Nir Eyal : Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products (book highlights)

Note: The following are my personal highlights. If you like them, please consider buying the book.

  • The unsurprising response of your fridge light turning on when you open the door doesn’t drive you to keep opening it again and again. However, add some variability to the mix—suppose a different treat magically appears in your fridge every time you open it—and voilà, intrigue is created.
  • Like nail biting, many of our daily decisions are made simply because that was the way we have found resolution in the past. The brain automatically deduces that if the decision was a good one yesterday, then it is a safe bet again today and the action becomes a routine.
  • The unsurprising response of your fridge light turning on when you open the door doesn’t drive you to keep opening it again and again. However, add some variability to the mix—suppose a different treat magically appears in your fridge every time you open it—and voilà, intrigue is created.
  • Like nail biting, many of our daily decisions are made simply because that was the way we have found resolution in the past. The brain automatically deduces that if the decision was a good one yesterday, then it is a safe bet again today and the action becomes a routine.
  • For example, take Evernote, the popular note-taking and archiving software: It is free to use but the company offers upgraded features, such as offline viewing and collaboration tools, for a price—which many devoted users are happy to pay.
  • Gourville claims that for new entrants to stand a chance, they can’t just be better, they must be nine times better. Why such a high bar? Because old habits die hard and new products or services need to offer dramatic improvements to shake users out of old routines. Gourville writes that products that require a high degree of behavior change are doomed to fail even if the benefits of using the new product are clear and substantial.
  • Switching to a new e-mail service, social network, or photo-sharing app becomes more difficult the more people use them. The nontransferable value created and stored inside these services discourages users from leaving.
  • For one, new behaviors have a short half-life, as our minds tend to revert to our old ways of thinking and doing. Experiments show that lab animals habituated to new behaviors tend to regress to their first learned behaviors over time.12 To borrow a term from accounting, behaviors are LIFO—“last in, first out.” In other words, the habits you’ve most recently acquired are also the ones most likely to go soonest.
  • The enemy of forming new habits is past behaviors, and research suggests that old habits die hard. Even when we change our routines, neural pathways remain etched in our brains, ready to be reactivated when we lose focus.15 This presents an especially difficult challenge for product designers trying to create new lines or businesses based on forming new habits.
  • For new behaviors to really take hold, they must occur often.
  • Adapting to the differences in the Bing interface is what actually slows down regular Google users and makes Bing feel inferior, not the technology itself.
  • The more the product is used, the better the algorithm gets, and thus the more it is used.
  • Sometimes a behavior does not occur as frequently as flossing or Googling, but it still becomes a habit. For an infrequent action to become a habit, the user must perceive a high degree of utility, either from gaining pleasure or avoiding pain.
  • A company can begin to determine its product’s habit-forming potential by plotting two factors: frequency (how often the behavior occurs) and perceived utility (how useful and rewarding the behavior is in the user’s mind over alternative solutions).
  • a behavior that occurs with enough frequency and perceived utility enters the Habit Zone, helping to make it a default behavior. If either of these factors falls short and the behavior lies below the threshold, it is less likely that the desired behavior will become a habit.
  • The researchers also found that the complexity of the behavior and how important the habit was to the person greatly affected how quickly
  • Taking a vitamin is a “check it off your list” behavior we measure in terms of psychological, rather than physical, relief. We feel satisfied that we are doing something good for our bodies—even if we can’t tell how much good it is actually doing us.
  • But like so many innovations, we did not know we needed them until they became part of our everyday lives. Before making up your mind on the vitamin versus painkiller debate for some of the world’s most successful tech companies, consider this idea: A habit is when not doing an action causes a bit of pain.
  • DO THIS NOW If you are building a habit-forming product, write down the answers to these questions: What habits does your business model require? What problem are users turning to your product to solve? How do users currently solve that problem and why does it need a solution? How frequently do you expect users to engage with your product? What user behavior do you want to make into a habit?
  • More choices require the user to evaluate multiple options. Too many choices or irrelevant options can cause hesitation, confusion, or worse—abandonment.4 Reducing the thinking required to take the next action increases the likelihood of the desired behavior occurring unconsciously. We’ll explore this further in the next chapter.
  • Because paying for reengagement is unsustainable for most business models, companies generally use paid triggers to acquire new users and then leverage other triggers to bring them back.
  • Relationship triggers can create the viral hyper-growth entrepreneurs and investors lust after. Sometimes relationship triggers drive growth because people love to tell one another about a wonderful offer.
