For years now, Nir Eyal has wondered: why do some products fail? Conversely, why do some products succeed and even change their users’ behaviors and habits?
His curiosity and extensive research led him to write Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. I interviewed the Wall Street Journal bestselling-author back in March for an episode of Product Love. I am now happy to share a lightly-edited transcript of that conversation. Whether you prefer audio or love reading, I hope you enjoy it!
You can check out the original post here and stream the audio version here or subscribe on iTunes today.
Eric Boduch: Hey Product Lovers out there. Welcome to another episode of Product Love. Today, we have Nir, author of Hooked. Nir, thanks for joining me today. Can we start by you giving us, the people who don’t know you, a little bit of your background?
Nir Eyal: Absolutely, yeah. Thanks for having me on the show first of all. It’s great to be here and thanks to the listeners for tuning in. My name is Nir Eyal, and most recently, I wrote the book, Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and I study how different products change our behavior. My goal here is to help all sorts of product makers build the kind of products that people want to use. My mission here, behind what I do for a living, is to help all those product makers that are building the kind of products and services that people want to use but, for lack of good product design, don’t use.
And I know how frustrating that is. I’ve started two companies. I know how hard it is to build the kind of products that people want to use. I’ve really dedicated my life for the past several years to really figuring out what it is about the world’s most habit-forming products, the most engaging products out there. The usual suspects like Facebook and Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp, Slack… what I really want to do is try to identify what are the patterns behind how these products are built that the rest of us could learn from and also integrate into our own products, so that we could build the kind of healthy habits to help people live better lives.
EB: That’s awesome! What drove you to write Hooked?
NE: My last company was at the intersection of gaming and advertising. I will admit to you that those two industries are reliant on mind control. And so, those advertisers that spend all that money for their health and gaming companies know exactly what gets you to click and what makes you tick better than you understand yourself. So I became really fascinated by the deeper psychology of why some products succeed and are able to change some people’s behaviors and create these habits, while others flop. And so that question kind of nagged me.
When my last company was acquired, and I had some time on my hands before I started my next venture, I really wanted to understand the psychology of how habits work. And so I spent a lot of time in the Stanford Library researching a lot of very boring academic papers and I talked to a lot of people who wrote those papers. I also talked to folks who were building the technologies that I mentioned earlier — like Twitter, Whatsapp, Slack, a number of these different companies. I interviewed them to write on my blog what I was learning and then at some point, a professor of mine at Stanford, from when I was a student there, called me up and said, “I really like your blog. What do you think about teaching a class together?” So I created this curriculum which is all about behavioral design and how different products are designed to change different behavior. It was a class we taught for several years. Then I moved over to the design school where I taught there for a number of years. Now I consult, and I mostly teach and continue to write.
EB: Let’s talk a little about one of your blog posts. You wrote about humans making terrible life choices, you know a lot of people think humans are the smartest creatures on the planet. Well, Douglas Adams said we were third behind dolphins and mice.
NE: Right. Thanks for the fish.
EB: Not really sure he had consensus there. Humans. Terrible life choices. Can you give us the details behind that and why we don’t optimize for happiness?
NE: It’s kind of a tongue-and-cheek title. I obviously do believe that humans are the most intelligent creature on earth by far. We’re also the most adaptable, which is what makes us such a special species. That being said, in order to adapt to our environment, we have to make sure we accurately represent what’s going on in reality. What’s really happening?
I did this blog post series along with my friend, Lakshmi, where we looked at these different heuristics. Heuristics are those behavioral shortcuts that our brain takes to kind of get to the best answer without a lot of conscious thought. It’s kind of done in a… there’s this dichotomy of system one versus system two thinking that Daniel Kahneman talks about. So, a lot of these heuristics are these shortcuts that help us do things without a lot of thought. And so I went through this, we’re going through step-by-step on a number of these different heuristics and cognitive biases we have to kind of explain how these biases work. And most importantly, what we can do to counteract these biases. In the last article, we did that you maybe read, we had a comparison bias, where we like to compare things based on what seems like very quantifiable differences. So the example we give in the article is the difference between a 40 inch TV and a 45 inch TV. So when we utilize, what is called a distinction bias, that small quantitative difference may seem like a big deal. But in actuality, when we actually experience the outcome of our decision, it turns out it almost makes no difference whatsoever when it comes to actually enjoying an experience more or less.
