Posted on
July 6, 2023

Shaping the Nudge – Reducing the Decision

In today's world, uncertainty surrounds us, and a subtle yet powerful concept has emerged to guide behavior toward desired outcomes. This concept, a nudge, is a subtle, indirect cue influencing behavior and decision-making. Thaler and Sunstein defined the concept in their book "Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness" (2008).

Nudges are designed to steer individuals towards making better choices or adopting desired behaviors by making specific options more salient, attractive, or convenient while maintaining their ability to choose alternative options. Choice architecture, the strategic design of decision-making contexts, plays a crucial role in implementing effective nudges and shaping individuals' choices and behaviors.

In "Nudge”, Thaler and Sunstein present multiple examples of nudges, including moving healthy foods closer to the front of the cafeteria line to encourage healthy food selection, companies automatically enrolling new hires into 401(k) plans to boost participation rates, and using perceived social norms to encourage behaviors such as not littering on highways.

Applications in Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC)

Reducing errors and improving efficiency is paramount in EPC and an example nudge is utilizing poke-yoke principles to implement error-proofing mechanisms during equipment installation. For instance, designing components with unique shapes or color-coding them to match specific installation locations can nudge construction workers to easily identify and correctly install the equipment.

Another example would be implementing a safety incentive program incorporating gamification elements that can nudge workers towards safer behaviors. For instance, creating a safety leaderboard or using a points-based system where individuals earn rewards or recognition for consistently following safety protocols can foster healthy competition and encourage a proactive approach to safety.

Applications in the Military

The commander's intent in the military can serve as a powerful nudge to foster individual accountability and decision making. By clearly communicating the overall mission objective and providing a framework for decision-making, the commander's intent empowers individuals to take ownership of their actions and make choices aligned with the desired outcomes.

Another nudge commonly used in the military is the implementation of default settings for equipment or systems. For instance, manufacturers can set default configurations prioritizing safety and standard operating procedures regarding weapon systems or communication devices. This configuration nudges military personnel to operate within established guidelines and reduces the likelihood of accidental errors or improper usage.

Applications in Software

Nudging users towards desired behaviors can be achieved by setting specific options or settings as defaults during software installations or user onboarding processes. Software companies can default to open collaboration models where information and learnings are openly shared internally, unless users opt-in to restricting access. 

Nudges can be applied in error messaging to guide users toward resolving issues effectively. Instead of simply displaying an error message, providing specific instructions or suggestions for troubleshooting can nudge users towards taking appropriate steps to resolve the problem, improving user experience, and reducing frustration.

Reducing Cognitive Bias via Nudges

Designing nudges that address specific biases can assist decision-makers in making more informed choices, ultimately leading to better outcomes. Nudges can encourage individuals to overcome hesitation and explore new possibilities by making the desired alternative more salient and appealing. 

Nudges can counteract confirmation bias by providing balanced information and presenting alternative perspectives, encouraging individuals to consider a broader range of viewpoints before making decisions.

Nudges can disrupt status quo bias by presenting alternative choices more prominently, emphasizing the potential benefits of change, or simplifying the process of switching to a different option.

Nudges can address framing bias by carefully designing the presentation of options or information. By framing information in a neutral and balanced manner, nudges can help individuals make decisions based on the merits of the options rather than being swayed by superficial differences in presentation.

Ethical Concerns

Critics argue that nudging can be manipulative and infringes upon individual autonomy. They claim that nudges can subtly steer people's choices without their full awareness or consent, potentially limiting personal freedom and decision-making. 

To guard against coercion and infringement, Thaler recommends three principles when using nudges:

  • All nudging should be transparent and never misleading.
  • It should be as easy to opt out as to opt out of the nudge.
  • There is a good reason to believe that the behavior being encouraged will improve the welfare of those being nudged.


Public and private organizations' successful implementation of the nudge should weigh the benefits of nudges, such as improved decision-making and employee well-being, against potential concerns related to autonomy and transparency. Ultimately, each organization must carefully assess the appropriateness of establishing a “Nudge Unit”, considering its specific goals, values, and the impact it wishes to have on individuals' choices and behaviors.