June 10, 2014

How to Motivate People, featuring Andrea Kuszewski & Nir Eyal

How do you get someone to do what you want them to? Andrea Kuszewski’s first answer is magic. Actually, it’s more about science. Andrea, a researcher at the Scientific Vortex Group, will be speaking at this year’s GSummit. There are two types of motivations, she says, which you might be familiar with if you’ve been following us regularly: Intrinsic and extrinsic. Something is intrinsically rewarding, Andrea explains, when just doing it makes you happy. It doesn’t require an incentive. Extrinsic is the opposite. You experience extrinsic happiness because something made you do it, like an incentive, a reward, or punishment. The key, she says, is to make your product intrinsically valuable. By accomplishing this, you make your audience want to engage in a desired behavior and ensure that they’ll come back to it time and time again. And punishment, by all means, should be avoided. Often, it does the exact opposite of what you intend. Restrictive behavior, such as telling your employee that she can’t have a green stapler, actually gives the restricted behavior more intrinsic value. Remember when you were little and mom told you that you couldn’t do something? What was the one thing you wanted to do most? Exactly. Rather than telling someone they can’t do something, create an alternative to that behavior. This requires intense study of your intended audience long before development and implementation. If you’re not spending the majority of time on the front end thinking of your audience, you’re wasting time, she says. When thinking about how to incorporate gamification, it’s easy to jump to offering points or a free product. It doesn’t take much to implement, and is often a fast solution. However, if you want people to put effort into your product, you have to put effort into encouraging them. The real science comes into to play when understanding this. At this point, we’re all probably familiar with the term dopamine. It’s reached buzzword status. Most of us think we know how it works.

Most of us, Andrea says, are wrong.

Initially, it was believed dopamine was responsible for us feeling pleasure. However, high levels of dopamine were also observed in persons with PTSD. It turns out that dopamine doesn’t exactly make us “feel happy.” It’s released in anticipation of something happening, and therefore more involved in motivating. Realizing this is fundamental to designing something that drives people to come back again and again. Andrea gives the example of television cliffhangers, which do it perfectly. I also had the chance to talk to Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. He set out to write Hooked after observing thousands of different techniques for driving user behavior but finding no guide to using these techniques. There was a lot of academic literature, he says, but not a lot of widely accessible material. When he finished compiling his research, he boiled everything down to four phases that a user has to experience for a game to be successfully habit-forming. First is the trigger. The user feels a certain way or comes across a certain thing, so they use the product. Next is the action. This is the most basic thing a person will do to obtain a reward. After taking the action, comes the variable reward. A good variable reward will “scratch the user’s itch while leaving more,” causing them to return. Last, and frequently overlooked, is investment. This causes the user to anticipate future benefit or reward. Good products allow for investment by storing data, which improves the user’s experience with every use. Nir gives Pinterest as an example of a company that has perfected the process. A user might see a product online they like—a shoe, a car, a recipe—and open Pinterest. They begin scrolling, a basic action. They then continue to scroll, looking for a specific item they might enjoy, which becomes its own reward. The user then joins the site and pins items, an investment which allows the site to further customize the content to their interests. Often, companies want to give users a fast, slick experience, something Nir says has been carried over from ecommerce. They want people to invest—asking them to sign up or register for something—before giving them the reward. It’s backwards, he says. Hit them with the reward first, and you’ll keep them coming back.
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