These small quantifiable differences that many times we are sold and convinced make a difference, very rarely do. Quantitatively, we’re much better at seeing the difference whereas what really matters are the qualitative differences, things like how much time do you actually spend in traffic. It can have a much bigger impact on your happiness than how many square feet of a house you have, or even how much salary you make.
EB: So why don’t we optimize more for happiness? Why do we look at these quantitative things that might not matter as much, as opposed to thinking more about things like our commute?
NE: A lot of it is because of what’s called an availability heuristic, which is another cognitive bias where we tend to look at the information that is most easily available to us and repeated more often. So part of it is the fact that it’s very easy to quantify the difference between a 40 inch TV and a 42 inch TV, and making $75,000 or making $78,000. We can put that down and we can see the difference. However, it’s very difficult to see the difference between how much happier you would be with a 15-minute commute versus a 30-minute commute.
EB: Very interesting. So I want to talk next a little bit about Q-tips. A very important issue for tech companies. You do write about q-tips as it relates to the topic of tech companies, specifically engagement and possibly addiction. So let’s just chat a little bit about Q-tips or at least how the story around them is important to product engagement and can cause addiction.
NE: Yeah so when you’re talking about it in the conversation of Q-tips, that’s really frickin’ boring. But, if we capture the frame of why I bring up this metaphor I use, that I call the Q-tip Effect, it has to do with this: a very interesting and very timely question around addiction. Specifically, addiction to all sorts of tech products. This word gets tossed around a lot these days and I think from a product developer standpoint, we have to be cautious about how we apply many of these behavioral design techniques, These techniques which I preach in my book can be used for good, but many times these same techniques can be used for nefarious purposes. And one of the criticisms of many tech companies today is that they’re making products that get people addicted. So I really wanted to talk about this topic of addiction in a way that’s more nuanced than I think the popular conversation is. When people use the word “addictive,” you know it’s gotten in the way of the vernacular in a way that has totally disassociated it from its actual meaning.
Just to give you an example, my wife got a box from DSW shoe company and the side of the box says: “Caution. Addictive contents inside.” We use this word addiction all over the place. And I get that sometimes words take on new meanings, but when we talk about the harmful effects of addiction, much of the conversation out there is just complete horse crap because people don’t know what they’re talking about when they talk about addiction.
Addiction has a very specific definition and that is: a compulsive dependency on a behavior or substance that harms the user. So it has to be something that even when you wanna stop doing it, you can’t stop doing it and it causes you harm. So it’s a dependency that also causes harm. It’s not good enough for it just to be a dependency, right? I can say I’m dependent on my car or I’m dependent on my wife, but I’m not necessarily addicted. Those things aren’t causing me harm, per say. It’s only addiction if it also causes harm. So it brings us to the next question of how and why do people do this? Why do people go overboard with a product or service? Because in the natural course of things, if you think about it, if a product or service hurts you, most people stop using it, right. Maybe not in the beginning, so you could fool anybody once. You know, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Most people, when it’s the second time when they interact with a product or a service and they don’t like it, it harms them in some way: they stop. And by the way, this even goes for substances, if you think about it – there is no substance on the face of the earth, even the most addictive substances you can think of, like heroin, there’s no substance you could put into a human being that everybody will get addicted to. It just doesn’t work that way.
In fact, millions of people are exposed to opiates when they go to the hospital because they broke their arm or something else and they need some kind of pain relief. But very few people actually become addicted to those substances.
