Designing Habits From Big Data to Small Changes

Notes from the SXSW session moderated by Michael Copeland, Wired Sr Editor. Panel included Steph Habif, Stanford Healthcare Prof, Trae Vassallo, KPCB Systems Partner and Jeff Holove, Basis Science CEO.

Synopsis: We all know there are vast amounts of data about our lives – our spending, our browsing, our activity – being collected daily. With the recent explosion in inexpensive sensors and self-tracking apps, we can capture new insights in personal health and activity data. However, the data is only truly valuable if it can be turned into positive behavior change. The panel discussed the key enablers to tackling this challenge: the use of visualization to make volumes of data easily understandable to the average consumer, leveraging gamification and social mechanics to keep users engaged, and the science of habit design to actually create behavior change.

Health behavior campaigns of the recent past included the Nancy Reagan “Just say no” campaign and Michelle Obama’s new nutrition plate. Very low touch, engagement campaigns.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, an example of a high touch campaign would be working with a health coach. A real story from Steph who created a custom behavior change program for a woman named Lucy. Lucy was 5’4″, 224 lbs. Steph came in as a health coach and designed lots of tiny habits. Over 7 months, Lucy dropped to 178 lbs. Her metabolism increased 50%. She finished the NY marathon.

What is between Nancy Reagan and Steph? Can technology/wearables fill the gap with the masses?

1. For success, you need to engage with the data not just look at the data.
2. Social pressure works. Like OPower comparison of energy usage.
3. Extroverts need more tasks and dopamine than Introverts.
4. Gender differences. Read coaching books about the difference between coaching men and women.
5. When a man can’t figure out a new technology, they assume it’s the technologies fault. When a woman can’t figure technology out, they assume they are not smart enough.
6. Need a diversity of real-time information and triggers to get user action – although not studied well.
7. Identify a behavior that already exists and build on it.
8. Wearable tech give us a comfortable, always on “iPhone.”

Basic Approach:
Step 1: Follow the Dr BJ Fogg There are several tools on this site.
Step 2: Apply “The hook” from Nir Eyal ( to help operationalize. @nireyal