From building and selling two technology companies to writing Hooked and Indistractable, Nir Eyal learned from the masters of persuasion manipulation to ultimately become a behavioral designer. As a behavioral designer, Nir helps companies build products and services that get people hooked on healthy habits. While his first book, Hooked, is about creating habit-forming products, his second book, Indistractable, is about breaking bad habits. Nir never did build his third company; instead, he began speaking, teaching, and consulting at the peak of his career. Join us to hear how persuasion manipulation and good product design might help us accomplish the things we already set out to do and the importance of becoming indistractable.
Speaker 1 [00:00:14] Three, two, one. Lift off. We have a lift-off.
Sam Jayanti [00:00:34] Today we’re in conversation with Nir Eyal. Nir, welcome to the show.
Nir Eyal [00:00:40] Thanks! It’s great to be here.
Sam Jayanti [00:00:42] So Nir is a writer, consultant, teacher and entrepreneur whose work lies at the intersection of technology, psychology and business. Bloomberg Businessweek describes Nir as the habits guy, and we first discovered Nir through his book Hooked. A must read for anyone working in or interested in consumer psychology. His second book, Indestructible, received wide critical acclaim. Nir in introducing you. There’s lots I didn’t say, and because we’d love our listeners to hear directly from you. Tell us anything else that you’d like to tell our listeners.
Nir Eyal [00:01:23] Oh, let’s see. So I guess professionally, you would call me a behavioral designer. I help companies build the kind of products and services that get people hooked to healthy habits. So I work a lot with health care companies, with financial services products, with education products, anything where using the product is something that the business relies upon. So what kind of products don’t you use? Well, products that you use infrequently or a sales driven type product. So if it’s, you know, cybersecurity software that you don’t really use, you buy it, but you don’t use it. Insurance, for example, you don’t use car insurance, you buy it. And then, God forbid, something terrible happens, then you need it, but you don’t really use it on a day to day basis as opposed to SaaS products, fintech, edtech, health, tech, these products that if you don’t use well, the company’s out of business, right? You have to use it or else you’re not going to get any benefits from the product. And of course, you won’t keep paying for it if you don’t form a habit around it. And we’re seeing increasingly that more and more companies have this challenge of keeping people engaged, keep people hooked. So that’s my kind of professional side, along with writing and investing in these type of companies that build healthy habits in users lives. I also help people with the other side of the story. So Hooked was about how to build habit forming products. Indestructible is about how do we break bad habits and I think we can have our cake and eat it too. We can get the best out of technology without letting you get the best of us.
Sam Jayanti [00:02:48] That’s such a key that I definitely want to get into later in the episode. So in addition to your two books, which will delve into in a second, you’ve built and sold to technology companies, tell us a little bit about the companies. What made you build them and then what made you exit in the end?
Nir Eyal [00:03:05] Yeah. So the first company was in the solar energy field. This was back in 2003, back when there were no subsidies or very, very few subsidies. Not like today. Where the solar industry is is heavily subsidized and a very big and successful industry. But back then, 2003, nobody was not many people were doing solar energy. So I got into it back then with, you know, folks who were kind of left over from the Carter years who were still doing solar back when they had subsidies and yeah, cofounded that company. And then so did a few years later to a private equity firm and that kind of put us on our feet. And I decided to go to Stanford Graduate School of Business after that. And then while at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, I had a great timing that I graduated 2008, and that was the year the Apple App Store was introduced. And so the world kind of changed in Silicon Valley in a big way because now we had this brand new interface of the cell phone, the smartphone, to explore. And so my I started another company in what back then we called virtual goods. Today you would call these nfts. But of course we didn’t we didn’t know that was the name for back then or that that term had come about yet. And so I was at the intersection of gaming and advertising, and it was through that company. We raised a bunch of money, we took VC capital, and it was through that experience that I met clients and colleagues and just people throughout the Valley who were experts, masters in consumer psychology. My friends who worked at Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and Slack and WhatsApp, I had this front row seat to learn how these companies change our behavior. And so when I wanted to start my third company, I knew that habits would be a big part of whatever it is I want to do next. Because I had this hypothesis that as the interface that we used to interact with, the Internet shrunk, right? So as we went from desktop, big desktop screens to laptop screens, it got a lot smaller to mobile screens, I got a lot smaller to wearable screens to. Now the screens have disappeared altogether. Right? If you think about the Amazon Alexa, that the screens are completely gone now. And so every time that happens, every time the interface shrunk, that would therefore mean that habits became increasingly important. It’s just an issue of real estate that the less room you have on someone’s screen to ping and ding them, the more you rely on the user’s memory to interact with your product or service. So if you’re not today, you know, if you’re not on someone’s home screen, you might as well not exist unless they remember to use your product. And so I knew habits would be increasingly important and I knew whatever it is that I would do next would involve habits. So I looked around, Hey, where’s the book on how to build habits? And I couldn’t find such a book. I found a lot of books on, you know, self-help books about personal habits, but none from a business perspective on how to build habits, how to build habit forming products. So I started writing it for myself. I codified what I would learn from. Being in the valley and talking to people who are building these, you know, products that were masters of of manipulation. And so what I want to do is to steal their secrets, quite frankly. So I got the secrets of the Facebooks and Googles and Amazon and WhatsApp and Slack and Snapchat, these companies that are so good at changing your behavior. And I put it into a model that I think is is practical enough to be of use to any sort of business that wants to build a repeat habit. And then that kind of became what I did next. So I never entered a building that that third company that third company became speaking and writing and teaching. Because from from writing a blog, it turned into a book which turned to a course that I taught for many years at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and then later over at the has a plan of design at Stanford. And today I consult and teach and speak about this, this very topic. And I love it.
