If you’ve been online recently, you’ve heard about Nir Eyal’s new book, Hooked.
You’ve heard about it because it’s freaking awesome. It’s one the best business books to come out in 2014–and possibly the single most useful.
I’m not going to summarize his ideas here, instead, I’ve connected a few of the ideas in his book and used them in a slightly different way. Hooked is a quick read and there’s no fluff. You’ll read it in a day and be applying ideas to your business by the second chapter.
Getting Business Ideas
Evan Williams, the co-founder of Twitter, offers up this straight-forward formula for creating a new product or business:
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.
This alone will take you a long way towards seeing opportunities all around you. Every complaint or annoyance is a sign that something could be done better. You could be the person that helps ease that pain.
Paul Graham has a simple formula that we can use to discover business ideas as well:
“Instead of asking ‘what problems should I solve?’ ask ‘what problem do I wish someone else would solve for me?’”
Nir also reports on another fascinating way that we can go about discovering business opportunities.
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.” Looking for discrepancies exposes opportunities. Why do people really send text messages? Why do they take photos? Ask yourself what pain these habits solve and what the user might be feeling right before one of these actions.What would your users want to achieve by using your solution? Where and when will they use it? What emotions influence their use and will trigger them to action?
Jack Dorsey, cofounder of Twitter and Square, shared how his companies answer these important questions: “[If] you want to build a product that is relevant to folks, you need to put yourself in their shoes and you need to write a story from their side. So, we spend a lot of time writing what’s called user narratives.”Dorsey goes on to describe how he tries to truly understand his user: “He is in the middle of Chicago and they go to a coffee store… This is the experience they’re going to have. It reads like a play. It’s really, really beautiful. If you do that story well, then all of the prioritization, all of the product, all of the design and all the coordination that you need to do with these products just falls out naturally because you can edit the story from all levels of the organization, engineers to operations to support to designers to the business side of the house.”Dorsey believes a clear description of users—their desires, emotions, the context with which they use the product—is paramount to building the right solution. In addition to Dorsey’s user narratives, tools like customer development, usability studies, and empathy maps are examples of methods for learning about potential users.
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.
Motivate Yourself & Others (To Use Your Product)
Ironically, reading about human behavior through the lens of product design gave me a clearer picture of my own behavior than other books designed to do specifically that. This is thanks partly due to the fact that some goals are best achieved by not aiming at them. Happiness, fulfillment, and self-knowledge tend to fall in the category. It’s also thanks to Nir just being a master at weaving together disparate knowledge and reframing it in useful ways.
He spends time throughout the book looking at the work of famed behavior scientist B.J. Fogg. What follows is a powerful set of laws of human behavior.
“Three Ingredients Required to Initiate Any and All Behaviors”
[B.J.] 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.
Let’s frame this for the wantrepreneur. Why have you not yet started your business? Let’s take a look at how Fogg’s model can help you understand. (Notice that I have changed “the user” to “You”–we all operate similarly.)
- You must have significant motivation. This on it’s own can almost make the other ingredients automatic. Nietzsche was more poetic about it: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Indeed. Tony Robbins makes sure people have a “why” for their goals because he has seen so many smart people fail because they didn’t care enough and plenty of dumb people succeed because they cared with all their hearts. If you don’t feel that you “must” start your business then you won’t. If you haven’t given yourself a significant enough reason why you need to become an entrepreneur, then you won’t. If you truly believe that this is something you have to do, then you will.
- You must have the ability to complete the desired action. If you can’t become and entrepreneur, then obviously you won’t. Now, with the barrier to entry at nearly zero, this isn’t the case for you. The corollary to this rule is more interesting: if you don’t believe you can complete the behavior, you won’t. If you don’t think you can, why not? That’s a trick question. You don’t know until you take action. Try the thing to discover your actual limitations and find out what you need to learn. It also helps to shift the narrative in your head. Find a story of a person who started where you’re at and became successful.
- A trigger must be present to activate the behavior. There are two types of triggers: internal and external. Nir dedicates many pages dealing with them but all we need understand here is that internal triggers are your emotions (usually negative) and external triggers are things outside of you (like a notification on an app). A wantrepreneur should set triggers for himself that will force him to actually start building a business. This could be something like a note over his computer that says, “Are you building or dreaming?” or it could be having his significant other call him out for doing infinite “research” that never ends in any progress.
Let’s Take a Look at Motivation
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.
Let’s take a look at each in turn. Again, from the viewpoint of the wantrepreneur.
