Why employees need to become dancers: Understanding the overlaps of nudges and planned choreography

The pattern or sequence of movements that are frequently used in dance, ice skating, and theatre performances. 


Don’t worry, this is still a blog about nudges and the science of behaviour change. However, in this blog, we will be expanding those core concepts by examining the process and outcomes of choreography.

We may all be familiar with the term choreography and what is generally associated with it. For instance, we have all probably seen a dance act, gymnastics or even ice skating either at a live event or on television. The outcomes of choreography can be easily seen by all of us; it is the beauty and flow of people, physically moving in synch, that produces a remarkable display. On the other hand, an important segment of successful choreography, that we often do not directly observe, is the careful planning and coordination that goes into it. Behind all great pieces of choreography there is a great planner – piecing together routines and movements that, when put together, will produce an effective display of actions. Without an effective planner, there is no plan and consequently a poor display of choreography. This is where the overlap between choreography and behaviour change lies; and in fact, once you realise how important planned choreography is, you can see a wide variety of uses for it and not just in the field of arts and sport. 


"the fork lift truck drivers are the dancers"


It is not hard to think of a time when you have driven up the ramp into a multi-storey car park and spent, what felt like eternity, trying to find a parking spot. It gets even worse when you think you have found a spot but it turns out to be a small car buried between two large vehicles. Fortunately, there is a multi-floored car park in Manila, Philippines, that has applied the principles of planned choreography to make things flow a little better. In the Manila car park, there are LED lights above each parking spot. When the spot is in use, the LEDs are bright red. When the spot is free the LEDs are bright green. Just from this simple change in architecture, the drivers now flow through the car park with ease and can find a parking spot in record time. This is planned choreography in action. The architects of the car park deployed the LEDs to achieve the appropriate physical movements and behaviours from the drivers – the car park architects are the choreographers and the vehicle drivers are the on-stage dancers. From this, you can start to see the clear overlap that choreography has into other areas of life and how it shares significant similarities into the science of behaviour change.

The science of behaviour change, in particularly the theory of nudges, denotes that you can change an individual’s behaviour by altering the architectural design/layout of their environment. One example of this is a previous study performed in a small supermarket in Bangor, Wales. The supermarket wanted to sell more fruit – their stock was constantly being wasted due to lack of purchases. A team of researchers put in place green floor decals, in the shape of footprints, that started at the supermarket entrance and ended at the location of the fruit. It was a green footprint trail inside the supermarket. The researchers found that the footprints increased fruit purchased by 100% (99.6% to be precise). Again, as we can see, this is a perfect example of the overlaps of planned choreography and behavioural science. The researchers changed the supermarket environment to encourage a specific action from the customers. In this case, the researchers are the choreographers and the customers are the dancers – instead of practicing a dance routine, the customers follow signals in their environment (green footprints).

Behaviour change and choreography are one in the same. They both strive to produce actions/behaviours by implementing changes in the way things are laid out and planned. By producing an effective plan, you can achieve the appropriate behaviours with increased accuracy and efficiency. One area where this mode of thinking often gets neglected is when managers look to changing employee behaviours. Mostly, managers will turn to the traditional methods of change, including training or team meetings, and will not take into account the lack of planned choreography going on in the employee’s environment. For instance, large factories often face timing problems with the efficiency of their fork lift trucks that have to constantly drive back and forth from lorries to product lines. This manic circuit driving will lead to lost time in terms of picking up and dropping off pallets. However, if we were to apply the principles of behaviour change and planned choreography, that we have previously discussed, we could design an effective solution. Let’s break down the problem - the shop floor managers are the choreographers and the fork lift truck drivers are the dancers; so, let’s show them how to dance:

  User interface of the factory line timer application for fork lift truck drivers

User interface of the factory line timer application for fork lift truck drivers


This example screenshot is the UI (user interface) of a software we (NudgeUp research) have designed for the exact fork lift problem mentioned above. It monitors the start and finish times of the product lines and informs the fork lift truck drivers where they need to be and at what time. Similar to a departure terminal screen you would see in an airport. By telling the drivers where they need to be at specific times, we give them the freedom to manage their time and their tasks. Rather than be in a permanent state of rushing around and getting nagged "should have been here 2 minutes ago", they can pace themselves and get to key events just in time; they know if they take a comfort break, they are not stopping a production line. They work less, but achieve more; a benefit for both drivers and the business.