How Can Data Improve Your Personal Life?

Data analytics not only benefit large companies and small enterprises – data can improve your personal life as well. For instance (using a common problem to highlight the power of data), data can help you shed excess pounds and reach your desired weight in a fast, safe and efficient manner without having to spending hours in the gym. You can use analytic and tracking tools to help you keep track of your weight, calculate the number of calories you have burnt, and even design a graphical representation of key data that will offer you deeper insight into how certain choices affect your progress. People are built differently and therefore have different metabolisms – each person’s weight loss formula is unique and data helps shed light on individual attributes.

Data can also improve one’s overall well-being: it allows you to track your mental state and your mood, how you feel every day, how you spend your time, etc. For example, if you use a scoring system… say from 1 to 10… to describe your well-being on a daily basis, you’ll likely be able to see trends in just a few weeks’ time if you are tracking other areas of your life as well. This will help you to understand yourself better and help you make better choices too. At the end of each day, you can decide whether it was a successful day and/or you managed to accomplish your goals or not – slowly but surely, you will notice how your decisions affect your mood and other personal metrics.

You can also make all sorts of correlations in order to pinpoint the activities that make you feel good and the activities that make you feel stressed. For instance, maybe working with deadlines or spending too much time working on your e-mail is more stressful than you thought. Identifying primary stressors will allow you to focus on the things that affect you the most.

You may also identify activities that have a larger affect due to their secondary affects. For instance, having to commute to work on a daily basis can have an impact on your mood and/or stress level, as well as have an affect on contributing to other unhealthy behaviors (ex. eating more junk food because you do not have the time to cook, or spending less time with friends, etc.). In other words, data analytics can help you identify unforeseen stress factors in your day-to-day life and remove them. At the end of the day, you can draw a conclusion based on the data you’ve gathered (ex. you’re watching too much television, working on your e-mails is a huge stress factor, a healthy social life plays a pivotal role in reducing your stress, etc.)

See how Quantified Selfer Stefan Heeke used analytics to improve his personal life…

Summary: A single choice can trigger a chain reaction which can have either a positive or a negative impact on your life. With data on your side you can get better visibility into how your choices affect the quality of your life. Through the insights gleaned from self-tracking and personal data you can eliminate the tasks that affect you in a negative way – the clutter and the things that simply don’t seem to work – and focus instead on those that benefit you, both physically and mentally.

Live Life Love | Volume Twenty-Two

Hello Everyone,

It’s amazing and a bit scary how fast time flies by. We just celebrated my daughter’s first birthday last weekend but it seems like just yesterday that I was telling you about her birth. Honoring that time is precious, especially yours, I will keep this quarter’s newsletter brief. I’d just like to share one quick lesson my daughter has taught me over the past year that has been tremendously helpful in my life. She has incredible resilience. Unlike my experience with other young children, her ability to shake things off is incredible… it’s as if she knows that any extended form of discord or tantrum would simply take time away from her preferred states of curiosity and elation. Impressed by this skill I’ve recently implemented reducing the amount of time I let unpleasant events bother me. Since I do not possess this skill innately in the way my daughter appears to it has taken me a bit of practice, but none-the-less I can attest putting it into practice has freed up a lot more time to enjoy better things. In a reciprocal way it has even changed my personal vernacular. Before when something would go wrong I would normally burst out an expletive, or say, “this sucks!” Now I often simply emulate my daughter and say, “uh oh!” when an unwanted inconvenience arises. Hard to stay upset for very long when you say ‘uh oh’ in a silly voice. It’s as if the words I attach to an experience actually help shape the reality of that experience.

This quarter’s health and wellness interview is with Matthew Heineman, the director of the documentary “Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare,” a film that examines the deficits and challenges in today’s healthcare system. Escape Fire has recently been airing on CNN and has amassed an impressive amount of critical acclaim. My interview with Matt Heineman about healthcare in America is available here.