  • Owned triggers are only set after users sign up for an account, submit their e-mail address, install an app, opt in to newsletters, or otherwise indicate they want to continue receiving communications. While paid, earned, and relationship triggers drive new user acquisition, owned triggers prompt repeat engagement until a habit is formed. Without owned triggers and users’ tacit permission to enter their attentional space, it is difficult to cue users frequently enough to change their behavior.
  • Emotions, particularly negative ones, are powerful internal triggers and greatly influence our daily routines. Feelings of boredom, loneliness, frustration, confusion, and indecisiveness often instigate a slight pain or irritation and prompt an almost instantaneous and often mindless action to quell the negative sensation.
  • The severity of the discomfort may be relatively minor—perhaps her fear is below the perceptibility of consciousness—but that’s exactly the point. Our life is filled with tiny stressors and we’re usually unaware of our habitual reactions to these nagging issues.
  • Positive emotions can also serve as internal triggers, and may even be triggered themselves by a need to satisfy something that is bothering us. After all, we use products to find solutions to problems. The desire to be entertained can be thought of as the need to satiate boredom. A need to share good news can also be thought of as an attempt to find and maintain social connections.
  • Users who find a product that alleviates their pain will form strong, positive associations with the product over time. After continued use, bonds begin to form—like the layers of nacre in an oyster—between the product and the user whose need it satisfies. Gradually, these bonds cement into a habit as users turn to your product when experiencing certain internal triggers.
  • When bored, many people seek excitement and turn to dramatic news headlines. When we feel overly stressed, we seek serenity, perhaps finding relief in sites like Pinterest. When we feel lonely, destinations like Facebook and Twitter provide instant social connections.
  • Once we’re hooked, using these products does not always require an explicit call to action. Instead, they rely upon our automatic responses to feelings that precipitate the desired behavior. Products that attach to these internal triggers provide users with quick relief. Once a technology has created an association in users’ minds that the product is the solution of choice, they return on their own, no longer needing prompts from external triggers.
  • The association between an internal trigger and your product, however, is not formed overnight. It can take weeks or months of frequent usage for internal triggers to latch onto cues. New habits are sparked by external triggers, but associations with internal triggers are what keeps users hooked.
  • The ultimate goal of a habit-forming product is to solve the user’s pain by creating an association so that the user identifies the company’s product or service as the source of relief.
  • As Evan Williams, cofounder of Blogger and Twitter said, the Internet is “a giant machine designed to give people what they want.”8 Williams continued, “We often think the Internet enables you to do new things … But people just want to do the same things they’ve always done.”
  • You’ll often find that people’s declared preferences—what they say they want—are far different from their revealed preferences—what they actually do.
  • As Erika Hall, author of Just Enough Research writes, “When the research focuses on what people actually do (watch cat videos) rather than what they wish they did (produce cinema-quality home movies) it actually expands possibilities.”9 Looking for discrepancies exposes opportunities. Why do people really send text messages? Why do they take photos? What role does watching television or sports play in their lives? Ask yourself what pain these habits solve and what the user might be feeling right before one of these actions.
  • One method is to try asking the question “Why?” as many times as it takes to get to an emotion. Usually, this will happen by the fifth why. This is a technique adapted from the Toyota Production System, described by Taiichi Ohno as the “5 Whys Method.” Ohno wrote that it was “the basis of Toyota’s scientific approach … by repeating ‘why?’ five times, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear.”13
  • Who is your product’s user? What is the user doing right before your intended habit? Come up with three internal triggers that could cue your user to action. Refer to the 5 Whys Method described in this chapter. Which internal trigger does your user experience most frequently? Finish this brief narrative using the most frequent internal trigger and the habit you are designing: “Every time the user (internal trigger), he/she (first action of intended habit).” Refer back to the question about what the user is doing right before the first action of the habit. What might be places and times to send an external trigger? How can you couple an external trigger as closely as possible to when the user’s internal trigger fires? Think of at least three conventional ways to trigger your user with current technology (e-mails, notifications, text messages, etc.). Then stretch yourself to come up with at least three crazy or currently impossible ideas for ways to trigger your user (wearable computers, biometric sensors, carrier pigeons, etc.). You could find that your crazy ideas spur some new approaches that may not be so nutty after all. In a few years new technologies will create all sorts of currently unimaginable triggering opportunities.
