Behavior Change: The Heart of Innovation

Heart Were surrounded make that inundated by news of the latest wearable technology or smart phone app that will change the world. Healthcare costs are skyrocketing in direct proportion to our waistlines. Theres a common belief that if we track our personal data our behaviors will change; well become smarter, healthier, wealthier, and more popular.

But its not happening.

There have been several reports recently that have cited the fact that even though these devices can help us and our behaviors may change, they dont seem to stick with it.  Like the classic gym membership started on New Years Day, people tend to go back to their old, comfy routines. There is a lot of psychology research as to why this happens as well as solid recommendations for how to make new habits stick, but in this case I think that misses the point.

What Ive seen over the years is that people stop using products and services when they stop getting value from them. Period. There is no way-cool product, or way-cool app that will continue to be used if people dont continue to get value from them. This doesnt mean that companies need to change their products just to keep them fresh and new, but it does mean that their products need to continue to satisfy their consumers motivations.

This also means something that is seldom talked about. The most important behavior that needs to change is that of the people in the companies that make all of these way-cool products and way-cool apps that are intended to change everybody elses behavior.

Most companies (yes, even way-cool start-ups) exist to build a product. Employees are rewarded for what they make, how they make it, and how well it performs a defined task. Employees may also be rewarded for customer satisfaction but really thats typically about how well they delivered the products their customers buy from them. Others may even do consumer research to better understand what their customers want to buy from them. These insights are then broken down into tangible, measurable components. But this is the easy work, and Im talking about changing corporate behavior to focus on the hard work.

When I talk about understanding consumers deep motivations, what Im talking about are the intangibles. These are the insights that are not easily broken down into tangible, measurable components. These are the insights that are often felt more strongly than they can be described. In fact, consumers themselves are not often aware of the deep motivations that drive them.

So when I talk about companies doing the hard work, Im talking about suspending the need to measure everything directly, all the way back to a consumers uttered word.  Im talking about learning to do market research via anthropological methods to ensure that we understand not only what people want, but why they want it so we can imagine even better alternatives for them. Im talking about using experiential prototypes to translate these insights to others in the company so they feel when their day to day decisions are aligned with the consumers motivation. And using similar methods to evaluate new ideas with consumers to see how they will actually respond.

Yes, I do believe that helping consumers to change their behavior for their own (and society) benefit is a good thing. I also know it wont happen if the products that are intended to help them arent designed to satisfy their intangible motivations. I know it can be done, and have been fortunate enough to have had a hand in making this happen several times. However, I also know that it cant be done unless employees are rewarded for doing so. Those are the ultimate behavior changes that lie at the heart of innovation.