Timothy Hudson

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Is there potentially an economic impact to using happiness as an incentive?

A website, thefuntheory.com has been creating different concepts to add enjoyability to regular tasks in an effort to motivate people to perform them. You can view their website to see some of the really cool concepts they are testing. A few of them include, musical stairs next to an escalator, a speed camera lottery, and a trash bin that plays a sound representing a falling object when you throw something away.
Is it possible that large cities could use this tactic on a grander scale to have a dramatic over all affect on their costs? Could we have publicly funded 'amusement,' with an investment twist? What are some other ideas that could be employed on a metropolitan scale to reduce costs such as waste cleanup, emergency services, traffic congestion, or resource abuse?

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    Oct 25 2011: One problem: One person's fun is another person's pain. I automatically throw out anything which promises me a 'free gift' (my house is full of clutter and my heart sinks to imagine more useless garbage being sent to me). Many people love parties; I die of boredom listening to discussions of the 'newest and greatest' BBQ pit someone has bought, so I avoid these gatherings. Television has a wide following, but I find myself sitting outside my car dealership in the sun reading since the entire inside is blanketed by TVs featuring 'disease of the week' or 'Judge Whoever', all with the volume turned up.

    My point again, is that defining 'fun' is almost impossible. I like shining the copper bottoms of the Revere Ware pots and pans. My wife says I'm wasting my time, and I'm the first to admit the 'cooking functionality' is not changed one single whit whether the bottoms shine brightly or not. I keep on shining them anyway (CopperGlo if you're curious) simply because I enjoy doing that.

    Oh, and we won't get into my fun time reading history (mostly 19th century European and Asian). This fun is positively ANTI-productive. (My wife frequently comes in and reminds me that I still haven't swept out the garage and brought in the mail....).

    What is fun is posting to TED! I doubt we're doing much productive here, but it's nice to share my musings with others.....
  • Oct 21 2011: While I choose fun over no fun any day, I think it would be really hard to implement.

    At first, I think that some of the videos were literally reward-type scenarios. The belt-video as an example. Are they using the belts because belts are cool and funny or are they using them only because that's the only way to access the video-system? In that scenario, you might as well give them some money to use a belt, in my opinion. In the speed-lootery video, you either lose money by getting a ticket or you automatically participate in the lottery, while encouraging people to drive safe, I can't help to feel like it's limited to the road where the system is in place and not to roads in general (somewhat like speed-cameras where people put their locations into their gps and slow down appropriately to not recieve a ticket). I'm not that found of these type of systems.

    For the bottle-video, i somehow felt that it was a scenario where people were going to recycle their bottles anyway and therefore choosed the funny one. Similarly to either watching paint dry or a tv-show, you are have to do one but not both.

    But for the stairs and the trashcan, I'd be amused and prefer them over the escalator or throwing trash on the ground. But if all stairs and trashcans were like that, I'd probably be neutral or annoyed by them. It'd have to be "those weird stairs I'm going to pass". I also think that it's easily ignored if done to much, similarly to how people living in vegas appear to have a completely different view of the city then tourists.

    Don't get my wrong thought, I'm all for noisy stairs, weird trashcans, liana-based crosswalks, trampolines instead of stairs at some places, the list of fun stuff I would do instead of mundane, every-day walking could be endless. I just have to doubt that they really fullfill a long-term change in behaviour where they are not present.
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      Oct 22 2011: Thank you Pontus.
      The challenge that we face with an idea like this you have done well to display here. I believe that challenge is adjustment. After the novelty of an amusement wears off, we return to a state of equilibrium and then continue life as normal.
      However, I think that with enough creative thinking, we can find solutions around that. Money for example is generally enjoyed by all, most of the time. This is a motivator we can depend on. Also, could novelty be defeated by employing ideas like the trash bins in places frequented by children or tourists?
      I feel that any great breakthroughs in this type of reasoning would probably require quite a bit of analysis and ingenuity, but it could be possible.
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        Oct 22 2011: I agree with Pontus' comment as well as your reply. I think it can be achieved with some strategic thinking. If advertisers can get attention to their product through viral videos, flash mobs and strategically placed interactive adverts, I think we can certainly come up with a way to change some behaviors.

