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The assistant app is the futureIn the new film Ex Machina, a reclusive billionaire invents a robotic artificial intelligence. To test whether his invention is indistinguishable from a human being, he helicopters-in a young engineer to see if he falls in love with the robot.

Today, making machines and humans indistinguishable from each other is no longer science fiction, it’s good business. In fact, a wave of startups are part of a new trend that promises to radically simplify our lives by making it harder to determine whether we’re communicating with a person or computer code.

In my last post I discussed how I use some of these services and in this post, I’ll go deeper into what this trend is all about. I’ll look into how pairing new technologies with human assistants will result in tremendous new products, which promise to enhance our lives — that is, until the robots completely take over and destroy us all. *insert nervous laugh here.*

Whenever I feel uncomfortable writing about a topic, that’s when I know I should write about it. So here goes. This article is about how a new way of designing apps changed my life. But to explain the power of this trend, I need to tell you about poop. That’s the uncomfortable part.

For the past five years or so, I’ve struggled with intestinal discomfort. (I’ll spare you the gory details.) I spent countless hours crawling the web searching for a possible diagnosis and tried dozens of different remedies and diets. Nothing seemed to help.

Finally, I saw a gastroenterologist. He listened for all of five minutes while I described my symptoms and quickly jotted down a prescription for antibiotics. They worked for a while but soon the symptoms returned. I went back to the doc. A few tests were done and more antibiotics were dolled out. But the problems came back. Then again. And again.

If your new product or service isn’t gaining traction, ask yourself “What’s my California Roll?”

White dude eating sushi

I’ll admit, the bento box is an unlikely place to learn an important business lesson. But consider the California Roll — understanding the impact of this icon of Japanese dining can make all the difference between the success or failure of your product.

If you’ve ever felt the frustration of customers not biting, then you can sympathize with Japanese restaurant owners in America during the 1970s. Sushi consumption was all but non-existent. By all accounts, Americans were scared of the stuff. Eating raw fish was an aberration and to most, tofu and seaweed were punch lines, not food.

Then came the California Roll. While the origin of the famous maki is still contested, its impact is undeniable. The California Roll was made in the USA by combining familiar ingredients in a new way. Rice, avocado, cucumber, sesame seeds, and crab meat — the only ingredient unfamiliar to the average American palate was the barely visible sliver of nori seaweed holding it all together.

I recently presented a new talk about how to manage digital distraction using the Hook Model. I hope you enjoy the brief video below.

Also, I’ve been thinking of writing more on this topic. Let me know what you think.

Is this an interesting topic? Do you struggle with digital distractions?

Tell me more about what might help or what questions you’d like me to tackle so I know what direction to take my research and writing.

Thank you!

– Nir

dealChanging habits is hard. But what if there was a way to dramatically improve your odds of quitting even your worst habits? What if this method was shown to be over 8 times more effective than traditional methods at helping people quit a stubborn addiction like smoking? Would you try it?

As I discussed in part 1 and part 2 of this 3-part series, the technique involves a wager. A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that when people put money down, they were much more likely to accomplish their goals. In this case, people who risked $150 of their own money to win a $650 bonus prize were dramatically more likely to quit smoking than those who used traditional smoking cessation methods. Surprisingly, this group also beat out those who were offered an $800 reward with no deposit for staying smoke-free.

Credit: nerissa's ring IMG_5363Diets don’t work. Studies show that temporary fixes to old habits actually make people gain weight. Essentially, the dieter’s brain is trained to gorge when off the diet and inevitably the weight returns.

In my previous essay, I shared the story of my father’s struggle with bad eating habits. He had put on weight over the last few decades and despite several attempts, he had trouble taking it off. In his late 60s he faces pre-diabetes and a daily ritual of taking a handful of pills.

But over the last five months, something has changed. He’s found a new way to resist the temptation of the food he’s been trying to stop eating for years.

Dad pic

Dad and me soon after coming to America.

When my family immigrated to the United States in 1981, my father weighed 185 pounds. He came chasing the American dream but got more than he expected. Along with a new, more prosperous life for his family, he also acquired some bad habits.

For one, he took up smoking because, as he sheepishly admits, “that’s what business people here did back then.” And to ward off the boredom of long car rides between sales calls, he began eating American-made junk food.

Eventually, he stopped smoking. However, the junk food habit got the best of him. His weight ballooned by over 50 pounds and in his late 50s his doctor told him he was pre-diabetic. If he didn’t change soon, his doctor warned, he’d be at risk for serious health problems.

After the slide presentation I posted about “The Secret Psychology of Snapchat” received such a warm response from readers, I decided to create another set of slides. This presentation is about how to win over your competition’s customer habits. I hope you enjoy it.

For a deeper analysis, see this previous article I wrote on the topic:

Nir’s Note: This book review is by Sam McNerney. Sam writes about cognitive psychology, business, and philosophy.

OverwhelmedMany of us feel we’re drowning in the rising tide of emails, updates, and digital distractions. According to a survey by the Families and Work Institute, the majority of American workers report feeling overwhelmed or overworked. In her new book, Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has The Time, Brigid Schulte acknowledges that although the deluge of to do’s is inevitable, there are ways to regain our sanity.

Schulte writes about cognitive overload, work life balance, and gender bias in the workplace. She mixes personal anecdote with psychological science to discuss the stress of day-to-day life. Primarily, she discusses how our perception of work influences how we work. Schulte insists that being overwhelmed and feeling overwhelmed are two different things.

If you are among the 19 million people Apple predicts will buy an Apple Watch, I have some bad news for you — I’m betting there is an important feature missing from the watch that’s going to drive you nuts.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy one. In fact, I’m ordering one myself. However, this paradox illustrates an important lesson for the way companies design their products.

Rarely are v.1 products very good. How is it, then, that some products thrive despite flagrant shortcomings?

Meet Mr. Kano

To find out why you’ll likely be disappointed by the Apple Watch, meet Professor Noriaki Kano. In the 1980s Professor Kano developed a model to explain a theory of customer satisfaction.

Kano believes products have particular attributes, which are directly responsible for users’ happiness. He discovered that some qualities matter more than others. Kano describes three product attribute types — (loosely translated from Japanese as) delightful, linear, and hygienic features.