Can you trick people into improving their lives? A behavioral economics professor is banking on it

Whether personal or professional, change is hard. And the cumulative data is not on our side.

Take something obviously detrimental, like smoking. A mere 4% to 7% of people successfully quit without the aid of medication or outside help. Even experiencing a traumatic event like the death of a loved one or being diagnosed with cancer only leads to a 20% success rate.

Not to be a killjoy, but as the Washington Post found, roughly 25% of New Year resolutions fall apart within the first two weeks. And even when it comes to our work where moneys on the line 70% of [management-led] transformation efforts fail.

So why is change such a struggle?

Dan Ariely, best-selling author of Predictably Irrational and professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, explains it like this:

Usually when people approach solving problems, they think, Lets just give people some information and then theyll make the right decision, he said.

As natural as this educational approach feels, it doesnt work. For example, posting caloric facts on the side of a Snickers bar does little to deter us when its 10 pm and the craving hits. Equally fruitless are traditional applications of so-called willpower.

Change, in Arielys words, comes not from the inside, but the outside. If you want people to lose weight, give them a smaller plate. You have to change the environment.

Today, our dominant environment is digital, which is why Arielys foundation The Center for Advanced Hindsight teamed up with Chris Ferguson, CEO of the Ontario-based design firm Bridgeable, and convened a three-day workshop last October with thirty different financial institutions from all parts of North America.

Their goal was to explore how technology could play a role in transforming borrowers into savers (i.e., positive social and personal change). However, dont let the financial scope fool you.

People are people and changing your own habits as well as designing apps and workflows for the good demand understanding how humans make decisions. So before digging into Ariely and Fergusons answer the one theyre banking on lets take a look at six psychological triggers that give us a fighting chance in the war on change.

Human decision making: 6 triggers for change

In his modern-day classic Influence, Robert B. Cialdini describes two models of human decision making. The first he calls controlled responding, a thorough analysis of all of the information. The second is known as “judgmental heuristics,” essentially “mental shortcuts,” also known as cognitive biases or “triggers” that allow for “simplified thinking.”

As much as we like to envision ourselves as controlled responders, human beings are far more prone to the second mode. In fact, prone is probably too light a word. The reality is, mental shortcuts run our lives: From the routes we drive, to the foods we eat, right down to the jobs and mates we choose.

Cialdini wasnt the first to notice this. Moneyball author Michael Lewis recent book, The Undoing Project, chronicles the multi-decade shift in both economics and psychology away from the thesis that humans are essentially rational creatures in cognitive control of their decisions. In its place, a new understanding of decision making has emerged, one in which heuristics, hardwired mechanisms, and triggers stand out.

For Ariely and Ferguson, six of these triggers bear special attention.

Default bias

In 2003, Eric J. Johnson and Daniel G. Goldstein discovered that the organ donation rate in two European countries Hungary and Denmark differed wildly. The first boasted 99.997% and the second, 4.25%. What explained this night and day difference?

Turns out, a box. Or rather, the language surrounding one box in particular. In Hungary, organ donation was the DMVs default option; its citizens had to opt out if they didnt want to participate. In Denmark, it was the opposite.

In other words, the easiest option is the automatic option and therefore whatever is framed as default usually wins.

Friction costs

People are easily deterred from taking action. We prefer the path of least resistance. And, of course, inertia doing nothing is always the easiest thing to do.

Friction costs refer to any obstacles or perceived speed bumps that complicate an action. Reducing friction costs has become a cornerstone of ecommerce giants like Amazon whove built empires around saving your payment and shipping information so that purchasing is as easy as one click.

But this also holds true interpersonally. One of the driving reasons people stay in unfulfilling relationships is that the cost of extricating themselves appears to outweigh the cost of one-off disturbances, despite the fact those one-off disturbances add up over time.


At the risk of stating the obvious, first impressions matter and not just in our personal lives.

When making decisions, people automatically elevate whatever information they encounter first, and anchoring means that this first impression isnt just more powerful than subsequent evidence, it also becomes the organizing principle (or, frame) thereafter.

For instance, if the first test in a job interview reveals an applicants strengths, then evaluators unthinkingly rate the applicant’s subsequent tests higher, even when they have little or nothing to do with the first. Humans latch onto first impressions, and letting go of them is harder than you think.


Consistency acting in accordance with our previous decisions and actions is a potent mental force. This is due partly to the fact that change is difficult (see Friction Costs). But it also stems from our desire to protect our egos as well as to simplify decision making.