Sam Jayanti [00:06:57] That’s amazing. I mean, your career’s taken a lot of twists and turns along the way. You know, stepping back for a second when you were leaving graduate school, coming out of Stanford, did you think you would end up writing, blogging, consulting this portfolio of things that you do today?
Nir Eyal [00:07:14] Definitely not. No, I didn’t know you could do this for a living. Right. And frankly, you can’t really write like you can’t. The odds are really not in your favor for someone to just say, oh, I want to be an author, speaker, consultant. You have to first learn something worth teaching others. So it’s not something I would recommend for someone straight out of undergrad, like, well, what the hell are you going to teach people? Right? Like, I needed those war wounds. I needed to be in the field, that I needed to build product and to manage a team. I needed to raise VC capital. I need to hire and fire. I needed to be in the trenches in order to have the credibility with my clients to know what I’m talking about when we’re trying to work together. So it’s something that came kind of maybe at the peak of my career as opposed to something that I would have done starting a career that would have been a bad move.
Sam Jayanti [00:08:01] Yeah, absolutely. Makes sense in looking back on both companies that you started and subsequently sold. They were quite a bit ahead of their time in the sense of you had this sort of vision that the that the world and the market in a sense hadn’t yet caught up to. As you look back on that and, you know, many entrepreneurs are early in in kind of initiating these ideas. Tell us a little bit about the role of timing in entrepreneurship.
Nir Eyal [00:08:35] Oh, it’s it’s such a good question. It’s such a good point. I remember I had a professor and became a friend by the name of Andy Radcliff, who was one of the founding partners of Benchmark Capital, you know, a legendary firm in Silicon Valley. They all the way back from they were some of the first money in eBay. And, you know, benchmark today is, you know, top top five VC capital or venture capital fund in the world. And I remember he said early is the same as wrong and he’s so right. You know, Apple was not the first laptop maker. Apple was not the first smartphone maker. Facebook was not the first social network. Google was not the first search engine. Amazon was not the first e-commerce site. But all of these companies, they weren’t the first. But for their industry, they were kind of the last, if they were the best. And so many of the companies that they went after the same exact idea, failed.
Sam Jayanti [00:09:26] Yeah.
Nir Eyal [00:09:26] Whether it’s Friendster or Nokia or a Yahoo! Search or Lycos. I mean, these companies make half your audience, but you don’t even know these companies ever existed. Right. And these companies had the same exact idea, which goes to show you how it’s never the idea unless you’re working maybe in health care, where there really is some proprietary formula for for some kind of pharmaceutical. But for the vast majority of businesses, it’s not your idea. Ideas are cheap about execution. Right. And of course, timing. Right. Being in the right place at the right time. Let’s let’s let’s be very frank here. You need a dose of luck as my friend James Courier, who’s managing partner and in fact says, you have to work hard, you have to be smart, and you have to get hit by the lucky bus, because a lot of of of timing is not in your control. So, you know, you know how you how well you execute the team. You bring together, what market you tackle. Sure, those things are under your control, but timing is not always under your control. And I’m kind of a testament to that, am I? Mistakes have been always being way too early. I was in solo way too early. I was in virtual goods and if these were way too early. But hey, at least I have a pretty good record of seeing what’s coming, which I then translate it into how I actually make money now, you know, I do speaking in consulting, but really where I make my income is, is investing. And I only invest based on companies that use my methodology. And I’ve done pretty well. I’ve invested in Canva and Hut and Eventbrite and many, many unicorns now. So I hit rates pretty good because I leverage that skill in terms of seeing what’s coming as opposed to building it. I can invest in it, which yields much better returns.
