Pete Foley Innovation

Innovation Based on Behavioral Science


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When Good Innovation Breaks Bad - Samsung, FitBit and Fuji

Posted on December 1, 2016 at 3:05 PM Comments comments (0)
Why we need to ferret out the weakest link in our innovations, and how early, problem seeking research can help us to find problems in secondary design.   More often than not, weakest links are not things we'll find in focus groups, neuromarketing research, or even conventional Design Thinking.   We need to place prototypes and products in real contexts for as long as possible.   

Full article can be found on Innovation Excellence at this link

Four Cognitive Principles That Make Innovation Surprisingly Obvious

Posted on October 8, 2016 at 1:30 PM Comments comments (0)

No matter how cool or useful our idea is, people won’t try it if they don’t understand it. And it is so much better if they understand it intuitively - if we have to explain what it is, we’ve probably already lost that Wow! moment - “Why Didn’t I Think of That?” is so much better than “What the *##* is That?”

Build It and They Will Come?  However, while we need to be intuitive, innovation also needs to feel new. Of course, if the benefit is huge, a few early adopters may spread the word via world of mouth. But even then, the easier something is to understand, the faster an idea will travel. And as an innovator, it is all too easy to fall into the trap of ‘new’ at the expense of understandable, or to be so close to our innovation that we think it is bigger and more intuitive than it really is. By definition, examples of failed innovation are quite hard to find. But one example is the Segway. It has finally found its niche in law enforcement and tourism, but at least part of the reason this took so long is because the design was so unintuitive. Closer to my personal experience, Febreze’s Scent Stories was an ill-fated scent dispenser that operated so much like a CD player that Febreze had to create a FAQ to explain that it did not play music. Not intuitive to someone outside of the project team, and not successful.

So in this blog I’ll share some well established insights from psychology that can be reapplied to help us solve this new and intuitive dilemma, and help us to be surprising and obvious at the same time, whether our idea is huge, or just really cool.

1. Leverage the Prototype: Prototype Theory tells us that every category has a prototype, and that these are quickly and automatically recognized and understood. For example, when we say bird, an exemplar that looks like a robin is more likely to pop into our mind than a penguin. With a car, it is probably something that looks a bit like a Toyota Camry. This doesn’t mean that the Camry is necessarily the car we’d most like to own, but it is typical, and so we recognize it fluently, and with the minimum mental effort. So if we want an innovation to be intuitive, we need to know the prototype for our category, and design in enough cues that reference it so that people know what it is without our having to explain it. This doesn’t mean that we have to look like the prototype exactly, far from it. We can then add stuff to differentiate it, but having the right cues in place means people work out what it is for themselves. So whether we are designing an innovative electric or self driving car, a restaurant, or a retail environment, we may want to include cues that match the category archetype, even if they are not a technical necessity. If people ‘get it’ intuitively, it will increase trial, save marketing dollars, and probably reduce anxiety about new technology where appropriate.

2. Peak Shift. It’s more than OK to design an eagle rather than a robin. Peak shift is a concept from psychology that can help us do this. Instead of differentiating via addition, we take one or two core attributes from a prototype and exaggerate them. This is somewhat analogous to caricature, where for example, people will recognize a cartoon of Jay Leno with an enormous chin faster than a realistic photo of him. So with a car, we can make the wheels bigger, the hood longer, or the shape more streamlined. Our eagle is a Ferrari, or at least a Corvette, and is instantly recognized as an exaggerated car, or super car. Building peak shift into the design can automatically signal a premium entry into a category, whether it is automotive, fashion, electronics or consumer goods in general.

3. Trigger Analogy. Knowledge Representation, taken from Cognitive Psychology, tells us that humans try to understand something new by using analogy to tie it back to something they already know. People do this automatically, but we can help the process run smoothly if we leverage design and communication to steer people towards the most useful analogy. Analogy can be functional, as in the swipe function on the first I Pad which mirrored how we turned the page on a book, or conceptual, as in designing a retail process on a website that mirrors a more familiar bricks and mortar equivalent. Activate the right analogy, and people just ‘get it’. But triggering the wrong analogy can cause all sorts of problems. The previously mentioned ‘Scent Stories’ is a case in point, where the design drew too many analogies to a CD player.