In the 1960s, when two psychologists asked California homeowners to erect a public-service billboard on their front lawns reading, Drive Carefully, they were met with an average rejection rate of 83%. One subset, however, turned the tables on that average and complied to the request at 76%. Why? Because unbenounced to the two psychologists, one week earlier a separate organization had asked residents to place an unobtrusive Be a Safe Driver sign in their window.

Securing small, voluntary commitments is a cornerstone of any large and lasting change.

Present bias

Humans are myopic creatures. We live in the moment. Its not that we dont worry about the future or dwell on the past; fear and loss are the two most powerful human emotions. Its more that were terrible at projecting our current reality into whats going to happen next, especially when that next is five, ten, or even twenty years in the future.

Hyperbolic discounting turning a future positive into a present negative is one way of dragging those inevitabilities into the here and now.

Social proof

No man is an island, wrote John Donne. He was right. When it comes to making decisions especially decisions surrounded by high levels of mystery or insecurity we look to see what other people are doing.

The principle of social proof is why Yale University discovered that if you want people to reduce the amount of bottled water they consume, presenting facts about negative environmental impacts works best only when preceded by social proof that others have already started to behave pro-environmentally.

Each the above triggers, often called cognitive biases, work their way from outside in. Theyre extensions of Arielys basic contention that our best shot at change comes from our environment.

But can an app truly change human behavior?

Rigging the mind with an app

Naturally, the answer is yes.

As proof we need look no further than the plethora of examples Nir Eyal presented in Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. From social media platforms to free games like Candy Crush and Farmville, apps have the power to shape (and even reshape) our lives. In Eyals words: To build a habit-forming product, makers need to understand which user emotions may be tied to internal triggers and know how to leverage external triggers to drive the user to action.

The real question is: Can an app change human behavior for the good? After all, its one thing to hook someone with an app that delivers endorphins the way gambling or junk food does (neither of which Eyal argues for). Its another thing altogether to hook someone with an app aimed at changes we wat but struggle desperately to implement.

To answer that question, heres a sneak peek at Ariely and Fergusons current prototype and how theyre using the principles mentioned above.

Just remember: Each of these triggers are hardwired into the human mind. That means your own changes personal, professional, and technological should lean on them too.

Making good change easier

Its true: as humans, were terrible at change. But that doesn’t mean the fight is in vain.

Instead, the implications of behavioral economics alongside the broader sciences of human decision making weve touched on should push us in two directions.

First, on the personal front, change works from the outside in. If you want to lose weight, buy a smaller plate. We set ourselves up for success or failure not because of internal factors like willpower, motivation, and drive, but because of external factors. Lasting change isnt as much about moral fortitude as it is about arranging our environment the world we interact with to either trigger or inhibit our behaviors.

Second, on the professional front, products and services, apps and tools must all likewise adhere to the very same lessons. This applies to design and UX as much as it applies to marketing and management.

Whatever change youre trying to create whatever product youre trying to hook your audience begin with how humans actually make decisions:

1. Default Bias:
How can you make the opt-in process automatic? What can you pre-populate during onboarding or roll out

2. Friction Costs:
What can you remove? In the words of Nir Eyal, innovation is nothing more than understanding a series of tasks from intention to outcome and then removing steps.

3. Anchoring:
What do users, whether customers or employees, see first? How can you leverage that first impression at a meeting, in an email, or within an app to frame the rest of the process

4. Pre-Commitment:
Are you building on small, voluntary commitments? Small yeses early on lead directly to big yeses later, especially as change gets tougher

5. Present Bias:
How can you drag future results into present reality? What hell will your change save people from? What heaven will it deliver them unto?

6. Social Proof:
Who do your users look to for making their decisions? How can you encourage those influencers, or even just fellow humans, to share their own commitment and actions?
Unlocking human change is hard, but its not mysterious. Just be sure youre using all that power for the good.

Aaron Orendorff is the founder of iconiContent and a regular contributor at Entrepreneur, Lifehacker, Fast Company, Business Insider and more. Connect with him about content marketing (and bunnies) on Facebook or Twitter.