This quarter’s entrepreneurial interview is with the founder of Perkville, Sunil Saha. Perkville is a service which allows businesses to offer cardless customer loyalty and reward programs. Sunil has previously held leadership roles at LinkedIn, Yahoo! Small Business and Neoforma. My interview with Sunil Saha about customer loyalty programs is available here.

Regarding life experience this quarter there are a few things to choose from, but the one I’m most grateful for aside from being a part of my daughter’s first birthday is getting the chance to speak twice at this year’s International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association Convention (IHRSA) in Las Vegas.

2013 IHRSA Badge
IHRSA | Las Vegas, NV | 2013

Both speaking opportunities were centered on my growing expertise in the use of technology with regards to activity tracking and behavior change. It was a very memorable and rewarding experience. On one panel I sat with four heavy hitters from my industry including Dave Mortensen the co-founder of Anytime Fitness and Russell Benaroya, CEO of EveryMove. It was humbling to have a seat at the table with such esteemed colleagues, but also extremely motivating to push harder and continue to grow.

At IHRSA I was also able to attend the Eighth Annual BASH for Augie’s Quest which is a health club industry event to help find an end to Lou Gehrig’s disease. This quarter’s contribution was a modest donation to the Muscular Dystrophy Association in Augie’s name as well as a modest donation in honor of Alex K’s Escape from Alcatraz race supporting the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.

Wishing you continued success throughout 2013.

Warm regards,


Interview with Sunil Saha about Customer Loyalty Programs

Sunil Saha is a founder of Perkville, a service which allows businesses to offer card-less customer loyalty and reward programs. Sunil has previously held leadership roles at LinkedIn, Yahoo! Small Business and Neoforma. Perkville is free for anyone to join while businesses pay for monthly subscriptions to offer their consumer’s rewards.

Here are 5 questions with Sunil and his answers:

1) In the book DRiVE by Daniel Pink, the author warns about the potential risks of using extrinsic rewards to influence behavior. With that in mind, what should business owners consider before creating a loyalty program that offers extrinsic motivators?

So number one, it’s important to not extinguish that intrinsic motivation, intrinsic motivation is so important. A good example from the book in Sweden they tested the desire to donate blood, and they assumed that if you reward people monetarily for donating blood they’re going to give even more. However, paradoxically they found the reverse happened because they negated the intrinsic value of people feeling good about giving blood. So when I think about that for customer loyalty, I’ll use fitness for an example, I don’t think you’d ever want to reward something that has intrinsic value. You want to focus rewards on things that are repetitive, with low intrinsic value to the customer. So for example, checking into the gym, very repetitive, doesn’t take very much creativity or thought, but it does actually drive health benefit, and it also drives loyalty to a business, so you want to reward that. However, one might want to avoid using rewards as the main mechanism for a weight loss program. You’re going to lose all creativity, all flexibility, and all consumer autonomy from the process of reaching that goal. I don’t think you’d want to reward that piece of it, just take the parts that are repetitive – where autonomy is not really important – but that still drive your business and improve loyalty, and focus the rewards on those aspects. You do not want to extinguish creativity by directing somebody towards a very specific goal. Furthermore, whenever you take away consumer autonomy you risk eliminating some of their intrinsic reward system. So any compromises in these two very important areas should be well-thought out. For instance, if you are a retailer you may want to allow the customer to still choose the outfit that they think they’re going to look great in. Have that experience. But the process of actually spending money, which is obviously very routine, repetitive… there’s really not that much creativity in that action. That’s what you want to reward.

2) In your opinion, how important are game mechanics to reward programs? There are varying levels of sophistication when it comes to gamification. Do you believe there is a correlation between reward program gaming elements and an increase in successful business outcomes?

