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Frequency is the key to building habits into your product

Nir Eyal | Author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

  • | Acquisition | Activation | Engagement | Frequency | Psychology
  • April 2019
  • EP6

How to keep your product out of the forgettable zone

Learn how to Hook your users with frequency

In this episode, I share the mic with Nir Eyal, author of the best-selling book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.

Listen in as Nir explains the Hook Model, the role of frequency and why frequency is the number one reason your product is not going to become a habit, the ethical way to build habit-forming products, and his new book Indistractable.


Highlights

Time
The Hooked Model explained – Connecting the users problem with your solution with enough frequency to form a habit. 00:07:25
Frequency is the number one reason your product is not going to become habit. 00:12:00
The Frequency Test and why brushing your teeth is important. 00:14:15
Pain is the single denominator when it comes to reasons for taking action. 00:17:38
Gamification is crap and here is why. 00:23:00
Why the investment phase and stored value is arguably the most important part of building habits. 00:26:20
The Regret Test – How to build ethically sound habits. 00:29:25

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Nir Eyal

Author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products

About the podcast

My name is Andrew Michael and I started CHURN.FM, as I was tired of hearing stories about some magical silver bullet that solved churn for company X.

In the real world tackling churn and increasing retention is one of the hardest problems a subscription business faces.

In this podcast, you will hear from founders and subscription economy pros who are taking a systematic approach to increase retention and engagement within their organizations.

Transcription

Andrew:
Hey Nir welcome to the show it’s a pleasure to have you today.

Nir:
Thank you, Andrew, it’s so good to be here.

Andrew:
Yeah. I think your book Hooked has been one of the top books I recommend to anyone building products and services and it’s one thing that’s always stuck.

I actually got it up on my shelf behind me sitting on the bookshelf. I read it two, three times and keep going over it. Maybe you just want to start a little bit about letting us know about yourself and how you came about writing the book Hooked and maybe we can dive into some of the tips and strategies you recommend there.

Nir:
Yeah thank you I appreciate your reading of the book and I’m so glad you found it helpful over the years. So yeah, the idea behind Hooked came out of my experience in the advertising and gaming technology business.

I started up two tech companies and at the intersection of my last company between the intersection of gaming and advertising, I saw a lot of companies come and go.

This was back in 2007 this was 2008 this was these iPhone had just come out the Apple app store wasn’t even out yet. Apps back then were not, today when you say apps everybody thinks smartphone apps. Apps back then meant Facebook apps and I got started in that world back when people were throwing sheep at each other if you remember those days.

We saw these different apps and companies grow to massive sizes, unprecedented size at unprecedented speed and I wanted to understand how these companies did it. I wanted to understand the deeper psychology behind how these companies were getting so big, so quickly and I kind of had this front row seat.

I was at Stanford at the time and I had the front row seat to the rise of Facebook and Instagram and Whatsapp and Slack and Twitter and I really wanted to understand how these companies do it and I had this hypothesis after my last company was acquired.

I had this hypothesis that the companies that would make it in the future, what I was seeing, my hypothesis was that the companies that would really make it in the future were the ones that build consumer habits.

Customer retention and engagement is really the defining characteristic, the business characteristic of our age today and so I really wanted to understand how to do that. How do you build the kind of products that create habits and the reason I had this epiphany was I thought I would start another company and I wanted to understand what kind of company should I start and so I wanted to understand okay I know I want to build a company that builds a habit. How do you build a habit-forming product? And I didn’t see any book like that.

The reason I had such a strong conviction about that hypothesis was that I could see that the interface was shrinking meaning when we went from desktop to laptops to mobile devices and now to wearable devices like smartwatches, and now most recently to audible type interfaces like the amazon echo or Microsoft Cortana or Google Home exactly.