  • Fogg posits that there are three ingredients required to initiate any and all behaviors: (1) the user must have sufficient motivation; (2) the user must have the ability to complete the desired action; and (3) a trigger must be present to activate the behavior.
  • Fogg states that all humans are motivated to seek pleasure and avoid pain; to seek hope and avoid fear; and finally, to seek social acceptance and avoid rejection.
  • As described in the previous chapter on triggers, understanding why the user needs your product or service is critical. While internal triggers are the frequent, everyday itch experienced by users, the right motivators create action by offering the promise of desirable outcomes (i.e., a satisfying scratch).
  • Something Really New: Three Simple Steps to Creating Truly Innovative Products, author Denis J. Hauptly
  • Consequently, any technology or product that significantly reduces the steps to complete a task will enjoy high adoption rates by the people it assists.
  • “Take a human desire, preferably one that has been around for a really long time … Identify that desire and use modern technology to take out steps.”
  • the ease or difficulty of doing a particular action affects the likelihood that a behavior will occur. To successfully simplify a product, we must remove obstacles that stand in the user’s way.
  • ELEMENTS OF SIMPLICITY Fogg describes six “elements of simplicity”—the factors that influence a task’s difficulty.6 These are: Time—how long it takes to complete an action. Money—the fiscal cost of taking an action. Physical effort—the amount of labor involved in taking the action. Brain cycles—the level of mental effort and focus required to take an action. Social deviance—how accepted the behavior is by others. Non-routine—according to Fogg, “How much the action matches or disrupts existing routines.” To increase the likelihood that a behavior will occur, Fogg instructs designers to focus on simplicity as a function of the user’s scarcest resource at that moment. In other words: Identify what the user is missing. What is making it difficult for the user to accomplish the desired action? Is the user short on time? Is the behavior too expensive? Is the user exhausted after a long day of work? Is the product too difficult to understand? Is the user in a social context where the behavior could be perceived as inappropriate? Is the behavior simply so far removed from the user’s normal routine that its strangeness is off-putting? These factors will differ by person and context; therefore, designers should ask, “What is the thing that is missing that would allow my users to proceed to the next step?” Designing with an eye toward simplifying the overall user experience reduces friction, removes obstacles, and helps push the user across Fogg’s action line.
  • The fact is, increasing motivation is expensive and time consuming. Web site visitors tend to ignore instructional text; they are often multitasking and have little patience for explanations about why or how they should do something. Influencing behavior by reducing the effort required to perform an action is more effective than increasing someone’s desire to do it. Make your product so simple that users already know how to use it, and you’ve got a winner.
  • The study showed that a product can decrease in perceived value if it starts off as scarce and becomes abundant.
  • For any behavior to occur, a trigger must be present at the same time as the user has sufficient ability and motivation to take action. To increase the desired behavior, ensure a clear trigger is present; next, increase ability by making the action easier to do; finally, align with the right motivator. Every behavior is driven by one of three Core Motivators: seeking pleasure and avoiding pain; seeking hope and avoiding fear; seeking social acceptance while avoiding social rejection. Ability is influenced by the six factors of time, money, physical effort, brain cycles, social deviance, and non-routineness. Ability is dependent on users and their context at that moment. Heuristics are cognitive shortcuts we take to make quick decisions. Product designers can utilize many of the hundreds of heuristics to increase the likelihood of their desired action.
  • DO THIS NOW Refer to the answers you came up with in the last “Do This Now” section to complete the following exercises: Walk through the path your users would take to use your product or service, beginning from the time they feel their internal trigger to the point where they receive their expected outcome. How many steps does it take before users obtain the reward they came for? How does this process compare with the simplicity of some of the examples described in this chapter? How does it compare with competing products and services? Which resources are limiting your users’ ability to accomplish the tasks that will become habits? Time Brain cycles (too confusing) Money Social deviance (outside the norm) Physical effort Non-routine (too new) Brainstorm three testable ways to make intended tasks easier to complete. Consider how you might apply heuristics to make habit-forming actions more likely.
  • The study revealed that what draws us to act is not the sensation we receive from the reward itself, but the need to alleviate the craving for that reward.
  • Without variability we are like children in that once we figure out what will happen next, we become less excited by the experience. The same rules that apply to puppies also apply to products. To hold our attention, products must have an ongoing degree of novelty.
  • The uncertainty of what users will find each time they visit the site creates the intrigue needed to pull them back again.
  • When they reach certain point levels, members earn badges, which confer special status and privileges. Naturally, the process of accumulating upvotes is highly variable—no one knows how many will be received from the community when responding to a question.
