Archives for September 2012

The Magic Formula for Triggering Behaviour Change

Alaskan brown bear fallen asleep in the river, fish cradled in her paw

Image credit

Are you grappling with how to activate behaviour change in people who just won’t seem to budge?

Fogg’s Behavior Model is one of the many useful approaches discussed as part of the University of Pennsylvania’s course on Gamification I’ve been taking via Coursera.

Founder of Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab, Dr BJ Fogg developed the model to show that a behavior will only happen when three specific elements (motivation, ability, trigger) happen at the same moment.

For the change agent, this means effecting behaviour change in a given situation requires that these three things have to occur at the same time:

1.   the person must be motivated

2.   the person must have the ability, or perceive they have the ability, to take action

3.   an appropriate trigger (or prompt) must be applied

Represented as a formula, the model is B = MAT – ‘B’ (behaviour change), occurs when ‘M’ (motivation), ‘A’ (ability) and ‘T’ (a trigger) converge.

Graphically, it can be represented as:

fogg model graph, with 'motivation' on x axis and 'ability' on y axis

Image credit

Here is each element of the model as defined by Fogg:


Motivators are those which are an inherent part of the human experience everywhere:

  • sensation – pleasure/pain
  • anticipation – hope/fear
  • social cohesion – social acceptance/rejection


Factors influencing ability include time, money, physical effort, brain cycles, social deviance, non-routine. There are two ways to amplify ability – enhance ability to perform the behavior, or make the behaviour simpler to do. It’s important to note that Fogg emphasises and recommends the latter:

You can train people, giving them more skills, more ability to do the target behavior. That’s the hard path. Don’t take this route unless you really must. Training people is hard work, and most people resist learning new things.

The better path is to make the target behavior easier to do. I call this Simplicity. Ability is the correct general term in the model, but in practice Simplicity is what persuasion designers should seek. By focusing on Simplicity of the target behavior you increase Ability.

Whereas ability implies increasing people’s skills and knowledge, simplicity is more about lowering or removing barriers to performing a particular behaviour by making it easy to do:

Simplicity is a function of your scarcest resource at that moment. Think about time as a resource, If you don’t have 10 minutes to spend, and the target behavior requires 10 minutes, then it’s not simple. Money is another resource. If you don’t have $1, and the behavior requires $1, then it’s not simple.

Michael Wu, Principal Scientist of Analytics at Lithium Technologies, breaks ‘simplicity’ down further in his presentation to the 2011 Gamification Summit – he identifies:

  • effort resources (physical and mental effort)
  • scarce resources (time, money, authority, permission, attention) and
  • adaptability resources (capacity to break norms – personal/routine, social, cultural)

Access to all these kinds of resources, at the time they are needed, influence whether or not a task is ‘simple’. Tasks must not require any more resources than are on hand to be truly simple.


Fogg defines three kinds of triggers for three different contexts:

  • sparks – a motivating trigger, applied where there is high ability but low motivation
  • facilitators – enabling triggers, applied where there is high motivation but low ability
  • signals – a prompt, applied where both motivation and ability are high

If one of these three elements is missing, the behaviour will not occur.

Wu describes triggers as prompts for participants to do the behaviour now, and are necessary because people may be hesitant (questioning their motivation), unaware of their ability (unaware of options or simplicity of the task) or distracted (engaged in another routine activity). Triggers can be in any form, as long as the participants are aware of it, and understand what it means.

Timing of a trigger is critical in terms of successfully engaging someone in a behaviour and the participant’s experience. Conversely, poorly timed triggers may frustrate and undermine efforts at engaging people in change.

Behaviour Change Magic

The Persuasive Tech Lab have also developed a great tool called the Behavior Wizard, which is a way of matching target behaviours with ways of achieving change.

The Wizard is based on the Fogg Behaviour Grid, which categorises and colour-codes 15 kinds of behaviours according to their type and proposed duration:

Click image, and then click again to enlarge

Behaviour Types:

  • New Behaviour (green)
  • Familiar Behaviour (blue)
  • Increase Behaviour Intensity (purple)
  • Decrease Behaviour Intensity (grey)
  • Stop Behaviour (black)


  • Dot (one time eg. install solar panels)
  • Span (period of time eg. ride bike to work during summer)
  • Path (ongoing eg. eat three serves of vegetables daily)

A ‘PurpleSpan’ action might be to rike a bike to work during the warmer months, whereas a BlackPath action might be to quit smoking.

This approach is valuable because rather than treating all behaviour change contexts as the same, it recognises that motivation and ability will differ for behaviours previously tried, those which are new, those which it is desired to cease, and the length of commitment to them.