Sam Jayanti [00:11:02] Yeah, absolutely. In your first book Hooked, you created a framework for lots of startup entrepreneurs. It’s turned into a handbook. I mean, I remember when we were starting a deal and building our product for for coaching. I spent a lot of time working up hooked you worked in gaming and advertising and. Talk a little bit about how many of those experiences inform the framework that you developed in Hooked. And you also talk about the techniques that you ran across that you ultimately rejected in terms of sort of drawing users in and keeping them on a platform. Talk a little bit about the framework so that our listeners understand it, and then I’d love for you to talk about where that line is. In your mind between inducing behaviors that are healthy and good for users and also good for the business. And where that line gets crossed.
Nir Eyal [00:12:07] Yeah, absolutely. So. So all design is a form of manipulation and all design. I don’t care if it’s interaction design, if it’s interior design, if it’s graphic design, all design seeks to manipulate your emotions and or your behavior. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, after all, we pay for the privilege, right? We want our space to be designed to be more useful, to be more, to make us feel at home. For example, we might want to call an interior designer. We want products to be interesting, to use, to be engaging. That’s a good thing. So manipulation isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The term kind of has a negative connotation, but actually the word itself is not necessarily denote anything malicious because I think you can you can break apart manipulation into two types of manipulation. There’s what we call persuasion, which is helping people do things that they want to do. And then you have what you call coercion. Coercion is getting people to do things they did not want to do. And coercion almost always is unethical. And why do I say almost? Because you could say, you know, I want to go fast, but I am coerced into going the speed limit or something bad will happen. Right. So that’s maybe the only way. Only the government has the ethical right to coerce people. But everybody else in businesses cannot coerce people. And it’s unethical. Not only is it an ethical, it’s bad for business. And so this is where you can separate what we call dark patterns, design patterns, that creative behavior that they used for later regrets, which are clearly would be classified as coercion from persuasion and persuasion. I think we don’t have enough of coercion. We don’t need. It’s unethical. We shouldn’t do it. Not only are they are your customers not going to do business with you anymore? They’re going to tell all their friends on social media never to do business with you again. So coercion is just bad for business persuades you we don’t have anywhere near enough of. We need manipulation that helps people do what they themselves want to do. Right. How many of us say we want to eat? Right. Say when exercise, save money, connect with loved ones, be more productive at work. We want to do these things, but for lack of good product design, we don’t do these things. And so that’s the job of the behavioral designer, is to help people do things that they themselves and the company wants them to do, but for lack of good design, don’t do. And so that’s how I think we would split those two categories of persuasion and coercion, that key word being regret. And so this is what I propose the ethical tests of the regret test, which says that we only want to design things that customers will not regret doing right. We want to build things that that people themselves would look at and say, Yeah, that that was great, versus something that they look back at and say, Ooh, I wish I had never done that. And I and so that’s how you can stay out of that gray zone or even the black zone of using dark patterns.
Sam Jayanti [00:14:57] Yeah. Makes a lot of sense. Can you talk a little bit about the framework that you outline unhooked and sort of how it how the concepts really connect? Because I think it’s it’s, you know, simple, intuitive and really powerful for our testers.
Nir Eyal [00:15:13] Yeah, absolutely. So the hook model is a four stage process that users go through in the experience of interacting with your product. So this can be an online product. An offline product could be consumer web, it could be enterprise, doesn’t matter. It just needs to be used with sufficient frequency to build a habit. And what we find is that this design pattern is in all sorts of products. And so once you hear about it, you got to start seeing it and all kinds of things that keep you hooked. So Hook starts with a trigger and there are two kinds of triggers. The first kind of trigger is called an external trigger. We’ll get back to the other one here in a minute. But the first kind of a trigger is called an external trigger, which is something in our outside environment that tells us what to do next. A ping ding. We’re hearing something in the outside environment that gives us a piece of information for what to do next. Okay, that’s the external trigger. Then comes the action face. The action phase is defined as the simplest behavior done in anticipation of a reward. So maybe you get a ding on your phone from Instagram or TikTok or your email or your slack. That would be the external trigger. The action. The simplest behavior done in anticipation of reward is to simply open the app. When you open the app, you get what’s called a variable reward. And this is something that people have probably heard of rewards before, but not many people have heard of variable rewards. We know that when there is what’s called an intermittent reinforcement, when there’s some kind of uncertainty, some kind of variability associated with a product, it makes it far more engaging. So it’s what makes sports exciting. It’s what makes a book fun to read. It’s what makes the news new, right? The first three letters of news and what’s new is what you don’t know. That you’re looking to find out is what makes gambling engaging. It’s what makes the scroll in the newsfeed so intoxicating. All of this is driven the real engine of. Of a product habit is that variable reward, that bit of uncertainty. And we see it just as much online, offline, enterprise products, consumer web. Every habit forming product has to have that. And then finally, perhaps the most overlooked of the four steps, but by far the most important is what’s called the investment phase, the investment phase of the where the user puts something into the product to make it better with use. And this is a really big deal. This has never been done before because