Becoming a ‘Choice Architect’

image choice

The desire to do – and be – our best is an innate driver for most people. While I say ‘most people’, I actually believe it is important to all human beings.

Different People, Different Pathways

shoppping photo

However, life’s journey takes us down many different paths. Some of those paths nurture our desire and ability to be our best, while other pathways fight against our capacity to be a better version of ourselves. This isn’t anybody’s fault. Some people just haven’t discovered the choices that are available to them and/or given the tools to get there yet.

The Organisational ‘Stage’

When we come together as a collective in an organisational context, such as in teams, there is a kaleidascope of history, personality types, development levels, focus, goals and oh yes, egos. When our goal is to influence others either individually or collectively, then we need to understand human behaviour and how it is shaped. To better understand how this plays out, we can draw from many fields such as psychology, philosophy and behavioural economics.

Nudge Theory

Nudge Theory comes from the field of behaviour economics and has been popularised and developed by Richard Thaler, an economist from the University of Chicago who was recently announced as this year’s recipient of the Nobel Prize for Economics.

The central idea behind Prof Thaler’s work is that we are not the rational beings more traditional economic theory would have us believe. In fact, given two options, we are likely to pick the wrong one even if that means making ourselves less well off. Lack of thinking time, habit and poor decision making mean that even when presented with a factual analysis (for example on healthy eating) we are still likely to pick burger and chips.

to nudge: alert, remind or mildly warn

Nudge Theory takes account of this, based as it is on the simple premise that

people will often choose what is easiest over what is wisest.

As a case-in-point, tests have shown that putting healthier foods on a higher shelf increases sales. The food is more likely to be in someone’s eye line and therefore “nudge” that person towards the purchase – whether they had any idea about the obesity argument or not.

Becoming a ‘Choice Architect’

One of the most fundamental, yet challenging areas for managers, is to influence people in service of a goal. However, managers often go about influencing in all the wrong ways. By failing to understand how people make choices at work and in their own lives, we set ourselves up to experience roadblocks, re-work, pain and frustration. And ultimately, costly failures in our projects and initiatives.

By developing the knowledge and skills necessary to become a more effective choice architect,

we can nudge people towards the choices we want or need them to make.

While this may sound manipulative, it must always be in service of a higher purpose, as opposed to servicing the needs of one individual’s agenda. In a community context, we might hide cigarettes from view to reduce the uptake of smoking in young people. In an organisational context, if a team wanted to become more strategic, we might ensure that only strategic topics are listed on the agenda (as simple as this may be, it can make a big difference).

Developing Requisite Skills

To build stronger managers and leaders, we must do three things. Firstly, there must be insight created (a greater awareness of self, other and the context in which we operate); secondly, influence (the ability to guide and shape another person’s thinking and actions); and finally impact (making a difference to our colleagues, our organisations and our society).

I would argue that it is the role of everyone, including parents, friends, siblings, colleagues and managers, to guide and support people along their chosen path. Sometimes however, we need to create the context where we nudge people to make what we see as the right choices, or at least better choices. The difference between nudge theory and coercive influencing strategies is that in its purest form, in Nudge Theory, choices that are seen as sub-optimal are always available and ultimately left up to the individual to exercise their freedom to choose. In this way, we avoid the trap of assuming an overly-paternalistic (rigid) approach and perhaps even occasionally, a misguided pathway ourselves.


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If you are interested in learning more about Nudge Theory and other leading strategies to influence people, please join us for one of our one-day masterclasses.

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Immutable Challenges You Should Know About


I was recently asked the following question by a client…

“What do you see as the enduring development challenges and issues that leaders struggle with the most?”

It was a good question, and certainly not the first time I had been asked a similar question.

The question helped me reflect more deeply on the things that ‘keep on keeping on’ – regardless of how much personal development, reflection, meditation, life experience or organisational trench warfare we may have survived.

This led me to creating what I am calling the ‘Seven Immutable Growth Challenges’. These are the things that – while some do well – many (even most) leaders are found wanting in one or more areas. They are the things that leaders often find difficult and energy sapping – usually occupying way too much mental headspace than they deserve. They are the things that I get asked to help with the most. Hands-down.


The Model

Starting at the one o’clock position, the model moves from a strong ‘inside’ focus to a strong ‘outside’ focus, beginning with self-awareness.

leadership-growthChallenge 1: Self-Awareness

Self-awareness can be considered to b
e the foundation of the human experience.

