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You’ve undoubtably heard of Snapchat, the habit-forming messaging service used by over 100 million people monthly. This week, I teamed up with Victoria Young and Dori Adar to help explain what makes the app so sticky.

We decided that instead of writing a long blog post, we’d share our insights in a slide presentation. Let us know what you think of the format and the content in the comments section below!

Diabetes CupcakesI had just finished giving a speech on building habits when a woman in the audience exclaimed, “You teach how to create habits, but that’s not my problem. I’m fat!” The frustration in her voice echoed throughout the room. “My problem is stopping bad habits. That’s why I’m fat. Where does that leave me?”

I deeply sympathized with the woman. “I was once clinically obese,” I told her. She stared at my lanky frame and waited for me to explain. How did I hack my habits?

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

The first step is to realize that starting a new routine is very different from breaking an existing habit. As I describe in this video, there are different techniques to use depending on the behavior you intend to modify.

12721092Here’s the Gist:

  • Duncan Watts is a sociologist and principal researcher at Microsoft Research. His latest book is Everything Is Obvious (Once You Know the Answer): How Common Sense Fails Us.
  • Personal preference, though not entirely arbitrary, is likely constructed and justified on the fly.
  • According to Watts, the problem with prediction is not that we’re good or bad at it, but rather we are bad at distinguishing predictions that we can make from those we can’t.
  • Business should embrace “strategic uncertainty” and “measure-and-react strategies.”

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

At a special event in the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco, the CEO of Apple Tim Cook riffed on Apple’s latest gadget, the Apple Watch. “It’s the most personal device we’ve ever created,” Cook said.  “It’s not just with you; it’s on you. And since what you wear is an expression of who you are, we designed Apple Watch to appeal to a whole variety of people with different tastes and preferences.”

spruce-image

Fitness apps are all the rage. An explosion of new companies and products want to track your steps and count your calories with the aim of melting that excess blubber. There’s just one problem — most of these apps don’t work. In fact, there is good reason to believe they make us fatter.

One study called out “the dirty secret of wearables,” citing that “these devices fail to drive long-term sustained engagement for a majority of users.” Endeavour Partners’ research found “more than half of U.S. consumers who have owned a modern activity tracker no longer use it. A third of U.S. consumers who have owned one stopped using the device within six months of receiving it.”

While the report mentioned several reasons why people don’t stick with these tracking devices, my own theory is simple, they backfire. Here are three surprising reasons why fitness apps may be making us less happy and more flabby.

Nir’s Note: This post was co-authored with Ximena Vengoechea. Ximena is a design researcher at Twitter and will be speaking at this year’s Habit Summit

iphone

In his famed experiments, Ivan Pavlov trained his dogs to associate mealtime with the ring of a bell. Pavlov found he could elicit an involuntary physical response in his dogs with a simple jingle. Every time his bell rang, the dogs began to salivate.

Today, the beeps, buzzes, rings, flags, pushes, and pings blasting from our phones prompt a similar response. They are the Pavlovian bell of the 21st century and they get us to check our tech incessantly.

However, as powerful as these cues are, people are not drooling dogs. Your product’s users can easily uninstall or turn off notifications that annoy them.

smartcab

You are unconsciously paying more. (Photo credit: Digital Dispatch)

My taxi pulled up to the hotel. I got out my credit card and prepared to pay for the ride. The journey was pleasant enough but little did I know I was about to encounter a bit of psychological trickery designed to get me to pay more for the lift. Chances are you’re paying more, too.

Digital payment systems use subtle tactics to increase tips, and while it’s certainly good for hard-working service workers, it may not be so good for your wallet.

A new report by the tech research firm Software Advice discovered that digital point-of-sale terminals, like the one in my cab, increase the frequency and amount of tips left by customers. What’s the secret behind how these manipulative machines get us to pony up?

Habit Summit

I’m thrilled, giddy even! This year’s Habit Summit promises to be a one-of-a-kind event.

On March 24th at Stanford University, the best in the business will share their knowledge of how to drive customer engagement using the power of habits.

  • You’ll hear Ryan Hoover, the CEO and Founder of Product Hunt, share how he built a company TechCrunch just called the “Best New Startup” of the year.
  • Jake Knapp and Daniel Burka from Google Ventures will share techniques any team can use to design and build great products.
  • James Clear will teach you how to improve your products by improving your personal and work habits.
  • You’ll also meet hundreds of attendees from around the world, all interested in building products that move people.
  • There are many other amazing speakers, check-out HabitSummit.com for more.

HemingwriteFour minutes into pitching the wonders of his invention to an influential reporter, Patrick Paul gets hit with the kind of snarky comment startup entrepreneurs dread.

Paul is the founder of Hemingwrite, a “distraction free writing tool with modern technology like a mechanical keyboard, e-paper screen and cloud backups.” At first glance, the Hemingwrite could be mistaken for an old-school typewriter inlaid with a Kindle display. Despite its “modern technology,” it looks like a 1980s throwback from Radio Shack. Two gaudy dials sit on either side of chunky black plastic and a huge red button — which could easily be mistaken for an ignition switch — turns it on. The company website calls this esthetic “retro.”

Despite its looks, the Hemingwrite has struck a nerve. The company quickly surpassed its $250,000 crowdfunding goal on Kickstarter and sold hundreds of units of a machine that hasn’t even been manufactured yet.

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

The Power of NoticingIn Moneyball, Michael Lewis tells the story of Billy Bean, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics who transformed the A’s using sabermetrics, the data-driven approach to understanding baseball. Bean noticed that instead of using data to predict player performance, baseball professionals relied on faulty intuitions and anecdotes. Commentators debate how effective sabermetrics actually is, but Bean’s original insight—that we can’t learn that much about baseball just by watching—changed the game.

The essential theme of Max Bazerman’s new book The Power of Noticing: What the Best Leaders See is similar. Like Bean, the best leaders don’t make decisions based only on what they can see and what they can recall. Instead, they ask for more information, question the status quo, and are aware of common biases. Becoming a “first class noticer,” as Bazerman phrases it, isn’t necessarily about noticing things-in-the-world but becoming conscious of our systematic mistakes. Here are three suggestions from The Power of Noticing.

Nir’s Note: This post is co-authored with Stuart Luman, a science, technology, and business writer who has worked at Wired Magazine, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and IBM.

Fomo

“I wish that I could be like the cool kids,” goes the catchy hook for the hit song by Echosmith. The official video has been viewed over 15 million times on YouTube, perhaps tapping into something deeper than mere adolescent angst.

We all want to be like the cool kids.

In 2013, the word “FoMO” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary. The “fear of missing out” refers to the feeling of “anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere.” Although the terminology has only recently been added to our lexicon, experiencing FoMO is nothing new.