Sludge slows down consumers. Cass Sunstein explains in Learning from Leaders.


If you’ve ever bought a home or applied for government benefits, you’ve probably encountered what Harvard Law School professor Cass R. Sunstein calls “mud,” the bureaucracy that creates friction in a process. given. Sunstein knows firsthand that sludge can be more than just a nuisance. He worked with the Department of Homeland Security for the Biden administration and was previously administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs during the Obama administration, and he’s authored numerous articles on sludge-laden topics. such as taxation and animal rights.

Those who know Boost: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness, Sunstein’s book on behavioral economics co-authored with Richard H. Thaler, will recall the chapter on sludge. In this chapter, the authors describe a host of bogged down processes that will sadly be all too familiar to many readers.

Driven by his lifelong interest in discovering how the public and private sectors can improve the experiences of the individuals they serve, Sunstein lays out these insights in his new book, Sludge: what’s stopping us from getting things done and what to do about it?. The book is an exploration of the processes, forms, requirements, and waiting periods that slow people down.

Sunstein joined Zoe Chance, a marketing lecturer at the Yale School of Management and acclaimed author, as well as an international audience for YCCI’s Learn from leaders series of webinars to discuss his perspective on sludge.

Sludge is important in the public sector, but that’s probably not surprising. The US tax filing process is notoriously cumbersome. Sunstein illustrated the sludge with the earned income tax credit example. The processes currently in place for individuals to receive this credit are so complicated and time-consuming that not everyone who qualifies receives it. Plus, you might be shocked to learn that the United States imposes 11 billion hours of paperwork, which is the equivalent of every person in a huge city doing paperwork for more than an entire year.

While muddy slowdowns are frustrating, they sometimes serve a positive purpose. Banks must impose a certain level of mud – in this case, paperwork – before granting loans to gather enough evidence that the consumer is not fraudulent and probably has the means to avoid defaulting on the ready. This sludge allows banks to continue to serve communities. It is an example of program integrity and can be applied to license applications, student loan applications, etc. On a smaller scale, the sludge in operating systems can slow a user down when permanently deleting a file by simply asking “Are you sure?” This can prevent accidents when a user works inattentively or too quickly. In these cases, mud is necessary and even desirable. Institutions that take advantage of positive sludge can avoid problems associated with sludge by monitoring if sludge volume begins to exceed program integrity requirements.

The paradigm for sludge awareness is the tech industry. Amazon and Apple were hailed by Sunstein in the Learn with leaders webinar to invest in “sludge busting”. These companies work tirelessly to deliver an exceptional and seamless customer experience through their products and services. They demonstrated how sludge disposal can encourage repeat customers and increase a company’s turnover. These companies set the bar for what users expect from the customer experience, and Sunstein suggests other industries must catch up or lose.

Sunstein specifies that the stakes concerning sludge are important. He describes bad sludge as an attack on human dignity: “It makes people feel like their time doesn’t matter. In extreme cases, it makes people feel like their lives don’t matter” (Mud 109).

It makes people feel like their time doesn’t matter. In extreme cases, it makes people feel like their lives don’t matter.

Additionally, sludge works against institutional initiatives because it “is typically felt more harshly by the people the program is designed for,” as Sunstein explained during the webinar.

So what can organizations do to deal with these exasperating slowdowns? Sludge audits could be the answer. By bringing together teams committed to sludge removal, organizations across all industries can understand the magnitude of the sludge they impose and work to remove it. While some slimes are necessary for organizations and can even be positive for individuals under certain circumstances, most slimes slow down customers and waste employees’ time. It can prevent people who are entitled to certain benefits from receiving them. Audits can help identify sludge, assess its usefulness, and make changes to provide an improved experience for everyone involved.


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