Insights in human behaviour

Strategy & Innovation


The predictive power of preferred behaviour

In a large-scale survey – the Global Preference Survey – researchers from the Bonn University, Germany have gather data from a worldwide population about risk and time preference, positive and negative reciprocity, altruism and confidence.

De dataset is impressive: 80.000 people from 76 countries all over the world. The researchers have used both qualitative and quantitative methods to gather data. The results are bundled in the article “The Nature and Predictive Power of Preferences: Global Evidence”.


The most notable results


To be blunt – the richer the country is, the more patience the population is. The figure shows that the ‘blue countries’ have to most patient people which are quite obviously the western and ‘neo’-European countries. Notably, China is one of the patient countries too, something enterprises and organizations should take note of when doing business there.

One small detail. It’s interesting to see how the researchers have measured patience. The test subjects had to make choices in a series of five interdependent hypothetical questions: “Imagine you have the choice of receiving payment today or in 12 months. We will now present you five situations. The payment today is the same in each of these situation. The payment in 12 months differs from situation to situation. For each of these situations we’d like to know what you would choose. We assume there’s no inflation. So would you rather receive: amount X today or Y in 12 months?” And this 5 times, where each amount Y increased or lower depending on the test subjects’ answers.

Is this something new? In 1622 Shakespeare already let Othello cry out: “How poor are they that have no patience.” But the importance of this research is that we have a scientific explanation for this phenomenon. And once we know the cause, we can also start the healing process, or improvement.

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Risk willingness

Here we also had 5 interdependent questions. The survey shows that the most willingness to take risks is found in Africa (blue).

North-Africa is relatively tolerant towards risks. So is Middle-Asia, but not China. Europe doesn’t score very well so it’s risk averse. This means that people won’t just simply jump the bandwagon when we want to introduce big changes and transformations in enterprise, organizations or entire sectors. There will be quite some resistance, just because it’s part of our behavioural code. Look at disruption for example, the buzzword of 2015 (source: De Standaard), but also an important motor of innovations.

So we ask someone, who’s especially scared of change that brings risk, we ask this person to think of entirely reinventing their business by throwing their old ways overboard without any guarantee for success. That something along those lines rarely succeeds, especially here in Europe, isn’t all that surprising. Most examples of disruption are from the USA. That’s why it’s important to try and change the behavioural code before we ask people to be disruptive.

Interested in disruption and transformation? 

Contact Maka De Lameillieure