most products, right, when you think of products offline, things that are made out of bits I’m sorry, things that are made of atoms rather than things that are made out of bits. So your clothing, your car, your couch, these things are made in the physical world. They all have the same attribute of depreciating, right? They depreciate with use. They lose value with wear and tear. Yeah. Habit forming products do the opposite. A habit forming product does not depreciate. It appreciates it gets better and better with use. It appreciates with wear and tear. And so that’s a a big, big deal because the more the product is used, the more valuable it becomes through data content, reputation, skill, acquisition. There’s all kinds of ways you can use what I call stored value to make a product better and better with use. And so it’s through successive cycles, through these four steps, trigger action, reward investment that eventually we begin to form in association with the second type of of trigger, which is called an internal trigger. And this is really where the magic happens because if you are the kind of company that builds a habit, you transition from needing an external trigger at all to having the user trigger themselves. What does that look like? That means people use your products, not when you send them annoying, spammy messages, not when you spent all that money on advertising. But get this people use your product because they want to, not because they have to. Yeah. And if that happens, if you can bring people back to your product and service on their own through what’s called unprompted user engagement, you build that habit. You don’t have to spend money on ads. You don’t have to reengage people constantly with annoying messages. They come back on their own. And that not only makes for a great user experience, it’s a huge advantage. In the marketplace. You have essentially a monopoly. It’s called the monopoly of the mind. You’re the first to mind solution that people turn to. And when people form a habit, they don’t even give the competition a chance. I think about how many times do you say to yourself, Oh, I need to Google something? Yeah, you don’t even care if there’s a competitor who has the better search engine. Newsflash There are better search engines out there, but we don’t even give them a shot. Why? Is it because they have a actual monopoly? No, it’s just a habit. It’s all it is. Google’s entire market cap is based on a consumer habit. If everybody tomorrow somehow magically broke that habit, that company would be in big, big trouble. It’s purely habit driven copy. And all these companies are purely driven out of habit. It’s not the amazing technology. The technology can be copied. The habit is a competitive moat. It’s very, very hard to take away.
Sam Jayanti [00:19:55] Yeah. I mean, the the habit is the Holy Grail, right? And as you said, in technology in particular, unlike physical products, the value is entirely derived from turning the product into a habit where where then the internal triggers keep bringing people back. Why is it, do you think, that entrepreneurs build technology startups all the time? And so many of them do not pay attention to this circle in a sense of that that is value creating for the company of forming habits, creating the right triggers, and using the right user behavior. Why do you think that is? Because the focus is almost on the. Product itself, the user experience, the how the product is different from everything else that’s in the market. And then not as much attention or not adequate attention ends up being paid to, well, how are you actually going to bring users back and build sustainable value?
Nir Eyal [00:21:03] Yeah, because it isn’t an easy answer to fix. So growth. This is what would oftentimes happen. Companies get into what’s called this growth trap because you can always buy growth. Okay. You can take your product and you can buy some ads from Facebook or buy some ads from Google or buy some ads from NBC or buy some ads from the radio station. You can drive growth, right? You just convince some VC to give you money and you pay that money over to a media company and you will get growth. Okay. You can always buy that and you can trick people and yourself into thinking you’re successful. Because look at all the new users we have right before you bought that.
Sam Jayanti [00:21:43] Right.
Nir Eyal [00:21:43] And what you cannot buy is engagement. You can’t buy engagement. Engagement must be designed into the product, which is why we have so many products out there that we call leaky buckets, right. Where where, you know, there’s this amazing growth that happens. And then for whatever reason, people aren’t sticking around what happened. So these are called leaky buckets, right? Customers come in, customers leak out. What a great example of throwing good money after bad, right? If you’re spending money growing a product through paid acquisition that can’t retain users, what the hell are you doing? Right? You are literally setting money on fire. Or at least you might as well be. Yeah. And so we don’t folk people oftentimes skip this very, very important step of engagement because they’re so excited. Right. You ever talk to an entrepreneur? They have what we call this reality distortion field of, oh, the product so great, so amazing. I’ll just put it out there. It’s going to be incredible. And they don’t want to hear the bad news that they design a crappy product that people want to use. Yeah. And so that bad, bad news can oftentimes be very hard to hear. And that’s where they call me. So if you have a leaky bucket, you call the plumber. And I get a call every single week from somebody that just put a few million dollars into a company they thought was super amazing because the growth looked incredible. And then it comes to comes to the sea a few months later, all that growth is for not because nobody’s sticking around. And so they call the plumber to stop up the leaks. And so that’s what the hook model is for. And then they they say, oh, okay, now we understand, right? There’s they didn’t pick a good internal trigger or the action is too difficult or the reward isn’t variable and doesn’t scratch the users itch or the end. We’re not asking for a proper investment. So that’s where you can take out the hook model, the diagnostic tool to figure out the problem. Yeah. And sometimes you can get your team together. And I’ve seen this all the time. You come up with a solution to where the hook model is broken, right? You you design new features to make sure that that the hook works other times, sorry, it’s not going to be a habit forming product. You might as well kill the product and try something else.