Now there is no more screen interface and what that means is as the interface shrank and eventually disappeared habits became more important. Meaning if you’re not on the home screen of someone’s phone how do they see you, how do they know you exist? If you’re on somebody’s smartwatch, right if you’re some little complication on their smartwatch or if you’re on the Amazon echo or Google Home if they don’t remember to ask for you, you might as well not exist. So as the interface shrank habits became even more important because there just isn’t the room to externally trigger people with the notifications and messages and calls to action. So habits matter even more in this age of shrinking ubiquitous technology. I didn’t find a book that taught people how to do that.

I read Charles Duhigg’s power of habit which I thought was fantastic, but it wasn’t written for product managers. I wanted something that was written for people who build products because I know how hard it is to build the kind of product that actually changes people’s behavior but I didn’t find a book that taught me how to do that.

So I spent about two years researching and writing. I started publishing in my blog what I was learning and frankly, I was just writing it for myself. I wasn’t looking for an audience but then people started reading it I started getting some great feedback. And one of my professors from business school called me and said look I really like your stuff, what if we taught a class together. So we put together this class on behavioral design, I taught for many years at the Stanford graduate school of business, then I taught at the design school of Stanford.

Then I published Hooked and that book did phenomenally well. Thankfully I’m so glad that it had an impact and yeah the rest is history and now I teach and consult. I’m writing another book which we can talk about later called Indistractable. So that’s what brings me here today.

Andrew:
Nice, yeah it definitely is an amazing book and I was actually thinking about it the other day that it doesn’t only specifically apply to products the concepts obviously ’cause you’ve taken them from basic psychology but I had like even looking at a simple concept like surfing and I was trying to think like why I have become so interested and engaged in surfing?

Then I was thinking about the different hook model going through the reward and the available rewards you’ll go out and some days you don’t know if it’s good or if it’s bad and then you put more time and practice in and investments and then as you get better it just becomes more and more exciting and you start to build these habits.

Nir:
Absolutely, that’s true. That’s a huge compliment in it because I think when I figure it out this hook model and I can walk everybody through the four steps, but when I figure it out you’re right, you start seeing it everywhere because it’s not something that only appears in tech products. It’s something that appears in anything that’s engaging and habit-forming online or offline so you’re right. You actually do start seeing the world a little different and start saying oh, I see what you’re doing there. That’s part of the hook model.

Andrew:
Exactly so maybe you wanted to talk us through the hook model a little bit and let us know how it works.

Nir:
Sure absolutely. So let’s start with this. So the hook model basically answers this question in a product development context it’s a tool to help you answer what do we build next and this is a problem at both tech companies that I helped start we constantly had this question. If you’re an adherent to lean startup methodologies this is a constant problem.

What do we build next? Do we build what the loudest customer says we should build? Do we build what the highest paid person in the room says we should build? God forbid do we build what the investors think we should build? What do we build next?

So what typically happens in most companies it’s whatever the highest paid person’s opinion right? The hippo in the room the highest paid person’s opinion which is frankly kind of a crappy way to decide what to build next.

So what I wanted to offer to the product design community is a framework, a model that we can turn to and say hey look if engagement and retention is a problem how do we diagnose what’s wrong with our product in order to fix it?

Right now it’s a big guessing game. So instead of just guessing, instead of just saying hey boss what do you think we should do or even talking to customers frankly. I mean we have to talk to customers, but many times we just do what the loudest customer says we should do and that’s not always a very good methodology. What I propose is that we use this 50, 60-year-old research into consumer psychology to help guide our decision making.

So I put together a lot of very well established research in the field into a very simple, but not simplistic model and that model goes like this.

That embedded into the user experience of any habit-forming product is a hook. The definition of a hook is an experienced designed to connect a user’s problem with the customer… let me start over. Connecting the user’s problem with your product with enough frequency to form a habit. Let me say that again. Connecting the user’s problem with your product with enough frequency to form a habit and every hook has these four fundamental steps.

The first step is called the trigger and there are two types of trigger. The first type of trigger is called the external trigger which is something in our environment that tells us what to do next. It’s a ping, a ding, a ring, a notification. Something that tells you what to do next with some kind of information in your environment.