The same thing goes with experiences, not just substances addictions, but also behavioral addictions. We’ve seen, over the past couple of decades, that the prevalence of online gambling, I’m sorry, not just online gambling, but also casino gambling, has expanded dramatically. Many more states have access to gambling than before, and we haven’t seen a dramatic rise in the number of people who are actually addicted to gambling, per say. As a percentage of the population, it holds pretty steady. And so what we’re seeing is that addiction is just more complicated than saying, “Ooh, that product is addictive.” And so, bringing all this back in a long-winded way to the Q-tip. I call this the Q-tip Effect. There are some people – that despite the negative consequences of a product or a service – can’t stop because the solution becomes the problem. And the problem becomes the solution and so that continues this loop. And the reason why I call this the Q-tip Effect, is that it turns out people can become addicted to literally anything. One of those things is a surprising number of people actually get addicted to is Q-tips. If you go online and type in “Q-tip Addiction,” you will find a surprising number of forums and conversations about people who are really struggling with putting away these Q-tips.
The deeper lesson here is that it’s not a product per say that is addictive – it’s the interaction between the product and the person. This has some implications for how we design our products or services, and specifically what I do. I bring companies to task and say if you know that you are creating addicts, even if that’s a small percentage of the population, even if you know, it’s a single digit percentage of your user base. If you’re making a product like Facebook or Snapchat or whatever the case might be, if you know; you have an ethical responsibility to do something and help these folks. That’s the kind of ethical change I wanted to put out there to companies that are building products that are potentially things that people can get addicted to. They have a responsibility to that small percentage of users to do something for them and help them and see if they can help them use the products less.
Many companies can’t. For example, you know, Las Vegas casinos, they can’t do this because their business model would crumble. They would go out of business if they try to help people who are addicted. But for the vast majority of products that are out there, that’s not the case. Nothing bad would happen to Facebook if they sent out an email to folks who are spending way too much time on site – the one percent to five percent of users who are spending way too much time online. The platform would actually get better if they helped those folks. So that’s what I want these companies to do, they know who the addicts are, and they do, they have personally identifiable information on how much you use their product. I think they have an ethical responsibility to help those folks. But that also means and the reason why I think this is so important, is that for the rest of us, for the people who are not actually addicted – the 95% to 99% of the population – this becomes now a personal responsibility thing. Everybody who just uses the word addicted to mean, “Ooh, I like it a lot. It’s hard to stop.” Well then, it doesn’t really count. In your case, if you wait for the companies, like Facebook and Youtube, to make their products things you don’t want to interact with or to make their products worse, so that you’ll stop using it as much, don’t hold your breath, because you’re gonna suffocate. So in that respect, it really does become a personal responsibility issue.
EB: So you talk about companies having an ethical obligation in how they design their products to avoid manipulating the masses. When you talk to them, how do you advise them to think about this?
NE: Yeah, so there’s a big difference, I think, between persuasion and coercion. Both are forms of manipulation and by the way, manipulation is used as a term that denotes something negative. However it doesn’t necessarily have to be negative, the word itself does not necessarily carry a negative connotation. And the evidence for that is, look, we all like to be manipulated. If you think about it, we pay for the privilege. When you go to see a movie, you know that flickering image isn’t real, right? It’s just light directed into your eyeball in such a way that tricks your brain into thinking that there’s people up there on the screen. And even those people are just actors, they’re just saying lines, so clearly it’s a big fat lie. Right? It’s manipulating your emotion and we pay for the privilege. We love it and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.
People do like to be manipulated, but the difference is … is it something that is in their interest, that they want to do or something against their interest that they don’t want to do? And so that’s the difference between the persuasion and coercion. Persuasion is helping people do things they want to do and coercion is getting people to do things they don’t want to do.
The nice thing is that there’s a very easy test to know the difference and that test is called the regret test. And the regret test is this very simple kind of question that we can ask when we’re designing these products and services. We can ask ourselves is this particular design pattern, this particular experience, is this something that after the user interacts with our product, would they regret it?
And I think that singular question can do a tremendous amount of good in helping us build better and more ethical products. And frankly, this is much better for business. And I want to emphasize here that these practices, these coercive practices are not exclusive to web companies.