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Steven Soderbergh went all-in on social media to promote 'Logan Lucky.' Wrong decision, he says. – Recode


Steven Soderbergh went all-in on social media to promote 'Logan Lucky.' Wrong decision, he says.
“We spent, at my request, a hugely disproportionate amount of money in social media in the digital space as opposed to television” Soderbergh said. “In retrospect, I think that was a mistake.” “I think the potential audience for 'Logan Lucky' doesn't

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25 tips to help you become an online influencer

Image: Getty Images/Caiaimage/Martin Barraud

Influencer marketing has become a powerful strategy for brands who want to reach their audience in a non-pushy, non-promotional way. Instead of pushing their own message, they can leverage online influencers to get their message out in a more palatable way.

Online influencers don’t just work to promote brands, however. According to this infographic fromSmart Insights, influencers can take many different forms, including celebrities, experts, agitators and connectors.

Image: Smart insights

Whichever type of influencer you aspire to be, there are a number of strategies that can help you get there. This post will cover 25 things you can start doing today to becoming a more proficient online influencer.

1.Create tons of insightful content in your industry.

If you want to be seen as an expert in your field, you absolutely must be regularly creating useful, insightful content. Read, read, read – learn, learn, learn – dig, dig, dig – deep, to find new niche topics you can cover – simply rehashing the same old topics won’t be enough to help you gain influencer status.

2. Know what your audience wants, and give it to them.

Your audience has already told you what they want to know. Scour your social media comments and mentions, blog post comments and reader emails to find topics your audience actually wants and needs you to cover for them.

3. Don’t focus on your company or products.

I still find that many business owners believe content marketing is simply writing about their products or services and pointing out how great their product or service is – and how wonderfully helpfultheirproduct is above what the other guy is offering. This type of marketing should only be a very small part of what you do. A good rule of thumb is to provide useful industry-related content 80-90% of the time, and promotional content no more than 20%.

4. Be authentic….always.

In her book,Will The Real You Please Stand Up, social media guru Kim Garst talks about the importance of being authentic online. In a public medium like social media, inauthenticity – helping only for your own gains, saying the ‘”right” thing even if you don’t believe it, and being dishonest in your interactions –willcatch up with you. If you want to be an influencer, be true to yourself and others at all times…even when no one’s looking. Really, you can’t get away with anything these days – so don’t try to – be real, be honest.

5. Build up your audience (but quality matters more than quantity!).

In order to become an influencer, you need to have an audience of some sort. A high follower count is great, but the quality of your influence is even more important. Do your followers trust you? Do they read your posts? Do they value your opinions?

6. Express your opinions.

According to a survey conducted byAugure, 79% ofrespondents said an influencermustbe able to concisely express their opinions and create reactions when discussing a particular topic. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinions, even if that opinion may not be the most popular one.

7. Listen to relevant conversations on social media.

Being an influencer means staying on top of rumblings in your industry. Track industry-related social media conversations using a tool likeSocial Mention. Know and follow what is being said on social media. Know what the information means. Form a concrete, well thought out opinion.

8. Engage in online networking.

Influencers need to do more than just build their own little online empire. They need to continually reach outside their current sphere of influence to build new connections. This will mean reading and commenting on other people’s blog posts, reaching out via social media, and being interested in and participating generously in other people’s Facebook and LinkedIn communities.

9. Engage in offline networking.

To achieve true influencer status, you’ll need to take yourself offline from time to time. Participate in local networking events, offer to speak at industry conferences and regularly meet up with other influencers in your field. Again, be generous in sharing your knowledge, be generous with your time.

10. Guest post on authoritative sites.

One of the best ways to build your influence is to regularly contribute to authoritative sites. Not only does guest blogging help you expand your reach to new readers, it adds a ton of credibility to your name (e.g., “As seen on Forbes and Huffington Post”). See my postHow To Guest Blog Anywherefor tips on how to get started.

11. Practice makes perfect.

To be an influencer, you need to first excel in your field.In his bestselling book,Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly refers to the 10,000 hour rule: that to achieve world-class success in any area you need 10,000 hours of practice. While you may not needquitethis much practice, (or you may need more), honing your skills is key to becoming a qualified expert in your field.

12. Stay on top of breaking news in your industry.

As an influencer, your audience will expect you to know exactly what’s going on in your industry at all times.Subscribe to industry blogs, and follow other influencers on social media. Perhaps most importantly, subscribe to or follow industry news sites so you’re the first to know what’s going on at all times.

13. Be the first to report breaking news in your industry.

Knowing what’s happening in your industry is great, but you also need to communicate what you know to your audience. Becoming a trusted source of timely industry news will go a long way to helping you achieve influencer status.

