Last Saturday was InfoCamp Berkeley, an unconference organized by myself and fellow students in my graduate program at UC Berkeley School of Information. What sets an unconference apart from a regular conference is that the content is primarily provided by attendees (we did have a great keynote to kick things off, the brilliant Dave Hogue, who I had the privilege of studying with a few years ago). When participants arrive they “stake their claim” on the schedule in one of the open rooms and time slots with topics they want to talk about (generally something they have some knowledge in). They present what they know about the subject and then open it up for discussion with the other attendees. It’s more about having a dialogue about a topic that everybody there is interested in than learning from an expert (so a refreshing change from grad school!).
I did a presentation on designing for behavior change, BJ Fogg style. He’s the Stanford professor who (literally) wrote the book on persuasive technology, and his Capotology Lab continues to do ground-breaking research into what works in behavior change. I was lucky enough to attend his Mobile Health conference last year, where I heard some of the ways his research was being applied to inspire health-related behavior change. Many of his ideas have cross pollinated into the Quantified Self movement (people who track some aspect of their daily lives and analyze the data for the purpose of better understanding some aspect of themselves), which I’ve been active in as well, so I’ve heard about his work from numerous sources.
What made me confident that I could explain BJ Fogg’s work is that it’s so simple and logical. In a nutshell, there are 3 things you need to consider when trying to inspire behavior change: triggers, ability and motivation. Triggers are things that get you to engage in a behavior right away (your phone rings, or you get a Facebook notification that a friend has tagged you in a photo). Ability is how easy it is for you to accomplish that task (your phone is in your pocket, not in a bag in the back seat of your car; you only have to click on a link to see the photo). Motivation is your desire to accomplish that behavior (it’s your best friend calling, so you answer it; you want to make sure it’s not an embarrassing photo, so you click on it). If you have high motivation and high ability, then you just need an effective trigger to inspire that behavior. Conversely if motivation and ability are low, an effective trigger isn’t going to make a difference. Obviously there’s much more than can be said about it, but in general it’s pretty straightforward, right?
I also talked about his newest project, Tiny Habits. He asserts that the most effective way to develop a new habit is to break it down into ridiculously small bite size pieces (something that takes less than 30 seconds a day), anchor that to an existing behavior, and don’t concern yourself with expanding that behavior until it’s a established habit (meaning you engage in that behavior automatically). The example he often uses is to floss ONE tooth, anchoring it to brushing your teeth. It does seem silly at first, but he is having incredible success with it (he offers a free online course at tinyhabits.com, and thousands of people have participated, so he’s collected a significant amount of data about it’s effectiveness) and people are reporting that once they do establish that tiny habit, they can expand it until it’s a significantly embedded behavior.
My favorite moment during the presentation was when one participant said “But that’s useless, there’s no health benefit in exercising just 30 seconds a day, you can’t even get your heart rate elevated!” to which I replied “EXACTLY! The duration of the initial behavior truly doesn’t matter, the point is to make it as easy as possible, develop it into a habit first, and then grow it into a more significant behavior.” We are so used to thinking of behavior change as only being accomplished through a single big leap that tiny changes seems pointless at first; at least, until we realize how often big leaps fail to endure and open ourselves to alternate ways of getting there.
Another benefit of unconferences is that they give people an opportunity to practice public speaking which, I’m starting to see, takes practice, practice and more practice (I also did my first presentation at a QS meetup last month, so I’m getting plenty of it lately). One thing I learned yesterday is that you need to plan for various scenarios regarding what kind of audience you’ll be addressing. I’d envisioned this being in a small classroom where about 15-20 of us sat around a table and after I presented my slides, it would became an informal dialogue. However when over 80 people showed up we moved it to the larger room and that format wasn’t possible. In hindsight It would have been a good opportunity to break into smaller groups and present a problem to apply these methodologies to so people could have had more casual discussions about it, but standing in front of that many people looking expectantly at you isn’t a situation that inspires improvisation; at least it wasn’t for me. But I learned a lot, and was gratified when a number of people came up to me later and thanked me for introducing them to the work of BJ Fogg, so apparently I wasn’t the only one that learned something.
To find out more about BJ Fogg’s work, check out: www.behaviormodel.org, www.tinyhabits.com, or www.captology.stanford.edu. You can find him on twitter at @bjfogg. To learn more about InfoCamp Berkeley, check outwww.berkeley.infocamp.org