The next step is the action phase. The action phase is defined as the simplest behavior done in anticipation of a reward. So it’s a scroll on Pinterest. It’s a search on Google. It’s pushing the play button on YouTube. It’s incredibly simple discreet actions, done in anticipation of an immediate reward.

Then comes the variable reward phase which we were just talking about earlier. These variable rewards tend to utilize the Skinnerian principle of intermittent reinforcement. That we have variability and mystery around an experience and it becomes more engaging and therefore more habit forming and this isn’t something that has been recently invented.

This has been observed for ages. It’s what makes slot machines engrossing if not all out addictive to some people. That’s a variable reward. You think about what makes uh, watching sports on TV so engaging, variable rewards. What makes a movie fun? Variable rewards. What makes love and romance interesting? Variable rewards. All of these things, the uncertainty, the unpredictableness, the mystery of an experience is a big part, is the engine of something like the hook model and behind all of these habit-forming products.

Then finally the last step of the hook is called the investment phase and the investment phase is where the user puts something into the product in anticipation of some kind of future benefit.

They do this in two ways, number one they load the next trigger. So something that they do that brings themselves back. For example, if you send someone a message on Slack or Whatsapp, you’re loading the next trigger because you’re likely to get a reply. That’s called loading the next trigger then you’re sent through the hook once again when you get that external trigger of someone replying.

The second way that investments increase the likelihood of the next pass of the hook is that they store value. Something that the user does that makes the product better and better with use. So giving the company data, content, followers, reputation any one of these actions increase the value of the product through this principle of stored value and make it sticky, make it a little hard to leave the product because you’ve invested so much into it.

The net result of these four steps of the hook is that eventually through successive passes of these hooks external trigger, action, reward, investment eventually you no longer need the external trigger. You remember I talked earlier about the two types of triggers. The second type of trigger is called the internal trigger which is actually where we start designing a habit-forming product in the first place.

The internal trigger, unlike an external trigger which is something in our environment that tells us what to do next. The internal trigger is something that queues the user to action from within their own heads.

So it typically is in the form of a negative emotion when we’re feeling bored we check YouTube or Reddit. When we’re lonely we look at Facebook. When we’re uncertain we Google. It’s connecting your product to a negative emotion, to a pain point. In fact, the only reason that human beings do anything is to escape discomfort. So the goal of a habit-forming product is to connect the experience of feeling that negative emotion to the automatic use of that product to relieve that discomfort.

You’re never creating pain, that’s sadistic, that’s unethical. What you’re doing is finding that pain and discomfort in the user’s life and connecting your product’s use to that discomfort so that automatically out of habit they’re using a product or service with little or no conscious thought.

Andrew:
Interesting. You mentioned something as well at the very beginning obviously the hook model is all about connecting a user’s problem with your solution and enough frequency to establish a habit.

Nir:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Andrew:
But what point does frequency, how big of a role does frequency play in establishing habits and what products are suitable to forming habits?

Nir:
Yeah that’s a terrific question. So in frequency is the number one reason that I tell a company sorry your product is not going to become habit and let me be very clear. Not every product has to be habit-forming in order to be a successful product or successful company. Lots of businesses are not habit forming and this typically happens because they’re not used frequently enough.

So for example home insurance, right? You don’t use home insurance out of habit, you buy it, you sit on it and God forbid you should ever have to use it, it’s not something you want to use. You just pay your bill every year and it’s fine. You don’t use it frequently and that’s fine there’s nothing wrong with that kind of business. The only thing is if you have a product that does not form a habit, then you need to find some kind of other barrier to entry.

What happens with products that aren’t habit forming unless there’s some kind of competitive mote, you’re always competing on price and features and price and features and price and features. Geico comes out and says buy Geico home insurance or car insurance and we’ll save you 15 percent in 15 minutes and then their competitor comes out and says oh, yeah we’ll save you 20 percent in 12 minutes. So they’re always fighting on price and features.

