees are not going to want to cross it. They will stay on the other side amongst themselves and there will be a lack of trust and acceptance in the programs that the bridge connects them to.

Often companies overlook this simple concept – allocate more budget toward building that bridge the right way, and you will often see a big return in your program’s effectiveness. So, what is the forgotten key line item that should always be considered when building your total rewards budgets? You guessed it – communication!

A story is only as good as its delivery. Your total rewards programs are the same.

Reach out now to understand what the appropriate budget for communications should be, or for help in auditing and communicating your reward programs.

Behavioral Grooves

Back in September,  I partnered with Tim Houlihan to start “a monthly gathering of curious minds” which we called Behavioral Grooves.  We thought it would be interesting to get like-minded people together to talk about applying behavioral science to life and work.

We had no idea if others would be interested in this…

We announced the meetup and were hoping to get at least a few of the friends that we had contacted to show up.  We ended up with 24 people for that first session where we talked about habits – how they are formed and what people can do to improve them.

We were thrilled!

From there, it took off.  We have over 180 members signed up to our meetup group and it is growing fast.  We have had three monthly sessions as of early January 2018 and our fourth is lined up for two weeks from today.  We have over 20 people who have made it to two or more of the sessions.

I guess we struck a nerve.

For our second session, we invited Professor James Heyman to speak and thought, hey, since he’s here, why don’t we interview him and make a podcast out of it.  Thus, our Behavioral Grooves podcast was born.  Tim and I both loved that so much that we decided that we didn’t want to wait for the next Behavioral Grooves session to record our next one – so we started to invite people and interview them – both live and over the internet.

To date, we have seven interviews recorded and three more in the works.  These podcasts mirror the Behavioral Grooves sessions in that they are conversational in nature where we geek out over behavioral science and how we can apply behavioral science insights into our daily work and lives.

They have been a blast!

In reflecting on this, it appears to me that these two outlets provide us with a way of both learning and sharing.  We want to be advocates for good, ethical use of behavioral science.  We believe that there is much to learn and we can improve our work and lives by understanding and by applying these principles in a thoughtful and deliberate manner.

We also realized that we love the community that this is creating.  A community of curious minds who are interested in science and the application of that science.  A community of people that we can bounce ideas off of.  A community of people that can push us to think about things from new perspectives.

This is ultimately what we have been building and hope that it grows and provides a place and outlet for others, as well as ourselves.

If you are ever in Minneapolis on the third Thursday of the month – please come and join us at our meetup (find out more info here) and if you can’t make that, please listen in to our podcasts (click here to find the latest).

Come and join our community of curious minds!



IC Managers – was your 2018 plan launch effective?

As an IC Director or an IC Manager, a lot of responsibility falls on your shoulders to drive performance, build motivation, and clearly communicate the new IC plan. 

So, you just finalized and launched your 2018 IC plans, but its not over yet! With the first plan period kicking off and the second just around the corner, it’s time to see how they were received by the field, if the communications used to deliver them were effective and if they are driving the right behaviors amongst your sales force.

With over 20 years of successfully communicating incentive plans, we have learned a lot.

One of the most valuable lessons has been that a plan is only as good as the communications used to deliver it. If your sales team does not understand their plan then they are less likely to accept it, less like to trust it, and less likely to leverage its power to drive sales. This can lead to diminished performance and frustrations amongst the field.

Now is a valuable time to ask yourself:

  • Are your 2018 incentives driving the right behaviors in your sales force?
  • Were they communicated in a way that drives understanding, buy-in, and value?

Think of it this way: you can design the best performance jet in the world but if people don’t understand how to fly it, that jet isn’t going to get them anywhere.

It’s not too late to ensure your 2018 plans are understood. Every plan period is a new opportunity to dial your plans in towards field buy-in and increased sales. In fact – now is the ideal time to conduct an audit and see what is and is not working.

So how do you ensure that your plans are understood and that they drive the behaviors that mean success for your sales team, your organization, and yourself?

Leverage behavioral science!

Behavioral sciences such as psychology, sociology, and behavioral economics help improve organizational communication and drive both action and behavior change. These cutting-edge scientific concepts are currently being used heavily in consumer marketing with positive results – and now they are being implemented by many companies as part of their internal employee communications. Behavioral science can help you communicate your plan to drive greater buy-in, increase motivation, and get your sales representatives to change their behaviors.

