If you want people to be more financially literate, you invest in financial literacy education, right? So think governments, businesses, and nonprofits worldwide. They spend billions of dollars on financial literacy to improve budgeting, reduce credit card debt, and increase retirement savings. Financial literacy is now a required part of Washington State curriculum.
The result of all of this investment? A 0.1% variance in financial behaviors. That’s it. All this education yields very little change in behavior. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely referred to this research while in town talking about his book Dollars and Sense: How We Misthink Money and How to Spend Smarter. His book is not about financial literacy, he said, but the systems that cause us to behave as we do. Rather than understand how a $4 coffee fits into our budget, he encourages us to think about our habits. Does that $4 coffee make us happy? Does the second one make us as happy as the first? If so, it is worth it. If not, don’t buy it. As the financial literacy research says, if we are aiming to change behavior, we should teach soft skills, like confidence to act, willingness to take risks, and propensity to plan.
As someone who creates learning experiences on finance, I found this a breath of fresh air. Learning doesn’t (necessarily) lead to doing. Teaching someone something doesn’t mean that they bring that idea into their life. We don’t have to dwell on the movement of content from my brain to yours. We have license to bring into our teaching all of the inner and outer body experiences that lead people to do what they do. We can focus on habits, confidence, systems, and culture. We can give out templates and share links to “just in time” videos. In fact, we aren’t teaching lessons but facilitating action.
Talking about facilitating action….
I was thrilled to receive in the mail this week my copy of Map It: The Hands-On Guide to Strategic Training Design by Cathy Moore. (Three cheers for her tagline: Let’s save the world from boring training!) Cathy tackles this issue of learning ≠ doing head on. Her Action Mapping has us defining a measurable goal and actions we can see in support of that goal. She invites us to develop a range of interventions—including but not limited to training. We think about the barriers holding folks back. We build in a lot of time to practice in authentic ways. Cathy’s approach has deeply influenced me in my work leading the teams that created Finance Unlocked, Boards in Gear, and other nonprofit toolkits. I appreciate her thought leadership guiding us in how best to facilitate action. I love the Ninjas.