Using technology to improve business results and make change stick

I am always curious about how society is changing. I am interested in understanding change from many angles: what enables it, what catalyzes uptake, what are the ramifications and why is it happening now?

I was recently in Nanjing, China, and was thrilled to observe a keen adopter of FinTech. The street food vendor in the photo above was selling steamed yams and corn. The revenue stream was modest and could not fund much infrastructure of any kind. The stall was homemade and dirt cheap – a simple grill strapped to a wheel barrow and insulated with cardboard. The vendor had no fliers or other marketing collateral. But this vendor’s revenue stream was sufficient to pay for a print-out of the QR code that you see on the side of the stall. This allowed passers-by to pay via WeChat on their mobile phones – even visitors like me who had not taken the time to withdraw local currency. A wonderfully effective use of quite advanced information and communications technology. I am certain that the street food vendor would be amazed if I were to convey the technological, organizational and legal complexity of the payment infrastructure she was tapping into. The observation brought to mind the notion that sufficiently advanced technology becomes invisible.

I recently came across another example of smart use of technology – a technology to help us build good habits in order to become more effective. Do I hear you, the reader, scoffing? Understandable. I am also skeptical of any such claim. For every bright idea there are at least 99 examples of marketing hype. Sorting through the dross is not easy. But Nick Chatrath, of Coachify, grabbed my attention with his novel, technology-enabled approach.

A little background is in useful. Most of us see the value of becoming more effective. We may have adopted some practices that have helped us in the past. We may also be aware of other practices that we believe might help us, but we struggle to adopt them. We may have signed up intellectually, but it is not easy to change. Our will power sometimes seems insufficient.

Tal Ben-Shahar, writer and teacher, shares three considerations that are pertinent. He delivers two pieces of bad news and one silver lining:

a) you have very little will power

b) the little willpower you have is all you will ever have – we know of no good technique to increase will power

c) [silver lining] the little will power you have is sufficient to make real change happen – provided you build productive habits.

So – how do we build productive habits? In principle, it is simple:

1. Identify the behavior you wish you change – be suitably ambitious. Large scale change can sometimes be achieved in increments

2. Identify the “trigger” that should initiate the new behavior

3. Articulate a short-term, tangible reward that you will give yourself every time you exhibit the new, desired behavior.

A friend of mine shares a personal example. He had slipped into the habit of having a glass of wine every day when he got home from work. He was aware that this was not a great habit, for many reasons. For one, he suspected that this contributed to his steadily gaining weight. He had told himself to stop. The established behavior was not giving him much pleasure. He was swilling cheap plonk. But, “telling himself to stop” was not sufficient – he struggled to stop. He decided to follow the three-step approach outlined above:

1. Behavior to stop: drinking a glass of wine every afternoon. New behavior: go for a stroll in the neighborhood instead.

2. Trigger: arrive home from work, open front door

3. Reward: On Friday afternoon, enjoy a glass of superior wine, and truly savor it.

To get going, he placed comfortable walking shoes by the door when he left in the morning. This would be a tangible reminder when he came home. He also shared his resolution with his wife, who was happy to join him to savor a superior wine on Friday afternoon.

But even with such clear steps, change is not always successful. Coachify, it seems, can boost the chance of success.

So what is Coachify? It is a thoughtful combination of

· A structured system for articulating organizational and personal goals

· An app that lets the user identify key meetings, log intentions, document state of mind at regular intervals and review progress against goals

· Biometrics that track breathing, heart rate, standing time, sleep quality and more, to assess stress levels

· Coaching support

It is the integration of goals, biometrics and structured reporting that struck me as promising. The thoughtful approach seems to improve productivity and help change stick. This is done by driving individual insights on how to improve. The team behind the concept is also impressive.

If you are curious, check out Coachify’s website:

The vision is inspiring. I wish the team great success. If they achieve a breakthrough, they will truly help improve the way we work.

What approaches have you observed that boost productivity and help make change stick? I am always keen to learn from others.