This is Your Brain on Service Design [part one].

 Photo by  Hey Paul Studios

 In May of next year I’ll reach my 10-year anniversary as a service designer.  According to neuroscientist Rick Hanson, that will mark a decade of helping people change their brains. I’ll explain.

Rick is a psychologist, neuroscientist, Buddhist, and author most recently of "Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence. On a recent Saturday I participated in a workshop by the same name. Here’s the quick summary of what Rick shared (six hours compressed to fifteen seconds).

States are temporary. Traits endure. Synaptic connections are the bridge between them. Because neurons that fire together, wire together.

From these four biological assertions, good service design has the potential to help users magically rewire their brains to change their behavior for the better. The process goes something like this:


  1. We design experiences that induce new states of mind …
  2. That trigger new neural activity …
  3. And have positive behavioral outcomes
  4. And if we provide mechanisms to prolong those states (by as little as 10 seconds!) …


  5. We can help people “install” the synaptic connections
  6. Such that (temporary) states turn into (enduring) traits.

Now, doesn’t that sound like what great service designers do? And you may have guessed that Step 4 is the magic step. Hanson calls it “Taking the Good,” and it’s a big challenge because are brains are wired to cling to bad outcomes (an evolutionary mechanism known as negativity bias). As Hanson notes, “our brains are Velcro for bad experiences and Teflon for good ones.”

Good service design— especially services that wish to support behavior change— must account for mechanisms to support Taking the Good, that is, for building Velcro to hold positive experiences. It’s a key to the learning process.

In my next post, I’ll share my 12 Tips for Behavior Change Solutions . You’ll see how Hanson’s Step 4 looks when an almost-10-year-old service design firm starts experimenting with it.

Have you ever been able to hardwire happiness?  Leave a comment or send me a message.

Cheers! Tim