What's your default?

Two months ago, the default rule for setting out my garbage and compost changed.  It used to be that I placed all garbage and compost into one type of container.  That container was picked up by the City and taken to the local landfill.  That changed.  Now the City provides two types of containers, one for garbage and one for compost material.   The default changed.  Of course, the default’s impact extends beyond separation of waste.  It impacts organization, and  our individual thinking and behaviour.

garbage & compost

My favourite news read, old-style, is the Saturday’ Globe and Mail, delivered to my door.  In last Saturday’s “human behaviour” section was an article titled “Green by default”.   In it Cass Sunstein, author of “Simpler: The Future of Government”, offers insight into “default” rules. Sunstein is a legal scholar and former administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (2009-2012).

Why the default rule is so important

Sunstein touches on 3 reasons rules have a big effect on outcome

  1. inertia and procrastination; it takes effort to change… “why bother”
  2. implicit endorsement on the default rule; it’s the right course of action… “and besides, it must have been chosen for a good reason!”
  3. default establishes reference point for people’s decision; it brings into play the “loss aversion” phenomena…. “I hate to give that up”

So what default rule(s) should public and private institutions select?  Sunstein suggests, “a reasonable approach is to select the default rule that reflects what most people would choose if they were adequately informed”.

If I set the default…

Here are some default rules I’d like to see:

  • disputes: the default rule for any civil court action is mediation
  • collaboration: the default rule for us working creatively, together, is relationship
  • trust: the default rule for gaining your trust is “be reliable”
  • social media: the default rule for participation is generosity
  • community: the default rule is collaboration (a rule within a rule)

The funny thing is that these defaults aren’t weird stuff.  Rather, might they be intuitive rules of thumb that we have lost touch with?

What default would you like to see?

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