Sludge is the name given to the act of using nudge theory to achieve dubious objectives.Summary by The World of Work Project
While nudging is often used to help people achieve better outcomes, e.g. eating more healthily, it can just as easily be used for self-serving ends. When it is used this way it is sludge. Sludge is unpleasant an the world would be better without it.
Components of Sludge
Sludge has two main components to it, friction and bad intentions.
Where nudges are often used to make it easier for people to take beneficial actions, sludge often introduces friction which makes it harder for people to take beneficial actions. For example, hiding healthy food at the back of a supermarket, beyond snacks, comfort-food and candy, can be thought of as sludge. As can websites hiding their “unsubscribe” buttons.
Sludge exists all around the world. Every time you find yourself frustrated with a decision tree or process you need to go through, you might be facing sludge.
The World of Work Project View
Sludge is nefarious. Is gets all over the place and makes our lives worse. It’s simply a means of influencing people through attrition or a lighter form of deception. By making it hard for people to do what they know is best for them, you wear them down and eventually they’ll do what benefits you because they have no resistance left.
Be under no impression that they’ll be pleased about it though. They’ll remember, feel used and feel resentful.
Organizations should avoid sludge. Sludge leads to negative customer and employee experiences. It can be a race to the bottom as well.
Let’s get rid of sludge and create a better world where people can do what they know is best for themselves without the nefarious tentacles of sludge holding them back.
Sources and further reading
Where possible we always recommend that people read up on the original sources of information and ideas.
The phrase Sludge, and lots of great work on Nudge, comes from Richard Thaler. You can learn more by reading his works.
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