Sam Jayanti [00:23:42] Yeah.
Nir Eyal [00:23:43] But at least you know why, right? You’ll know why the product isn’t sticky.
Sam Jayanti [00:23:46] Yeah. I mean, that ecosystem has also been fueled by, as you said, you know, venture capitalists putting money into companies where they haven’t adequately understood whether the user is actually there to stick around or that has just bought being bought by users, being bought through advertising or whatever else.
Nir Eyal [00:24:06] And to be fair to it, it’s not the only thing that matters. Right? That engagement very, very important. But so is a total addressable market. So is the team, so is monetization. There’s a lot of other things that go into building a business. I’m not, you know, that egotistical to say it is the only thing that matters. This isn’t pixie dust. You can, you know, pour on any business and poof, you’ve got the next unicorn. But it is something that if your business model depends on user engagement, you better damn well understand. Or you may have some surprises down the road.
Sam Jayanti [00:24:35] Yeah, absolutely. So an increasing number of people in our society, societies around the world, struggle with changing habits. Why is that?
Nir Eyal [00:24:48] Well, habits are learned behaviors, their impulses to do a behavior with little or no conscious thought. And they’re wonderful. Right. This is an evolutionary advantage. It’s an evolutionary gift that we have to learn things in a way that we can put it on autopilot. Right. So if you if you can imagine, what would it be driving your car the way you drove it when you first learned to drive at 16 or 18? Right. That was horrible. When he first learned disaster. Right. Because you had to pay full attention to what happened over time. You learn that behavior. Now it’s a habit. Now you can drive your car down the interstate while you’re listening to a podcast or having a conversation or doing whatever you’re doing, because those very complex behaviors have now turned into a habit. The problem, of course, to the habit is that once that habit is formed, it can be very hard to break that habit. And so the methodology this is why I wrote two separate books, because there’s a myth out there that the way to break a habit is just replace it with another habit. And that almost never works that the way to break a habit is actually quite the opposite. It doesn’t work in reverse. The techniques are completely different for how you break a habit versus how you build a habit.
Sam Jayanti [00:25:57] Yeah. Do you think that habit forming products have amplified this problem of I mean, since time immemorial, people have struggled to change habits. It’s so hardwired into our systems as you as you’ve described. Do you think that technology and the increased role it’s played in our lives has made it harder and harder to break some of these habits? Particularly, I think, what you talk about in your book, right, where people are less productive because they’re distracted.
Nir Eyal [00:26:30] Yeah. I’m not sure if it’s harder or easier to break these habits. We do definitely have more choice and more options for what habit we would like to form or about habit we would like to break. You know, in many ways, if you think about what it was like before these technologies, you were stuck, right? Like just think about, okay, let’s say you have a bad habit today. Yeah. Okay. I don’t know. You have a bad habit you feel comfortable sharing.
Sam Jayanti [00:26:55] Goodness. My bad habit is probably if left to my own devices, I would drink too much caffeine.