I mean I’ll talk you a quick story here, very recently, I tried to cancel my subscription to the Wall Street Journal. I had a print subscription to the Wall Street Journal and I wanted to cancel it. And the Wall Street Journal deploys a technique, and I want to call them to task here… This technique is a dark pattern called the roach motel. The roach motel is a technique where it’s very easy to get in, and impossible to get out. And here’s what happened – “Free! Get your free subscription to Wall Street Journal!” It’s very easy to sign up you know, give us a little bit of information and boom! You’re subscribed. But if you want to cancel, oh my god, I spent half an hour on the phone. You can’t email. There’s no way to do that. There’s no customer support that you can do over email. You have to call a number between the hours of nine to five. It’s incredibly inconvenient. And then there’s this sales guy who tries to convince you for 30 minutes to not cancel the subscription. There’s an evil technique. If I had known that it would have been that hard to cancel, I would not have subscribed. I regretted that interaction with that company. And so I won’t do it again, so that’s one example.
Of course, there are all kinds of techniques that I’m sure many people who are listening, have seen. You know, false advertising, and we’ve also seen putting things into people’s baskets. There are a lot of dark patterns that companies use. The good news is that for the most part, the market tends to take care of these infractions pretty severely. In this day and age of social media, if a company does something crappy to you that you regret — just like I’m telling you right now, about what the Wall Street Journal did to me, then what tends to happen is that message gets amplified. And for the most part, these companies stop doing these unethical practices. Not always, but for the most part, these companies are shamed into changing their ways.
EB: Hm, that’s very interesting. So you know, to summarize a little bit about that. Persuasion: Good. Coercion: Bad. There’s that fine line. Regret test. There’s a mechanism to get people thinking about what side of the line they’re on and to try to stay away from those questionable business practices that in the long term aren’t going to bring about customer happiness and that message will spread.
NE: Right, and right. And we see that by the way right now with Facebook, a product that I profile a lot in my book, Hooked. Facebook is a product that is superbly designed to be habit forming. When the product breaks the hook, and in the case of Facebook what’s happening with Facebook these days is that their reward phase of the hook, that critical third step of the hook is no longer rewarding. What’s happening is that people are no longer are finding the product good for what people originally found it to be of use. You know, in the beginning, when you tried Facebook, it was great because you had your close network of friends and you could see what’s happening with them and it was a great way to stay in touch. But now that Facebook has become this mess of crap and ads and political ranting – it’s not as interesting anymore. It doesn’t serve the purpose of why we use the product and so, they’re having a crisis moment right now that I think in the next year or so – it’s going to get worse as people start to figure out. “You know what, I regret using this product. It is not serving me anymore.” And for the vast majority of people, they quit. They stop using it or they will dial back.
EB: So, let’s talk a little about that. You’ve written about how to take back your time, how to regain your productivity, and quite possibly, in some cases, your sanity. Can you talk to me about techniques you’ve written about there?
NE: Sure. So I’m actually writing my next book now which is called, Indistractable, so the reason I’m writing this book is because when I wrote Hooked, a few things happened. One, I would get this question a lot when I gave public talks about my book, “Hey. It’s great that you’re teaching me about how to build habit-forming products, but how do I dial back? How do I stop myself from overusing these products? And I think that’s a great question to ask because to be very clear, I use Twitter and Facebook and Slack and Instagram in my book. I didn’t build those companies. In fact, they are case studies for how to build your product to build healthy habits? So that was really my intent. You know, I’ve never been paid by Facebook and I’ve never worked for Google. They were doing this stuff way before I put them in my book. But I’m just as much an advocate for people stopping the use of these products where they don’t serve them. And so, the way we do that is, we have to understand the deeper psychology of how these products work. So in my book, I talk about this Hook, this force, process, trigger or action, reward, investment that companies use to build, what I want them to build, which is healthy habits, right. The kind of habits that help people exercise more and connect with friends and family and be more productive at work, and there are tons of examples of companies, many of which I’ve invested in that use the hook to help people live better lives. But we can also use that deeper understanding to try and put these bad habits in their place and try and make sure we don’t go overboard with these technologies.