At the Lantern Group, we conduct field audits to understand what the sales force thinks of the plan and how well they understand it. We also combine modern graphic design with behavioral science to help you craft IC communications that get results.  We have designed communications for thousands of incentive plans and helped many companies achieve success. Let us help you!

Email us at with the subject “Free IC Webinar” and we will set up a free 1-hour workshop personalized to you and your plans!

We will also include a free white paper that dives deeper into how behavioral science can optimize the power of your communications. Click to learn more or reach out now!

Behavioral Observations from the Road: Denver Airport

Humans are interesting, they are quirky, they are irrational.

We think we know what is best for us. Often, we even assume that we KNOW what is best for us.

The funny thing is – our behaviors do not always align with what’s best. I recently observed an interesting example of the irrationality of human behavior while traveling through Denver International Airport on the way to meet a client.

Before we get into that though, let’s start with 2 quick questions:

  • If you see two lines moving at a similar pace between you and your destination, one long and one short, which do you jump into? I would get in the short, as I am betting you would too. Who wants to waste time waiting in line?
  • Let’s throw a wrench in the gears – the longer line is the VIP line. You paid $180 to be in it and it’s the line you jump right into every time you get here. You also get to avoid one quick and simple task that your counterparts in the short line must do. Keep in mind, the short line will still get you to your destination in less time – perhaps as much as two times quicker. Which line do you get in now?

So now let’s explore that funny little scenario I observed.

Typically, upon arriving at the airport I run into a decent line to get through security. It’s the annoying but unavoidable ritual of travel that stands between me and the pre-flight beer that will make my middle seat less miserable. Admittedly, yes, I should have woken up at 3:25 am to check in, but at the time my seat choice did not seem as valuable as sleep. I am a victim of my own time discounting. Our present-self fails to accurately predict the preferences of our future self and we at times value the ‘here and now’ over the future – even if it’s not worth more.

Usually, when I am standing in line I glance up from my ‘boredom social media surfing’ and see a smaller group of people whisking past security: no wait. I make a mental note to sign up for TSA pre-check, global entry, or CLEAR (the fast-track, pay to pass security programs). Inevitably I forget to act on it and end up in the same spot a few weeks later, lamenting my negligence.

As I walk into the airport for this trip, however, I am confronted with a far different experience. The line for the CLEAR program is long. Rounding the corner, I dread the security line I am about to see. To my pleasant surprise, I find that it is almost non-existent. Surely, I must be tired and mixing up my lines?

So here I stand, looking at an almost empty security line and a significantly backed up CLEAR line. I can’t help but wonder “why”?

I have never used CLEAR but from my research it appears that you are still required to go through regular security (e.g. remove shoes, laptops etc.). The difference appears to be that instead of waiting in line for the in-person ID and ticket check, you simply go through a fingerprint scan and then jump the line directly into the TSA screening (editor’s note – please reach out and correct me if you are a member and my understanding is incorrect).

So, with that said, why would one wait in a longer line so they can “jump” the shorter line? Here are my conjectures:

1. The Endowment Effect

We ascribe greater value to things that we own.

CLEAR is a program that you pay for, it costs $179 per year to become a member – this purchase prescribes ownership. Subconsciously there is an “I paid for it, I need to use it” attitude that drives the behavior of jumping into the longer line.

Because of this; the user neglects to weigh the ACTUAL value of the investment with the time that would be saved by hopping into the regular line. This leads to my next point.

2. We have an innate inability to value time accurately.

We easily prescribe value to things, but we have a difficult time accurately examining that same value in everyday time (unless of course we are billing and invoicing).

Imagine the CLEAR line is primarily made up of frequent business travelers. If the line for CLEAR is 20 minutes and the normal line is 5 minutes, then that makes a difference of 15 minutes (or .25 hours). let’s look at a few scenarios:


  • Traveler A is an Architect who bills their time at $100/hr
    • .25 X $100 = $25
  • Traveler B is a Management Consultant who bills their time at $200/hr
    • .25 X $200 = $50
  • Traveler C is a Lawyer who bills their time at $300/hr
    • .25 X $300 = $75

Typically, professionals bill by the quarter hour, so the above numbers are the value that each of them would prescribe for that additional 15 minutes of time waiting in the CLEAR line in a billable environment. For the Lawyer, if that happens 2.4 times per year, then that time is the equivalent of what they paid for the program to begin with.

3. Habits

We are habitual creatures. Charles Duhigg introduced us to the idea of the habit loop “Cue -> Routine -> Reward”. The idea is that when we come upon a specific cue, our brain automatically reverts to a routine that then provides a reward. This inevitably feeds the process, validating the cue and routine for the next go around. This loop clouds our ability to reassess that routine and break the cycle or act differently upon encountering that cue.

