Saturday, October 16, 2010

Idea #13: Misdirecting Motivations - Getting Past "Should"

This week's concept is much more a methodology or idea-generation principle than an actual product or service. It's a pattern that I've seen come up on the market but I don't think it's been utilized to its fullest potential. It's concept of tweaking a product or service so that it taps into an unexpected human need or motivation.

For example, take the activity-tracking bracelet offered by startup Switch2Health ( With traditional activity-tracking devices, users are motivated to exercise for their own health and long-term well being. With Switch2Health, your activity level becomes a direct driver for discounts at local businesses, thus misdirecting the motivation of physical activity from health to financial gain. Both money and health are what I like to call "should" motivations. We know these "shoulds" are important, but their level of motivational influence is considerably weak on a day-to-day basis (e.g. "I should save money, but going out for drinks tonight sounds like a good time"). Switch2Health banks on the fact that two combined "shoulds" produce one meta-motivation that just might push you to get up off your couch.

Motivations can also be misdirected on a time scale. Take my personal budget system, for example. I use to track my spending (great service - highly recommended), but I've added an extra hitch to it that misdirects my own motivations. Everyone has the looming feeling that they should be saving money, but why don't we do it? Frankly, it's boring and it's in complete conflict with my current motivations - I care much more about Present Reily getting a snowboard than I care about Future Reily having $400. So, how to solve that problem? Design a system that meets long term goals first and attainable short-term gains second. In other words, whatever I can save beyond the monthly allocated savings is mine to spend on whatever I want. The motivation becomes much stronger because I'm saving  for something I'm going to enjoy right away, and the long-term savings is simply a bi-product of the system. Boring Future Reily gets his money, while Present Reily gets a new snowboard. Motivations were misdirected, and everybody wins.

The takeaway? Examine the human motivations you are addressing in your product or service. It they don't appear strong enough, look for opportunities to combine, replace, or misdirect them. You'd be surprised how motivating it can be.

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