Eager for an Explosion of Fitbits for Organizational Change

In media reports on the annual Consumer Electronics Show, the Consumer Electronics Association is forecasting an explosion of biometric data devices designed to monitor and change human behavior.

I joined this explosion of biometric devices with a Fitbit six months ago. This unobtrusive little device has me up and moving thousands of steps more a day. Medical researchers have convincingly demonstrated what we need to do to prevent most chronic diseases; I once mused on a heart health futures project that whoever figured out how to change human behavior would be golden.  Easy-to-use biomonitoring devices like Fitbit could finally align our health behaviors with the power of prevention.    

A futurist colleague shared a link introducing me to computers as persuasive technology, coined captology by Stanford University professor BJ Fogg.  His Persuasive Tech Lab’s goal is to explain human nature clearly and map those insights onto emerging opportunities in technology. Fogg explains that three elements must converge for a behavior to occur: motivation, ability and trigger; the best triggers match a person’s level of motivation and ability.

Fitbit offers lots of triggers like instant feedback on activity levels throughout the day, a daily dashboard, a cumulative weekly report and even silly badges that applaud climbing enough steps to reach the stratosphere or trophies for hundreds of miles walked. And there are peppy little digital readout messages that give the device some friendly personality. Plus you can link with friends and invoke the power of peer pressure to keep up your level of effort.

This has me pondering what a persuasive technology might look like for the changes organizations have to undertake.  Just as with human health, whoever figures out how to effectively lead change in organizations will also be golden. As Fogg argues, simplicity matters in persuasive technology and we want to find the minimally satisfying solution at the lowest cost.  What he calls cost I have often described as forms of resistance. Cost can be our time, money, physical effort, mental exertion and deviating from social norms or existing routines.

So what might the Fitbit of organizational change look like? Could you use the principles of persuasive technology to increase your chances of behavior change in your next change initiative? What would be the equivalent of real-time feedback on meaningful metrics? Could you use a dashboard to keep teams on track? Are there technologies or other capabilities available that lower the cost of physical effort and mental exertion? And could you use social media to create new social norms that make your change seem far less difficult or deviant?

What leader wouldn’t love a system equivalent of a Fitbit clipped onto the key stakeholders for instant feedback and real-time correction during a major change?  Or maybe we just start small and design an accountability device that gently nudges us when we fail to live up to the expectations we have for ourselves and others.