If you stop at the men's restrooms at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, you'll spot a fly in the urinal. It's just an etching on the porcelain, but it was a smart response to the problem of spillage. The rationale? If urinal users had their attention focused in the right direction, there might be less mess. And sure enough, spillage rates were reduced by 80% — but spare a thought for those taking the measurements.

It's been over a decade since behavioural economist Richard Thaler and law professor Cass Sunstein used this simple example in Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness, to illustrate choice architecture or "nudges" in action (and a recent visitor to these urinals confirms that the flies are still in place). As an example of a nudge, it may seem inconsequential, but its simplicity belies the profound, life-changing impact of attempts to positively change people's behaviour — without removing freedom of choice...

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