The main hypothesis of The Power of Fifty Bits is that people are wired for inattention and inertia. Sadly, this wiring often causes our outward behavior to deviate from our underlying intentions.

Just as a nearsighted person benefits from lenses that correct the faulty optics of his vision, we will benefit from a set of specific strategies that bridge the gap between the good intentions that we already have and our day-to-day choices and behaviors. Because applying such principles is a deliberate re-engineering to address the fundamental processing limitation of our conscious minds, we call it fifty bits design.

Seven strategies form the core of fifty bits design. Three of the strategies are powerful mechanisms for activating the good intentions that most people already have. We can think of these as the “power” strategies; you should use them if possible because it has been repeatedly demonstrated that they can measurably improve choices and behaviors. In addition to these power strategies are three “enhancing” strategies, as well as one overarching strategy.

Schematic of the Seven Strategies

From “The Power of Fifty Bits” (HarperCollins, 2016)

  • Three “Power” Strategies
    • Require Choice – mandate that people stop and deliberately choose among options (Chapter 3)
    • Lock in Good Intentions – allow people to make decisions today about choices they will face in the future (Chapter 4)
    • Let It Ride – set the default to the desired option and let people opt out if they wish (Chapter 5)
  • Three “Enhancing” Strategies
    • Get in the Flow – go to where peoples’ attention is likely to be naturally (Chapter 6)
    • Reframe the Choices – set the framework that people use to think about and react to options (Chapter 7)
    • Piggyback It – make the desired choice or behavior a side effect of something that is already attractive or engaging (Chapter 8)
  • One “Über” Strategy
    • Simplify… Wisely – make the right choices frictionless and easy, but create hesitation when a suboptimal choice is likely (Chapter 9). I use the term “über” for the final strategy of making some things easy and others hard because in many ways it’s the overarching idea for all the strategies: put people on the path to better choices and make that as easy as possible, and slow them down to consciously choose if they’re headed the wrong direction.