What I’ve learned originally when I started writing this book, was I wanted to write a book about how all these tech companies are addicting us and they’re evil and it’s their fault. And then it became very difficult to write that book because I just didn’t think that was true anymore. Because what I started realizing was that distraction, number one isn’t new, that Socrates and Plato talked about this tendency that human beings have to do things against their better interest.
Distraction is not a new problem and so that really became what the book is about. It’s not just about one particular technology, because look, there’s always been some technology that distracts us. Before Facebook and Youtube, it was television that was going to turn all of us in couch potatoes. And radio was supposed to melt people’s brains, and believe it or not, novels. There was a serious hysteria around novels and how terrible it was that people should be reading, literature like that was a terrible thing, especially for women. That was the worst because then they would become lascivious if they read novels. So this is nothing new. We will always find some form of distraction unless we know how to deal with it.
Some of the methods to deal with distraction, first and foremost, is to deal with those inner demons. The fact is, that if Mark Zuckerberg, tomorrow, would have shut down Facebook and say to the world, “Look. I have enough money. I’m good. Let’s go and shut this Facebook thing down.” It’s not like people tomorrow would start reading Shakespeare and Chaucer in their free time. They would look for something else to distract themselves and so, if we’re really going to deal with distraction and not just make it about this tech or that tech, then we have to look at the deeper side of why we’re looking for escape. And what we tend to find is that these internal triggers are incredibly important, that our brain is built for distraction. So if you don’t deal with whatever it is you’re trying to escape; your spouse is annoying you or your kids are too loud and won’t give you any peace and quiet. Your job is too stressful and you’re looking for escape. You’re dealing with money troubles or whatever else is going on with your life. If you can’t figure out a way to deal with those things in a healthy manner and not jump to some kind of escape with one thing or another, then that’s the fundamental problem that you have to focus on first. And so there’s a bunch of things we can do and there’s a bunch of things I will put in my book, which I don’t have time to discuss now, but there’s a lot of things that we can do to be more mindful about how we deal with this discomfort. But fundamentally, distraction starts from within.
I mean, I’ll give you one quick story: I did a digital detox and I went totally analog and I put everything away and I didn’t even use my iPhone. I got this old school feature phone that didn’t have any apps or anything on it. And then I sat down to do some writing and then I notice, “Oh, you know. Wow. I got these books behind me that I should really start looking at. Maybe I should start reading one or two things there.” And then I start daydreaming and then I start thinking about this or that. And I still got distracted because I wasn’t figuring out a healthy way to cope with the difficulty, the discomfort of writing, of how hard it is for me to write. And so fundamentally, I had to learn healthier ways to deal with discomfort. So that’s the real meat and potatoes, is that we have to learn how to deal with discomfort at large and not just with any one technology. But then, there’s some really practical stuff you could do. For example, removing external triggers. This is an easy one. About two-thirds of smartphone users never change their user notification settings. That’s nuts, right? We have no right to complain about apps bothering us if you haven’t changed your goddamn notification settings and they’ve been bothering you all day long. So take 10 minutes and disable those stupid notifications for apps that don’t have the right to bother you all day. Another quick hit. Many times people say to me technology is so distracting, I can’t get anything done. And I say, oh that’s a really good point. Let me see your calendar. Can I see your calendar app to see what you’ve planned to get done? They take out their phone, they show me their calendar and it’s blank. It’s white. They’ve got nothing planned. So you cannot call something a distraction unless you know what it distracted you from. So the solution there is that if you really want to know what traction is in your life, what you want to be doing, you have to plan for it. You know in this day and age, if you don’t plan your time, somebody else will. Right? It’s going to be Youtube. It’s going to be Netflix. It’s going to be your boss. It’s going to be your kids. Something is going to eat up that time unless you put down, for every minute of the day, what you plan to be doing instead.