        Here is an example of an advertisement by Contrex who produce bottled water. I love the concept that in order to get to see what happens, they need to keep peddling. Like the trash can, it's not only interactive but that anticiptory factor makes it that much more enticing (and it can be anything, aimed at any group of people - not just a giant LED male stripper haha). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yEH4Yum4nN4&feature=player_embedded
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          Oct 22 2011: Great example Louise. So we see here a technique which employs curiosity with a work for reward system to accomplish the goal.

          Additionally, the bicycles generate power from their human interaction, I wonder if we could find a way to use that system to power something, or charge batteries?
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    Oct 26 2011: I wonder what Bhutan, a small Himalayan country which has the goal, not of gross national product, but "gross national happiness", does on a pragmatic level, to bring this about.
    I know that Bhutan wants to become the first country to produce only organic food, and to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it emits. I wonder if they have fun incentives to do this.
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    Oct 24 2011: I like it! :)
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    Oct 24 2011: Let's bring this down to our own homes. Can we apply Fun Theory to our homes?

    Here is an example. Last week, my wife re-framed one chore in our home, namely the cleaning of our glass counter top. This accumulates grease and food stains quickly and reveals them vividly because it is glass.

    Cleaning this glass top has become a fun artistic activity thanks to my wife. I saw her using an artist's paint brush making fun and whimsical designs with soapy water on this counter top. So as she doodled using the soapy foamy solution, she was also cleaning the glass counter-top. She deliberately re-framed what used to be a tedious chore into something more fun and artistic. The soaping film actually reflect light in effervescent patterns that are also evanescent (the bubbles disappear within minutes). So it could be also be a form of performance art.

    How about you? What ideas do you have for re-framing drudgery into more fun activities in your home?
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    Oct 24 2011: I love the idea of bringing fun into everyday tasks. I try to do it everyday:) I think that when people smile and laugh it ultimately changes your mood and perspective. Anything to raise awareness and consciousness is a good thing!
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      Oct 24 2011: Jamie,

      I wonder, what is the cumulative affect of a million more smiles? If a city were to undertake a curious mission- to cheer itself up, what might come of that? Many cities already have monuments to famous historic members, beautiful pieces of artwork, and pleasant landscapes. But what if the goal was less subtle in nature, and not centralized on the walk along the river bank, or the main thoroughfare? Could a city of a 100,000 people smile a million more times a month and what could that change?

      This was my original thought which was developed into the conversation I began above. I am in great agreement with you that a smile or a laugh changes your mood and perspective. We humans like to mimic each other also, which makes those smiles contagious.

      Thank you Jami
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        Oct 24 2011: What fun it would be to start a smile campaign. I could see it now....cincinnati smiles...I bet the dentists and orthodonists in town would sponsor it or maybe Crest, Colgate or a national brand.
        We need to start in the schools! A quote I made up many years ago was, "Smile..People will wonder what you've been up to" combine that with "Carpe Diem" Seize the day and the journey begins:)
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    Oct 24 2011: Thanks Tim for starting this timely and relevant conversation.

    Brittney's comment "It seems a little like subtle behavioral control, even if it is for good. The other notion is while it seems to dilute the ill will we feel towards a particular action, it also dilutes the joy we would get for doing it without incentive." interests me.

    Yes, it is behavioral control but so are traffic lines, traffic lights, etc. If we live in a society, we need to abide by certain codes and rules in order to live harmoniously. Even the best of us could use reminders to do that we know we ought to do. So I don't have a problem with behavioral control and I don't worry about diluting the sense of good will because one can derive good feelings from doing the right thing, being part of something bigger, being generous AND at the same time derive a laugh from doing so or appreciate some beauty in their world as a result from doing so.

    For example, imagine if EVERY single recycling bin produced either a funny sound/visual effect or a beautiful sound/visual effect (that changed every now and then to keep them fresh). That would simply add more beauty and humor to my daily life. Is that a problem? Imagine living in primitive times when life was pure drudgery to do even the most mundane chores such as fetching water, cooking food and cleaning clothes. Was there an upside to those chores being tedious, ugly and exhausting?

