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+1 Thinking: Small changes, big impact

Rishika Gopinath

+1 Thinking: Small changes, big impact

As someone who recently joined the team of Societal Thinking, I was surrounded by a whole new vocabulary – network effects, +1 thinking, exponential change, agency… While I was familiar with all these words and knew what they meant, the context in which they were being used at (and in) Societal Thinking was new to me.

As I set out to gain a better hold on some of these concepts, I listened to Shankar Maruwada, Co-Founder and CEO, EkStep Foundation on the podcast 3 Techies Banter. While the podcast explores various topics from building infrastructure in the context of education and measuring impact to working with the government; it was the concept of +1 thinking that caught my attention. 

Shankar explains that instead of trying to change everything at once, +1 thinking focuses on making one small but important change that is easy for everyone involved to do. This change should be so helpful and effective that once people experience it, they won’t want to go back to the old way of doing things. It is done in a way that involves many different actors and organisations working together. The key is to make sure this change can continue to benefit people even when external help or intervention is no longer there.

One example that came to my mind immediately was Scanning a QR code to make payments, whether it’s for a cup of tea from a street vendor or purchasing flight tickets, UPI’s (Unified Payments Interface) scan-to-pay is a perfect example of +1 thinking in action. Introduced only in 2016, it is now hard to imagine how we used to navigate daily transactions with mostly cash. Today, most merchants and business owners prefer to use UPI payments rather than deal with the hassle of cash payments, marking a permanent shift in how we perceive payment processing.

Back to +1 thinking in Education, Ekstep asked themselves that in the realm of traditional rote learning, how do you make learning more engaging and interactive for all actors in this ecosystem – students, teachers, parents and educational administrators? The ingenious answer, Shankar tells us, is a +1 thinking to innovation: EkStep Foundation’s Energized Textbooks!

India annually disperses a staggering 1 billion textbooks to school children. These textbooks underwent a subtle transformation by embedding QR codes within their pages. When scanned, these QR codes unlock a treasure trove of interactive content for both teachers and students, adapting dynamically throughout the academic year. With the increasing prevalence of smartphones, this small (+1) behavioural shift translated into revitalising the entire education system. For a comprehensive account of how Energized Textbooks became a game changer, I recommend listening to – Ek Step, Do Step, Teen Step, to uncover the full story from inception to implementation.

My +1 moment

Humans are creatures of habit. So time and again, we are told, behaviour change cannot happen at a grand scale, instantaneously (think New Year’s resolutions). We need to make one small change at a time. One that doesn’t push us too far outside our comfort zone, one that doesn’t cause an inconvenience in our everyday routine, and one whose benefits far outweigh the effort put into making the change.

My personal mantra for ensuring that I’m not left with a messy house by the end of the week and spend the weekend organising was to implement a very simple solution –  “Don’t put it down, put it away.” By ensuring each time that I put back an item after use in its intended place, I’m reducing the burden on my weekend self, who would otherwise be wasting away a restful weekend.

To rephrase what Shankar said, this change was “mind-opening, radical but also very obvious”. With no added effort and change to my routine, I was able to significantly improve the quality of my life. It has now got to a point where I don’t ever see myself going back because the new system is beneficial by miles. And this I realised is +1 thinking in its stripped down essence.

As I contemplate the floodgate of opportunities that +1 thinking has opened for solving large and complex problems, I wonder if a similar approach can be taken for climate action, a domain I care deeply about. One example instantly comes to mind. The absolute ban on single-use plastic with a simultaneous de-incentivisation of the purchase of bags at stores has all of us carry a bag from home, without a second thought. It is now a habit for most of us.

What are some other +1 moments you see in climate action? Are there any small changes we can make to have big impacts towards climate action?