How to Use the Science Behind Habits to Sell (Anything!) Better










We often think of our habits as quirky things we do over and over again without really thinking about them–twirling a lock of hair, checking a cell phone on the way out of the subway, leaving the toilet seat up or down. But when we are selling a product or service, those repetitive actions are exactly what we want people to indulge in.

Be sure that when someone plows land in Farmville or clears jelly off the board in Candy Crush–over and over again, because they can’t stop playing–there is the sound of joyous ka-chinging in the Farmville and Candy Crush boardrooms.

So is there a secret to triggering habits in people so that they’ll engage and keep engaging with whatever it is you create? Pete Trainor, Associate Director UX at SapientNitro, believes that there is. And in his recent fascinating SXSW Interactive talk, “The Neuroscience of Success,” Trainor shared some of the principles that he has distilled over the years from psychology, behavioral, and experimental economics and observations of the human animal: himself. Continue reading

Some of the Most Fascinating Humans In New York, Collected In One Place

'This guy was dancing for tips on the sidewalk. I asked him to try and put all his skill into a single move, and this is what I got.' Brandon Stanton, "Humans of New York"

‘This guy was dancing for tips on the sidewalk. I asked him to try and put all his skill into a single move, and this is what I got.’ Brandon Stanton, “Humans of New York”

When Brandon Stanton’s photo project of the Big Apple’s interesting characters grew beyond his original vision, he followed it straight to bestsellerdom.

[Our original article on Brandon Stanton ran in Fast Company last Fall. Recently Brandon was at SXSW for a book signing for his best-selling book, Humans of New York, and a talk on everything he’s learned about audience building, crying alone in his bedroom, the magic of social media and the difficulties of standing out in a world where everyone has something to “like” and “share.” Brandon himself says that he thinks he “has some special insight into building a large following around a new idea. But may have just gotten lucky, and could be completely full of shit…”]

At 21 years old, Brandon Stanton—the creative force behind the immensely popular photo blog Humans of New York—had flunked out of college (earning a combined score of zero on his five courses). Kicked out of his parent’s home, he was doing drugs, working at a dead end job at Applebee’s and living in his grandparent’s basement in Atlanta, Georgia. He was also convinced that he was going to write a bestseller.

Stanton described the unanimous reaction of his friends and family at the time: “They all said, ‘What the hell is wrong with Brandon? What a loser!'”

But now, not even a decade later, Stanton, 29, has eventually achieved his dream with over three million blog followers and a #1 bestseller. Continue reading

How to Create One of the World’s Most Succesful Blogs

Mark Frauenfelder

Rare Saber-Toothed Whale, Anime, Carnival Dark Rides, Crime Photos, Tech Reviews, Gadget Tips—Boing Boing Has It All

At the dawn of blogging in 1995, Mark Frauenfelder moved his ‘zine Boing Boing online. Boing Boing—whose mission was to explore “the coolest, wackiest stuff”—became and remains one of the Internet’s most popular blogs. Defying the corporatization of the blogosphere, Boing Boing has remained a curio of oddities, tech news, gadget tips and real-life marvels with 2.5 million unique visitors a month. Now, Frauenfelder shares daily blogging duties with a troika of other passionate editors Cory Doctorow, David Pescovitz and Xeni Jardin. “The recipe for an excellent blog is to be so deeply obsessed with something that you need to communicate it to others,” says Frauenfelder. “If Boing Boing stopped making money tomorrow, I’d still need to do it.” Here are his ten tips for creating a successful blog: Continue reading

Malcolm Gladwell Wants to Meme You …
and Meme You Hard

Malcolm Gladwell

The Goliath of nonfiction Malcolm Gladwell has just released his fifth book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants” on Oct 1.

Working in a tradition of his own creation—a bestselling blend of science, compelling case studies and meticulous storytelling—Malcolm Gladwell sets out to meme you, and meme you hard. The underdog is stronger than you think. The giant is not so giant. Bigger class size is better. Inexperience equals excellence. Dyslexia is an advantage. Being at the top of a mediocre college beats being at the bottom of an Ivy League school. And so on and so on.

On full display is Gladwell’s enormous talent of pulling together a dizzying array of examples from a dizzying array of fields in this case, sports, oncology, education, psychology, military history, law, finance, civil rights, fine arts and criminal justice. His ability to disseminate whippets of counterintuition leads to mind-popping epiphanies. Ultimately, Gladwell doesn’t just get you to rethink the David and Goliath story, he gets you to rethink all lopsided battles, priming you to scan life for the hidden strengths in weakness and the hidden weaknesses in strength. Continue reading

What Makes Laura Linney Act?
It’s the Story, Stupid

Laura Linney in her Golden-Globe winning role in "The Big C"

Laura Linney in her Golden-Globe winning role as Cathy Jamison in “The Big C”

When we interviewed Laura Linney for a chapter on “How to Act” in our book, we asked the award-winning actress:

“Who are you acting for?”