  • By awarding money in random intervals, games of chance entice players with the prospect of a jackpot. Naturally, winning is entirely outside the gambler’s control—yet the pursuit can be intoxicating.
  • To keep hunting for more information, all that is needed is a flick of the finger or scroll of a mouse. Users scroll and scroll and scroll to search for variable rewards in the form of relevant tweets
  • Finally, there are the variable rewards we seek for a more personal form of gratification. We are driven to conquer obstacles, even if just for the satisfaction of doing so.
  • Ultimately, the company found that people did not want to use a Q&A site to make money. If the trigger was a desire for monetary rewards, users were better off spending their time earning an hourly wage. And if the payouts were meant to take the form of a game, like a slot machine, then the rewards came far too infrequently and were too small to matter. However, Quora demonstrated that social rewards and the variable reinforcement of recognition from peers proved to be much more frequent and salient motivators.
  • Only by understanding what truly matters to users can a company correctly match the right variable reward to their intended behavior.
  • Likewise, if the user has no ongoing itch at all—say, no need to return repeatedly to a site that lacks any value beyond the initial visit—gamification will fail because of a lack of inherent interest in the product or service offered. In other words, gamification is not a “one size fits all” solution for driving user engagement.
  • Variable rewards are not magic fairy dust that a product designer can sprinkle onto a product to make it instantly more attractive. Rewards must fit into the narrative of why the product is used and align with the user’s internal triggers and motivations.
  • However, I was not a calorie tracker prior to using MyFitnessPal and although using the app was novel at first, it soon became a drag. Keeping a food diary was not part of my daily routine and was not something I came to the app wanting to do. I wanted to lose weight and the app was telling me how to do it with its strict method of tracking calories in and calories out. Unfortunately, I soon found that forgetting to enter a meal made it impossible to get back on the program—the rest of my day was a nutritional wash.
  • Fitocracy is first and foremost an online community. The app roped me in by closely mimicking real-world gym jabber among friends. The ritual of connecting with like-minded people existed long before Fitocracy, and the company leverages this behavior by making it easier and more rewarding to share encouragement, exchange advice, and receive praise.
  • The most successful consumer technologies—those that have altered the daily behaviors of hundreds of millions of people—are the ones that nobody makes us use.
  • Unfortunately, too many companies build their products betting users will do what they make them do instead of letting them do what they want to do. Companies fail to change user behaviors because they do not make their services enjoyable for its own sake, often asking users to learn new, unfamiliar actions instead of making old routines easier. Companies that successfully change behaviors present users with an implicit choice between their old way of doing things and a new, more convenient way to fulfill existing needs. By maintaining the users’ freedom to choose, products can facilitate the adoption of new habits and change behavior for good.
  • To change behavior, products must ensure the users feel in control. People must want to use the service, not feel they have to.
  • An element of mystery is an important component of continued user interest.
  • Experiences with finite variability become less engaging because they eventually become predictable.
  • FarmVille is played mostly in solitude, but World of Warcraft is frequently played with teams; it is the hard-to-predict behavior of other people that keeps the game interesting.
  • While content consumption, like watching a TV show, is an example of finite variability, content creation is infinitely variable. Sites like Dribbble, a platform for designers and artists to showcase their work, exemplify the longer-lasting engagement that comes from infinite variability. On the site contributors share their designs in search of feedback from other artists. As new trends and design patterns change, so do Dribbble’s pages. The variety of what Dribbble users can create is limitless, and the constantly changing site always offers new surprises.
  • Rewards of the tribe is the search for social rewards fueled by connectedness with other people. Rewards of the hunt is the search for material resources and information. Rewards of the self is the search for intrinsic rewards of mastery, competence, and completion.
  • When our autonomy is threatened, we feel constrained by our lack of choices and often rebel against doing a new behavior. Psychologists refer to this as reactance. Maintaining a sense of user autonomy is a requirement for repeat engagement. Experiences with finite variability become increasingly predictable with use and lose their appeal over time. Experiences that maintain user interest by sustaining variability with use exhibit infinite variability. Variable rewards must satisfy users’ needs while leaving them wanting to reengage with the product.