Game mechanics are an important component of customer loyalty programs. I think there’s a lot of variation on what’s going to work depending on the type of business. I’ll give you one example, for smaller businesses ranking customer loyalty with some sort of leader board in the same vein as Foursquare works. For instance, in a coffee shop environment, if you are low on the list you likely will not go away feeling bad. In a fitness environment I think it’s very different, where you have to be very careful, because a leader board in a fitness environment could potentially make somebody mindful that they are not doing enough (at the risk of perceived value) or create discontent by creating a goal they can never achieve …because of personal bandwidth or whatever the case may be. So I think game mechanics are important, but you have to really vary them depending on the type of business you’re working with. My bias is that one of the strongest game mechanics for customer loyalty is taking advantage of the hoarding mentality that many of us have. We like to collect. I think that’s why you see point based systems used so widely across many different verticals. Credit cards use it, airlines use it, and hotels use it. Almost any kind of loyalty program uses some sort of “hoarding” system, they take advantage of that human element. In my opinion badges have not proven to be terribly effective and I haven’t seen any strong data showing that they really drive significant customer loyalty. There are all sorts of other game mechanics, challenges, contests, levels, which I think are very powerful and will make somebody feel special. You can argue that you add intrinsic value to a loyalty program through these means because when you give somebody that special feeling that they’ve achieved a new level, and reinforce it with special perks to make them feel good about themselves there are potential aspects of this that will extend beyond being simple extrinsic mechanisms. However, it’s hard for me to say that these game mechanics are what’s going to succeed across the board. I think you have to look at it case by case, business by business.

3) When a business sets up a loyalty program is there a formulaic foundation, general rules of thumb, and/or benchmarks that can be generally assumed regarding return on investment and increased retention? Are there any non-proprietary formulas and/or models that are useful when considering if a loyalty program is right for your business?

There are so many variables in this equation, every business is so different, and a key part of this is the business itself. A customer loyalty program is not going to turn around a bad business, so I think it’s very difficult to say that if you plug-in a specific customer loyalty you should expect a benchmarked ROI. The key variables are the business itself, how the program is implemented, you might have a lot of opportunity sitting in a reward program, but if you don’t actually implement it well, and promote it well, you’re not going to get the results that you want. Visibility I think is key, engagement is very important. It is difficult right now to just kind of have a plug and play system. That is one of the things I’m excited about for the future, because now that we have platforms like Perkville, we’re gathering anonymous data from the thousand businesses on our platform today – note: we will never share data across businesses – but we can start to see what the best practices are. We can start to see what works in various verticals, and what doesn’t work. Currently, we can provide strong tailored recommendations for success, but I think we’re still a little ways away from a ‘plug in x output y’ type formula. However, using the fitness industry for example we can say something like forty actions of the customer should spit out some sort of reward. If you’re less than that, then you’re probably spending too much on your loyalty program (relative to the return), if you’re more than that customers start to feel like it’s too hard to reach the reward you could potentially reduce your return as well. So we’re learning now what is working by industry. Another example is retail, typically we see five percent redemptions, so say if somebody spends one hundred dollars they can get five dollars in value back. In this vertical ten percent you’re spending too much, less than five percent too little, and from there we can begin to optimize to maximize investment.

How can you determine if a loyalty program is right for your business? So I believe there are three key things:

1) How important are repeat customers for your business? Most businesses are going to want repeat business, but say you are a plastic surgeon or luxury car dealership the transactional volume probably wouldn’t make sense. However, most businesses will have enough transactional volume where it should at least be considered.
2) What is the likelihood that your customer considers the competition on a regular basis? For example, if you’re an airline, if you’re in retail, if you’re a health club you need to inspire loyalty. If you have a monopoly on your business then it might be harder to justify the investment.
3) Is your business somewhat commoditized? For example, if you’re a credit card, if you are a rental car service, there’s some differentiation there but these are largely homogeneous offerings where loyalty can help with retention.

If you answer yes to all three of these questions I think you need a loyalty program. If you answered yes to two of three, I believe it’s something for you to consider. So it’s one framework you can use.

4) What on the horizon excites you about innovation in the customer loyalty and reward programs space? For instance, one could assume that the convergence of Big Data, geolocation protocols, and augmented reality might increase the ability to personalize loyalty campaigns for the end use in fascinating ways.

