I hope you’ve enjoyed the notes so far from Day 1 and Day 2 of Behavior Design Bootcamp! Below is the list that Dr. BJ Fogg presented at the close of the bootcamp weekend. They are “designer beware” precautionary statements, inviting you to draw your own conclusions. Here are the seven pieces of advice BJ offered up that behoove a modicum of skepticism:

Be A Skeptic

1. Be skeptical of the idea that attitude change equals behavior change.

Say you convince me that a Mercedes meets my criteria for car safety (motivation). Regardless, I have two young kids and student loans. So, while my attitude toward the safety of Mercedes-Benz cars has now changed, I still lack the ability to purchase a Mercedes. Attitude change does not always equate to behavior change.

2. Be skeptical of decades of academic research.

Check the fidelity of the psychological/behavioral science to which you subscribe, as well as corresponding approaches and methods. Not all of them have stood the test of time.

3. Be skeptical of a definitive list of persuasion techniques.

Techniques are as potentially numerous as the varied combinations of the six dimensions of motivation, six factors of simplicity/ability, and numerous effective triggers. What we’re talking about in the Behavior Design Model is a way of thinking about behavior. Any number of techniques can be dangerous by themselves. Without a model, we don’t know where or when to insert a particular technique.

4. Be skeptical of just adding more motivation.

Motivation is a slippery construct. Repeated attempts to “motivate more/better” may indicate a problem elsewhere in the behavior model. Sufficiently spiking motivation is typically only in effective with infrequent (or once-in-a-lifetime) high-cost behaviors.

5. Be skeptical that the fix your app/product needs is just one more feature.

It likely isn’t. If you give a mouse a cookie…

6. Be skeptical of the claim that humans are so much different than other animals.

Both animals and human behavior happens when the same three things converge at the same moment: motivation, ability, and a trigger. Both biologically and psychologically, human-animal parallels can sometimes be borderline humorous.

7. Be skeptical of “more is better.”

Avoid taking the exit labeled “more.” It’s a shortcut that will not only get you lost, but will also cause you to lose your customers. Simplicity is hard, but simplicity changes behavior. Insist on simplicity.

8 More Takeaways

Synthesizing my thoughts for this blog series, and working my way through my notes and handouts, has forced me to organize Behavior Design Bootcamp material in such a way that I’m still collecting my thoughts. For you, it means I’ve got a little bit more to share – eight more behavior design takeaways. These takeaways center around using reinforcement to shape behavior.

Karen Pryor, author of Don’t Shoot The Dog (a text we used in our studies at bootcamp), succinctly describes a reinforcer as “anything that, occurring in conjunction with an act, tends to increase the probability that the act will occur again.” Reinforcers are of course everywhere, and we use them all day, every day. The last few points in this list explore related axioms, which foster an environment for praise-based reinforcement.

1. People are starved for success.

Even the most successful among us are starved of feeling successful and will respond to positive reinforcement. Your customers likely hold themselves to a high standard and push themselves for days without letting up, jumping from one task to another in an effort to measure up to a self-imposed standard. BJ found that the feeling created by “winning,” even at the inconsequential, is disproportionately greater than the size of the accomplishment. So, hardwire sequential, progressive positive reinforcement into your products. You can make someone feel like a million bucks (almost) by reinforcing or facilitating a celebration of something consequentially quite small. That celebration frees people up and creates capacity to continue toward the desired outcome.

2. Celebration builds motivation naturally.

As the motivation wave naturally peaks, and then sinks into troughs, celebration is about as close to a sure-fire means of increasing movation as there is. The other day, a client asked me how to get a team to want to train more- to be more motivated to train. While there’s no simple answer, identifying “to motivate” as a paper tiger is a good start. A sole focus on “creating more motivation” treats motivation solely as an outcome, instead of both an element of the Behavior Design Method and an outcome.

3. Use praise-based reinforcement over congratulations.

Although research conducted by BJ himself shows that the brain recognizes even disingenuous congratulations as effective reinforcement (received from computers or people), routinely giving out-of-context congratulations will eventually condition users to resent the reinforcer, which will then lose its capacity to reinforce. We’re most familiar with this principle in interpersonal situations. The sales guy who’s doting on you no matter the context or occasion, or the dude who’s constantly pandering (“sucking up”) to VC’s. Choose contextually appropriate, praise-based reinforcement instead.

4. Ration reinforcement.

This is what psychologists call a variable schedule of reinforcement. Psychological researchers have found a variable schedule is far more effective in maintaining behavior than a contstant, predictable schedule of reinforcement. If everything in your app or product constantly reinforces the user, you condition customer behavior to be increasingly minimal and perfunctory. Winning all the time isn’t really winning. Thus, the rataionale for gamification.

5. Uncertainty is a big opportunity.

You know that feeling after you get a test question right that you thought you had no shot at? It’s a little bit like that.

Praise happens to be most effective when reinforcing an action people are unsure of taking. Instead of “The changes to your account have been saved,” after a customer upgrades his or her subscription to your service, enthusiastically reinforce the action with a recap of all of the advanced features that person just got access to – or explain what everyone really finds useful with an upgraded subsription. The bottom line? This customer is more likely to endorse an account upgrade or recommend your product/service.

6. Tiny is hard.

Tiny is painstaking work. That is, breaking things down into smaller, bite-sized pieces is hard work becuase moving from “one” to “many” requires effort. Acheiving simplicity, then, is done only by digesting and synthesizing the complexity you would have otherwise passed on to your user or customer. This has been known to create a bit of strife when it comes to “process.” In design, “process” means time, and time of course means money. Few equate “paying for process” as the rigor required to arrive at delightful simplicity.

7. Revise, don’t renege.

Fail early and often. If you’re not successfully facilitating behavior – if your app or product isn’t generating the results you need – try an alternate combination of motivation, ability, and trigger. Although it’s en vogue, the approach predates Eric Ries and finds its 20th century origins in the foundational concepts of the Toyota Prodcution System (TPS), Total Quality Management, Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, and even Design Thinking. Design firm IDEO has been producing groundbreaking products, services, and experiences for decades guided by their mantra, “Enlightened Trial and Error Outperforms the Planning of Flawless Intellects.” Whenever you fail, quickly revise and don’t abandon the effort.

8. Ride the Motivation Wave.

Study and monitor your customers to understand the points in time when they are highly motivated. Don’t squander those high motivation opportunities. Remember the three priorities for successfully leveraging peaks in the motivation wave:

  • Priority 1: Do hard things that structure future behavior. Behavior “A” creates the structure for what will be coming next (“B”).
  • Priority 2: Do something hard that makes future behaviors easier. It should be work to avoid the behavior.
  • Priority 3: Do hard things that increase capability. Train the user to become more willing and able to take on harder behaviors.

Thanks again for reading these takeaways from Dr. BJ Fogg’s Behavior Design Bootcamp. I will surely be reflecting and writing more on the application of the Behavior Design Model in the context of Human Centered Design, Service Design and Human-Computer Interaction. Contact me if you’d like to be a part of a small group, or if you’re interested in learning more about Behavior Design in the near future.