    If every time I recycled a plastic bottle, the recycling bin produced a beautiful excerpt from one of my favorite opera's or displayed a captivating piece of art, that would reinforce my recycling habit AND bring good things to my day.

    One favorite example of fun theory is PlayPump where kids pump water for their village water tower while playing on a merry go round. See: http://www.waterforpeople.org/extras/playpumps/how-playpumps-works.html
    Is this ethical behavior control? Does it dilute the sense of good will? Does it go good for the village?
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      Oct 24 2011: Peter thank you!

      The goal of this concept is to use positive stimulation, to motivate voluntary human interaction, participation, or abidance, in an effort to reduce costs for a public service.

      The PlayPump fits this model quite nicely. The interaction of the children powers the pump which fetches the much needed water. The labor cost is reduced to zero, and the children are pleased.

      Thank you again for this excellent example Peter.
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    Oct 24 2011: Tim,

    Love the concept - it's similar to to the "nudges" written about in Nudge, by Thaler and Sunstein.

    As an aside, fun could exacerbate negative externalities instead of reduce them (as in the examples cited in thefuntheory.com). SummonAunties - an iPhone app developed in Singapore (http://summonauntie.com.sg) actually makes it fun for folks to alert fellow community users to nearby parking inspectors (who impose parking fines on car owners who park illegally).

    Two can play at this game! :)
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      Oct 24 2011: Vincent,

      Could you give an example of the 'nudges,' for those of us who are not familiar with what they are? I am very interested.

      Thank you
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        Oct 24 2011: Tim,

        The concept of 'nudging' stems from the observation that human beings are not infallible, and make decisions that are not in their best own interest. Basically, people choose poorly, often blundering in decisions involving education, personal finance, healthcare, etc. For example, you would expect that the number of people choosing to opt-out or opt-in to organ donations would be exact mirrors of each other - but setting the right mechanism does matter: one thinks differently when choosing to opt-out of a default option, rather than consciously choosing to opt-in a particular one.

        Thaler and Sunstein's recommendation is not to impose or mandate hard regulation, but one more in line with "libertarian paternalism". Think about setting the right "choice architecture" to "nudge" people to decide (recognizing their infallabilities), instead of denying them a choice and mandating a particular option ("paternalism") or giving them all the choices ("libertarianism").

        Fun, in this light, could be seen as one of these "nudges". My earlier example of SummonAunties was meant to demonstrate that "nudges" could easily be used for good or bad, depending on the perspective you hold. Making high calorie fast food more exciting and fun, just as making illegal car parking fun, could just as easily make society worse off than before!
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    Oct 24 2011: That's a really cool idea. The theory seems like a fascinating one, however it makes me wary.

    It seems a little like subtle behavioral control, even if it is for good. The other notion is while it seems to dilute the ill will we feel towards a particular action, it also dilutes the joy we would get for doing it without incentive.

    It's the reason we derive so much joy out of volunteering, because we are doing it of our own volition, because we want to help others not have some sort of compensation or reward.
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      Oct 24 2011: Thank you for the perspective Brittney. The idea of behavioral control is something I haven't thought of in regards to this.

      However, I must point out that the goal of this idea is cost reduction. Currently, we use speeding tickets as a control measure for speeding- behavioral control through negative reinforcement. Of course no one wants anyone to be injured, but from a financial perspective car accidents cost a city money, much more than is gained from the cost of the ticket. If we can find a mechanism that reduces the number of car accidents per year by reducing speeding such as the musical roads in Japan, Denmark, or Lancaster California, we find a sound investment.

      Many of the the costs we could potentially reduce with these types of behavior control, are already mitigated by levying fines. Literring for example. If we can reduce the number of these fines while also adding joy to a mundane task and simultaneously reduce costs for a city, its a triple win!
  • Oct 21 2011: very nice website. This is a great idea, with actually an infinite potential. Although it could be a long process, I think that at some point people would need to realise that happiness is always our guiding light, consciously or unconsciously. So exploiting this in everyday life would be tremendous. And no one can deny that having fun in doing simple actions improve the mood of your day, and thus your happiness. I would love to live in a city with this initiative!
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    Oct 21 2011: money makes me happy