I just finished Tiny Habits by Stanford behavior scientist B.J. Fogg. It’s a great read both for personal and professional insights on human behavior.
Throughout the book, he establishes the following model:
The essence: people need to be both motivated and able to take action. When they get triggered (e.g. get a notification), it will only succeed if they are above the action curve, so they really want and can do it.
Motivation and ability are closely connected:
- Being really motivated will compensate for an action that is hard
(e.g. when a parent rescues a child from a dangerous situation)
- Making it really easy will compensate for low motivation
(e.g. having your sportswear laid out ready to go for a morning run)
We only have limited control of our own and others‘ motivation, so the key is to make it as easy as possible to take action. Lowering the hurdle to make the first step tiny.
This is a good guidance on how to design digital services and products: although we can influence peoples’ motivation to some extent (e.g. providing incentives), in most cases people have a certain motivation level we cannot control. So our job is to make the action people already want to take really easy (e.g. offering smart defaults) and removing hurdles along the user journey.
A good recent example: Clubhouse. Among other reasons for the hype, they build on the basic motivation of people to participate in conversations and make it extremely easy to take the first step:
Looking at how fast the Clubhouse hype is dying down, it seems that this alone is not enough. There are other factors that influence peoples’ ability and motivation to form a habit using Clubhouse: less motivation as soon as the perceived value is missing, or not being able and willing to squeeze this new activity into your daily schedule. This is something where podcasts shine: it’s easy to join the conversation whenever you want.
So even though all models are wrong, this behavior model can be quite useful.