How Games Support the Fogg Model

Investigating what makes games work successfully in terms of player engagement reveals many of the same things that are needed for behaviour change according to Fogg’s model, and here Michael Wu outlines exactly how gamification can support behaviour change in relation to the model:

Game dynamics use positive feedbacks (e.g. points, badges, status, progression, customization, surprises, social factors, etc.) to build up the users’ motivation.

Game dynamics increase the perceived ability of users by making difficult jobs simpler and more manageable; either through training/practice or by lowering the activation threshold of the target behavior.

Game dynamics place triggers in the path of motivated users when they feel the greatest excess in their ability.

The enduring, worldwide attraction to games has happened not by accident but by design – which is why the Gamification course has sections on Design Choices and Psychology and Motivation.

So if you are looking to find a way through the fog of how to activate behaviour change, the BMAT model, combined with gamification, could be your beacon of success!

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Secrets of Successful Storytelling

cover of change this 'How To Tell A Story'

If you’re wondering what ‘telling stories’ has to do with creating change, then the simple answer is – everything!

Jonah Sachs, Founder and CEO of Free Range Studios and author of Story Wars, has developed a summary of storytelling strategies in his Change This manifesto, ‘How To Tell A Story’.

Sachs is adamant that those intent on being effective change agents need to become adept at the art and science (and there is a science!) of storytelling:

Maybe it’s because we’re all so overloaded with information.

Maybe it’s because we’re all so starved for meaning.

Or maybe it’s because, thanks to social media, everyone’s become a broadcaster these days.

Whatever the reason, we’re all getting the same memo at the same time: if you want to be heard, you’d better learn to tell better stories.

He points out that we live in a world that has lost connection to its traditional myths, and that we are looking for new ones – new meaning.

Although such stories are powerful – they touch all of us, frame our worldview, shape our assumptions, subconsciously influence our behaviour – not all of us get to write those stories. What appears on the surface to be arguments over ideas or money is in fact fighting for control over cultural stories.

Sachs makes this appeal to those engaged in change work:

Put down your facts, your threats, your pleadings, and your special offers and try these simple storytelling strategies.

Below I’ve summarised and paraphrased a few of Sachs’s strategies which include:

Know What a Story Is 

A story is different to a strategy. Becoming a good storyteller requires becoming familiar with concepts like narrative and dramatic structure.

In his book ‘The Writer’s Journey’, Hollywood development executive and story consultant Christopher Vogler outlines ‘The Hero’s Journey’ (also known as ‘The Monomyth’).

This is a basic pattern of narrative, or story, that appears to be common across time and cultures, the essence of which was distilled by scholar and mythologist Joseph Campbell in his classic work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949).

This pattern might best be summed up as ‘The Quest’ – think of the storyline of films and literature such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Can you see how they follow this pattern?

circular b+w diagram of the Hero's Journey - the text comprising this image can be found here's_journey.htm

Image credit – to enlarge image, click it, then click again

Note also that the hero undergoes an inner transformation, as well as outer journey, and it is this transformation that will be of interest to change agents:

circular b+w diagram of hero's inner journey - text comprising this diagram can be found on the same page as the previous diagram

Image credit – to enlarge image, click it, then click again

The elements of Luke Skywalker’s Hero’s Journey and how they can relate to an audience’s journey of change and transformation are captured in this excellent diagram by Nancy Duarte of Duarte Design.

Inviting people to be part of a story is much more effective at motivating and engaging an audience than issuing instructions or appeals to logic and reason.

Be Clear on Your Values

The characters, conflicts and settings of a story are not the story. They are elements that are created and shaped in such a way for a purpose – to illustrate, through story, a moral truth about the world. As Sachs beautifully puts it ‘stories are containers for values’.

The use of the word ‘illustrate’ is important, because the most effective storytelling follows the maxim ‘show don’t tell’. If you ‘tell’ you run the risk of preaching. If you ‘show’, the audience draws their own conclusions from the sequence of story events and what happens to the characters, and are more likely to internalise the message.

In order to reveal a truth, a storyteller must first understand the values he or she stands for:

By choosing the values you promote in every story you tell, you stake out a territory and ask others to come join you, driven by their own sense of what truly matters.

Sachs points out that marketers and advertisers have long known that telling stories based on universal human values is far more effective than simply communicating the benefits of their product or service.

However, most of these stories have appealed to values such as fear, greed, status-seeking and safety, which are characterised as ‘inadequacy storytelling’ – that is, only a relationship with a brand or leader can fulfil this manufactured sense of lacking something.

Yet Joseph Campbell’s work revealed that stories which work best are not the ones that frighten people, but the ones that call them to heroic action, inspiring them to live out transcendent values such as Justice, Perseverance, Love.

