Are You Getting Hooked?

It is an age old truism that when it comes to kids, and the choices they make, parents will always find things to worry about.

Choices_Kids_MakeI recall, for example, from my own (pre-children, pre-web, pre-mobile, pre-Internet-of-everything) not-too-too-distant past the pre-occupation of parents with the literacy skills of their children.  I also remember “Hooked On Phonics” , a phenomenon of the early 1990s, marketed and sold through extensive television and radio advertising as a teaching tool to help address those reading challenges.

So what’s the connection to today’s blog?

Nothing really.  Other than the “hooked” theme.

My mind wandered as I read Hooked: How To Build Habit Forming Products, a “how to” / “self-help” book that is currently popular in the start-up community and thought about its application to organizational design (yeah, I know, I have some exciting stuff going on up there!!).


Why  so popular?

Because it offers start-up companies and budding entrepreneurs a roadmap to help them accelerate adoption for their products and services….and, presumably, achieve the fame and fortune that goes along with that.

Eyal begins from the premise that “the technologies we use have turned into compulsions, if not full-fledged addictions” and describes this as an inevitable outcome of the current technology development paradigm, reflecting the pre-meditated objectives of their designers.

Any parent concerned about the choices their kids are making about texting, mobile usage, and hours online can relate to this technology “addiction” concept – its existence and its power.  In a world of short character txt msgs, concerns about literacy have probably taken a distant back seat!!

But hasn’t this process of worrying about fads and addictions been going on for a long time?

Weren’t our parents worried about us getting “hooked” – on too much TV? or worse, on drugs?

Is something genuinely different going on?

Hook, Line and Sinker

Eyal seems to think so.

He suggests that for many (though acknowledging not all) producers, this deliberate, pre-meditated process of creating habit forming connections between your product or service and the end user is “imperative for survival in a world of infinite distractions that compete for our attentions” and where traditional marketing and sales strategies, tools and approaches are “long gone” in terms of effectiveness.

Eyal uses Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and other recent technology phenomenon as case study exhibits of the successful application his theory.  He also avoids the “results oriented reasoning” trap by supplementing these showcase examples with research conducted across a broader group of successes and failures, including his ownpast start-ups.

The concept of a “canvas” is a popular buzzword in technology circles these days, particularly among those interested in starting new businesses who are (and most are) following the lean startup model.

In this context, and by dissecting these successes and failures, Eyal offers the “Hook Model” as a canvas that organizations interested in creating innovative and “sticky” product and service experiences can follow to achieve their “addiction” objectives.

As he says there is significant payoff for those successful in doing so since “through consecutive Hook cycles, successful products reach their ultimate goal of unprompted user engagement, bringing users back repeatedly, without depending on costly advertising or aggressive messaging”.

The four steps driving most successful design initiatives?

  • Triggers – the external and internal triggers that attract users  and encourage them to form associations between existing behaviors and emotions that become linked to the product or service.
  • Actions – the user behavior done in anticipation of a reward, built on attention to product design (usability and the user experience) and the psychological motivation (the why) of users to do it.
  • Variable Rewards – the use of “rewards” intended to induce cravings to drive attraction and interest in the experience offered by the product or service
  • Investment – the encouragement of the user to invest something of value into the product or service, such as time, data, effort, social capital or money.

This disciplined approach to design, environment and measurement “connects user problems with a company’s solution frequently enough to form a habit – a behavior done with little or no conscious thought”.

Those interested can follow up on the details by buying the book or getting it from your public library. My library, the Toronto Public Library, is awesome.  I hope yours is too.  It is a great way to promote literacy, even in today’s hyper-connected world.  Thank you Andrew Carnegie.

For now, and for the rest of us guinea pigs using these tools, it is sufficient to know this.  Famous Silicon Valley investor, start-up guru and Y-Combinator co-founder Paul Graham has observed that based on current technology trends “the world will get more addictive in the next 40 years than it did in the last 40”.  So sit back and be ready to get even more hooked up in years to come!

Hooked_UpChoice Architecture and Organizational Design

One of the most interesting aspects of Eyal’s book is its frame of reference – applying principles of choice architecture to the product management lifecycle of technology companies.

This notion of using technology design to create habitual usage and even unconscious, oft repeated behaviors also got me thinking about other aspects of organizational design – our workspaces, where and how we work, and the processes we put in place that affect people and the relationships between and among them.  How can these designs be improved, and made habit forming in a positive way?

How do senior managers and HR professionals and consultants leverage these insights and tools to create stronger “hooks” into their organizations, taking into account our all too-human behaviors as employees?

As we know, organizational designs come in many types.

In past blogs we have written about what organizational design involves and the significant influence our environments have on the way we think and the choices we make.

Choice architecture “is used to describe the different ways in which choices can be presented to consumers, and the impact of that presentation on the decisions they make. For example, the number of choices presented, the manner in which attributes are described, and the presence of a “default” can all influence consumer choice.”

In Hooked, Eyal explains how, and why, technology designers create the environments they do and what their impact is on their audiences.

More generally, the phenomenon of “choice architecture” is manifesting itself elsewhere in our lives – in everything from the “nudge teams” in government bureaucracies working to promote “personally and socially desirable behaviors like saving for retirement, choosing healthier foods, or registering as an organ donor”, to companies focused on enhancing the design of the physical and virtual spaces we work in to make our work life outcomes better.  Organimi is one of these companies.