Nir Eyal [00:27:02] Okay. Drinking too much caffeine. Okay, so let’s say pre-Internet. Okay. Let’s say in the year 1980, we were having this conversation in a coffee shop. What would be your choices? Well, I guess you could go to the library, right? I guess you could talk to a psychiatrist today. What do you do in about 30 seconds? You type into Google. How do I cut back on drinking caffeine and boom? You’ve got some answers that you can try immediately. You can listen to us talking about a podcast. You could I mean, there’s a million things you could do. Yeah. So that access to information, it can be a curse and a blessing, of course. As Pulver also said, the philosopher, when you invent the ship, you invent the shipwreck. Yeah. So? So the fact that technology giveth, it also taketh away, right? That the fact that you had is this information means that, oh, my God, you have so much information at your fingertips that you could spend your entire life consuming podcasts and YouTube and, you know, you just name it. It’s infinite. Yeah, but I don’t want to go back to that the age before these things. That’s not you know, these problems are a symptom of progress. Right. Thank God we live a life where we can complain about distraction. I mean, for 200,000 years of human history, people weren’t distracted because they had no choice. Right. They were hunting for food and trying to make sure that their kids weren’t dying of whatever communicable diseases was getting, killing half the children. So, you know, thank goodness we have the luxury, the supreme luxury. We should never forget it of having the possibility of being distracted. But as Kierkegaard said, that dizziness or sorry, that anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. So we are the most free people in history. We can decide what we want to do with our time and attention in a way that our ancestors never could. So it’s no surprise that we’re dizzy with anxiety because we have so much freedom. Right. And there’s different types of freedom. But when it comes to how do you spend your time, we’ve never had so much choice, which can be anxiety producing, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Right. That can be a blessing if we know what to do with that freedom, we can we can use that towards frivolity or we can use it to learn. We can use it to connect, we can use it to be better people. And so I know very few people who want to go back to the age before these things existed. I mean, of course, you have that choice. You can always go be a hermit somewhere and not use technology. Nobody’s going to stop you. But the vast majority of people want to use these tools, but they’re not quite sure how to use them in the way that serves them as opposed to them serving the technology.
Sam Jayanti [00:29:33] Do you think? You know, in our business, many of the people that we work with are between the age of 17 and 25. And they’re in particular, many of them struggle with, as you said, this luxury of choice. It is completely anxiety inducing and identifying a starting point. When you have that much information and those many choices and options at your fingertips is often quite difficult. Is there something generational or something about the time in which they have grown up with these devices, with this amount of information, with this amount of choice that makes it particularly different for that generation?
Nir Eyal [00:30:19] Well, I think, you know, if there’s one thing we know as a constant is that the older generation always complains about the kids these days. Sure. I mean, like literally we have we have Roman scrolls that are that where people thousands of years ago were complaining about the kids these days.
Sam Jayanti [00:30:34] So we should have.
Nir Eyal [00:30:35] A historical perspective that, you know, they said this about us when we were kids. It was the Nintendo, it was the Dungeons Dragons. It was the MTV. It was the radio. I mean, just go back. I mean, Socrates complained about the written word being a terrible technology that was going on, too, in feeble men’s minds. So we have to you know, the historical precedent is that we’re probably freaking out that every generation does this. But the solution is it’s not that technology is good or bad. Technology evolves, right? We make it better. So back to that quote from Paul’s really of when you invent the ship, you invent the shipwreck. One was last time you heard about a shipwreck? Almost never. Right. Why? Why don’t you hear about shipwrecks anymore? Did we stop sailing ships? Did we say, Oh, young people today they’re sailing ships too much? No, we made ships better. Yeah.
Sam Jayanti [00:31:22] With time and cycles to improve.
Nir Eyal [00:31:24] Well there’s new technology. And that’s exactly what you see today, right? A few years ago, everybody’s like, oh, Facebook is horrible. Health care is about Facebook anymore. Now people have moved on to greener pastures because Facebook’s a dumpster fire. I don’t know anybody under 30 who uses Facebook anymore.
Sam Jayanti [00:31:38] Just Instagram that’s still owned by Facebook, but ok.
Nir Eyal [00:31:41] It’s like Facebook proper, right? Like when a Social Dilemma movie came out, Oh, Facebook is melting your brains, it’s hijacking your minds, blah, blah, blah. Well, guess what? When it was making people feel crappy, right? When all that political garbage and in the advertising made people not like Facebook anymore, they look for alternatives. TikTok is highly moderated, right? It seems like it’s a free space, but it’s incredibly well moderated by those those algorithms. There’s other problems, right? I’m not a TikTok supporter by any means. I think it’s the private sector. But what we are seeing is a technology evolve to have less of the bad aspects to it. Yeah, right. And remember, what is it replacing? What is this generation replacing with their phones? Well, the replacing what we used to do, which is watch the goddamn boob tube for hours on end watching, you know, stupid crap on TV is couch potatoes, as we used to be called when we were teenagers. I would much rather have someone interacting online with somebody rather than watching more Fox News or whatever else that it could be doing with their time in their brain. So, you know, we have to understand, we don’t live in a bubble here. People will spend their time one way or the other. If everybody stop using cell phones, they’re going to start reading Chaucer and Shakespeare, you know, in their spare time. They’re gonna do something else with that time. Yeah. So, it’s about building the kind of products and services that, that enhance people’s lives. And people aren’t stupid, right? People will migrate to a product that serves them at the end of the day if given that option. So we need more people listening to this podcast, going out there and building products that are that fix the last generation of bad products.