So you gotta do that, you gotta plan out your day. Then there are things we can do in terms of blocking out distractions so we don’t succumb to it even when we feel those internal triggers and we seek an escape. There’s a lot of things we can do. For example, take a Ulysses Pact, or a commitment pact. It is when you say, “Look. If I try and do something else then there’s a consequence. And if I don’t do the behavior I want to do, then something bad is gonna happen.” What I do, a technique that I used about three years ago – I call it the Burn or Burn technique. For the longest time, I couldn’t go to the gym and exercise. I just hated it. I couldn’t figure out how to go to the gym so one of the techniques I used is that every day, for the past three years or so now, I wake up and look at my calendar that is hanging in my closet. And on that calendar on today’s date, a $100 bill is stuck with the piece of scotch tape and next to my calendar sits a lighter. And so I have two choices every single day, I can either go to the gym and burn some calories or I have to burn the $100 bill. And so I’ve entered into a commitment pact. If I don’t do the thing I want to do, then bad things happen. This technique has a lot of problems with it, particularly when it comes to failure and sometimes when people fall off the wagon, they can fall pretty hard off the wagon. It does have some problems with it, I will warn you. However, it’s one tool. It’s one arrow in your quiver among many, many things that I will describe in the book. I’ve given you a taste of about four or five different techniques here that we could use to put distraction in its place.
EB: Yeah, that was great. I can see that there’s a ton of material to write a solid book there.
NE: Thanks, I’ll let you know when it comes out.
EB: Absolutely. It was interesting that you were talking about notifications, turning them off. What about that FOMO? That fear of missing out when you turn off those notifications? It’s like you’re going to miss something that is life or career altering.
NE: Yeah, so I would put that into two different categories. You said life or career altering. When it comes to life, when it comes to, “Oh, what are my friends doing that I’m not partaking in?” That has to come down to that internal trigger. We need to figure out why this bothers you so much. Why do you give a shit about what your high school buddies are doing right now? If it really bothers you that much, then it’s not about the Instagram. If it’s really something you cannot put away, there’s something else going on. There’s some kind of sadness. There’s some kind of pain that you’re not addressing and you’re utilizing Instagram as a crutch to get instantaneous relief from. So I hate it to tell it to people, cause I know they hate to hear it because it’s way more convenient to say, “Goddamn you Instagram. You’re doing this to me.”
But it’s not Instagram that is doing it. It’s something else going inside our hearts or minds that if you try, try, and try, you really can’t stop after all these techniques I share with you, there’s something else going on. With work, however, it’s a different problem. Work is a different problem because we can’t just stop with work. Like if you just stop checking Instagram, nothing bad is gonna happen to you. It’s all happening in your head. You’re just making it up and it’s not actually a problem. Nothing is gonna happen to you. With work, however, that is not true. If you stop checking emails, if you stop checking slack, bad things are gonna happen to you. You’re gonna get fired. In those cases, there are things that are bigger than the individual so most of what I talk about in my next book, and what we talk about today is really about what the individual can do. However, individuals operate in certain environments and one of those environments are the workplace and so that comes down to culture. You know, technology is the great accelerator and so if you have a crappy culture where people can’t talk about problems, can’t raise their hands and say, “Hey boss. I feel like I’m supposed to be checking email at midnight every night, is that normal? Like that doesn’t feel like a very healthy way to work and it’s kind of burning me out.”
If you don’t have that kind of work environment where people can have that conversation then there’s something else going on, a bigger dilemma happening. I’m very sympathetic to people who have that culture at work. But what I want you to know is that is not endemic to all company cultures. There are many different companies. My favorite example is the company that makes the kind of technology that many people crave. Slack. Many people think Slack is this super addictive product that changes people in the workplace but you know what, that only happens at companies with a shitty company culture. That overuse of tehc is the symptom, not the sickness. If you go to Slack, inside their company headquarters, they literally write it on their walls in bright pink letters, it says, “Work hard and go home.” The company culture at Slack is that after hours and on the weekends, you should not be on Slack and that company culture comes straight from the CEO, straight from Stewart Butterfield on down. You get chastised if you are using the product when you’re not supposed to. If you’re emailing or online, well they don’t mean email, but if you’re on Slack, when you’re not supposed to be after hours, that is a big company no-no because the company sat down and they figured out, “Look this isn’t the way we want to live. This isn’t a smart way to do business.” And so they changed the company culture so that people can air these type of concerns and it’s something that they’ve taken to heart.