4. Conceptual Blending. Some inventions are too breakthrough to have a prototype, or a simple 1:1 analogy they can be mapped onto. As an innovator, this is a really cool space to be working in, but it does pose the issue of trial. No matter how brilliant a new idea is, if people don’t understand it, they wont try it. Conceptual blending is one option to manage this. If I describe something as the “Rolls Royce” of jeans, an ‘off-road’ shoe, or even “Underarmour”, people automatically blend concepts, transfer meaning, and fluently understand the concept without a need for detailed explanation. This is incidentally a great way to drive innovation (what does an ‘off-road’ camera or computer look like, or the Rolls Royce of home appliances). But it is also a great way to communicate new to the world innovation, if we can find the right blends, and ones that align sufficiently to make intuitive sense to customers.

Authenticity. One thing that all of these approaches share is that they leverage what people already know, albeit in new ways. We trust ourselves more than virtually any other source of information. Teenagers often have to learn from their own mistakes, no matter how hard loving parents try to save them the trouble!. Likewise, even the biggest, most expensive advertising campaign can struggle with authenticity, because it is perceived as having a vested interest. Having an established, trusted brand obviously helps with this, and we can employ all sorts of social proof strategies such as celebrity endorsement or independent user rating to add authenticity, but it’s hard to beat the authenticity that comes with a shopper working out for themselves what a new innovation does, and how much they need it. 

Enhancing Savings Behaviors of Low- to Middle- Income Families

Posted on September 18, 2016 at 3:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Managing personal finances is challenging and complex. We all make a great many financial decisions every day, often without thinking deeply about them. But virtually every one of them represents a trade-off of some kind. Of course, if we were purely rational beings, with infinite time to weigh and evaluate every decision we make, we would always make financially optimal decisions when facing a trade-off. However, in reality, we have limited time and limited mental resources available to navigate the multitude of choices we face every day. To manage this, we frequently rely on emotions and mental shortcuts, as well as, or even instead of, rational evaluation to make decisions. These help us to manage choices in a timely fashion but can also result in our making mistakes.


In this study, co-authored with Behavioral Economist Dan Ariely, and sponsored by the Filene, we explore how behavioral economics provides a framework that can pinpoint some common mistakes low- and middle-income families make in their financial decisions. We then use this analysis to suggest interventions that credit unions could employ to help people adopt more effective financial behaviors, and build savings that provide a buffer against future financial challenges.

7 Scientific Lenses to Take Retail Design to the Next Level

Posted on September 18, 2016 at 3:20 PM Comments comments (0)

I love retail psychology because it so effectively integrates science into business. Looking at shopper behavior through the lens of anthropology and psychology helps us to capture more authentic insights, and provides a framework that makes it much easier to repeat successes


Anthropology teaches us to observe and gather data in real world contexts, which is crucial if we want to understand the full spectrum of conscious and unconscious processes that drive shopper behavior. Psychology, amongst other things, provides a framework to better understand and predict behavior. This deep understanding makes it easier to reproduce our successful retail interventions and innovations.


This science-based approach has played an important role in enhancing our retail designs over recent years. However, in this blog I want to highlight seven other scientific lenses that can further improve retail design. These are complementary to psychology and anthropology, and some are already finding their way into shopper psychology. However, I believe there remains considerable upside if we can integrate them more fully and more consistently.


Visual Science. What grabs our attention and how do we process and understand visual information? We can leverage visual rules & biases to grab a shopper's attention, and help them find and buy what they need more effectively, working with both conscious and unconscious visual processes.