A habit-forming product has this amazing competitive advantage because it’s used with little or no conscious thought that people don’t consider whether a better product or service is there even. Right, so think about Google. If I poll I do these talks in front of large audiences and I’ll ask 1,000 people hey raise your hand if you’ve used Google in the past 24 hours and almost every hand in the room will shoot up. Then I say well who’s used Bing the number two search engine? You know maybe one or two former Microsoft employees will raise their hand.

Why is that? Is it because Google has such a better product or service? Have these geniuses built a better algorithm? No it’s rubbish.

In fact, people can’t tell the difference between the two. Third party studies have found you can’t tell the difference between the two when you strip out the branding, it’s a 50/50 preference split. But we Google stuff purely out of habit. We don’t actually ask ourselves hm, before I Google this I wonder is there a better search engine available, we just do it with little or no conscious thought out of habit.

So if you don’t build a habit you are constantly at the mercy of a competitor based on fighting for price and features which is not the worst thing in the world but it means you have to fight a lot harder than a product that has built a habit.

So the criteria for building this habit is a frequency test. Larry Page one of the founders of Google calls it the toothbrush test but he doesn’t want to work on any product that is not used with the same frequency of a toothbrush, meaning twice a day. Now I’m a little it less, I’m not quite that stringent. I think the line of demarcation is about a week’s time. This doesn’t matter if you’re an enterprise web or consumer web, offline, online doesn’t matter. In order for a product to form a habit it has to be used within a week’s time or less or it’s almost impossible.

There are some rare exceptions that we can talk about what those exceptions are. But almost without exception if the product is not used within a week’s time or less it’s almost impossible to form a habit. Now that doesn’t mean that you need to necessarily buy with that product.

So buying is almost never the habit. Particularly in E-commerce I get a lot of people who I consult for in the E-commerce space and they want to make buying from the site a habit and that’s a huge mistake because they’re so focused on getting people to check out and they forget about the opportunity to help people check in.

It’s almost never going to be the purchase that is part of the habit because buying something requires a lot of conscious thought. It’s the [inaudible 00:36:51] of a habit. What we want to do is figure out ways for people to check in, to engage with our product frequently enough and the result of that engagement is guess what? Eventual monetization. So monetization is a result of engagement, not the other way around.

Andrew:
I think a very good story about this was actually the case of Zillow and transitioning to different use cases. So obviously Zillow is a house sit you can go and find and buy a house which you typically don’t do everyday and not every month or even every year.

So what they ended up doing was taking another thing that you might be interested in is checking the evaluation of the house that you’ve just bought and associated with that. So trying to build a habit and to bring people to check out the evaluation so next time they go to buy a house it’s okay I’m going to go to Zillow because that’s the name I remember, that’s the name I’ve been using.

Nir:
Exactly and to some degree frankly Zillow relies upon Google’s habit right? So if you’ve never used Zillow before the onboarding strategy or if you rent from place to place the onboarding strategy is really Google, unfortunately. They have so much, Google has so much power in that habit of when I need anything I Google it that they’re piggybacking off of Google’s habit and hoping they’ll be one of the top three results.

But you’re absolutely right after you buy the house now you’ve invested. They ask you put in your name, claim your property and we’ll send you updates. Well what is that? That’s the investment that loads the next trigger so that hey if your property goes up in value, somebody wants to offer you a bidding price, it goes down in value and whatever they have a reason to reach out to you so that when you think about selling your home who you’re going to go to.

Andrew:
Exactly. So we spoke a little bit about triggers and internal diving into action a little bit and I think one of the things that stood out and I think I’ve heard it a few different places one was in your book and Anthony Robbins talks about it quite a bit is that people do things for one of two reasons. It’s either to seek pleasure or to avoid pain. So maybe you want to talk a little bit about that.

Nir:
That’s wrong. Yeah let me talk about it a little bit because I actually used to believe that too. In fact, everybody used to believe that. It’s not Tony Robbins who invented that it’s Freud.