Sam Jayanti [00:33:08] Yeah, I think, I think in the end it’s, it’s consumer choice, right? As technology evolves, it confers more choice and right even for this generation, which has its challenges. And I don’t think it’s it’s not the older generation sort of talking about, oh, the kids, you know, are problematic these days. It’s this generation really feeling that sense of challenge and difficulty and making the choices that they need to make. But even for them, there are a set of choices that are ever evolving and growing. I think is your point where conscious decisions can be made to get on or off something and they’re always better alternatives.
Nir Eyal [00:33:50] And that’s why I wrote Indestructible is that I don’t judge. You know, it’s very easy to moralize and medical wise and say, Oh, the video games, the social media, that’s bad because that’s not what I did when I was a kid. Yeah, but many of these things, you know, it’s way simplistic to have that kind of argument because we don’t know what people are doing with these screens. Right. It’s not just nefarious stuff. My 14 year old never took a lesson in ukulele or guitar in her life, and she plays like a dream. What? YouTube taught her to do those things right. Like she connects with people all over the world. She learns languages, she interacts with her tutors like. So all kinds of amazing things, obviously. Right? I don’t need to rehash this, but sometimes we forget about all the good, so it’s all a tradeoff. I think the idea here is that we can use these things in a in a better way and you have to become indestructible because there will be a buy vacation of people, people who allow their time and attention to be controlled and coerced by others, and people who say, no, I will decide how I use these technologies. I will decide how I spend my time attention, because that is ultimately how you choose your life.
Sam Jayanti [00:34:56] What’s ultimately regaining control. Yea
Nir Eyal [00:34:59] Exactly. Exactly. But if you do this passively, if you raise children that do this passively, they will get you right. Technology is not neutral. Technology is designed to get you to do certain things. And this is no surprise. And it does matter what the technology is, whether it’s the newspaper, the radio, whatever, every form of media wants you to consume it. And they’re never going to tell you. The New York Times and Fox News is never going to tell you. Oh, you have enough. Go have a life. They’re never going to do that. And nor is Facebook or TikTok. Right. All form of media wants to consume your attention. Now it’s up to us to figure out how we use that. And so that’s why becoming indistractible is so important, why we have to raise indistractible kids. Because, you know, this isn’t slowing down. Right. Products are becoming more engaging. They’re becoming more ubiquitous. They’re becoming more pervasive while they’re becoming more persuasive. So we have to be very careful about how we use these tools and teach ourselves and set a good example for our kids for how to become indistractible.
Sam Jayanti [00:35:54] Yea absolutely. So I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about. The School of hard knocks. There are always key, seminal, negative experiences that shape us into who we are.
Nir Eyal [00:36:08] Hmm.
Sam Jayanti [00:36:09] What are one or two experiences that have been particularly influential for you?
Nir Eyal [00:36:15] Huh? Where do I start? Along with. You know, there’s. It? I think I think it’s about how we look at these these struggles. There’s you know, there’s this concept of post-traumatic stress and then post-traumatic growth. And it’s how we look at those experiences that that that shape what becomes of us. You know, there’s that comic strip, I think it was in The New Yorker where they they had a guy on the corner panhandling and he has a sign that says, my father was an alcoholic. And then next to him is a guy who looks like he’s, you know, making $1,000,000 on Wall Street and a three piece suit. And he’s holding up a sign that says, my dad was an alcoholic. So it’s it’s really about how we respond to these things. How many people do you hear that’s that use that as as rocket fuel to make them better when they have traumatic experiences versus how many people say, you know what, I’m stuck because you see, this thing happened to me and I and that’s going to mold me. And for me, I think one turning point in my life was that I used to be clinically obese as a kid. And so I remember my parents took me to fat camp and, you know, it was I was bullied. And I grew up in central Florida in my little condominium complex. We had, you know, one pool for the whole condominium complex. And I was the kid who never took off their shirt. I would go into the pool with my t shirt because I didn’t want anyone to see my rolls. And so I remember like that being a pretty tough experience. But I think what helped me through that was when I regained control and agency, when I, I remember I get at this book, this is way before the Internet. I had this book called The T Factor. And all it was is a little pamphlet, essentially, and it had a list of the macros in different food, calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates in all kinds of common foods. And just that knowledge of like, okay, now I understand why, you know, Cocoa Krispies is not as good for you as Cheerios. Well, here’s why. You know, whatever it might be that says that knowledge and that sense of agency that that gave me was was super empowering. So it kind of it made me fascinated, not only in terms of how I remember being really interested back then, did a lot of even back then of understanding how like cereals were designed to get kids attention, right? How junk food and how the brands manipulated the boxes to to look down. And, you know, the Trix Rabbit looks down at you because if it’s on a shelf, it gets the kids attention to ask mommy or daddy to buy it. All these little tricks that companies play. I remember being really fascinated by that and kind of being angry but also taking action. And I think that that’s something that’s really stayed with me is not only the fascination with these things and some of them, you know, clearly are unethical. And we do need once in a while government to step in and correct these market failures. But a lot of times these things are things that companies are never going to fix and we frankly don’t want them to fix. Right. Like I don’t want Captain Crunch is really unhealthy, I’m sure. I think a big reason why I was obese as a kid was, you know, the captain did it to me. But but I don’t want to live in a world without Captain Crunch and Dunkin Donuts and Coca-Cola. I mean, these things are delicious. I want them from time to time. So the answer isn’t, you know, to wag our fist and say, how dare you? Manufacturers make products. People like, oh, my God, that’s their job. The government needs to be, how can we live with these products in a way that we can use them in a way that serves us? And so that’s that same theme that I think carries on today in terms of our devices.
