By Dr Obichi Obiajunwa

Innovation is the act of introducing a new device, method or material for commercial or practical purposes. Most times innovators get engrossed in the solution without as much thought about the adoption of the technology itself —of what use then is an innovation if no one uses it?

As COVID-19 pandemic takes its toll on Nigeria, and the rest of the world, experts such as the World Health Organisation have prescribed different measures to contain this highly contagious infection. One of these measures — and the easiest too — is the old habit of frequent handwashing.

Recently, in a bid to get their customers to wash their hands, shops have provided buckets with faucets to deliver running water for handwashing. Similarly, organisations have mounted hand sanitizer dispensers in public places.

However, as beautiful and simple as these measures are, people still find it difficult to use the taps or the sanitizers unless reminded — or mandated to — most times.

Beyond the traditional habits of handwashing and hygiene, there is now a rush towards innovations to combat the coronavirus and reduce its impact on the economies of nations.

According to Everett Rogers, diffusion of innovations depends on a number of factors: the innovation itself, the communication channel, time, and a social system. For an innovation’s use to be self-sustainable, it has to reach a critical mass in its rate of adoption. Given the virulence of coronavirus, it’s pertinent to reach this critical mass in adoption of available innovations and behavioural changes in the shortest possible time in order to flatten the transmission curve. This can be done by having as many people as possible to adopt recommended solutions and lifestyle changes.

Hence the question: How do we get people to eagerly adopt lifestyle changes? This brings to mind the fun theory, a popular concept created by Volkswagen. It’s a way to motivate people to willingly undergo a behavioural change because of some accompanying fun element. The fun element moves people to take up new behaviours, and then turn them to habits, without being coerced.

Applying the fun theory, intended activities or behavioural changes are made fun to do and engage in. Maybe innovators and all those coming up with ideas and concepts on how to cause behavioural changes in the face of this pandemic should employ the fun theory.

For instance, in Odenplan Stockholm Sweden, Volkswagen used the fun theory to persuade people to use a staircase instead of an escalator. They masterfully did this by turning an ordinary adjoining staircase into a piano staircase such that every step produced a musical note. It turned out that 66% more people subsequently used the staircase more than the escalator.

Now, imagine we make running water buckets that sing as we wash our hands. Or hand sanitizer dispensers that greet us and thank us whenever we use them. Or an app that reward us if we stay at home. Or an app that rewards us if we wash our hands the most in a day. Or a platform that can pair you with a virtual date or a minute of conversation with a prominent personality if you stay indoors. Adding some fun elements to these measures is more likely to get people to adopt recommended behaviours without being policed.

I have thus compiled 8 steps towards using the fun theory in your next idea because it makes sense to understand how to apply it to solutions. Otherwise, its effects won’t be as felt or at best futile. Many innovators have hardly understood the simple methodology of the fun theory and its application in their creations. So here are my 8 steps towards using the fun theory in your next idea:

1. Do a needs assessment to determine what behaviour you want to promote.
2. Decide the population segment you want to target.
3. Set an objective. This can be an amount of increase in the adopters of the new behaviour.
4. Research what fun actions could provide them the highest or memorable level of motivation.
5. Find creative ways to combine the behaviour (you want to promote) with the fun you want to reward them with.
6. Run a pilot and observe your innovation with the baseline behaviour. Measure the level of compliance with the new behaviour.
7. Check if the results meet up with your set objective.
8. Scale up your innovation if your objectives are met.

The application of fun theory to covid-19 innovations will make the movement from innovators and early adopters to early majority faster. Maybe we can flatten the COVID-19 curve much faster if more behavioural change recommendations are reinforced with fun theory.

The fun theory process