It’s called the pleasure principle that all human behavior is motivated by the desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain. It’s not exactly right. It’s shorthand. In fact what we see and neurologically speaking is that it’s pain all the way down.

Everything we do, every product we buy, every action we take fundamentally is to escape discomfort. It’s just pain all the way down. In fact, even the desire for pleasure is in fact uncomfortable. When we think about all the love songs that have been written about how love hurts. It’s really about this discomfort, this pain that we’re seeking to escape by getting what we want.

What this reinforces, you know I get this question a lot of why do we only look for internal triggers that are painful emotions? Aren’t people motivated by the desire to share or to do something nice?

Well not really. Technically that’s not exactly true and I don’t want product managers to go look for these times when people are not in pain because what they tend to do is piss people off and bug them too much.

I’ll give you a good antidote to illustrate the point. I was on a trans-con flight and I was sitting in the aisle and there was this guy on the other aisle seat across from me who was asleep. Clearly passed out, he had his blanket up to his neck. He had a big pillow there, clearly passed out.

The flight attendant comes by and she says sir, this guy is sleeping right? She doesn’t wake him up. So she says it again she says sir. And he still doesn’t wake up and now people are kind of looking around like why is this flight attendant bothering this guy and so she says it a third time and she almost shouts she says Sir! And he wakes up and he’s like whoa what is it, what is it. And she says sir what would you like to drink. And this is a great example right, people laugh at that story aha, that’s so mean to do why did she do that.

Andrew:
That has happened to me as well before.

Nir:
Guess what we as product designers do this to people all the time. We bother them when they’re not in pain and that is wrong. We need to stop doing that and how do we do it? We send them pings and dings and rings and notifications on our schedule instead of their schedule.

Did this guy want a drink? Yes, when he was thirsty not when he was sleeping. So we have to remember this rule. The difference between an external trigger that feels like spam and one that feels like magic is one word. That one word is context. We have got to start being smarter about how we send these external triggers. We have to think about the context with which our users are using our product and that’s why it all starts from this internal trigger.

Being able to articulate what is that internal trigger that occurs frequently enough that we want to attach our product use to and that’s when you send the external trigger, not whenever you feel like it.

Andrew:
So what would some of those internal triggers look like and maybe take a SaaS application, what would a typical trigger look like?

Nir:
Sure, so think of any negative emotion state boredom, uncertainty, fatigue, discomfort, loneliness any of these is stress, any of these things can be internal triggers.

So when you think about a saas type application I don’t know, take your pick. If it’s Slack for example, well Slack is using this internal trigger of uncertainty about what’s going on today in my office. It just replaced the water cooler conversation for a lot of folks. So it’s this fomo, this fear. Fear is an uncomfortable emotional state that we seek to escape from.

If you think of any product or service fundamentally if you dig deep enough it is always used because of some negative emotional state.

Andrew:
Okay. Then talking as well like how do frequency and triggers align with one another. We talked about this constant dinging going through, how should one go about aligning their notifications or their triggers with the frequency or use of their product.

Nir:
Yeah so it’s really about understanding when your customer feels that internal trigger. What’s the uncomfortable emotional state that they feel with the frequency of at least a week’s time or less.

Then figuring out when in their day do they feel that internal trigger and some of this is some common sense type stuff. But companies never do it, almost never do it. They never sit down and actually I learned this technique from Jack Dorsey he talked about this in talking to him at Stanford about writing a user narrative and he’s done this at Square, he’s done this at Twitter.

The idea is you write this storyline of here’s our customer, here’s their typical day, here’s when they feel the internal trigger and here’s when they would use our product to scratch that itch.

It reads just like a play and everybody in the company understands that story. It’s a very, very powerful technique but most companies don’t even take the time to understand that story. Maybe they’ll do a story mapping, but that’s after the person is already in the product.