Sam Jayanti [00:39:48] I mean, it’s a fascinating story. You obviously went through a hard time as a child, but it was so influential and in the types of questions that it made you ask that you continue to ask today, in effect. Yeah.
Nir Eyal [00:40:03] Yeah, totally. Yeah.
Sam Jayanti [00:40:05] Fascinating. What’s been the role of mentorship and coaching in your career? We all have different people, different times, the same people throughout time who act as guides, teachers, advisors for us. Who are those people in your life?
Nir Eyal [00:40:24] Yeah, I’ve been really, really fortunate that I’ve had people kind of show up at really opportune times to be my mentors. Even in grade school, I had this third grade teacher who somehow was super nice to me. I remember Mrs. Dyleski, and I still remember her. I saw her a few years ago, even a few years before the pandemic. She just kind of appeared my life in third grade. And really, I, you know, really changed my life. My first job out of high school, I was I took a year off between high school and college to do AmeriCorps, which is kind of like a domestic Peace Corps. And there’s this my boss, his name is Ricky Hyde. And again, just an amazing mentor who I’ll never forget and help me that time in my life. And then in college, there was a guy by the name of Andrew Filer who spoke to him last week. And just an amazing guy who I was connected through a professor and he was an alumni, at BCG which is where I worked after. College. And. And then later in life. Gretchen Rubin, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with her.
Sam Jayanti [00:41:30] She is a close friend.
Nir Eyal [00:41:31] Yeah. Yeah. Oh, you know. Ah, okay.
Sam Jayanti [00:41:33] Gretchen and I’ve been in the same book group together for 20 years.
Nir Eyal [00:41:37] Yeah, we have the same agents, Christy Fletcher and Gretchen and whatever I call her. She’s just so generous. And whenever I have questions about, ah, my professional career as an author, I don’t want, I don’t like to bother her too much. But yeah, I’ve just been really, really fortunate to, to have these voices I can call in from call on to from every once in a while, and I’m infinitely grateful for them.
Sam Jayanti [00:42:00] Yeah. That’s fantastic. Any parting thoughts? Final thoughts for our listeners on habits, products, entrepreneurship, your experiences?
Nir Eyal [00:42:11] I think I think if there’s one mantra that really summarizes my work over the past few, what is it, almost a decade now? More than a decade now, it’s that the antidote to impulsiveness is forethought. I’ll say that again. The antidote to impulsiveness is forethought. And so this more relates to my second book indistractable, which really the big takeaway for me was that there is no distraction that we can’t overcome if we think ahead, because at the end of the day, these are impulse control issues. And if we wait till the last minute, they’re going to get us right. If you if the cigarets in your hand, you’re going to smoke it. If the fork has a piece of chocolate cake on it and it’s on on your way to your mouth and you’re on a diet, you’re going to eat it if you sleep next to your cell phone every night. Don’t be surprised if it’s the first thing you reach for in the morning before you even say hello to your partner. Okay. It’s too late. They will get you. But if you think ahead, if you take some steps today, you can prevent getting distracted tomorrow. So the antidote to compulsive this is forethought.
Sam Jayanti [00:43:14] That’s a wonderful note to end on. Thanks so much for being with us today.
Nir Eyal [00:43:18] My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Sam Jayanti [00:43:21] Thanks for listening today. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And while you’re there, please do review the show. We love hearing from you, so email us at info at the ideamix radio com or Instagram DM us. Our episode this week was produced by the incomparable Martin Milewski with music by the awesome Nashville-based singer-songwriter Doug Allen. You can learn more about Doug at Dougallenmusic.com.
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