Northside Innovation Meetup – Disruptive Behavior

insta_brenaejl_nside1You’re doing it all wrong.

At least that is what the panelists of this month’s Northside Innovation Meetup want you to believe.  The theme this month was Disruptive Behavior, and was a subject intriguing enough to pull myself off of the couch, into the 40 degree weather and April showers.  OK that, and the fact that it was held at Brooklyn Brewery and had free beer & BBQ was a no-brainer in causing my behavioral shift to attend that evening.


The speakers and panelists that evening were aiming to change the way people thought in regards to utilizing technology to accomplish everything from day-to-day tasks like driving & paying in a restaurant to accomplishing lifetime goals like running a marathon.  By changing the way we think about things, we alter our behavior.  Easier said than done.  Andrew Cove, co-founder of Cover, which enables Uber-like seamless payments when dining out, aptly put, “To change 30 years of people’s [habits and] experience, you have to make it so much better.”  It takes a ton of junk and caffeine-fueled research and development, brainstorming, communication with and observation of the end-users to try and uncover unrecognized needs, only to go back to the drawing board.  Eventually, if one relentless in their pursuit and patient with the process, there is an “Aha!” moment.  More often than not, it is at an inconvenient place and time, such as in side plank position during an intense yoga session as in Oliver Ryan’s case.  According to Ryan, the founder & CEO of healthy lifestyle motivation company Social Workout Media & CountIt as well as co-founder of Apartment Therapy, you do not alter anyone’s behavior via technology unless you keep 5 principles in mind.  Otherwise you’re just another kid with an idea for an app.

Oliver Ryan’s 5 Principles for Disrupting Consumer Behavior

1.  People don’t take on new behaviors without it being easy.  ‘Nuff said.

2.  There needs to be frictionless data entry.  (This may or may not include my personal favorites: pop-ups when trying to type something in and/or software crashes.  Seriously? Amateur.)

3.  Get social contacts involved.  Having accountability partners and a bit of friendly competition goes a long way when attempting to reach a goal and accomplish tasks.

4.  When it is a goal, it needs to be something one WANTS to do.  Running a half marathon or finishing a novel takes hard work and perseverance, but the end reward has to be something the end user is passionate about accomplishing.

5.  Incentivize!  The adult equivalent of the “gold star” can take on many forms and it is just as effective post-adolescence as it was in second grade.  The popularity of gamification apps like media mogul, Zynga, is a great example of that.

Incentivizing desired behavior is exactly what Mike Moen, CEO of Drive Power, Inc. uses to help make the roads we are navigating safer.  His app, Drive Scribe, turns the negative connotations tied to using your mobile behind the wheel on its head.  It actually makes you a safer driver by removing distractions and rewarding safe drivers with points redeemable for gift cards at popular retailers.  Saving lives, your driving record, and a few dollars at Starbucks are definitely all win/win’s in my book.

Oftentimes, the best ideas for a great design start with the seemingly ridiculous.  Panelist Walter Chen’s co-founder wrote him the rough framework for his productivity app IDoneThis that allows users to visualize the items they accomplished rather than the ones that still need doing, with an e-mail subject line reading “a stupid idea.”  With over 10 million tasks completed in a little over 3 years, I would say the guys of IDoneThis were doing something right.

And anyone who has read Imagine, by Jonah Lehrer recalls the trials and tribulations of Arther Fry, whose weak glue got him little more than laughs in the 3M lab thirty years ago.  The substance eventually proved to be the perfect solution to keep page markers in place in Fry’s hymnal during Sunday church service and thus the most innovative and multi-functional office product of the 20th century was born: the Post-It.  This story is proof that the ‘stickiest’ ideas do not ever start as such, and the only way to change the way it has always been done is to ruthlessly examine and experiment.  The innovative thinkers from last night’s event have their work cut out for them.  It is not easy to breach deep-set behavior patterns and introduce unfamiliar stimuli in its place while convincing the intended audience (in a simple way) that it is better.  But free beer and barbecue certainly help your case.  See you, next month, Northside, rain or shine.

*Photo credits go to Instagrammers @brenaejl & @aimee587 whose shots from the evening came out much better than mine.