Carl Jung once said:

“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”

It is not an over-statement to say that growing our self-awareness is a lifelong undertaking. However, for some at least, the requisite skills, will and courage may actually not be enough.

Of all the challenges, growing our self-awareness is perhaps the most important and arguably the most challenging.

Challenge 2: Bulletproof and Perfect

A term borrowed from Brene Brown, ‘bulletproof and perfect‘ refers to our inability or unwillingness to be vulnerable. This occurs in a society of scarcity which drives a ‘never enough‘ culture. Never good enough, fast enough, skinny enough, smart enough….you get the idea. Only when we can accept that we are good enough. Right now, today, as you read this – you are enough – full stop will we allow ourselves to show up and be seen.

Challenge 3: Real Dialogue

At least in part, our difficulty in being able to engage in authentic, constructive and robust dialogue is due to challenges 1 and 2. In my practice, I work with individuals and teams every single week and have done for two decades. Having difficult conversations – and sometimes – just having a conversation with another human being often presents real obstacles, perceived risk and fear. This is why I focus heavily on the process of interaction and dialogue when working with teams. Becoming skilled in this area is a gift that just keeps re-paying itself over and over again.

Challenge 4: Productivity and Resilience


There has been a lot written about in this area of recent times – and for good reason. My own experience is that people in organisations, particularly senior people, are becoming more overwhelmed because of what is expected of them. This requires a new muscle to be exercised that most of us are not good at exercising. It requires good self-care, being able to set and maintain boundaries, and being able to shift our thinking about a range of life challenges. In my own practice for example, I like to invite people to practice saying a solid ‘no‘ at least daily.

Try it. See how liberating it is.

In a single coaching session, it isn’t unusual for people to re-claim 10-15 hours per week by doing a simple audit of their ‘busy’ work. The trick is to create more good work and great work.

Challenge 5: Being a Team Member

It’s harder than it sounds right?

I once heard a definition of ‘team’ which summed it up nicely! The definition was that a team was a bunch of smart people who came together to do dumb things! While not always true of course, this is how it feels sometimes. Why? Because we are human and therefore suffer from all the normal human flaws, fears and frustrations that comes with being part of a tribe of fellow humans. This is double-edged sword: on one side is the magic that can happen when smart, motivated people come together – while on the other side is the often messy and time-wasting interplay of egos, ambitions, and personal insecurities.

Challenge 6: Leading a Team

If being a member of a team can be challenging, leading it can sometimes feel like a long, hard slog. When working with teams, I like to use the metaphor of a relationship in a personal lives that we care about – it requires constant attention and investment. Teams are no different. Too many times leaders fall in to the trap of thinking that the conversation they had about the strategy three months ago is enough. Or that subversive and undermining behaviour that crops up from time to time will just go away by itself. It requires a constant focus on three things: (1) direction (where are you heading?); (2) interaction (how are you working together?) and finally (3) renewal (how do you grow, develop and look after yourselves?).

Challenge 7: Change & Complexity

change-managementPerhaps the Holy Grail is being able to manage and lead (meaningful) change in service or organisational objectives. This is where the ‘leadership rubber’ really hits the road – or not.

Apart from the important objective of creating a meaningful employee experience and context which enables people to thrive, surely leadership is about making a real and substantive difference? It is in this area that the biggest mistakes are made. Those who choose to exercise leadership do so in a ‘soup’ of politics, shifting landscapes, silos, turf-protection and good old-fashioned legacy cultures that have taken years to develop and remain remarkably resistant to change. Navigating these murky waters is challenging for the most seasoned of executives.

So what does it all mean?

Leadership is an art and a science. To be effective – really effective – requires attention across the full-spectrum of the seven growth challenges, particularly the ‘inside’, which is arguably the most challenging.

So what should your focus be?

Well, perhaps surprisingly, its actually not a linear proposition. In our fast-paced world, there’s no time to focus on self without a focus on the other levels. We work with leaders and teams to orchestrate a plan of action that focusses on all seven levels to varying degrees based on the context. This helps support rapid progress and success.

And I’m 100% sure of one thing, and that is that it is an incredibly worthwhile journey.

I wish you all the very best.

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We are specialists in powering teams through leadership. If you’re interested in learning more about these programs and how we may be able to work with you to achieve outstanding results, then you can:

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Design Thinking – Trick or Treat?