  • DO THIS NOW Refer to the answers you came up with in the last “Do This Now” section to complete the following exercises: Speak with five of your customers in an open-ended interview to identify what they find enjoyable or encouraging about using your product. Are there any moments of delight or surprise? Is there anything they find particularly satisfying about using the product? Review the steps your customer takes to use your product or service habitually. What outcome (reward) alleviates the user’s pain? Is the reward fulfilling, yet leaves the user wanting more? Brainstorm three ways your product might heighten users’ search for variable rewards using: rewards of the tribe—gratification from others. rewards of the hunt—material goods, money, or information. rewards of the self—mastery, completion, competency, or consistency.
  • The more users invest time and effort into a product or service, the more they value it. In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that our labor leads to love.
  • “If we could get users to enter just a little information, they were much more likely to return.”
  • From the follower side of the equation, the more Twitter users curate the list of people they follow, the better the service will be at delivering interesting content. Investing in following the right people increases the value of the product by displaying more relevant and interesting content in each user’s Twitter feed. It also tells Twitter a lot about its users, which in turn improves the service overall.
  • Investments in a product create preferences because of our tendency to overvalue our work, be consistent with past behaviors, and avoid cognitive dissonance. Investment comes after the variable reward phase, when users are primed to reciprocate. Investments increase the likelihood of users returning by improving the service the more it is used. They enable the accrual of stored value in the form of content, data, followers, reputation, or skill. Investments increase the likelihood of users passing through the Hook again by loading the next trigger to start the cycle all over again.
  • DO THIS NOW Refer to the answers you came up with in the last “Do This Now” section to complete the following exercises: Review your flow. What “bit of work” are your users doing to increase their likelihood of returning? Brainstorm three ways to add small investments into your product to: Load the next trigger. Store value as data, content, followers, reputation, and skill. Identify how long it takes for a “loaded trigger” to reengage your users. How can you reduce the delay to shorten time spent cycling through the Hook?
  • What do users really want? What pain is your product relieving? (Internal trigger) What brings users to your service? (External trigger) What is the simplest action users take in anticipation of reward, and how can you simplify your product to make this action easier? (Action) Are users fulfilled by the reward yet left wanting more? (Variable reward) What “bit of work” do users invest in your product? Does it load the next trigger and store value to improve the product with use? (Investment)
  • Their holier-than-thou products often try to “gamify” some task no one really wants to do by inserting run-of-the-mill incentives such as badges or points that don’t actually hold value for their users.
  • Countless companies convince themselves they’re making ad campaigns users will love. They expect their videos to go viral and their branded apps to be used daily. Their so-called reality distortion fields keep them from asking the critical question, “Would I actually find this useful?”10 The answer to this uncomfortable question is nearly always no, so they twist their thinking until they can imagine a user they believe might find the ad valuable.
  • The idea is to get neophytes into the ritual for a few minutes each day until the routine becomes a facet of their everyday lives.
  • As for my own reward, after finishing my verse, I received affirmation from a satisfying “Day Complete!” screen. A check mark appeared near the scripture I had read and another one was placed on my reading plan calendar. Skipping a day would mean breaking the chain of checked days, employing the endowed progress effect (previously discussed in chapter 3)—a tactic also used by video game designers to encourage progression.
  • First, define what it means to be a devoted user. How often “should” one use your product?
  • Habit Path—a series of similar actions shared by your most loyal users.
  • Studying your own needs can lead to remarkable discoveries and new ideas because the designer always has a direct line to at least one user: him- or herself.
  • As you go about your day, ask yourself why you do or do not do certain things and how those tasks could be made easier or more rewarding.
  • Wherever new technologies suddenly make a behavior easier, new possibilities are born.
  • The creation of a new infrastructure often opens up unforeseen ways to make other actions simpler or more rewarding. For example, the Internet was first made possible because of the infrastructure commissioned by the U.S. government during the cold war. Next, enabling technologies such as dial-up modems, followed by high-speed Internet connections, provided access to the web. Finally, HTML, web browsers, and search engines—the application layer—made browsing possible on the World Wide Web. At each successive stage, previous enabling technologies allowed new behaviors and businesses to flourish.
  • Be aware of your behaviors and emotions for the next week as you use everyday products. Ask yourself: What triggered me to use these products? Was I prompted externally or through internal means? Am I using these products as intended? How might these products improve their on-boarding funnels, reengage users through additional external triggers, or encourage users to invest in their services? Speak with three people outside your social circle to discover which apps occupy the first screen on their mobile devices. Ask them to use these apps as they normally would and see if you uncover any unnecessary or nascent behaviors. Brainstorm five new interfaces that could introduce opportunities or threats to your business.

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