Multisensory Integration. We don’t just shop with our eyes. We (often unconsciously) integrate data from other senses such as sound, touch, and smell. By understanding how our senses work together, we can better coordinate sensory information to simplify and reinforce messages, increase the simplicity and likability of a retail environment, and avoid unintentionally conflicting sensory information that can make people pull away.

Behavioral Economics: Most decisions combine unconscious and conscious elements (often called System 1&2 based on the Nobel Prize winning work of Daniel Kahneman). By understanding decision biases, mental short-cuts, and the crucial role context and cognitive load play in shopper decision making, we can design retail to help shoppers to make better, faster decisions.

Affordances and Embodied Cognition. We ‘think’ with our body as well as our mind. Our actions are (unconsciously) influenced by physical possibility: We automatically follow open paths, avoid blocked ones, and grab objects that match our physical capability. Shopper Psychology already teaches us to give shoppers space to interact with products, and to avoid butt bumping. And from a product and packaging perspective, Don Norman's "Design of Everyday Things" applied Gibsonian affordances from psychology brilliantly, and practically to design. However, it is not uncommon to see packages that are perfectly designed to afford handling ‘in use’, but that create implicit barriers to purchase at the shelf. For example, handles that are perfectly placed for pouring are often difficult for shoppers to grab from the shelf, especially if packed too closely together, or placed at the wrong height. Small products like cosmetics or OTC are packed so close together that a shopper has to move surrounding products to grab them. An embodied cognition lens can help us design retail to make products more physically accessible, and to design products and packages with the retail, as well as usage environment in mind.

Foraging Theory can help us to understand how previous decisions can critically influence current ones, and how our perception of abundance can influence how we shop different ‘patches’ in a retail environment.

Linguistics and Metaphor can help us to be more efficient and fluent communicators. Understanding metaphor can help ensure that our visual communication is consistent with our message on an implicit as well as explicit level. Linguistics can be crucial to creating a level of abstraction and conceptual efficiency that allows us to present just the right amount of information, as fluently and understandably as possible.

The Science of Art. Artistic composition can be a powerful tool in any design, and retail design and packaging is no exception. Great designers are therefore invaluable to any retail design process. But understanding the psychology and neuroscience around how composition works, and how it integrates with our attentional and emotional processes can add another dimension to retail design. In particular, the insights of Professors V S Ramachandran and William Hirstein, shared in their paper “The Science of Art” including Peak Shift (targeted exaggeration), grouping, repetition, and perceptual problem solving can help us to both reach insight, and also reapply it very efficiently.

This last field highlights something that for me is extremely important. The application of science in fields such as shopper design should enhance, rather than replace human creativity. Science should integrate with art, and so leverage the amazing ability of the human brain to integrate information and innovate. The intuitive insight of a skilled designer, or of an experienced retail expert has a huge role to play in the Retail Design process. But science can help us to better understand what works, create hypothesis, and reapply insights more efficiently. The integration of a broad range of science based lenses with art, intuition, and experience, together with an experimental mindset, can allow us to innovate bigger, faster and more consistently in the retail environment, whether it is digital, or ‘bricks’.

Behavioral Economics and Credit Unions

Posted on August 11, 2016 at 11:05 AM Comments comments (0)

A nice summary of I talk I gave to CUNA (Credit Union National Association) in Chicago earlier this week

Did the European Soccer Championship tip the scales in favor of Brexit?

Posted on June 24, 2016 at 8:05 PM Comments comments (0)

Context can have a huge impact on our behavior.   If we go shopping for groceries when we are hungry, we buy more calories.  If we are tired, we are more likel to fall back on easy, default behaviors and decisions.  If we are refreshed, we are more likely to take a risk, or try something new.

In this respect, the timing of the Brexit vote couldn't have been worse for those wanting the UK to stay in the European Union.  Soveriegnty, national pride and autonomy were iimportant vectors in the Brexit vote.  And the vote was timed to take place right in the middle of the European "Euro 2016" soccer championship, an event that arousess enormous national passion, and that only occurs every four years.  It was also timed to fall immediately after the Queens much celebrated 90th birthday.

