Designing Incentives

There are those who believe that people’s attitudes “are-what-they-are” and can’t be changed.

Then, there are those, like me, that believe attitudes can be changed. I’m not claiming it’s easy.

But, I’m a big believer in the proposition that we are products of the combined influences of nature and nurture. And, with the proper tweaking of both, a person’s previously-held attitudes may be revised.

freak - attitudesA simple model that undergirds the way I think about these influences in action is the one in the figure.

Attitudes are most often formed and reinforced by behaviors.

Call them habits, daily routines, spiritual or work practices…whatever.

Behaviors, in turn, are formed and reinforced by structures. Call these the incentives, group norms, and other environmental factors, e.g., geographic location, architecture, apparel, and the like. If you want to change attitudes, change the structures.

This model was reinforced by a quick read of a book that’s been out for a bit called Think Like a Freak, by the authors of the similarly titled Freakonomics, Levitt & Dubner.

Much of the book addresses the discipline of designing the right incentive scheme to change behavior (and ergo, attitudes). Incentives, to my thinking, are powerful environmental “tools” that can be manipulated.

motivation carrotSome of the pearls of wisdom that Levitt & Dubner offer about incentives include:

  • Figure out what people really care about, not what they say they care about
  • Incentivize them on the dimensions that are valuable to them but cheap for you to provide
  • Pay attention to how people respond; if their response surprises or frustrates you, learn from it and try something different
  • Whenever possible, create incentives that switch the frame from adversarial to cooperative
  • Never, ever think that people will do something just because it is the “right” thing to do

One pearl that particularly spoke to my personal experience had to do with “gaming the system.” This was a constant problem for Appconomy, a venture-backed startup largely based in China in which I’m a founding shareholder.

Levitt & Dubner’s advice is to know that some people will do everything they can to game the system, finding ways to win that you could never have imagined. Thus, if only to keep yourself sane, try to applaud their ingenuity rather than curse their greed. To which I say “Amen!”

freak - bookThink Like a Freak closes with an instructive, albeit clear-eyed, section on the subject of “How to persuade people who don’t want to be persuaded.” In a nutshell, here are the six most important points they say to keep in mind:

  1. First, understand how hard persuasion is.
  2. Make clear, it’s not about me; it’s about you.
  3. Don’t pretend your argument is perfect.
  4. Acknowledge the strengths of your opponent’s argument
  5. Keep the insults to yourself
  6. Tell stories, they capture our attention, making them great for teaching

I like the story-telling advice. It’s an emotional buddy to the logical tool of incentive design…the nature “yin” to the nurture “yang.”

So, the next time you are thinking deeply about how to incentivize some sort of change – whether it’s with your teenager or a customer call-to-action – make sure to spend at least an equal amount of time on the storytelling part as the incentive design part. Good luck!

Personal Visualizations

Due to no particular plan, I’ve come across a number of different personal visualization tools recently.

Most of these tools are internet-related; in particular, social media related.  However, some visualize data that they obtain from me directly and indirectly.

IMG_4873An example of a visualization where I provide the data directly is the personal survivorship assessment that is produced by the AYA mobile app.  (Learn more about AYA, which my company Appconomy developed, at the producer’s website.)

In addition to the likelihood of cancer survivorship, there are many other categories one could imagine, beyond an array of just the other possible health-related visualizations.  For example: continuing education, personal finance, household energy use, on and on.

Another visualization example, produced from data that I provide, is the Wordle.

The particular Wordle shown was produced by copying-and-pasting in all of the content from my two-page professional resume’.  The result is a word cloud, displaying the most commonly used words larger, and the less-used words, smaller.

my-worlde-july 2013Wordle is cool for a couple of reasons. First, the creator is always tinkering with it, providing new kinds of layout options, font types, etc.  Second, it can be applied in so many ways. A favorite of mine is to use it in a messaging audit with a team.

Step 1 of the audit is asking the team to write down and give me the messages that are most important to them.  Step 2 is to ask them for the current, definitive source for their key messages, for example, their website or some other promotional tool, like their main sales brochure.

