I took my first course in Behavior Design in 2010, when I was considering dropping out of Stanford to spend two years figuring out just exactly what it was that I was looking for.

The moment I read the words “Behavior Design,” I knew that I had found it.

Two years later, I graduated with the first Behavior Design major program at Stanford University, which I had co-created with the support of my program faculty advisors: BJ Fogg, Carol Dweck, Jeremy Bailenson, and Cliff Nass.

But let’s rewind.

What is Behavior Design?

Behavior Design is a fresh system of models of behavior and methods for design, primarily used to influence human actions in positive and impactful ways. Created by BJ Fogg, PhD, Director of the Behavior Design Lab at Stanford University (formerly known as the Persuasive Technology Lab), it offers a universal model for all human behavior, regardless of ethnicity, culture, age, or economic standing. You can understand the appeal.

As of January 2018, the Fogg Behavior Model can be stated as B:MAP (previously, B=MAT).

In other words, a behavior occurs when three things happen simultaneously: the Motivation to act, the Ability to act, and a Prompt for action.

If any one of these elements is missing, or occurs a matter of seconds too late, the behavior won’t happen at all.

The Fogg Behavior Model (B:MAP) helps us to think systematically about achieving a target behavior, but it also doubles up as a method for design. This means that we can actually use B=MAP as an equation to solve for the behavior.

How it works: a case study

Even when clients come to me with a product usage challenge, it is nearly always a human behavior design problem. When Eileen Murphy, CEO of ThinkCERCA, an edtech company backed by the Gates Foundation, approached me, the number one challenge her organization faced was a human behavior problem.

Behavior Design offers a universal model for all human behavior, regardless of ethnicity, culture, age, or economic standing.

ThinkCERCA helps students achieve two full years of academic growth within a single year by teaching critical thinking through argumentative writing. In Eileen’s case, the greatest challenge was that prospects couldn’t communicate what ThinkCERCA is and does after hearing the sales pitch once.

She had two clear objectives for the organization culture and the sales process.

Objective 1: That her entire company believes it is possible to think about behavior and testing from a behavior design methodology.

Objective 2: That the company applies this way of thinking and testing to everything that they do, especially to solving their number one challenge.

We spent two days designing solutions that would help Eileen reach her objectives. On the first day, I designed and facilitated a custom training for her annual company retreat that would galvanize her team’s support and achieve Objective 1.

On the second day, Eileen and her team applied B:MAP to troubleshoot their greatest challenge: that prospects couldn’t communicate about ThinkCERCA to other key stakeholders.

In their B:MAP equation, the Motivation and Prompt were present already. The motivation came in the form of internal ThinkCERCA champions who believed in the product, people, and mission. Prompts existed externally in emails and in-person meetings, but also in the prospect’s impulse (“Oh, I really should do this.”)

The Ability was the insufficient factor.

How did Eileen’s team find out? They tested within their organization with an existing salesperson and with a brand new employee of ThinkCERCA. The salesperson would give the pitch to the new employee. The new employee, role playing the prospect, would communicate back what he believed the product would do.

The new employee had a challenging time communicating the value of ThinkCERCA after hearing the sales pitch. Ultimately, it was the mental effort that was the limiting factor. Put another way, it required too much energy for prospects to think in order to accurately communicate about ThinkCERCA.

The Behavioral Outcome

Once the team realized that it was an ability problem, then they knew what to do: make the behavior easier to perform. In other words, the salesperson needed to make the pitch even simpler. They continued to focus on the specific behavior (“Prospect communicates what ThinkCERCA is and does after hearing the pitch once.”)

In under 140 minutes on day two, they solved their greatest challenge.

The following week, Eileen shared B:MAP to prospects in southern California. She explained how ThinkCERCA would increase ability and make it easier for the prospects to achieve their objectives. Eileen closed two new school districts.

Making a business work is hard. Designing for behavior doesn’t have to be. With its clear and actionable methodologies, Behavior Design removes random guesswork and reveals the underlying systems at play — surely, a worthwhile practice for anyone who wants to positively impact the lives of the people they serve.

David Ngo

Author David Ngo

David designs human behavior for good. At Stanford, he created the world's first Behavior Design program in 2011, and he is currently co-authoring the first public Behavior Design book with BJ Fogg, PhD. Now, David brings Behavior Design across the globe. David founded a Behavior Design firm called Behavior Delta. Ultimately, he cares most about facilitating positive change in people's lives. Email him at: [email protected]

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