Habits, #Fail, and Speeding Tickets: The Value of Motivation

The value of motivation

Motivation is how eager we are to take action. Someone else can also give us a reason to do something. It's a condition and it's an act. It's one of the most useful tools we have at our disposal. Pleasure, pain, hope, and/or fear ignite it. We can use several strategies to awaken intrinsic motivation.

    In a world filled with external stimulation and prompts to act, becoming more aware of and awakening our intrinsic motivation can help us gain clarity on the type of information and experiences we seek. Motivation is a key component of our behavior, and the most difficult for organizations to understand.

    When turning ideas into products or services, technology can answer the question of how easy something is to execute. Are there too many steps, is it consuming too many brain cycles? Marketing supports the triggers, the final impetus to click on something and/or buy.

What gives habits their power?

    B:MAP. "Behavior (B) happens when Motivation (M), Ability (A), and a Prompt (P) come together at the same moment," says behavioral scientist BJ Fogg#. He spends 50 percent of his time in the lab, and the other 50 percent teaching innovators Behavior Design in workshops and has developed a mini program to work on Tiny Habits, small behaviors we can change using only 20 minutes a day.

    I'm a believer in the power of habit, and tried Tiny Habits when he first developed it out of curiosity. Something that is super easy to execute introduces us to success. When the ability's threshold is low for a specific task/behavior and the trigger is there, we decrease the motivation involved. In other words, we just do it.

    The most enduring kind of changes start with baby steps that we keep taking until they become part of us, something we do automatically. This is what gives habits their power over us.

What makes a product fail?

    Too much friction. Friction is anything that gets in the way of completing a task or using something. It can be due to several reasons — we're using a product or service for the first time, so we don't know exactly how it will go, the functionality is not intuitive and easy for us. Some friction may also be the result of a design decision, to help us take things one step at a time.

    Friction answers the question of how easy is it to use? And partly also, what would make me click, download, and try it in the first place. We can optimize the technology, making it more intuitive, and improve our prompt or call to action.

    But the biggest reason why a product fails is motivation. To fix this we need to dive deeper into understanding customers and product users. If our customers install or sell the product, but don't use it, it's even more important to understand motivation for ultimate users. Because in this case, we may be creating friction by not providing the right information to them.

    In the screen technology industry, what's easy to install may be less optimal for ultimate users of a video and sound system, for example. Or in construction, we want to appeal to general contractors and retail channel, but if homeowners don't know they could have more durable, or soundproof, or healthier drywall, if all they're aware of is mold resistant, they may miss out — and us with them.

What keeps us from getting speeding tickets?

    Feedback loops do. The true power of feedback loops is not to control people but to give them control. They give us information we're missing about a situation, so we can snap out of our automatic pilot mode and decide a course of action.

    Imagine driving way over the speed limit on a residential street or through a town. Coming from the highway, it's hard to realize we're going too fast. But a visual prompt, say a sign flashing back our speed to us in big red letters, makes it obvious. We do slow down.

    Feedback loops are great for solving problems, for example fixing online experiences or bugs. For example, FullStory# is a software that records all of the user’s interactions leading up to the person’s decision to leave. Even better when we're creating opportunities with feedback loops.

    A feedback loop involves four stages:

  1. the data, a behavior or evidence
  2. relaying the information to the person in a context that makes it emotionally resonant or relevance
  3. the paths ahead the information illuminates, or consequence
  4. and the moment when the individual can recalibrate a behavior, and take action

    Then we measure action, and the feedback loop can run once again. Social networks use red buttons in a Pavlovian kind of way, to keep us glued to the interaction, to teach us to keep coming back. It works because our posts and actions in social media are tied to our identity.


     Every day we have a limited number of opportunities to accomplish what's on our plate. Motivation, like willpower, uses up our energy and can be finite. There are several things we can do to ignite our intrinsic motivation, create value for our work and lives.

    As product and experience designers we need to dive deeper into motivation because it holds the keys to value for customers. Ability and triggers or prompts can take us only so far in providing usefulness. Understanding the real problem we're solving comes before eliminating friction in the experience.

    We can use feedback loops to reinforce the information people need when they need it by providing evidence of a behavior that is specific and timely, so they can course-correct. Motivation is a valuable component of our strategizing.



Build Better Habits, Starting with Willpower

The Power of Habit: How we do What we do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg

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