Step 3 is to copy-and-paste the content from steps 1 and 2 into two different Wordles and compare them visually.  It is amazing what frequently pops out, highlighting the stark differences between desired and actual messaging.  From there, work with the team begins, forming a strategy and creating a plan to achieve the desired messaging.

For the remainder of this post, I’ll stick with a few of the social media/internet-related visualizations I’ve stumbled across.

But, I’d love to hear your favorites.  Especially, if you find them truly useful or just satisfying to your curiosity, without any specific actionable purpose.

my-social-network-july-2013The first one is from Vizify.  I mention it because I’ve found it to be the most useful, because it provides a kind of visual biography.

In addition to the visualization itself, the Vizify makers provide a handy excerpt of code that you can include as a signature block graphic in your email that piques the interest of recipients.

my-linkedin-network-july-2013The next one is from LinkedIn, called Inmaps.  Since this one traces the connections between your various links, it takes a bit of time to process.

But once complete, it’s worth it.  Not only is it an intriguing spiderweb of your connections, key implicit clusters, and their relations.

But, it is also a dense, rich, delicate arrangement of the human, professional network that you have created, in association with all of those first-connection contacts who have linked with you over the days, months, and years.

my-gmail-network-july-2013Next one is from MIT, called Immersion, based on Gmail.  It’s pretty fascinating, for a couple of reasons.  First, it draws connections between your various Gmail correspondence partners, which in itself is illuminating.

Second and I suspect more surprising to most, as it was for me, Immersion ranks the people with whom you collaborate the most.  When I saw my rank ordered list of top collaborators, it was definitely a wake-up call.

Most noticeably, it served as a reminder of the people who have been important to me over time, even if they aren’t necessarily people with whom I’m corresponding heavily now.

my-interwebs-network-august-2009Finally, I’ll highlight a tool called Personas, from the MIT Media lab.  It’s about five years old and, in fact, wasn’t operating when I tried to run it recently.  But, I mention it because of my admiration for the elegant output it sought to produce, given the complexity of the algorithm at its core.

To my mind, if you have ever taken a Myers-Briggs type assessment or a DISC profile, then you can think of Personas achieving a similar assessment, but based principally on the content discoverable about you on the worldwide web.  Pretty neat idea.

Again, if you have a personal visualization that you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about it!

“A” is for April and Appconomy

Take a good look at the figure, because that’s where I spent the majority of my April (and March and May, etc.) writing time. 

In fact, just as in January, I spent so much time on my number one investment (Appconomy) that I didn’t manage to find any time to write about other subjects of a more personal interest.

So, it’s only fitting, three weeks after the close of the month, that I devote my April 2011 blog entry to perserving the record of Version 1 of “The Appconomy” – our guide to the global app economy.

Version 2 of The Appconomy should be rolling out soon, with a more dynamic, activity-feed oriented view the articles, comments, and other information served up on the channel, as I refer to it.

The whole thing is an enormous work in process, based on my Appconomy co-founders’ and my shared belief that there is a hunger for better, practical guidance about the shift to work and leisure activities that increasingly rely on mobile technology.

Time will tell. 

But, one thing is for certain: for at least a while, if you want to read what I’m writing, you’ll be much better served following my work each week on Appconomy, or on the blogs and twitter-streams of any number of my other ventures.  Browse by and check them out!

Marketers Must Make Mobile More Maintainable …and an Announcement

A recent report by eMarketer projected mobile ad spend to reach nearly $2.55 billion by 2014, a six-fold increase from 2009. (BTW: the word “six-fold” inspired my alliterative headline, in case you were wondering.)

As a newsletter summary of these projections highlighted: “Numbers aside, just take a look around you. Know anyone who isn’t an arm’s length away from his smart phone? (Neither do we.)”

But, there’s a problem that accompanies this growth opportunity in mobile.  Many of the ideas that initially start as clever, mobile, interactive ads are increasingly growing in scope.  And, with the scope increase comes a sophistication in the ad design that begins crossing over into app development.

When a mobile, interactive ad is really an app, it’s important to reassess the conditions necessary to support and maintain it.  Unlike a one-time use or single-function “toy” for which it’s acceptable to run in isolation or occasionally break at a high volume of use, an app has to be secure, maintainable, and extensible.  

