About 12 years ago, I read an article about how CVS Pharmacy created an application that alerted it’s customers, via email, when their prescription need to be refilled. In 1997, this sounds like genius work. The intent was improved customer satisfaction and increased bank roll (revenue). The problem was, psychologically people are VERY sensitive about their prescriptions. Their customers didn’t like the idea that someone might be able to see what they were taking. It went over like a lead balloon. CVS didn’t see it coming and they got killed because of it. They didn’t understand the human psyche around prescriptions.
At the time I read the article I was working for an IT consulting firm and the story hit me like Mike Tyson’s right hook. It permanently burned into my head the impact of human psychology on the web and business. I found myself asking, where else would human psyche impact the web, web applications or even general business.
The result of my thinking was the concept of what I coined a”webcologist.” A webcologist, as I imagined in 1997, would work with developers and the business analysts to account for and predict the impact and response of a web application on the human psyche. The objective, avoid another CVS disaster and create new, innovative applications that capitalize on unidentified behaviors.
I put the concept to my boss, who thought the idea was killer. He presented it to the rest of the organization and they pooh, poohed the idea. They didn’t like is so much. The webcologist idea was born and died in just three months during 1997.
However, I’m looking to bring it back and looking to expand it. Thanks to Erich Joachimsthaler author of Hidden in Plain Sight and this HBR podcast. In it Joachimsthaler says to innovate and create great new products you need to start “dissecting consumers behaviors” I absolutely agree with this thesis. Our psyche drives our behaviors, therefore understand how we think about things, predict how we will behave and know how we will react to something and you’ll create powerful, sticky products.
It is for this reason I want to bring back my “webcologist” concept for web companies. Let’s get some shrinks into some of these web 2.0 companies and start stirring things up. Beyond the web; I think every company that innovates, creates products, has an R&D arm or develops code should have at least one shrink on board. This psychologist would be business savvy and have extensive knowledge in human behavior. Maybe it’s a sociologist, or a anthropologist, or all of the above.
The point is, human behavior and how we act and react to things is becoming increasingly more important to the success and failure of applications, services, products and companies. I say get the shrinks involved early and let them help you sort out what’s going on in our crazy heads.
It’s how business is going to be done.