New Craft Episode 🔥: Nir Eyal On Habits

Freddie Luchterhand-Dare
July 27, 2022

In this episode of The Craft, Jessica talks to Nir Eyal – a behavioural design consultant, investor, entrepreneur and author of the seminal book ‘Hooked’.

'Hooked’ is all about how we can create ‘habits for good’ through technology. It started from Nir’s own reflection on why it should not just be social media or gaming companies that should benefit from hooking users. He asked himself, what if we could all do it? Healthcare? Education?

Ultimately, it is about getting people to do things they want to do, but often don’t do so for lack of good design.

And for tech companies, getting this right has benefits for both the user and the bottom line, as LTV goes up and they can build a competitive moat that makes it hard for competitors to swoop in and take users away.

To follow the ‘hooked’ model, a business needs to 1) have repeat engagement 2) have a behaviour that occurs with sufficient frequency. A ‘hook’ can be defined as connecting a user’s problem to your product with enough frequency to form a habit.

It’s also remembering that not every business needs be habit-forming. But, if you think it’s right for your business, here are the 4 key steps in the ‘hooked’ model Nir developed:

1.     Triggers: these can be internal and external, and motivate a certain behaviour. External triggers include the pings and dings we get from our phone.  
2.     Action: this is the simplest behaviour, which is done in anticipation of a reward. To be effective, it needs to be done with little or no conscious thought in order to avoid cognitive overload.
3.     Variable reward: this is when a product gives its users what they want, but it needs to be variable to function in habit-forming. There needs a bit of mystery or uncertainty when you check, in that we don’t know what we are going to find.
4.     Investment phase: the most overlooked of the four steps, when the user puts something into the product to make it better with use. Nir says that habit-forming products need to appreciate, or in other words, get better with each use through collection of data etc. It’s vital to ask people to invest in the product to make it better.

Let’s go back to internal triggers. Eventually, a product will form an association with an internal trigger and when the customer triggers it themselves, then you have a habit. That internal trigger is an uncomfortable emotional state that we seek to escape – for example boredom, stress, anxiety. The solution to that state has to come through the product.

Jess went on to ask if the difference in consumer behaviour in Southeast Asia impacts the model. The answer is that the fundamentals of how habits are formed are universal, but ‘how’ people satisfy an itch (an internal trigger) will vary.

Following the success of Hooked, Nir wrote a further book on the subject of distraction. He began to ask how we can break our bad habits, and allow us to use technology without feeling like we are being used by technology.

From his own experience, he said that he recognised that the most important job as a founder is to prioritise. If you cannot do that properly, you are always distracted.

In trying to understand how to become ‘indistractable’, the book starts with the premise that all human behaviour is driven by a desire to avoid discomfort. We need to master those internal triggers, such as loneliness, boredom, stress, and so on. After Covid and other recent events, most people are experiencing a bubbling up of more and more internal triggers, and they are distractions from what we really want to do with our time.

Nir counters the idea that the opposite of distraction is focus. In fact, the opposite of it is ‘traction’ – an action that pulls you with intent towards what you want. Intent is key – you need to know what you are being distracted from, otherwise everything is a distraction.

There is another 4 step model to becoming ‘indistractable’:

1.     Identify the internal triggers
2.     Make time for traction: plan out what you will do with your time
3.     Hack back the external triggers: indeed, 90% of the reasons we get distracted is internal triggers, not external triggers. External triggers include changing settings on phone, kids at home, pointless meetings etc.
4.     Prevent distraction with pacts: this is about creating a firewall, a precommitment to do what we say we are going to do in a way that holds yourself accountable.

The final question we had for Nir was, what advice he would give to founders?

He said: “if you can, build for yourself”, because it’s an underutilised tactic. There is, he argues, a 2 part test to behavioural design in ethical manner:

Look in the mirror, and ask yourself is this product materially improving people’s lives?
Ask yourself – am I the user?

If you are yes to both, then you are ‘facilitator’, which is someone who can use these behavioural design tactics at will. It’s a good ethical position, because it gives you insights about hardest part of building product – actually building something people want.

Watch Nir Eyal On Habits here:

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