Drop in the bucket

October 5, 2017


In behavioural economics, the ‘drop in the bucket’ effect is a cognitive heuristic whereby people may fail to take action because they feel that their behaviour will not resolve a larger problem. 


What's the point? It won't hurt. We have all heard and said these before. Whether it is transit fare evasion or skipping one day at the gym, it is very easy to justify the an action as immaterial. And in most cases this is true. But once you scale this out across people or time, it can have a massive effect on the system. 


Instead, the focus should be on making the impact more salient, no matter how small it may be. Paying fare will lead to facilities become a little cleaner, travel times a little shorter, etc. By focusing on the little impact, we can better manage expectations and get alignment to contribute - and when this is done at scale, the system improves - whether it is life, business or transportation. 




1) Identify actions you do not take because you believe it will have minimal impact 


2) Create nudges to do the activity in exchange for a small return 


3) Make the nudge apparent 


4) Highlight the small outcome - be as clear and salient as possible 


5) Pay attention to whether your bias for action changes 


6) Measure this impact over a longer latitude / scale 


TL;DR - Behaviourial economics tells us that we often do not take action because we feel the outcomes we generate is immaterial relative to the bigger problem. 

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