Habit Formation: “Floss one tooth.”

In a memorable iTunes U lecture entitled “Changing Behaviour and Changing Policies” BJ Fogg offers this very interesting (albeit slightly foul and creepy) metaphor to explain why behaviour practitioners ought to focus more on “ability” and “trigger” (and not just “motivation”) when designing interactions for habit formation.

While change management literature often focuses predominantly on creating a compelling vision of the future that will motivate people to take action (and this is admittedly a significant part of the equation), Fogg suggests that success in new habit formation may depend more on making it easy for people to take a desired action. This is the logic behind the idea of flossing just one tooth. “You don’t work on getting people to walk 30 minutes a day until they have the automatic reaction, ‘Oh, I’m back from my coffee break, I’m going to go walk 5 minutes,'” according to Fogg, and  similarly, if all one has to do is floss a single tooth immediately after brushing, it becomes extremely easy to do, essentially eliminating the demotivators (such as bleeding, painful gums). Fogg’s thinking is that if the tiny habit is successfully trained, it does indeed become quite natural for that habit to expand on its own. So when it comes to flossing the rest of your teeth – no pressure – only do it if it feels good!

The key idea here is that a tiny habit, placed in an artfully designed context, has the potential to “grow without coaxing.”

Fogg reminds his audience that this approach underpins the success of consumer internet giants such as Facebook and Google that have been so successful in training users to return to their sites again and again. “Just use us for one little thing – search maybe, or to share your photos – and once we’ve got you visiting us every day, suddenly you’ll be using us for maps, mail, docs, etc.” What these companies do is “Put hot triggers in front of motivated people.” In other words, they put invitations to do things that are very small and easy to do NOW, in front of people that want to do those things.

This got me thinking about an intranet project I am building. What is the one aspect of an intranet that is small and needed by everyone in the company on a daily basis? What if we could build the most amazing, intuitive, simple, searchable, sleek phonebook in the universe and get people to LOVE using it and come back to it every day? Wouldn’t it be somewhat easier to add in things like birthdays, corporate announcements, knowledge assets, etc., subsequently, without having to train people to go to the intranet instead of their traditional channels?

What other applications for this idea do you see?

Takeaways from World Energy Congress in Montreal

1. When it comes to a global energy future we can all agree to, the path forward involves huge geopolitical, economic and environmental constraints. This means the range of available options is narrow, and none are without drawbacks. It is likely to be a long, untidy journey that involves a mix of technological innovation, mitigation of environmental impacts, systems adaptation, intergovernmental cooperation and behavioral change. Many different interests will need to be brokered (or broker themselves) in the process. It is a massive design challenge. That is the stark (bland?) reality of it.

2. There are at least two moral dimensions to the challenge, and they seem in many ways inextricable: (1) ensure that all people in the world have access to energy (or, in short, eliminate energy poverty, and (2) ensure that our global energy system does not impact the environment in unacceptable ways.

3. Some technologies are promising, in particular, hydrogen fuel cells, superconductors (both of which have immediate applications and many potential applications) and nuclear fusion (which is a long way off, but in the works).

4. At the same time, I did not hear a lot of “breakthrough thinking” or fresh ideas at the conference. It is hard to completely reimagine our global energy system because of its scale. It is unlikely that anything (with the possible exception of, god forbid, world war) will change the game over night.

5. The overwhelming consensus among energy leaders of all stripes is that hydrocarbons will be with us for decades to come. As a result, many believe we need to emphasize carbon capture and sequestration efforts in addition to increasing supply from renewables and changing human behavior.

6. The electric car is about to arrive, possibly with a vengeance.

7. Localized production will become increasingly important, and is seen by many to offer great advantages over centralized production when and where it makes sense economically.

8. Our existing transmission grids are a joke and we need to make them smarter.

9. Our ability to process and store nuclear waste has improved dramatically over the last 20 years, but there are still challenges – in particular, cooperation between governments about where and how to store it.

10. Sustainability does not mean the same thing in the developed world as it does in the under-developed world. This is because they each emphasize different moral aspects of sustainability (as noted in point 2). Essentially, if you don’t have energy, you’re more willing to make environmental compromises in order to get it.

11. Our electricity system is increasingly becoming intertwined with our broadband system: this is a phenomenon that is loaded with its own set of challenges and opportunities.

12. Photovoltaics have potential, if we could make them economic.

13. China is a paradox. But who doesn’t love a good paradox?

14. My personal impression after listening to many government leaders speak, is that our current political systems are ill equipped to deal with the challenges we face in the future, including the energy challenge.

And a few notes on Montreal…

1. Two great restaurants I will go back to are Saloon (in the gay village) and Barroco.

2. Smoked meat sandwiches – what is the big deal?

3. Traffic lanes mean nothing; they are “rules of thumb” at best. Someone told me that driving in a straight line is “very Anglo.” Also, nobody signals to change lanes.

4. Everything is underground: the gyms, nightclubs, supermarkets, are often 2 or 3 stories below ground.

5. People are beautiful, wine is good, food is incred, cheeses are divine, and there is no shortage of style. I have been told this before, but didn’t really expect it to be as refreshing as it is.

6. One exception to the above: all the smokers. Ick.

Design inspiration from the east.

I was reminded of the Beijing Olympics today. The design that went into the event is really powerful and interesting.



It’s really cool to see some of the art that is coming out of Asia these days. Here are a couple of chinese paintings I like. This one is called “The Lovers” by Yue Minjun. I love the looks on their faces.


This next one is from Iran. Don’t know what it is called, but the artists is Mohsen Ahmadvand. I love this piece, it is beautiful and makes me think of transcendence, guilt, being in the moment.


Here is a statue called “Happy Life #8”, by Chen Wenling. I interpret it as political, but it is just cool to look at as well!


And finally, this one is my favorite. I got it from www.artcommune1.com but do not know who the artist is. It speaks to me of the alienation that I felt sometimes as a child.