Could the CLEAR line be this routine?

The cue is entering the airport: the user sees the CLEAR sign, automatically walks up and enters the line, engaging in the routine. The user neglects to even assess that the normal security line is shorter because the habit takes over. The user goes through the line, is rewarded by the CLEAR agent who escorts them to the front of the screening area and is blissfully satisfied without ever recognizing that, in this case, they would have benefited from breaking that habit. Every time they get to this fork in the road they step into it without thinking. It’s automatic.

Agree, disagree? Reach out or comment with your thoughts, conjectures, or input!!

1. Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit. Random House Trade, 2014.

4 Key Behaviors to Consider for Internal Branding

In Behavioral Science & Graphic Design we talked about the value of internal branding.

This focused on the power of branding as a tool to make your communications immediately identifiable and reduce the mental load required to process them. An equally powerful tool is embedding powerful insights into your brand design to drive the behaviors of your audience. This can be through imagery, color, and carefully thought out themes, copy and reinforcement components.

Carefully think about what you are trying to accomplish within your department, what motivations you want to ignite within your employees, and what behaviors you wish to see from them.

Here are 4 (of many) key behavioral insights we tap into when creating an internal brand for our clients and why.

  1. Priming – Utilizing subconscious cues to initiate certain behaviors or choices. Define what impact you want your brand to have on your audience and design your brand to initiate their thoughts on those behaviors the moment they see it (this can be achieved with strong messaging, powerful imagery, or subtle cues). Think of it like stereotypes – a preconceived view can impact someone’s perspective even before they even meet someone. In the case of priming, you can use that power for a positive outcome.
  2. Self-schemas – Our views of ourselves and how we should behave in certain circumstances. Engaging your audience’s positive self-schemas can be used to engage the motivations of your audience, prime positive behaviors, and increase their performance.
  3. Ziegarnik Effect – Tasks in process & incomplete tasks employ more mental focus than tasks completed. Use the Ziegarnik effect when you are trying to drive urgency and immediate actions. Use copy and imagery to get your audience to think about what they need to complete ASAP – this is a powerful tool in sales communications.
  4. Idiosyncratic fit – When we feel that we have a unique advantage in a program or that a program is tailored specifically to us we are more motivated to engage and prosper in the program. Make it personal, let them know that you are building programs with their specifics needs in mind and that their opinions matter. Don’t be afraid to ask for something in return!

Every brand is unique and not every concept should be used in every campaign. In fact – many times it’s as important to know which ones NOT to use. The right combination of these insights and more can determine the success of your brand.

Let us help you integrate these into your brand today! Email us now with some issues you are having within your department at

Cover photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash

Behavioral Observations: “On the Road Reflections” from the Hindu Kush 

Here at the Lantern Group, we specialize in applying behavioral science insights to drive organizational performance and change employee behavior.

For this article, however, I am going to take you on a journey to the other side of the world. Right now, you are wondering: “what could the Hindu Kush possibly have to do with behavioral science!?

Well, as we have been telling you, it’s everywhere!

So, bear with me and let’s have some fun while we talk about behavioral insights in action; observed from a recent adventure in northern Pakistan.

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The Future of Employee Communications

We live in an ever-shifting world. The corporate environment is not immune to this evolution, nor should it be. As such; the processes and strategies that impact the human element of all organizations, it’s employees, must ebb and flow with this shifting tide.

Progress and improvement come from change and adaptation to change. There are speed bumps, there are steps backward: these are all part of the process.

Embedded throughout these organizational processes are employee communications. Employee communications must stay current and ahead of the curve.

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5 Tips to HR on Effective Communication

Earlier this year we attended the IPMI Institute HR conference in Miami. We sat down with 10 HR executives from various industries and exchanged insights on what is going on in their world and how behavioral science can help.The following overarching themes kept coming up:

  • Organizations are finding cultural change hard
  • They have not had significant success at engaging their employees
  • They don’t have the bandwidth to prioritize employee communications—although they know doing so is important

Some insight from our behavioral and communication teams: if you can dial in communication, you can make change easier and increase employee engagement.

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Framing – Gains, Losses, & Certainty vs Uncertainty

  • By reading this blog post, you will find valuable information that will help you out.
  • If you don’t read this blog post you are missing out on valuable information that will benefit you.

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