How dangerous is your product?
Over the millions of years our brains had to evolve, one of its most important (and relatively recent) functions has been predicting the future, as in “If I punch an alligator, I will die” not as “The Dallas Broncos will win the World Series by a three-pointer”. And what best use of this “superpower” than to keep us from kicking the proverbial bucket?
Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize in Economics, denotes that the human brain counts with two cognitive systems. The imaginatively called System 1 (fast, automatic and emotionally charged) and System 2 (slow, serial, effortful, and deliberately controlled).
But here’s the problem, 1 is dumb enough to make you think you can take out little Gabby and 2 is too slow to stop you. So why aren’t we all wearing full-body crocodile skin suits?
Simple, our brains are lazy, acquiring in the colossal amount of information necessary to accurately calculate the outcome of any single action, pass it through both systems and react accordingly would be way more effort than our brains are willing (or able) to exert. So we developed shortcuts known as Heuristics. Heuristics aren’t just related to risk assessment but in this article, I will only focus on the risk-related kind.
Which brings me to the point of this article
How Heuristics affect perceived risk and how that perceived risk can affect the way people will react to your product.
I separated these risk Heuristics into 5 rules as a completely original concept that I most certainly didn’t borrow from HERE.
Rule 1: Voluntary risks are more acceptable than involuntary risks
The higher a person’s perceived agency, the lower the perceived risk.
Many people are afraid of flying, even though you are more likely to die on your car ride to the airport. Lack of control scares us.
This seems to be one of the highest hurdles self-driving vehicles stuff will have to surpass. We’ll be able to achieve security standards way higher than those of human-operated cars in the near future but their perceived risk will remain quite high.
Note that I used the word “perceived agency” not actual agency. The simplest way to reduce the effect of Rule 1 is to create the illusion of choice, after all, choice = agency.
Ever wondered why there are companies that produce carbon-copy variants of the same product? Or why “customizable” products end up looking as generic as their default variants?
Now you know why
Risk matrices are a good way to visualize perceived (subjective) risk, I will use them as an excuse to add graphics to the article.
Rule 2: Acceptance is inversely proportional to prevalence
People are more forgiving of high-risk products or activities that a few people interact with than low-risk products or activities that a large number of people interact with.
BASE Jumping is probably the most dangerous extreme sport with 1 out of every 60 participants dying as a result of injuries suffered from accidents related to the activity. But you don’t see massive protests against BASE jumping.
The number of people attempting the death-defying feat is (thankfully) incredibly low, therefore, its perceived risk is lower. Now imagine we have a brand of frozen pizza that has a 1 in 60 chance of poisoning you. How will people react to that?
The more people interacting with your product, the higher safety standards you’ll have to reach.
This doesn’t mean that you can use your low user base as an excuse to create a dangerous product. Assuming you aren’t villainously incompetent or just plain evil.
Let’s add BASE Jumping to the matrix
Rule 3: Disease is a yardstick
Disease as a cause of death or permanent damage has been a constant throughout the existence of humanity, therefore, we use it as a base to measure potential risk. If the risk of being hurt or dying doing an activity is lower than the risk of dying by natural causes, the perceived risk is greatly reduced, the opposite is true as well.
The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 has a beautiful 5.7-inch screen, a 12-megapixel rear camera and can blow up half of your face.
Although those specs are quite attractive, you can’t get the last one out of the box. It’s a special feature only 35 out of 2.5 million users got to enjoy.
With odds lower than even catching a cold, I aren’t surprised people keep playing smartphone Russian Roulette.
This is where I’d place Smart Phones in the matrix
Rule 4: Novelty increases perceived risks
The newer something is, the less we trust it.
That’s something I experienced first-hand while living in Shanghai. I saw people (me included) going from being suspicious of doing digital payments, to leaving their homes without their wallet (me included) only armed with a smartphone and a song in their heart.
Shared bikes, app-based takeout and shared cars and many more have gone from “scary new tech” to just a thing you do. Why?
The longer you’re exposed to something risky or not, the more familiar it becomes. Knowledge is the enemy of fear. I feel there’s some deep idea buried somewhere there.
Let’s see how risky these apps are if they malfunction.
Rule 5: Numbers are numbing
“In the U.S., about 30 million children and teens participate in some form of organized sports, and more than 3.5 million injuries each year”.
“Your mother broke her leg while roller skating.”
Which one of those statements would create a stronger emotional reaction? If you’ve got a normal-working brain and you aren’t a filthy, rotten liar, you would tell me it’s the second one.
Humans, as the over-evolved monkeys we are, can’t really imagine 3.5 million of anything. There’s a point in which numbers become so large, they become fuzzy and meaningless.
Now imagine you’re running a charity focused on helping the 3.5 million being hurt by practicing sports. You could throw that number on people’s faces and pray for donations.
But if you don’t want to fail miserably, you can borrow a trick from journalism. A good way for people to be engaged and perceive the actual danger is to focus on the individual. Human interest stories are very effective at giving the context that pure statistics don’t convey.
Let’s add some sports’ risk of injury to the Matrix