The Business of Motivation

The experiment started with a classroom discussion about consumer persuasion. Students in Professor Evan Polman’s marketing course were curious about how business interaction can elicit changes in consumer’s behavior, and Professor Polman wanted to craft a real-world example that would demonstrate the effectiveness of these interactions. It would also have the goal of increasing sustainability on campus.

The target was the stairs. Understandably, UW students didn’t always want to climb several flights of stairs after hurriedly walking 15 minutes to their classes. Professor Polman’s students wondered what they could do to bring those numbers up. They settled on a classic marketing strategy—quality engagement.

Initially, they thought about putting jokes at the entry to the stairs, with the punch line on successive flights up. But after some work, the idea shifted to trivia questions with multiple answers to encourage people to walk multiple flights.

Partnering with business professor Joann Peck to help develop and execute the study, Professor Polman’s class put the plan in motion. First, they installed sensors and gathered baseline information about stair usage. Then they installed the experiment, which ran for just under a month.

The results were exciting, with an 8.3% increase in stair usage over the course of the experiment. Professor Polman has expressed interest in carrying out similar experiments in the future, and hopes to expand it campus wide.

Professor Evan Polman is proof that learning doesn’t have to be confined to a classroom, and that a curriculum can be a jumping-off point for real-world applications, not an end in and of itself.