The Popcorn Study – Ep. 1


Today’s episode is about the book Switch by
Chip and Dan Heath. This book is filled with great thinking about
change agency that can be helpful to anyone trying to get their organization to adopt
new behavior such being lean, being agile, or being extreme programmers, or really anything
at all. In this vlog, I plan to dig deep into the
book and eventually show how I apply the concepts
in trying to create change in my organization. In today’s episode, I’ll talk about the very
first concept in the book: people problems versus situation problems. At a movie theater in suburban Chicago in
2000, some unsuspecting moviegoers showed up to watch a matinee of Mel Gibson’s Payback. They received a free soft drink and a free
bucket of popcorn. They were asked to stay after the movie to
complete a survey about the concession stand. But they were actually part of a study of
irrational eating behavior. There was something special about the popcorn. It was wretched. And this was deliberate. It had been popped 5 days earlier so that
it would be so stale that it would squeak when you ate it. At random, people were given either a medium
sized bucket or a large. Everybody got a bucket to make sharing unnecessary. Both buckets were so big that none of the
moviegoers could finish their portions. The researchers wanted to know: Would someone
with a larger inexhaustible supply of popcorn eat more than someone with a smaller inexhaustible
supply? By weighing the buckets before and after,
the researchers know how much each person ate. The results were surprising: People with the
larger bucket at 33 percent more popcorn. Brian Wansink authored the study and described
his results in his book Mindless Eating. It was the size of the container that determined how much was eaten. No other theory explains the behavior. The people weren’t eating for pleasure. They weren’t driven by a desire to finish
their bucket. Both buckets were too big to finish. And it didn’t matter whether they were hungry
of full. Imagine that someone showed you the data from
the popcorn study. You would likely think that some people are
moderate snackers and others are gluttons. Public health experts would get concerned
about the gluttons and would likely want to motivate the gluttons to adopt healthier habits. But, if you want to eat less popcorn,
the solution is simple – give the people smaller buckets. And that is the first surprise about change:
What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.

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