Did you know about the White House “nudge squad“?  Or the UK Behavioural Insights Team?  These organizations use “choice architecture to nudge consumers toward personally and socially desirable behaviors like saving for retirement, choosing healthier foods, or registering as an organ donor. These interventions are often justified by the fact that well-designed choice architectures can compensate for irrational decision-making biases to improve consumer welfare.”

If this all sounds too unreal for words, you can see who is on the Behavioral Insights Team at the Organimi chart we have shared here and also copied below, as we track down the choice architects, hoping and assuming they are forces for good – good choices anyway – in the world we live and work in today:

Where are The Organizational Design Choice Architects?

So who is writing the “Hooked” playbook for organizational design and choice architecture?

The University of Michigan’s syllabus for a computer science program nicely summarizes the themes and trends in choice architecture as follows:

“Our errors are what make us human, but up until now, they have been largely ignored by systems designers, whether these designers make complex public policy, manage a team or design an information system. But knowing how people think, we can become choice architects who design environments that both yield better decision making on the part of users, and achieve behavior that is consistent with overall system goals while gaining a competitive design-edge. The first goal of this course is to inform future information system professionals, designers and managers about human decision rules and their associated biases so that these insights can be incorporated into their design, business or management strategies. Knowledge of these issues can be a significant source of competitive advantage because they are unknown to most information systems professionals and they are not taught in most I-schools. The second goal of this course is to clarify how these results can be leveraged to create original and more effective systems and institutions that meet the designer’s goals.

Teppo Felin of Oxford University takes this a step further in his paper “Nudge: Manager as Choice Architect” noting that research in the field of choice architecture has “important implications for managers, HR professionals and organizations. In essence, employees are consumers of choice and are constantly confronted with a large array and interface of options, and this interface can be designed so as to maximize individual welfare and organizational outcomes.”  His paper outlines “how managers can design effective choice architectures for the management of human capital” in such areas as 1) nudge hiring, 2) nudge training and development, 3) nudge human capital and organization, and 4) nudge strategy and innovation.”

In “Power to the Architects” Luc Gallopin celebrates the role of the choice architect in organizational design and reminds his readers that “every interaction you have with your target group is an intervention – like it or not. Every time you interact you are shaping the response unknowingly.”

The benefits of choice architecture include everything from health improvement outcomes (by framing employees’ health care decisions and presenting choices to them in a very deliberate manner) to superior bottom line performance (by deliberately advancing the role and scope of activities of women in boards of directors and senior management decision making).

In the health improvement area, for example, the conscious efforts of change architects to optimize the lifestyle choices of their employees help attract, retain and develop healthy, high-performing, engaged employees, delivering significant bottom line improvement.  According to research these benefits include:

  • 9 percent lower health costs (per person),
  • 22 percent lower health care cost increases (per person),
  • 33 percent lower turnover,
  • 36 percent lower rates of extended
    absence, and
  • 17 percent lower workers’
    compensation costs.

Source: Results from Sibson’s Healthy Enterprise Study

Balancing Hooking Up with Freedom of Choice

Christopher Goldsmith, a consulting health and wellness “change architect” notes that “although the employer’s desire is to nudge workers toward better decisions, choice architecture preserves individual freedom of choice.  The effective choice architect recognizes that employees are motivated differently, think differently and are at various stages of readiness for change. It is useful to characterize a workforce into various “behavioral segments” because each segment responds best to specific types and styles of tailored communications.”

His organization, like others in this emerging field, suggest for example that employers interested in improving employee wellness programs and outcomes should ensure all their health care communications follow these six rules of effective behavioral messaging:

  1.      Establish personal relevance by using familiar references and consistent branding and involving caring leaders, who are admired and liked, from various communities of interest.
  2.      Trigger emotional responses, including hope, fear, excitement, love, greed and caring.
  3.      Define clear choices about health vs. illness and consumerism vs. waste.
  4.      Convey the value of making smart choices that save employees time and money while helping them feel and perform better.
  5.      Ask employees to complete a small, relevant task, such as crumbling up a cigarette, identifying an urgent care center near home or programming their wellness/health coach’s number into their phone.
  6.      Guide employees to the best available resources by scheduling an appointment or providing directions and a map.

Some Final Thoughts On Being Hooked

As one commentator notes “even when incentives are “aligned” with overall system goals, there are many instances where we make poor choices because as human beings, we are all susceptible to a wide array of routine biases that can lead to an equally wide array of unwanted and unintended outcomes and decisions.”

I made a good choice I think last weekend by taking some long overdue time off, and heading up north with the fam — in minus 25 weather if you can believe it —  to face winter head on for a long weekend of cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoes, hot tubs and R&R…not hooked into anything.  It was great to unwind and reconnect, surrounded by a winter wonderland.

This emerging area of choice architecture, the study of our decision flaws and foibles, and the optimization of organizational designs to counter-balance them can be something we worry about, or something we embrace.  And there is no question that the “change architects” who want to change us and our behaviors need to understand the subjective biases and moral dimensions of their own work. But it seems obvious that better organizational designs, constructed by choice architects who know what  they are doing, and who are focused on improving people outcomes, while respecting and preserving their freedom of choice will be doing good work for all of us.

So, in wrapping up, it turns out that as much as parents worry about the choices their kids make, it is just as likely we are making less than optimal choices for ourselves.

Kids_Making_ChoicesGetting smarter at understanding why and how we do the things we do, and using that insight for improvement, seems like a good thing…and it has always been the case that some people are smarter then others and figure out a way to use that to their advantage.

My kids know that…as they constantly remind me!

If you want to get hooked on organizational design, and test your skills as a choice architect, start thinking about changing the way things look in your organization, with Organimi.

As always thanks for reading.