That’s why the things you can do as an individual are different from what you can do as a company. My hope is that if we change individuals, if we become more cognizant of the power of distraction and how we want to be indistractable in our work, in our home lives, we set an example. Right, there’s small changes we can make. We take these steps in our life. We help our bosses and colleagues be less distracted. Then hopefully, we can change our teams and hopefully, we can change our company. Hopefully, if I’m not too optimistic here, then maybe we can change the world.
EB: I don’t think that’s too optimistic. Everybody sets out to change the world, right? And as we talk about people building new products, new technology – any advice you would give them?
NE: In terms of building new technologies?
EB: Yeah, the people out there. We have a lot of people listening to Product Love that are creators of technology, lovers of product. They love building products that their customers love, so any specific advice you would give them? On how to build engaging products without taking it too far?
NE: Sure, so I think. I’ll give you a quick two-part test that I put in my book, Hooked. There’s a section of the book that is called, “The Morality of Manipulation.” This is a question that I’ve been thinking about for many, many years now. And I give product makers a two-part test. There is a lot of psychology that you can use to build the kind of product that people want to use. I mean, this stuff works. The reason that people are talking so much about these tactics, and why many companies are using them to keep us hooked, is because they really do work. What I wanted to make sure what I put in the book is a disclaimer around how to use them ethically. So I give product makers a two-part test, so if you want to use these techniques ethically, I mean, we didn’t talk too much about these techniques around trigger, action, reward, investment and there’s a lot more in the book, Hooked. But if you’re the kind of person who wants to use these techniques for good then I give you a two-part test. And this two-part test, if you pass, doesn’t instantly mean you’re going to be successful and it also doesn’t mean that if you fail you’re not going to be financially successful. It just means that if you want to use these techniques ethically, here’s what you have to do. The first test you have to pass is you have to look yourself in the mirror and you have to ask yourself: “Is what I’m building materially improving people’s lives?” And only you can answer that question. It’s not for other people to judge you or for you to judge other people. It’s really about you asking yourself, is what I’m working on materially improving people’s lives. If the answer is yes, terrific. You get to ask the next question which is, well lemme take a little sidebar here. Do you know, Eric, what the first rule of drug dealing is?
EB: Uh, I don’t think I do.
NE: Why would you? Right, that’s good that you don’t know what the first rule of drug dealing is. I’ll tell you what it is – the first rule of drug dealing is never get high on your own supply. Never get high on your own supply. I want you to break that rule. I want you to use your product or service. The first question is, “Is what I’m building materially improving people’s lives?” The second question is, “Am I the user?”
The reason why I want you to break the first rule of drug dealing and to be the user is because if there are any distillery effects to using the product, you’re gonna know about it. So I think if you’re in that category, if you’re the kind of person that is building the kind of product that is materially improving other people’s lives and you’re the user – that’s the most ethical place to be. It doesn’t mean you might not screw up, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t unintended consequences.
Paul Virilio said that if you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck. There’s lots of negative stuff that happens we can’t foresee, however, I think you can use these techniques with a clean conscious because you pass this two-part test. It also, by the way, gives you a tremendous business advantage. As anyone who has built product before knows, it is way harder to build the product for somebody else rather than yourself. Now, we don’t always have that luxury. I will give you that. Sometimes, we are building for somebody who is not us. If you have that opportunity, if you can build for yourself, you’re not only in an ethically enviable position, but also in an enviable business position. Because you’re building for someone you intimately know, and that of course, is yourself.
EB: That’s awesome. I love it. Almost a final question now – 3 words to describe yourself?
NE: Three words to describe myself… wow. I’m always learning. That’s three words.
EB: That’s great. And now finally, anything else you’d like our listeners to know about?
NE: Well if you want to check out the book, again, it’s called Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. It’s available wherever books are sold. And if you want more of these insights that aren’t in the book that I’m still working on or you want to keep up the day with my writing, I publish frequently on my blog. It’s called NirandFar.com