- Seek pleasure and avoid pain. Wantrepreneurs have associated pain to actually starting a business and pleasure to thinking about starting businesses. If he starts a business he might fail, then he’ll have to admit that he’s not as good as he thinks. Before you start a business you can stay delusional, you can believe you are capable of anything. (This is a cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger effect that states “unskilled individuals tend to suffer from illusory superiority … while highly skilled individuals tend to rate their ability lower than is accurate.”) It’s painful to admit our own limitations. It’s much more fun to think about all the success you’ll have. Of course, this only lasts so long. At some point you’ll look up and realize you haven’t done anything and then you might switch your pain/pleasure associations.
- Seek hope and avoid fear. It’s easy to have hope in planning because that’s basically all you’re doing. Thinking about stuff and hoping it happens. We avoid doing the scary stuff… like actually risking failure, rejection, and loss. The wantrepreneur needs to associate action to hope and learn to fear inaction. To do this you’ve got to take the perspective of the future you. The one who’ll be pissed off and more than a little sad that you didn’t do the thing you wanted to.
- Seek social acceptance and avoid rejection. The wantrepreneur is usually surrounded by other wantrepreneurs. People comfortable where they are. Maybe they think that if they try and fail they won’t have any friends to go back to. Maybe they think that their friends will stop talking to them if they start their business. Maybe they think that people will look at them and believe they have no right to start a business. Maybe. Probably. It’s pretty obvious what needs to be done about that one.
6 Elements of Simplicity
Sometimes we’re sufficiently motivated to do something and feel like we are able to do it… but then we don’t. Fogg describes the barriers that may be standing in our way.
Fogg describes six “elements of simplicity”—the factors that influence a task’s difficulty. 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?
- It take almost no time to open up your email client and start typing.
- Each email you send is totally free.
- Clicking your finger isn’t very difficult.
- It takes virtually zero brain cycles to open up the client because it’s such an ingrained action.
- Everyone emails so it’s totally socially acceptable. Actually, not doing it makes you an eccentric.
- It’s totally routine. It doesn’t disrupt your routine at all, it is your routine.
Let’s look at this from our wantrepreneur’s point of view. Each one of these presents a decision: is the wantrepreneur motivated enough to overcome the barrier?
- Time. The wantrepreneur says he just doesn’t have the time. Yet he’ll spend hours pouring over books and blog posts about entrepreneurship. The Fix: Get rid of the BS (listicles, TV, hang out with idiots) you normally do and use that time to build.
- Money. The wantrepreneur says he needs funding. He ignores the thousands of successful businesses that are bootstrapped every year. The Fix: Start building what you can. Figure out what you can do with no money.
- Physical effort. The wantrepreneur doesn’t want to put the work in. It’s easier and safer (for now) to consume than create. The Fix: Realize that action creates energy.
- Brain Cycles. The wantrepreneur doesn’t have enough mental energy for another project. His other job is too demanding. The Fixes: Get a crappier job where you don’t have to think all day OR reduce the amount of mental energy needed for your business by getting help and a plan AND/OR force yourself to care more, people who really give a crap have seemingly endless mental energy.
- Social Deviance. The wantrepreneur is scared of being rejected from society. Scared of becoming an outsider and losing his friends. The Fix: Find a community, make new friends.
- Non-routine. The wantrepreneur has wantrepeneur habits. The entrepreneur has entrepreneur habits. It’s freaking hard to change your routine. The good news is that once you do, it’s easy to stick with it. The Fix: Start small. Do one small thing, but do it every day. Add one small thing every other week. It’s not one immediate transformation, it’s a slow consistent process.
It’s scary how ubiquitous these rules are. The same levers you pull to nudge behavior in others are the levers you have to use on yourself. The sales tactics you use on others are the ones that work on you.
According to famed Silicon Valley investor Paul Graham, we haven’t had time to develop societal “antibodies to addictive new things.” Graham places responsibility on the user: “Unless we want to be canaries in the coal mine of each new addiction—the people whose sad example becomes a lesson to future generations—we’ll have to figure out for ourselves what to avoid and how.“
Participating in the future means that we are going to have to exist in an increasingly addictive world. The same technology that multiplies our productivity can also hijack our lives.
The best way to not get hooked on things you don’t want to be hooked on is to be aware of them. Nir suggests the following ways to build your awareness of hooks:
- 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 onboarding funnels, reengage users through additional external triggers, or encourage users to invest in their services?
We can use technology to push ourselves to be better humans. We can make technology to help humans be better.
If you don’t have a business idea then pick a formula from the first section and figure out 10 possible business ideas. If you leave them in the comments I’ll brainstorm with you.
If you do have a business idea but haven’t started building it then use the motivation section to pinpoint the thing that has stopped you from taking action. Again, if you leave this in the comment I’ll brainstorm ways to overcome the barrier with you.
Either way, go get Hooked!
Whatever you do, remember: The Force is with you!