Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Finally getting around to posting a little review of Nudge, Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. This may seem like another odd choice for a discipleship pastor but it has a lot more to do with my role than you might think. Nudge is an introduction to "choice architecture" for novices. We all make choices every day and frankly, we all make some pretty bad ones. We decide poorly about our health, our money, our time, our resources. There are ways that we can help people make better choices. At first read, that sounds like manipulation or coercion but that assumes that there is someway to make any choice neutral. There are always forces, good and bad, that affect the decisions we make. Why would we not want to uses good forces to help people make good decisions. According to Thaler and Sunstein, a nudge, "is any aspect of the choice architecture that alters people's behavior in a predictable way without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives." (p. 6) In other words, a nudge helps someone to possibly make a better decision about something without taking their freedom to make a different decision off the table.

Maybe this makes more sense when I put it into my work. At University, we believe that Christianity is about more than just make a decision and profession, it is about a lifelong journey of discipleship. We want people who join the church to engage in this journey. However, we know historically that most people will choose to remain on the sidelines, attending church semi-regularly. We know that some will eventually lose interest and drop out. Some of the people who remain on the sidelines or even drop out make an intentional decision. Most however are, at first, truly committed to growing in their faith. But they get busy and distracted and fall off track. We know that being in the pathway, being in Bible study, learning about their faith is good for them. They know that it is good for them. They need a "nudge" that will help them to stick to what they want to do and what is good for them. As a discipleship staff, we struggle with how to do that without being coercive or manipulative. It is truly each person's choice but we want to do what we can to help them make smart choices.

You might enjoy this book even if you are not trying to make systems that help make disciples. If you like the genre of pop behavioral economics: books like Freakonomics, The Tipping Point, etc. or are into looking at the forces that shape modern public policy you might enjoy the read, especially if you like economist humor.



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