14. Define your niche.

It’s cliche, but so true: it’s so much easier being a big fish in a small pond. There will always be time to generalize later (if you want), but zeroing in on a specific niche that you keep track of, you know all about it, and a niche you love, will lead you to achieve influencer status much more quickly.

15. Read every day.

As an influencer, you should always be growing and evolving. One of the best ways to broaden your knowledge and perspective is through reading. Read books, blogs and magazines every day, both industry-related and general interest.

16. Optimize your content for high-profile keywords.

Ranking for industry-related keywords is not only important for driving traffic, but for building your influence. If you rank highly for coveted industry terms, it will boost your reputation as a leader in your field.

17. Connect with other influencers.

People tend to associate us and our reputation with the company we keep. So connecting with other influencers not only boosts your reputation as “someone to watch,” it potentially opens you up to new opportunities and relationships you would never have otherwise had. Here is myinfluencerguide and anotherinfluencer marketing guidethat will help you on connecting, becoming and working with influencers.

18. Focus on adding value before monetizing.

If you’re just getting started with building your online influence, focus on providing tons of excellent content before you start monetizing. You can’t put a price tag on your influence, and pushing a product or promotion too soon can jeopardize all your hard work.

19. Have a plan for promoting your content.

Keep in mind that it’s not enough to simplycreatecontent. Have a plan in place for distributing that content both through owned (email, blog) and earned (social media shares, PR) channels.

20. Promote other people’s content.

Promoting your own content is great, but you don’t have a monopoly on industry news and knowledge. Shareexcellent content that would be useful to your audience – even if it’s notyourcontent.

21. Write a book (or ebook).

Writing a book is one of the best ways to establish yourself as an expert in your field. While a paper book may be preferable (if only as a vanity measure), an ebook can work well to share your knowledge with your audience.

22. Set up keyword alerts.

As mentioned, influencers should be the first to know what’s happening in the industry. Set upGoogle Alertsfor a variety of important keywords in your niche or industry so you’re always on top of new developments.

23. Hold webinars or seminars.

Offering free live events gives you a chance to share your knowledge in a more intimate setting. It’s also a great way to build up your email list – and that list will be invaluable as you work to build up your authority and influence.

24. Create industry surveys.

Sharing other people’s data is important, but sharing original data and stats is invaluable. Poll your readers or followers regularly to collect data that no one else has access to.

25. Empower others.

Bill Gates said, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” Instead of solving people’s problems for them, find ways to encourage, educate and inspire your readers and followers so they’re equipped to succeed on their own.

What would you add to this list? Any tips you can share for becoming an online influencer?

John Rampton is a serial entrepreneur who now focuses on helping people to build amazing products and services that scale. He is founder of the online payments company Due. He was recently named #2 on Top 50 Online Influencers in the World by Entrepreneur Magazine. Time Magazine recognized John as a motivations speaker that helps people find a “Sense of Meaning” in their lives. He currently advises several companies in the bay area.

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Writers Are Completely Terrible People

Twenty-first century writers suck.

Not at the craft not all of us, anyway but at presenting ourselves as sympathetic characters.

Many of us have become media whores, slaves to the 5-star rating system, players of the ever-evolving Amazon game, and in the pursuit of success weve become insufferable.Virtual book launch parties, author platforms, review swapping, cover reveals, phony author interviews, incessant book birthday announcements, hashtags, hashtags, hashtags never before has the author been so personally responsible for book marketing, and its glaringly obvious that most of us are no good at it.

Sure, there are a precious few shining stars among us who are both excellent writers and savvy marketers, and theyre the ones who have a real shot at becoming the fabled success stories.The rest of us, on the other hand, are bumbling around with beginner-level marketing techniques, spamming our readers and anyone else who will listen with a constant wail of reeeeaaaadddd mmmmeeeee.

Now, before you start organizing a lynch mob to come after me with torches blazing in defense of your platform, I want to add that this is not (entirely) our fault.

With a new book being published – traditionally or independently – roughly every 30 seconds, the publishing industry would be blind not to notice the influx of new writers all clamoring to hop on the book-making machine.And although many of us may cry foul, the industry just wouldnt be part of an inherently capitalist system if it didnt look upon these new arrivals as a gift of free labor thus, weve become cogs rather than creators.The business end of books has fallen to the author, and those of us who want our work to be read are obliged to play along.