As a result, the UK was festooned in national flags, national celebrations and parades, and highly focused on sporting battles with our European nieghbors.  If you had to pick a time when national pride, and awareness of Britains unique national identity was at its highest, then the date of the Brexit vote couldn't have been more perfect.

It is of course impossible to make a clear causal link between the result of the vote, and it's timing.  However, it is hard to imagine that this context didn't have some influence, if only implicitly.   Especially in light of how complex, and unalignable the arguments were on each side of the debate.  When faced with complex decisions, we are often more likely to fall back on simple heuristics and feelings to help us decide.

Given how close the vote was, it is a sobering thought that holding the vote in the middle of the Euro 2016 championships could have had even a tiny influence on peoples decisions.  Maybe a couple of months later, with many people fresh back from a sunny European vacation, things might have been a little different?  

In this article, published 3 weekls before the vote, I discuss in more detail  the possibility that Soccer might influence the outcome of BREXIT

Ideas Out of Thin Air. A Very Different Innovation Event

Posted on April 10, 2016 at 5:50 PM Comments comments (0)

I am a huge believer that most innovation results from repurposing, recombining or adapting existing ideas in new ways and in new contexts. Often this is unconscious and implicit, as the late great George Harrison discovered. He had no idea that his song My Sweet Lord borrowed extensively from the Chiffons He's So Fine, but he still ended up in court.

Sometimes we make these connections explicitly and deliberately. Dyson very deliberately borrowed and adapted the cyclonic separation technology used in sawmills to create his Dyson vacuum. George de Mestral deliberately reapplied the hook and eye structure of a bur to create Velcro, and in so doing became a pioneer of biomimicry or bio inspired innovation.

So in general I am not a big believer that ideas come ‘out of thin air’, but there is at least one exception. I just returned from the Thin Air Innovation Festival in Park City, Utah, and I came back inspired and full of ideas that I literally grabbed out of 'Thin Air'. There are a lot of innovation conferences out there, and a lot of good ones. I personally owe a lot of my personal growth to Pop!Tech, and to some of the extraordinary people I met there who have inspired me over many years. But that for me is the point. If I am honest with myself, much of the long-term benefit I get from conferences comes not so much from the talks.  Instead it comes from the interactions with the diverse and brilliant people that I am lucky enough to meet there, and exchange ideas with. And those connections are the gift that keeps on giving, as these connections often live and flourish long after the conference ends. It’s not that talks aren’t useful or inspiring, it’s just that I personally get more from meeting people, and the connections that occur over dinner, coffee, or a glass of beer.

That is why I felt the Thin Air Festival was so cool, and so innovative. The emphasis was very deliberately shifted from a storytelling event to a story swapping event. An awful lot of effort went into creating a context where those informal discussions and meetings could take place. There was a lot more time between talks. There was a physical location, open all day and all evening, where you could go, grab a cocktail and a snack, and spend quality time talking to other participants. I'm not talking about an opening or closing reception, or a sponsored happy hour, but an ‘open all hours’ marketplace for the exchange of ideas. Of course there were excellent talks, and brilliant, diverse people. I was lucky enough to spend time with people who lead innovative response in disaster situations like the Syrian refugee crisis, satellite designers, and innovators at the cutting edge of drone utilization. I also exchanged stories with more modest entrepreneurs, who are living the concept of taking existing ideas and reapplying them in smart ways. In that context, I have to give a shout out to Bluapple, who are taking simple technology that has been established in the food service industry for years, and bringing it into people's homes to reduce food waste.

But what I loved was that I not only had time for those important, informal discussions, but that the format was designed to catalyze them, and to provide space for them to grow, during the conference. Often, I come back from conferences inspired, but needing a vacation, and struggling to put all the pieces together. This time I’ve come home bubbling with ideas, but also ready to charge ahead with my next project. There was space for the pieces to fall together in real time. Why didn't I think of that?