What you need to do is opposed to just doing the user flow which is important is what happens before the user got to the product. What was the internal trigger that they felt right if it’s a SaaS type product and it’s let’s say it’s Trello for example, well Trello solves its problem of not knowing what to do. You know that feeling you sit down at your desk and say man what’s the most important thing I need to do right now. I don’t know that feels uncomfortable, that’s uncertainty. So the solution is open up Trello and ah, okay that’s the thing that I got to do today.

Understanding what is in your user’s life, what’s the routine. What are the steps they take in their day that they feel this negative emotion and then that’s where you insert the use of your product and everything is built based on solving that pain point.

So for example the variable reward phase a lot of companies got into gamification over the past few years and gamification typically is crap because what tends to happen is not that it’s always bad, but it tends to be misused because people say oh, gamification I got it. I’ll just add points and badges and then people will want to use my stuff. Well that almost never works because it’s not aligned with the internal trigger. So if the internal trigger is boredom, well then points and badges and leaderboards are great because they’re fun, they’re entertaining. But what if I’m not feeling boredom, what if I’m feeling uncertainty, workplace stress, fatigue whatever it might be. You’ve got to figure out how to solve that internal trigger or the reward won’t be rewarding.

Andrew:
Yeah. On that as well rewards I think is definitely another sort of thing that would come up and you touched on as well. For me as well I’ve noticed this is one of those big sort of things is the variable reward concept and you touched a little bit on slot machines earlier which I want to touch on ethical products going forward. But let’s get through rewards quickly for now. How do people go about understanding what sort of rewards should be put into the product and how can the reward use in the variable fashion?

Nir:
Yeah so it really has to be about what we just talked about, about internal triggers. About first and foremost understanding what is that user’s itch. There has to be a connection between the variable reward and the internal trigger. If you don’t do that your product won’t be used sufficiently because remember the whole point is to create this connection in the user’s mind between what pain I feel and what solves that problem, what alleviates that pain? What scratches that itch? So if you don’t closely understand that internal trigger how could you possibly figure out what the variable reward should be.

Now, some products want to insert variability so you’re scrolling Facebook or Slack or any number of other services there’s this variability around what you might find when you scroll one of these products. There’s uncertainty what do people say, what do they comment on, how many likes does something get. A lot of variability there.

But some products don’t want to necessarily insert variability they want to give the user greater agency and control over something that’s already variable. So think about a saas product for example that tracks your marketing spend for example. Or any number of any other dashboard type interfaces. Well those are variable rewards, right? The chart is going up and down and the uncertainty of oh, is what I’m doing working? All of those things I have to check in everyday to see how I’m doing. How my efforts are progressing. So those are variable rewards and what these products are doing is they’re giving the user greater agency and control over something that’s already variable, it’s already hard to control. They’re doing it through this display, the interface of a chart, a graph, something that’s changing from day to day.

Andrew:
Yeah I think the graph is actually a very good one to talk about the next thing which is the stored value aspect and the investment. I think this is one the bigger things for me personally that makes products sticky as you say. It’s like over time people have this personal investment in a product or service to make it difficult. So having data, historical data is definitely one of those things. What is the importance and how do you see the stored value coming into the investment in the model?

Nir:
So the investment phase is arguably the most important of the four steps of the hook because this is what’s really different in this day and age. This is where interactive product has a huge competitive advantage.

A product that gets better with use and this continues this long line from the industrial revolution until today of the cycle time between a customer recognizing a need and a product adapting to that product’s need. That has accelerated and I call this concept contingency and the idea is that products are getting better and faster at changing their specifications based on the user’s needs and the users in return are changing how they use a product to meet the product specification. So it’s a two-sided change and this happens because of investment.

If you think about Henry Ford he is quoted with saying, I don’t know if he actually said it maybe it was misinterpreted, but he’s famous for saying you can have any color of Model T as long as it’s black. So why did he say that? Well because it would have been really hard for him to retool his production line to make other colors.