This revelation is imperative for sustainability communicators who have largely attempted to motivate people to respond to ‘the call’ with communication based on fear and/or guilt.

Make Your Audience the Hero

Yoda mentors Luke Skywalker in Star Wars

In keeping with the Hero’s Journey pattern and Joseph Campbell’s model, Sachs that audiences need to identify with a hero who is like them – kind of ordinary, the person you would least expect to change the world.

He cites the examples of Luke Skywalker, from Star Wars, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz and Frodo from Lord of the Rings. All ordinary characters living ordinary lives until an ‘inciting event’ (such as the destruction of Luke’s home and family, and the tornado that swept Dorothy’s house away) rips them from the Ordinary World and sends them on a path of change.

He warns not to fall into the trap of casting yourself as the hero:

…as the leader telling a story, you are not the helpless outsider. You’re the expert. You are not the hero, your audience is. Make sure the main character(s) in your story are people who start out a lot like your audience, and then evolve to be like your audience’s aspirational selves.

The audience needs to relate to the hero, and it is the hero (the audience) that goes on the journey of change and transformation.

To use Nancy Duarte’s Star Wars metaphor, your audience is Luke Skywalker – your role as storyteller is that of Yoda, a mentor to unearth and bring into play capabilities already within the group.

The Power of Stories for Sustainability

Sachs is one of an increasing number of advocates who understand the power of stories to change the culture towards sustainability.

David Korten, author of ‘The Great Turning’ and ‘Agenda for a New Economy’, is a well-known proponent of the power of stories to change culture.

His ‘Story Change Matrix’ sets out a series of current cultural myths (stories we tell ourselves), those of ‘Empire’, and a corresponding series of ‘Earth Community’ stories that we can aspire to, speak of, and enact. For example, the ‘Empire’ story of human nature is that people are by nature greedy, selfish and violent. The ‘Earth Community’ story is that we are hard-wired to reward caring and co-operation.

Tom Atlee’s work on Story Fields is another rich seam for would-be storytellers to mine.

In his paper ‘Is Humanity Fatally Successful?’ William Rees, Post Carbon Institute fellow, and creator of the Ecological Footprint, speaks of how the need to recognise and address the role of myth and story is particularly critical, because modern industrial society believes it is no longer bound by myth – we equate myth with superstition and the unscientific beliefs of so-called ‘primitive’ peoples, and yet contemporary global culture is as susceptible to comfortable myths as any other:

We tend to think of myths as fanciful stories or primitive superstitions characteristic of the belief systems of relatively primitive peoples. By contrast, we see ourselves as a science-based, fact-based society that has long-since abandoned its need for mythic constructs. My argument is that this is, itself, our greatest social myth.

The common belief that techno-industrial society generally makes its major decisions based on scientific knowledge, fact and analysis, is simply wrong. We can find myriad examples where factual scientific knowledge has almost no impact on how people think, on popular (group) behaviour, or on the political process. The power of the myth disallows consideration of contrary evidence, including the best of scientific data.

All our great cultural stories – our myths – are concoctions of fact, belief, and shared-illusion, shaped and polished by frequent repetition and ritualistic affirmation.

Myth-making is universal to all societies, and stories are the predominant way human beings have communicated values and cultural myths for thousands of years. Nothing much has changed really – although our campfires are now electronic, stories are still how we create and reinforce cultural myths.

This transition we are facing is a social and cultural journey, it is not a rational and technological task.

If you want to change a culture, you have to change its stories.

This is humanity’s ultimate Quest.

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Harnessing the Power of Games for Change

screenshot of coursera homepage for gamification course

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been studying a free online course in Gamification, delivered by Associate Professor Kevin Werbach of the University of Pennsylvania.

Do not let the word ‘gamification’ bamboozle you! It’s just a word with lots of syllables to describe the use of game elements and design techniques in non-game contexts. ‘Game’ does not mean just video or electronic games, it is inclusive of any type of activity with a constraint, a set of rules and an objective.

Gamification can be used in a variety of ways (eg. in a company context, it has application for sales and marketing), but for change agents, understanding what makes games appealing and compelling, and how these same principles can be applied to motivate, encourage participation, and drive learning and behaviour change, is a potentially powerful tool.

How could you get people to return to your site again and again? Could they be rewarded for contributions they make to your initiative? How could they encourage others to become involved?

If these questions interest you with respect to your work, then learning more about gamification via this course is a worthwhile investment of your time.

This opportunity to study one of the first university-level courses on gamification is made possible by Coursera, a company that partners with the top universities in the world to offer courses online for anyone to take, for free, so that professors can potentially teach millions of people worldwide.

