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The Most Important Ingredient in Successful User Adoption

Posted on November 7, 2013 at 07:46 AM

The real purpose of organizational change management and eLearning development is to compel people to take action.  When people have acted upon what they've learned, you have successful user adoption.  Often, though, people lose focus from this ultimate purpose and get distracted by shiny bells and whistles, as Cathy Moore explains in an article about action mapping. We want people to apply the skills they've learned from a course, regardless of what the course may be about.  If there is no action to be taken after upon completion of an eLearning course, then what's the purpose?


And since action is the desired result, what is the best way to inspire people to implement what they learned? Short answer: Their emotions.

What Moves Us?

A study of the "most shared" articles on the New York Times website was recently conducted, seeking to uncover what types of articles consistently made the "most shared" list. After analyzing thousands of articles, researchers discovered that the root of all sharing is emotion:

"Sharing emotions also helps us connect. Say I watch a really awe-inspiring video, like Susan Boyle’s performance. If I share that video with a friend, he’s likely to feel similarly inspired. And the fact that we both feel the same way helps deepen our social connection. It highlights our similarities and reminds us how much we have in common. Emotion sharing is thus a bit like social glue, maintaining and strengthening relationships. Even if we’re not in the same place, the fact that we both feel the same way bonds us together." - Jonah Berger, Contagious: Why Things Catch On

Although articles focused on particular emotions increased sharing, which emotions the article triggered had a significant effect. While articles that instilled a sense of awe were shared more frequently, articles that made the reader feel sad were less likely to be shared. Berger writes:

"In fact, sadness had the opposite effect. Sadder articles were actually 16 percent less likely to make the Most E-Mailed list."

To inspire people into action or changing behavior, it's necessary to tap into their emotions and feelings. As the chart from the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On shows, we're motivated to take action when aroused with awe, excitement, amusement, anger, or anxiety.

successful user adoption

Sometimes, there's even reason to arouse negative emotions in the corporate world. When the goal is change, there needs to be some dissatisfaction with things as they currently are. When current to possible future state, the grass should look greener on the other side.

But what if the training is boring?

If you're searching for an alibi, you won’t find one here. As GK Chesterton once said, "There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people." Although he wasn’t referring to corporate training, the principle still applies. It just takes work.

Google Search

In terms of "boring" but useful consumer products, "Google Search" is near the top. While the product itself isn’t very exciting, they were still able to create a compelling Super Bowl commercial. They did this through deeply understanding the motivations of the end user and creating a message that resonated.

How To Find the Emotional Core of an Idea

In the book Made To Stick, Dan and Chip Heath provide a useful tool for discovering how to find the emotional core of any idea by asking "Why" three times.

Start by writing down why you think people are interested in doing something and then ask, "Why is this important?" three times. As Jonah Berger explains:

"Each time you do this, note your answer, and you’ll notice that you drill down further and further toward uncovering not only the core of an idea, but the emotion behind it. Take online search.

Why is search important? Because people want to find information quickly.

Why do they want to do that? So they can get answers to what they are looking for.

Why do they want those answers? So they can connect with people, achieve their goals, and fulfill their dreams. Now that’s starting to get more emotional."

The “three whys” method can be applied to any type of training, helping you eventually create a learning experience that resonates with people and inspires them to action.

“Both the English words emotion and motivation derive from the same Latin root, movere (meaning “to move”), indicating that, early on, it was recognized that the emotions are motivations to action.” - Matthew Hurley, Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind

The Head, Heart, and Hands

Emotions aren't the only ingredient to successful user adoption and training. You still need a strategy for addressing the rational (head) and the implementation (hands), but emotion (heart) provides the fuel that drives the learner to the desired destination.

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