Well then industry caught up and now you can have cars in all sorts of colors but it still takes time for a product to modify. Cars have model years and it takes them a long time to make the product better and better. Well, today if you think about these world-changing companies, the most valuable companies in the world like Facebook and Google and Amazon and these companies, Apple. These companies have made products each and every one of them that changed in real time based on your data.

So you are co-creating the platform with the company. So when you add data like what your interested in, every time you search for something in Google, every time you click a video on YouTube, every time you friend somebody on Facebook you are co-creating the experience based on the data you give these companies because they’re making it better for you next time you engage with the product and they spend a lot of time and effort perfecting their algorithms to give you what they hope you will like.

Now they’re not always right and they’re still in the mason baby stages of using this data. But this is something that almost no small business does and I think what we’ll see over the next few years is a democratization of this technique.

All sorts of products will improve with use, they will remember the data you’ve given them. If you’re thinking about the vast majority of products out there it’s kind of one size fits all. Well what we’re going to see is increasing personalization based on the data you give these companies.

Andrew:
Yeah I can definitely see that and it’s a trend that’s growing more and more in popularity. Data and I think that’s definitely a touchy subject as well for a lot of people with the amount of data that we’re sharing now online.

You touched as well earlier about a product like the casino slot machines and how do you see the hook model and the habit-forming products as a methodology when it comes to ethics and building products that people are using for good as opposed to personal gain or for capital gains.

Nir:
Yeah so I thought about this topic a lot. I actually put in my book Hooked I have a section called the morality of manipulation. Then I’ve worked on this question since then as well and so what I was looking for was a test that we can use when we’re in a situation with our colleagues, our boss and somebody wants to use a tactic that maybe people aren’t very into or they think might be unethical.

How do you raise your hand and say I’m not so sure about this technique where there’s these design patterns called dark patterns that all share a common trait and that is that they’re coercive.

So I think this is how we decide whether a tactic is ethical or unethical in the particular application of the technique. Remember the same exact technique that can be shady, unethical in one respect can be perfectly great in another.

I’ll give you an example. Some tech critics like to use Snapchat, they use this technique of streaks. This is a known behavioral design technique where the idea is that if you don’t do a certain behavior, if you don’t write somebody back on Snapchat everyday then you’ll break the chain and so those streaks stop. Well you know people say this is terrible this is psychological manipulation, yeah but the same technique was used years earlier by Duo Lingo to help people learn a new language.

So it’s never the technique it’s the application of the technique and the dividing line is whether the user regrets the behavior. Is the behavior persuasive in which it’s trying to help people do something they want to do that they won’t regret, that they appreciate or is it something that coerces them into doing something they later regret and they wish they hadn’t done.

So that’s really the dividing line behind using these techniques is would the user regret using this product? So I don’t believe, I don’t like Google’s line of don’t be evil. What the hell? Evil is such a subjective term.

Andrew:
Subjective.

Nir:
The golden rule doesn’t work because do on to others as you would have them do unto you that doesn’t really work because that makes you the final arbitrator of what people need which is not right either.

Disclosure doesn’t work because then we get what we have today where we just put everything. We don’t want people to know in the terms of service and we say well we told you, why didn’t you read the terms of service.

None of those tactics are the right ethical bar. I think we need a higher ethical bar of the regret test. Like literally if there’s a potentially shady tactic we should call people into a room which we as product designers do all the time, it’s called user testing.

You call people into a room and you have them go through your user flow and the question you need to ask yourself is would the user want to do what we designed for them to do knowing everything we know?

So this directly applies to the use of data and the unethical use of data because what we find in every single incident where people get pissed off about data being used inappropriately, is that they regret the way the data was used.

All these could have been tested, right? Facebook could have said you know what I’m not really sure if people will regret if we did this to them. Well why don’t we just call in ten people and ask them, it’s not that hard to do. Well, you say companies don’t have that incentive. Bullshit they do. If Facebook had done that stuff they wouldn’t have the backlash they have today. People aren’t stupid, there’s a mass exodus from Facebook today and it will only continue and it’s a big problem for Facebook for Facebook property.