The course syllabus – which looks at the definition, design and psychological aspects, and application of games, and identifies the potential pitfalls and limitations of gamification – covers the following topics:

1.     What is Gamification?
2.     Games
3.     Game Thinking
4.     Game Elements
5.     Psychology and Motivation (I)
6.     Psychology and Motivation (II)
7.     Gamification Design Framework
8.     Design Choices
9.     Enterprise Gamification
10.   Social Good and Behavior Change
11.    Critiques and Risks
12.    Beyond the Basics


screenshot of Prof Werbach and slide on badges from video lecture

I recommend this course for both people who are completely new to the ideas of applying game design to social change, and for those who already have a bit of background – there is still a lot to learn here eg. just from the first four units:

  • how gamification is much more than PBL (points, badges and leaderboards)
  • the difference between game dynamics, mechanics and elements
  • the role of emotions in game design
  • striking the balance between skill and challenge in game design
  • the difference between games and play
  • that fun can be designed, and that there are different kinds of fun, including ‘hard’ fun – accomplishment, overcoming something vs ‘soft’ fun – blowing off steam; people fun – interacting with others, socialising, working as a team; serious fun – simulators, games with a purpose

The course runs over six weeks, with two units each week. Each unit consists of a series of video lectures (45-60 minutes divided into several videos, most under 10 minutes each).

Participants can opt to complete quizzes and short assignments in order to receive a certificate of completion, or they can just watch the videos to learn.

The first participants are already part-way through the course (27 August – 8 October), but you can enrol for the next round here.

In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and – SNAPthe job’s a game!

Mary Poppins

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Are You Ready To Make Some Change – Then Give It All Away?

Free Money Day logo - coin breaking chains around wrists

Free Money Day – 15 September 2012

Many of you may know that I am involved with a group called the Post Growth Institute (PGI), an international network of volunteers whose work is about exploring paths to global prosperity that do not depend on economic growth (‘beyond bigger, towards better’).

One of PGI’s initiatives is ‘Free Money Day’, a global stunt held on 15 September each year, in which people hand out their own money to complete strangers and ask recipients to pass half on to someone else.

The premise is very simple: Get some money, break it down into small coins or notes, and give them away two at a time. Ask each person you give it to to pass one of them on to someone else. That’s it! People got very creative last year, with events ranging from handouts in the street, to a cyber-event, to randomly distributed pieces of art around town.

Free Money Day is an opportunity to get creative and have some fun in order to think differently and have some different conversations about money: the meaning it holds for us, the ways we engage with it, and how we might do so differently. It is a way to spark conversations about the benefits of economies based on sharing, and also allows us to think about wealth in ways other than those that centre on money.

If you’d like to be part of this social experiment and ‘signal interruption’ to business as usual, it’s as simple as making a pledge, and giving away even a small amount (say $10), anywhere, and telling your story. If you can get pictures or footage to share, even better!

Check out this short clip to see what happened when people gave away their money in public, for free, last year:

The options are endless. For instance, Free Money Day would be a fantastic school-based event through which students of any age can explore the history of money and experience the ‘richness’ of giving.

Being a symbolic event intended to inspire dialogue and alternative possibilities, participation does not require having a lot of cash to give away. In fact, including barter activities in Free Money Day events would be an exciting development! Free Money Day 2012 aims to kick the giving up a notch by also including the forgiving of formal and informal debts on both personal and institutional levels in the activity.

If you’re curious about how people respond to such a reversal of giving (handing money out, instead of asking others to do so), here are a few reflections from last year’s event which took place in over 60 locations worldwide:

Those are the moments in life that I’m PASSIONATE about. Moments that challenge common conceptions, touch people in a different way that might actually make a shift in paradigm, generate debate and bring back LOVE to our lives – Axel

Inspired me to become more pro-active about the things I value and believe could improve the standard of living of others – Nudzejma

I think about all the time. I have a family, I want to look after them the best I can. So, obviously amassing as much as I can gives them the lifestyle that I want to give them. This concept of…having someone give it back to you throws everything on its head, gives me a chance to reflect…It never is enough. You just tend to spend as much as you make – Ted

I’m a homeless man and I often get confronted by beggars coming up to me in the street, cutting me off, confrontational, and asking for spare change. Now, the awareness of this today is so cool because if everyone went around giving, no one would be asking…and the world would be such a better place – Joe

If you wish to participate, please sign up! You can be the driver of your own event, and share the experience with others around the world via photos, video, text, or whatever media works for you.

If you want to learn more, you can find frequently asked questions, contact information, news from previous events, and more details on the Free Money Day website.

This post includes content from the article by PGI’s Janet Newbury, which was originally published at