Behavior Design and Tiny Habits with BJ Fogg

Barry O’Reilly talks with social scientist and author of Tiny Habits, Dr. BJ Fogg on this week’s Unlearn Podcast. BJ is a Research Associate at Stanford University and creator of the Fogg Behavior Model in which he teaches people how to adapt their behavior based on the challenges they want to solve. His students include the co-founder of Instagram, as well as several other products, app, and service developers who create solutions using the models and methods he teaches.

A Natural Experimenter

“There’s a real skill about recognizing different patterns and seeing a trend and bringing it all together to create a new field,” Barry comments. He describes BJ as a natural experimenter, as he was able to converge his love of rhetoric with scientific study to create the new field of persuasive technology. BJ points out that it’s not a straight path: “You kind of stumble into learning and unlearning moments—you find what works and what doesn’t; and certainly do by being curious to explore new paths, design experiments and get insights through research.” [Listen from 4:35]


Behavior Design and Tiny Habits with BJ Fogg

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How To Make Change Sustainable

Lasting change has these two characteristics, according to Fogg: Will it help you do what you already want to do? Will it help you feel successful? These two maxims are foundational to Fogg’s systematic approach, Behavior Design, that helps people make the sustainable changes they are aiming towards. BJ describes how he discovered this new domain by setting himself up to be free to pursue his goals in the way he felt was best. Once you have a little support to independently sustain yourself for a while, he says, you realize that you can take more risks than you thought before. Barry adds, “Our ability to continuously adapt our behavior and thinking to changing circumstances is probably the most important skill we may need.” [Listen from 13:25]

Just Get It Out There

“Design the experiment. Crank it out. The first you’re gonna mess up on. So just do it, learn, change and then do the next one,” BJ advises. Instead of trying to get it perfect, just get it done and put it out. The market will tell you what you need to improve and how to iterate. This is a key tenet of Behavior Design, BJ says. He illustrates this idea with an interesting story about how he forced his students to create a Facebook app in a seemingly impossible deadline. An important lesson he took away from that experience, he says, is that simplicity is key. It was the simple apps that really took off: “10 weeks later it engaged over 24 million people on the Facebook platform and some of them were making lots of money.” [Listen from 20:40]

Looking Ahead

As BJ looks to the future, he comments that now is the critical time for behavior change. He feels a responsibility to help people get through the current pandemic and social justice issues using his behavior change system. It’s a system that you can apply to any problem, so he wants to teach people to use the system to tackle these challenges. He also talks about the focus mapping tool that he is launching to help users match themselves with new habits or behavior changes that are right for them. [Listen from 27:55]


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