No more will the publishing houses take primary responsibility for the marketing and advertising of books, and for many new authors it has become impossible to even attract the attention of a traditional publisher without a pre-built audience ready to slide across the table alongside their manuscript.Because there are so many of us and so many books all vying for attention, traditional publishers have taken a page out of the self-publishing business model and adopted a do it yourself attitude.

Authors whether traditionally or self-published cannot count on having access to the advertising dollars and expertise of a publisher, and this change has necessitated a new breed of writer: the prolific, unedited social media whore.

These authors generally of the indie persuasion, although I hate to stereotype – pump out books at break-neck speed, never slowing down to edit, reflect, or proofread, because thats what the Amazon machine has taught them to do.In the self-publishing world, an extensive back catalog is life and quantity wins out over quality every day of the week.

When theyre not writing, this new breed is marketing their hearts out because they know that every ounce of success or failure they taste is dependent on the amount of blood, sweat, and tears they pump into the machine.Theres no room for laziness in this brave new world, just like theres no room for editing, so every day authors sally forth with a new batch of tweets and posts and pleas and cries of read me.

And the vast majority of us the ones without book deals or Top 100 Amazon rankings are doing nothing more than shouting our atonal siren songs into the void.Readers definitively do not care about our virtual book launch parties, our author platforms, our cover reveals, our book birthdays.They dont care about the discordant lines we post on Twitter as teasers for our works in progress.

Were spending all our energy catering to audiences that arent there because we think its the only way to achieve success, according to the new rules that the publishing has set for us.Weve been sold a bill of goods by the many, many self-proclaimed content marketing experts, who promise success and Kindle sales beyond our wildest dreams if only we build the perfect platform, run our social media accounts with an iron fist, and spread our literary legs wide in the name of promotion.

But none of this behavior builds a fan base comprised of anything but commiserating writers, and its not how audiences are built.Show me a single study hell, Ill settle for a convincing anecdote about how its not discipline, practice, and persistence but the constant extruding of our souls through the marketing machine that produces successful authors, and Ill eat my book.

The good news is that we dont have to follow these rules.We dont have to exhaust ourselves with the tedious task of pimping our platforms, only to realize we have no gas left in the tank to write.We can reset the game.

How?By refusing to play it.

For a brief and beautiful window sometime around 2010, self-publishing was a way for authors to make their own luck after being turned down or jaded by the traditional publishing industry.Ever since then, though, its been dragging us all down into the muck of opportunism, greed, and shameless self-promotion.Shouting into the void should not be the objective, but indie and traditional authors alike are being pulled in so many different directions that theyre doing anything but writing and editing and honing their craft the only thing that really makes a successful writer.

Its not how many Twitter followers we have.
Its not our newsletter subscribers.
Its not our Amazon ranks.
Its not the number of hours we spend marketing yourself.

Its our bodies of work.

Collectively, we need to stand up and demand better of ourselves.If self-publishing is ever going to be more than the Great Slush Pile in the Cloud, indies have to stop putting every little piece of garbage they write on Amazon in pursuit of the Almighty Dollar.If traditional publishers are ever going to pick up the marketing slack again, its the authors who need to demand that change, not slavering over the promise of a book deal and agreeing to whatever terms are thrown into the contract.

If any of us has a chance of being heard over the cacophony emanating from the book-making machine, we all must help thin the herd by demanding better writing and accepting less bullshit marketing.

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Crunch Report | NBCUniversal Invests $500 Million in Snap

Todays Stories

  1. NBCUniversal invests $500 million in Snap
  2. Jeff Bezos wants Blue Origin to be the Amazon of the Moon
  3. Uber plans to turn its app into a content marketplace during rides
  4. Former Uber software engineer alleges sexism from female manager


Written by: Tito Hamze, John Mannes
Hosted and edited by: Tito Hamze
Filmed by:Joe Zolnoski
Teleprompter:Joe Zolnoski


  • I dont know what to wear on Crunch Report (Its a hard decision and I suck at dressing myself). If you are a startup andwant to me to wear something mail me an XL T-shirt and Ill wear it in an episode. Im not going to mention the company on the shirt in the episode but it will be there. No offensive stuff, its totally at my discretion if I wear it.Mail it to me. Thanks <3 Ok, bye.

TechCrunch C/O Tito Hamze
410 Townsend street
Suite 100
San Francisco Ca. 94107

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