Fourteen-year-old scientist Hyrum Grenny cracks the code on how to get kids to wash their hands, and in doing so, exposes insightful strategies for influencing behavior change.
What you're about to see is real. Real kids doing real things. Just thought you should know. My name is Hyrum Grenny and I was there for the whole thing.
So here's a question: what does it take to get people to change? And I'm not talking about their socks and underwear, but change behavior? Especially when it's hard?
For example, every year, close to 100,000 people die from hospital acquired infections. That means people got sick—at the hospital! And it turns out, one of the main culprits is hand hygiene. That means just getting people to wash their hands, could save lives.
So, my crack research team decided to conduct an experiment to see if we could change something as difficult as hand washing habits—only with the toughest subjects of all, kids!
So here's what we did, we took 80 munchkins and put them into groups. First, we gave them a challenging puzzle to put together. You know, kind of like the projects you adults are always busy with. Then, we gave the kids a tempting distraction.
"Hey guys, I got the cupcakes for you, right here. I'll set them right over here."
"Once I see that you guys have put the whole puzzle together correctly, I'll raise my flag, just like this, and then I'll blow my whistle. And when I do that, you guys can all go and get your cupcake."
So what would it take to get these kids to wash their hands? How about a good reason?
"So one thing you guys should know was there was a sick kid in here playing with the puzzle pieces. He had a runny nose and coughed a lot so there is probably a lot of germs on everything. But there is hand sanitizer over there on the table that you can use to wash up."
Okay, so what will win out? Delicious frosted cupcakes or the fear of the typhoid toddler? Let's watch. They finish their task and look, if the threat of one sick kid wasn't enough, just look at all the new germs popping up. So with all those good reasons to wash, what do you think they'll do?
Okay, so that was a colossal failure. Now what? Well at this point, most adults would quit. That's why you just keep changing the year on those New Year's resolutions.
With the next group of kids, I changed the environment by moving the hand sanitizer closer and then put up a visual cue. This ought to make hand washing easier and more obvious, right?
In the end, the motivation to not get sick, plus changing the environment, didn't influence a single kid. Yikes!
Next, I increased their ability, which is another source of influence. I had them all complete what is known as deliberate practice, or training, to increase their familiarity with good hand hygiene. Will adding another source of influence get these hand-washing offenders to wash up?
Well, now we're seeing some better results. We're combining three different sources of influence and some of the kids are actually washing their hands. It looks like we're on the right track. So next, I added another source of influence, social influence. What if someone spoke up and said something. What would happen if their bosses were in the room with them?
Here come the cupcakes. And there goes the flag. Will they wash? No! Look at them pouncing on the cupcakes like a pack of ravenous hyenas. But it's not too late because something important happens. At just the critical moment, a peer, not even one of the bosses, speaks up.
"Wash your hands."
Watch the effect. Success at last! So social motivation obviously made a difference. But was it the only thing that mattered? What about the other sources of influence? Here's what my kids had to say:
"I was walking over to get a cupcake and this other kid said, 'wash your hands.'"
"Because this boy had the sniffles in here."
So what's the point? We often underwhelm overwhelming problems. We try a couple of things and when they don't work, we give up. But my dad and his colleagues discovered the secret to overcoming tough problems. You need to combine at least four, preferably more, sources of influence. And it doesn't matter if you try it with kids or hospitals, at the office, or even at home. If you use four or more sources of influence, your chances of success go up ten times! Ten times! So there it is. The key to changing almost anything is to marshal the power of four or more sources of influence—but preferably all six. And heaven knows, we need it.
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