Research Methods
January 13, 2022

People are... ✨Somewhat Predictable✨

Humans are interesting — and challenging — because they are… somewhat predictable.

They’re not entirely predictable. But they’re not entirely unpredictable either!

If people were fundamentally predictable, advertising and marketing could be perfected. If people in every culture were similarly motivated and took the same inputs and got to the same conclusions, there would only be one religion, one governmental system, and one brand of any product.

But if people were fundamentally unpredictable in their behavior, advertising wouldn’t work ever, no product would ever win in the market. Institutions like countries, cities, companies, cultural and religious institutions wouldn’t remain different over time. But advertising does work! Countries and institutions do sustain and evolve over centuries!

The challenge — and opportunity — of innovation is that neither of these extremes is correct.

Your job as an innovator, a creator, a startup founder or change agent is to understand people.

Let’s start with a hunch that can explain behavior: Some individuals might be more predictable than others. Some individuals adhere to patterns and routines, and they do so more consistently than others. Maybe their internal mental structures seem sensical and explicable to us. Other individuals are idiosyncratic. Spontaneous. Rebellious.

It’s the same for situations: Some situations or environments provide tight guardrails on human agency, and constrain almost all behavior to make it easy predict what populations will do. Some situations are open-ended. If you’re designing for those situations, you need to take the unconstrained, emergent, even chaotic nature into account.

Sometimes you need to predict what a person will do on a second-by-second basis. Will they stop scrolling down their feed and take a second to consider your idea or offering? Or you need to understand and predict what a person will do over the next year. Will they need your startup to help them three times per month, and so they’ll remain an engaged user over an entire year, or will they drop out?

At Helpfully, we often use anthropology perspectives to figure out what makes people tick. But many different frameworks can help — learning from psychology, behavioral economics, sociology, history, and communications, can all help us understand when people will behave predictably and when they won’t.

Over the next few months, we’ll do a deep dive into the theories and frameworks we use at Helpfully. And there are many! Our team voraciously consumes theories, frameworks, and explanatory stories to help understand when and how people will act in certain ways! Please follow along at the Helpfully blog to keep learning along with us!

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