What is it?

According to Tim Brown, president and CEO of IDEO:

“ Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

Lets Take a Step Back First…

Design as a “way of thinking” in the sciences can be traced to Herbert A. Simon’s 1969 book The Sciences of the Artificial, and in design engineering to Robert McKim’s 1973 book Experiences in Visual Thinking. Peter Rowe’s 1987 book Design Thinking, which described methods and approaches used by architects and urban planners, was a significant early usage of the term in the design research literature.

Rolf Faste expanded on McKim’s work at Stanford University in the 1980s and 1990s, teaching “design thinking as a method of creative action.” Design thinking was adapted for business purposes by Faste’s Stanford colleague David M. Kelley, who founded IDEO in 1991. Over the past 25 years, this practice has become most closely associated with the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University (commonly known as the ‘’).

A Deeper Examination

According to Brown (HBR, 2008), traditionally designers were asked to make an already developed idea more attractive to consumers, however now companies are asking them to create ideas that better meet consumers’ needs and desires. The former role is tactical, and results in limited value creation; the latter is strategic, and leads to dramatic new forms of value.


The approach brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable (see figure below).


But I’m Not Creative!

Design thinking is a deeply human process that taps into abilities we all have but get overlooked by more conventional problem-solving practices. Design thinking relies on our ability to be intuitive, to recognize patterns, to construct ideas that are emotionally meaningful as well as functional, and to express ourselves through means beyond words or symbols. Nobody wants to run an organization on feeling, intuition, and inspiration, but an over-reliance on the rational and the analytical can be just as risky. Design thinking provides an integrated third way. It also allows people who aren’t trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges.

“Thinking like a designer can transform the way organisations develop products, services, processes, and strategy.” – IDEO

Bringing Together the three ‘I’s’

Design thinking consists of three overlapping spaces: inspirationideation, and implementation. Inspiration is the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions. Ideation is the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas. Implementation is the path that leads from the project stage into people’s lives.

What About Results?

In assessing design thinking, it is clear that it is in fact a proven and repeatable problem solving protocol that any business or profession can employ to achieve big results. By using both analytical tools and generative techniques, organisations can see how their new or existing operations could look in the future — and build road maps for getting there.

There are many examples of big companies that use design thinking in their day-to-day operations, like Apple and Google. However design thinking can and does work for all types of organizations, big and small. The result can be new,  innovative avenues for growth that are grounded in business viability and market desirability.

Where is it Today?

In the September 2015 edition of the Harvard Business Review (Design Thinking Comes of Age), design thinking was described as a set of principles – empathy with users, a discipline of prototyping, and tolerance for failure chief among them. The article went on to say:

“…is the best tool we have for creating those kinds of interactions and developing a responsive, flexible organizational culture.” – HBR, Sept. 2015

The ‘Idea in Brief’ described in the same edition of HBR (below) highlights the critical role design thinking is now playing in many organisations.


So…Trick or Treat?

So based on my research, which included desk research (reading everything I could on the subject) and talking with many people in many industries, I formed the view (in my humble opinion) that design thinking is indeed a treat. It has proven itself to more than just a tool or even a process, but rather a way to manage and lead organisations.

Further Posts

I’ll be writing a series of posts centred around how design thinking can help organisations become more innovative, change ready, and agile.


Based on my conversations and research, I discovered a firm called ExperiencePoint – who in partnership with IDEO – offer innovative, challenging and fun workshops that teach design thinking in a very applied way by way of computer-based simulations that pack several months of ‘running a project or initiative’ in to a day.

The Leadership Sphere is now accredited to conduct these programs – ExperienceChange and ExperienceInnovation – with teams, managers or anyone interested in creating a high performing organisation through innovation, change and growth.

If would like to learn more about:

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If you’re interested in learning more about these programs and how we may be able to work with you to achieve outstanding results, then you can call us on 1300 100 857 or email:


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Change Management Needs Change

Ron Ashkenas (Schaffer Consulting) recently blogged on HBR about the state of change management as a discipline, saying that while change management has been in existence for over half a century and despite the huge investment that companies have made in tools, training, and thousands of books (over 83,000 on Amazon), most studies still show a 60-70% failure rate for organizational change projects – a statistic that has stayed constant from the 1970’s to the present.

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