Humans are creatures of habit—those who have ever tried to break a habit know. You start a diet every Monday. You plan a new workout routine that you will start at the first of the month. No longer will you put so much sugar in your tea. Usually those changes don’t stick. Most of us like routine and certainly don’t appreciate having to make changes to it. This is an important lesson that entrepreneurs and innovators should take into consideration.
Businesses that try to make people adapt to new behaviors have a much tougher time than businesses that leverage people’s existing behavior. That is not to say that you will not ever be successful with changing behaviors. But the road is much easier if you are getting them to keep doing what they are already doing, rather than asking them to do something totally different. Case in point—the compact fluorescent light bulb (CFLs).
Chances are, only in recent years have you become familiar with CFLs. But did you know that they have been around for decades? Seriously! Back in 1975 the first CFL was invented by Ed Hammer, a physicist that worked for GE Lighting. The benefits of using CFL over traditional light bulbs were well documented. So why is it that people didn’t all run to make a switch to them? Because it required change.
When the first CFLs hit the market, they weren’t like they are today, the size of an actual light bulb and easy to begin using. While today you can simply pick one up at the store and swap out the bulb on your already existent lamp, it took a little more effort than that back then. Because they required a special plug-type base, it made it difficult for people to just make such a swap.
Not only did people need to have the right kind of base so that everything matched up just so, but they also operated on a high-frequency ballast. That ended up causing problems with people’s television viewing—not good. Many times people would buy the CLFs, try them out, only to return them to the store for a refund.
So up until recently, you probably only had a few of any type of fluorescent light bulbs, and those were likely the large ones in your garage or basement. Those were long and awkward, even though they, like today’s CFLs, are far more cost effective to operate. The government reports that CFLs use about 75 percent less energy than a standard light bulb, and they last up to 10 times longer.
The problem with the older version of CFLs is that they required people to follow a new behavior. You had to change your fixtures, change your wiring, change how they were installed, and basically change everything to use them. That is, until the CFL itself was changed and it could now be easily screwed right into an incandescent socket.
With that simple little change to the CFL, we no longer needed to change our behavior. We just needed to buy a bulb, screw it in, and flip a switch. That’s it. Nothing changed in our behavior, but yet so much actually did change. We are now buying CFLs like never before.
If you are facing a challenge with people using your service or your product, maybe you need to think about how you are forcing them to change their behaviors or habits. Rather than trying to get a creature of habit to change, consider how you can change your service or product to work within people’s existing habits. The returns can be enlightening.