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Nir’s Note: Jonah Berger is a marketing professor at the Wharton School and author of the New York Times bestseller Contagious: Why Things Catch On.  Contagious explains the science behind word of mouth, how six key factors drive products and ideas to become popular, and how you can apply that science to get your own stuff to catch on.

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 8.21.08 PMWhether you run a small business or work for a large one, and whether you sell a product or offer a service, everyone wants their stuff to catch on.  More users, more sales, and more growth. But why do some products and ideas become popular while others fail? And how can we harness that science to get make our own stuff more popular?

Help techAddiction can be a difficult thing to see. From outward appearances, Dr. Zoe Chance looked fine. A professor at the Yale School of Management with a doctorate from Harvard, Chance’s pedigree made what she revealed in front of a crowded TEDx audience all the more shocking. “I’m coming clean today telling this story for the very first time in its raw ugly detail,” she said. “In March of 2012 … I purchased a device that would slowly begin to ruin my life.”

At Yale, Chance teaches a class to future executives eager to know the secrets of changing consumer behavior to benefit their brands. The class is titled “Mastering Influence and Persuasion,” but as her confession revealed, Chance was not immune from manipulation herself. What began as a research project soon turned into a mindless compulsion.

Nir’s Note: This guest post is written by Max Ogles. Max is an editor for NirAndFar.com and heads marketing for CoachAlba.com, a mobile health startup. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog at MaxOgles.com.

Screenshot 2014-05-14 11.39.14Weight gain happens pound by pound, over many years, and that’s how Dave Haynes found himself sixty pounds away from a healthy BMI. In his career, Dave was immersed in the startup world; he helped start Soundcloud, which allows anyone to share and produce music and has over 10 million users. So when he ultimately resolved to reverse this disturbing weight trend, he naturally looked to technology for the solution; he downloaded the popular fitness apps and bought an Internet-connected Withings scale. But could these online apps help him achieve real-life behavior change?

Nir’s Note: This guest post is written by Max Ogles. Max is an editor for NirAndFar.com and heads marketing for CoachAlba.com, a mobile health startup. Follow him on Twitter and read his blog at MaxOgles.com.

rehabLast year, The Huffington Post published some fascinating statistics about the U.S. prison population. The headline for the article blared, “America Has More Prisoners Than High School Teachers.” It’s no secret that the United States has a high rate of incarceration, not to mention a recidivism rate of nearly 60% for serious criminals.

These stark facts put into perspective the incredible work of the Delancey Street Foundation, a drug and rehabilitation center based in San Francisco. Delancey Street accepts the most hardened criminals and drug addicts; most have multiple felony convictions. But despite the difficulty associated with overcoming a criminal past, over 14,000 Delancey residents have returned to society as productive citizens. Perhaps Delancey’s most impressive accomplishment is the fact that over 90% of its graduates never return to prison.

Nir’s Note: This guest post was authored by Lisa Kostova Ogata, one of the first product managers at Farmville and a VP of Product at Bright.com (sold to LinkedIn). While at Zynga, Lisa learned how to shape user behavior, but in this essay she describes her surprise when she found herself unexpectedly hooked.

3316432769_6fcd31e674I don’t consider myself a gambler. I’m the person who places a minimum bet at the roulette table with the specific intent of getting a free drink — after all, it’s cheaper than buying one at the bar. Yet, there I was on a Monday night, glued to my computer screen for over an hour as I watched an online auction. I couldn’t resist.

Nir’s Note: This guest post is written by Ali Rushdan Tariq. Ali writes about design, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation on his blog, The Innovator’s Odyssey.

As I clicked the big green “Take This Course” button, I became acutely aware of an uneasy feeling. This would be the 22nd course I’d have signed up for on Udemy.com, one of the world’s leading platforms for teaching and learning classes online. I had become a binge-learner.

Or had I? After scanning my enrolled course list, I gathered the following stats:

And so the uneasy feelings inside bubbled to the surface. With 13 courses left virtually untouched since enrolling (the price ranging from free to $30 for each of them) I naturally started deriding myself. I thought I was a non-finisher, bad at commitments, and lacked focus. Perhaps even a compulsive buyer, financially carefree, or worse yet, a wanna-be learner. Perhaps it was some combination of the above?

4333711366_42d7561930_bNir’s Note: This guest post is written by Michael Simpson. Michael is the co-author of The Secret of Raising Money, which he wrote with Seth Goldstein.

Raising money for a startup is like sex. The more unattainable you seem, the better your chances of getting lucky. Also, the more interest you receive from others, the more appealing you will become to everyone else.

This essay discusses two psychological principles at work in an entrepreneur’s fundraising efforts: social proof and scarcity. Nir has discussed both in previous blog posts regarding product design. In this article, I’ll take you through the mechanics of each, and show you how entrepreneurs use these tools to close their rounds.

SOCIAL PROOF

“If you’re walking down the street and everyone is looking up at the sky, you look up at the sky.” -Babak Nivi, AngelList

devicesNir’s Note: Michal Levin asked me to write this essay for her new book, Designing Multi-Device Experiences.

Allow me to take liberties with a philosophical question reworked for our digital age. If an app fails in the App Store and no one is around to use it, does it make a difference? Unlike the age-old thought experiment involving trees in forests, the answer to this riddle is easy. No!

Without engagement, your product might as well not exist. No matter how tastefully designed or ingeniously viral, without users coming back, your app is toast.

How, then, to design for engagement? And as if that were not challenging enough, how should products that touch users across multiple devices, like smartphones, tablets, and laptops, keep people coming back?

The answer is habits. For the past several years, I have written and lectured on how products form habits, and my work has uncovered some conclusions I hope will prove helpful to product designers.

Screen Shot 2014-03-01 at 3.10.38 PMWe’ve just announced new speakers and their respective talks for the upcoming Habit Summit taking place on March 25th at Stanford. The line-up is amazing!

We’ll hear from experts like Julie Zhuo (Director of Product Design at Facebook), best-selling authors like Gretchen Rubin (The Happiness Project) and Natasha Dow Schull (Addiction by Design), innovators like Josh Elman (formerly of Twitter and LinkedIn), Jeff Atwood (co-founder of Stack Overflow), a number of VCs, product leads, and other phenomenal speakers.

This event was created for product managers, designers, executives, and marketers: anyone whose product or company would benefit from repeat customer engagement. I’m thrilled to be involved and I can’t wait to hear these speakers.

Tickets to the conference are selling fast and we’re on track to sell out. If you are planning to attend, note that prices of tickets go up on March 10th, so get your ticket soon. More information about the summit is available at: HabitSummit.com

Screen Shot 2014-02-20 at 3.22.24 PMWednesday was my birthday. It should have been a great day. My wife and daughter had prepared a delicious breakfast, I had lunch with close friends, and I finished up some writing and client work. At the end of the day I headed to San Francisco to enjoy a swanky scotch tasting at a friend’s house.

Then I heard the news. WhatsApp had been purchased by Facebook for $19 billion. When I read about the deal I blurted out the words, “Holy Crap!” so loudly that a stranger nearby gave me a disapproving look.

I was having a fantastic day just minutes before but suddenly I felt crummy, like something unjust had happened. The malaise lingered as my mind began to rationalize the news. Was the deal justified? Why had Facebook paid so much? What did the deal mean for the future of the tech industry?