Now they’re gaining people on Instagram because Instagram doesn’t do a lot of the stuff that shady Facebook property did even though it’s the same company. But this regret test can be used at any size organization and it’s very cheap to do such a test and it has this chilling effect and if you raise your hand and say hey you know boss we should really do our regret test on this because I’m not sure people would appreciate it if we did that to them, that has a chilling effect.

90 percent of the time you won’t have to do the regret test ’cause people will be so scared doing it that they won’t implement the technique.

In this day and age look you can only trick people so many times before they say hey this company sucks. I’m not happy with this company, not only do they not do business with you anymore, they’re going to tell all their friends on social media to not do business with your company anymore. So that’s why it’s in the business’ interest to do these regret tests anytime that there’s this worry of hey is this an ethical tactic to use.

Andrew
I think that you’ve hit the nail on the head. If you’re asking the question you probably already know the answer.

Nir:
That’s also part of it and I’m so thankful that now people are asking this question. But I think it needs to be framed properly because you know if we use Google’s test of don’t be evil, you can always kind of put your ethical standards on the user and say it’s kind of okay, it’s not evil. But if you use the regret test of would someone regret doing what we design for them to do that is eminently testable. We can just ask people and find out.

Andrew
Yeah. So maybe we could just finish up then by you touched on the beginning as well a little bit about the next book that’s coming out. Why have you decided to write this now. I think it falls a little bit in line with as well with what you’re talking about.

Nir:
Absolutely. So a question I frequently got when I was teaching folks about how to build habit-forming products and just to be clear I didn’t write Hooked for Facebook and Google the gaming companies. They already knew these techniques. They are the companies that I use as examples so that the rest of us, I didn’t think it was fair that just those companies knew these techniques.

I want everybody out there who’s building habits to improve people’s lives. Companies that help people save money and exercise more and be more productive with work, this is where we can use habits for good. All sorts of companies can use these techniques. So I didn’t write the book for Facebook and Twitter and Google they already knew these techniques. I wrote it for everybody else.

But the question I constantly got asked was okay well how do I get unhooked?

I’m seeing that my employees are not as productive as they could be. I see that my kids are using technology in a way that’s distracting and myself, my own story I struggled at one point even though I knew how these products work, I struggled with distraction. So my next book is called Indistractable and it answers this age-old question of why don’t we do the things we know we should do?

That self-help books each promise you the secret to living the life you want and you know what the fact is, we all know. We all know if you want to lose weight exercise more and eat less. Pretty much, right? With a few exceptions that’s it. If you want to be more productive at work you got to do the work. If you want to have better relationships with your friends and family you have to be present for your family. There is no secret. But why don’t we do the things we know we need to do?

So that’s really the question of the book and it’s a lot of it is about technological distraction, but it’s a bigger topic than that because what I found in my five years of research working on this book is that distraction starts from within.

So the book really starts with how do we understand what are we exactly escaping from? If we see ourselves using our iPhone at the dinner table because we can’t stand to be with our family, it’s not the iPhone that’s doing it to us. There’s something else going on and so that’s really the exploration of the book it’s about these deeper internal triggers that drive us to behave in ways that we don’t always like unless we understand the ways to not get distracted. So that’s why I call it the skill of the century because I think if you’re looking for distraction it’s going to be easier and easier to find it. So my hope is to get people the skills and the tools to stop distractions so that they can do what they really want to do in life.

Andrew
I think that’s a perfect segway to end this show and obviously I think everybody listening to this really are looking to try and tackle and increase their attention in their business. So it can help you by stopping you by being distracted with the show and getting back to work and making things happen. Nir thanks so much for joining us today.

Nir:
My pleasure thank you so much. Thank you.

Andrew
I appreciate it. Thanks.

Nir:
Yeah. Absolutely.