As more ads become apps, marketers must start expecting more from their development partners.  More re-use, more edge-condition testing, more mission back-end system integration.

In fact, I anticipate that the corporate marketing executives from large enterprises will increasingly turn to partnering options for their mobile initiatives that are with design & development studios first and foremost.

Likewise, I also expect to see more outsourcing of mobile development by traditional ad and interactive agencies to companies that specialize in mobile platforms that include technical skills, like speed and sound optimization, and that provide mobile infrastructure tools and capabilities which most agencies simply can’t afford.

This relentless, continued growth of mobile apps, as well as the simultaneous maturation of techniques, tools, and customer expectations, points to an irresistible opportunity in mobile software and services.

To that end, my announcement is a stake in a new venture called Appconomy. Newly out of stealth, but still under the radar, Appconomy is 100% focused on mobile business apps. You’ll be hearing more about the venture in the coming weeks, but in the meantime you can follow Appconomy on twitter.

Is Distributed Business Good for the Workforce?

I caught an interesting headline the other day announcing a December 9 one-day event produced by GigaOm – “Is a Distributed Workforce Good for Business?”  As I read the headline, the opposite question immediately came to mind as one of equal importance: “Is a Distributed Business Good for the Workforce?”

Because as technology has enabled work to become more mobile, its impact on individuals and larger society must be considered.

At least partially, I hope this is what is meant in the description of the GigOm event, called Net:Work 2010, where it sets the agenda as exploring “…the enormous opportunities – and myriad challenges – presented by the new culture of work that we call the ‘human cloud.'”

At a certain level, these myriad challenges – i.e., the pros and cons of an increasingly mobilized, distributed business environment – haven’t changed much over the course of the past decade. If anything, we just know more about them.

For pros, what we have learned about the era of distributed business is that it:

  • frequently (not always) affords a higher degree of schedule flexibility to its workforce;
  • makes it possible to be more selective with one’s residence preferences; and,
  • in theory, opens up a larger job market, because work can often be performed independent of place, meaning someone who is out of work can seek employment anywhere in the country and be “available” to start immediately.

For the cons, there is greater depth of understanding about the human toll:

The myth of multi-tasking – as highlighted by a recent post on the Singularity Hub asking “Are We Too Plugged In?” it cites research finding that some multitaskers have a harder time ignoring irrelevant information, while for others the mere anticipation of incoming messages keeps them stressed even when not working [my italics added].

Extreme labor arbitrage – as illustrated in an October 2009 article in Wired about Demand Media entitled “The Answer Factory” a typical content creator (in this case a videographer):

“… is working the conveyor belt — being paid very little for cranking out an endless supply of material. He admits that the results are not particularly rewarding, but work is work…He has shot more than 40,000 videos for Demand …but ask him to pick a favorite and he’s stumped. ‘I can’t really remember most of them,’ he says.”

Physiological risks – in his article “Well Connected” in the February 2009 issue of Biologist, discussing remote work and computer-intensive tasks, the researcher Aric Sigman (whom I’ve blogged about previously) sums up his obvious concern for the downside risk of technology-dominated jobs: 

“While the precise mechanisms underlying the association between social connection, morbidity and mortality continue to be investigated, it is clear that this is a growing public health issue for all industrialized countries.”

So, back to the original headline: “Is a distributed business good for the workforce?”

I believe the answer is “yes, it can be” as long as we make user experience and satisfaction important counterbalances to worker productivity as a new generation of mobile business apps are brought to market.

What this means is approaching the development of future business apps – the majority of which will invariably be designed for mobile devices such as the iPad or a tsunami of Android devices – with more than the technical skills to produce an iOS app in Objective C.

It also means possessing a deep understanding of behavioral research techniques, like contextual inquiry, work flow interviewing, and process diagramming.

These behavioral research techniques are a means to unlock observations that may radically alter the fundamental understandings about a problem and its perceived solution. Rather than just repurposing applications from a stationery PC to a mobile phone or tablet form factor, the opportunity is to re-think the applications in the context of the future mobile enterprise.

And THAT’s an opportunity that’s bound to yield good for both the workforce AND the business!