Tweaking Motivation.

Justin Jackson wrote a thread about how you can’t really increase someone’s motivation to use a product. Motivation is a fixed constant that you have little to no control over.

Yes, you can demotivate people by making products really hard to use. But better onboarding, UX tweaks, and activation work is not going to solve anything if there’s an underlying motivation problem.

I fundamentally disagree with the premise here. It undermines everything I have learned about improving retention. Motivation can be nurtured. This is the whole idea behind effective education and learning programs.

Nobody starts school fully motivated. Going to school for the first time is usually a daunting and uncomfortable experience. The actual content of the classes each day is typically the least interesting thing about the whole experience.

As the months you start to take an interest in some classes. If the teacher can keep things relevant and interesting you start paying more attention and become engaged. Over time the better you get at something, the more motivated you become.

The premise here is that motivation correlates to competency. The better you get at something, the more motivating it becomes. Nobody starts an exercise program fully charged, you are uncomfortable enough with your situation to get your butt to class but the motivation to stick to it and keep going is earned bit by bit as you see the exercise starting to work.

In the context of a product, I think the motivation comes from the product doing its job and delivering on its promise. Once you have a steady rhythm with the product there are a whole host of things you can do as a product designer that help introduce people to new use cases, whether it solving adjacent problems to the reason you signed up (Uber offering to bring you food as well) or solving the same problem in new uses cases (did you know you can also use Google Pay to pay for recurring utility bills, like your mobile phone’s for example).

I don’t motivation as a fixed constant in the context of product design. The initial motivation to use a product may be out of our control (and only maybe since nobody needs or want half the shit that people spend millions of dollars advertising every day). On the other hand, continued sustained use is based on how well somebody can do something. As product designers, it’s our job to help people gradually understand how to use something better, how to solve the same problem in different scenarios, or who to solve related problems. The better they get, the more motivated they will be to continue.


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