And then we waited. A long time. We had to stifle the urge to blurt out helpful suggestions. As the seconds of silence turned into minutes (hours in interview time), we wondered if Linney had misunderstood our question or been offended.

It turned out that she was actually thinking, not pretending to think as sometimes happens when you talk to a famous person who is feeding you lines because that is what their publicist told them to do.

When Linney finally did respond—a full two minutes of tape time later—her answer wasn’t at all one we would have expected. She wasn’t acting for her audience, her fellow actors, directors, producers or even her late father, the playwright Romulus Linney, as we had suspected. No. She wasn’t even acting for herself. Continue reading

The Google Doodler

ManuCornet OrgCharts

Illustrated by Manu Cornet (2011)


We were curious about what led Manu Cornet, who works on Google’s Gmail, to create this set of six company culture diagrams that made its way around the Web back in 2011 before resurfacing last week as New York Times art work. How, we wondered, did Cornet come to envision Apple’s corporate structure as a pinwheel and Microsoft’s as a show down at the OK Corral?

So we asked him. And he said:

“I always keep a long list of illustration ideas though I don’t have much time to draw them. I must have been thinking about one of those company’s structures and thinking how Apple with Steve Jobs (before he passed away) must really be centralized to allow him to pretty much have the final word on all matters. So I started imagining a circular structure with Jobs at the center.”

From there, Cornet wondered: What would other companies’ cultures look like? Continue reading

The Stories We Tell

Shaping a narrative is never easy. It’s often the hardest when it’s your own.

Think about the last time you had write a resume, a cover letter, a bio—one small, scant paragraph to encompass your life. You may have struggled to capture the essence of you and felt unsatisfied. But the ability to shape a narrative relevant to your goals really matters. There is power in the well-crafted tale whatever your goal may be—to create a brand, sell a product, promote a cause, or even get a job. It’s something we noticed among the dozens of remarkable people we interviewed for our book. We were impressed not just by the stories they told, but how they told them. Continue reading

Blast from the Past: On Jonah Lehrer and Lies

In the wake of the Jonah Lehrer scandal in which he was caught fabricating quotes for his best-selling book Imagine, How Creativity Works, we thought back to the words of Michael Sitrick a Hollywood crisis manager to the stars and prominent CEO’s, known as the Spin Doctor.

“Public Relations is about persuasion and persuasion depends on credibility, so you can’t lie.”

You could just as easily substitute “journalism” for “public relations.” Although we understand that writers like Lehrer shape a narrative by massaging quotes and emphasizing some parts of the story over others, our belief in a writer’s carefully constructed arguments is dependent on our belief that he or she has more or less accurately reported the “facts.”

Lehrer risked his credibility by fabricating quotes of Bob Dylan in the service of creating a more persuasive argument. It was a form of writer’s Russian Roulette. The story might have been more effective with the fabricated quotes but when he got caught lying by Michael Moynihan of Tablet Magazine he lost his credibility and his ability to persuade us of anything.  This is in turns made him a pariah to those who have given him a vehicle for his work. They had to protect their own credibility. Lehrer resigned as staff writer from the New Yorker and his publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has withdrawn his book. Continue reading

Two Scribbled Lines Are Worth a Thousand Words.

Demetri Martin Art of DoingSometimes we can feel a bit like a broken record—going on about how we came to discover that the extraordinary people we interviewed for our book didn’t just take a steady glide path to their great successes. Instead, their vocational journeys were scattered with obstacles and setbacks that required them to struggle and scuffle just like the rest of us.

And then we were humbled to see the sketch by Demetri Martin (from his book This is a Bookthat summed up in two scribbled lines this very point that we’ve been trying to make.

Demetri is an author, comedian, actor, artist, musician, writer and humorist. He’s won an Emmy and a Writers Guild of America Award.

Demetri, if you are out there, reading this, we’d like to interview you about the squiggly line of your own success.

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Alec Baldwin and Robert Carlock on What Made “30 Rock” So Funny

Alec Baldwin and Robert Carlock on the set of "30 Rock" on "How to Be Funny on TV" for the book, "The Art of Doing"

Alec Baldwin and Robert Carlock on the set of “30 Rock”

We went to Silvercup Studios to interview Alec Baldwin and Robert Carlock (show runner and co-head writer) of the recently deceased and already acutely mourned “30 Rock” for a chapter in our book on “How to be Funny (on TV).”

Alec Baldwin, who plays Jack Donaghy on “30 Rock,” described his relationship with the show’s writers as a “singer songwriter thing.” He told us:

“[The ’30 Rock’ writers] have ruined me. When someone who wants me to host a show pitches me with, ‘Soooo…you’re a Cub Scout Master and you get stuck in…’ I want to tell them, ‘I work with the funniest people in the business, and you guys don’t know what funny is.'”

And Robert Carlock told us about what it was like to write for actors like Baldwin:

“Comedy is musical, the timing and the pitch. And you’ve got people like Alec Baldwin doing the acting, you can only blame yourself when it doesn’t work.”

Read our exclusive interview with Baldwin and Carlock excerpted from our book, “The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Well,” on The Daily Beast here.