Let me answer this a little differently then what you’ve asked directly. I’ve got four things that really excite me. Number one, I think engagement is really going to skyrocket, because now with mobile phones, and everything connected on the backend, the level of effort to engage in a loyalty program is dramatically decreasing. I mean, look at what we’re doing, the customer literally has to do nothing different to participate. We’re going to have much more natural engagement, better engagement than we’ve had in the past, and I think that’s one of the biggest variables for the success of a loyalty program, how engaged are your users. Two, I think people are getting busier, and busier, so it’s harder to get them to do extra work, and now things can be automated. If you want to reward checking-in this which will soon be frictionless through your phone, you will not have to do anything different as a consumer. I think that’s also very exciting. Three, I think the personalization capabilities are going to be very exciting as well. So the days of sending mass blasts to all your customers are very quickly going to be over. I think one of the most important factors in the success of a reward program is the personalization of the communiqué. For example, in our case, we don’t send any mass email blasts, any email that a customer gets is specific to them. Whether it’s how many points they have, how close they are to the reward, that their friend has joined the gym, and they are rewarded for that activity, it’s all for them, and I mean that’s really important if you want to keep engagement. Last concept, I think keeping it fresh is another key element. You want to keep customers excited, you want to always offer them something new and exciting within the rewards program.

So for me the sort of things I think are very exciting are engagement, frictionless mechanics, personalization, fresh communication, and I think at the end maybe here I might add data, where we are now having this platform that can aggregate data across thousands and thousands of businesses, eventually hundreds of thousands of businesses, and optimize the experience automatically for the participating businesses, where you take the human error out of it, you can AB test, and do all sorts of incredible things that were just not possible before. Large companies have been spending lots of money on these programs, small businesses haven’t been able to. It wouldn’t surprise me if in ten years small businesses have more effective programs than larger companies, because they’re leveraging our aggregated platform.

5) Back to the concept of eliciting behavior change, what do you believe are the most important elements to get right to accomplish this goal (either through loyalty program design or more broadly through general strategy)?

You don’t want to diminish intrinsic value or you’re going to have unintended consequences as a result, but I think if you can – in a frictionless way – incentivize the boring, repetitive pieces of the tasks that need to be done to eventually reach your end goal, then that is what’s going to drive your success. Take what we have done, as an example, checking into the gym is a near frictionless task for most members and it’s also very repetitive, but we know if we can reward people for that, and get them into the gym, then let them have creativity for what they do in the gym (run on the treadmill, lift weights, etc.) do not remove that autonomy from their experience, because now they’re at least more likely to get there and to enjoy the fruits of that creative experience at the gym …I mean that’s how you can drive it. Focus on making the boring parts more exciting and rewarding… these are the variants to success. Also, show them their progress. That’s one of the things we do, users don’t have to open an app to check how they’re doing. Instead they can just get a very short email that tells them, or it could be a push notification on their phone.  We offer various frictionless ways (of the user’s choosing) to show them they’re making progress towards their goal. Lastly, be careful not to foster short term thinking. When thinking about your rewards program make sure it’s going to be valuable to your customers, not just for the new customer but that the program is still going to be interesting for the loyal customer down the road. Otherwise its usefulness is going to lose value very quickly at the risk of your investment.

Interview with Matthew Heineman about Healthcare in America

Matthew Heineman is an accomplished producer, director and cinematographer. His current documentary film is Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare,” a film which he co-directed and co-produced with Susan Froemke. The documentary examines the deficits and challenges in the healthcare system of America.

Here are my 5 questions with Matthew and his answers:

1) An escape fire (a fire started to escape a bigger fire) is a significant metaphor used throughout the film. It implies an “improvised, effective solution” to an issue failed by traditional approaches. In the context of your film, where do you see escape fires first taking hold if change is to occur: with patient choice, with medical practice, another avenue, or a systemic movement towards change?

For the first year and a half of making this film the working title was A Tale of Two Systems, which is really one of the worst film titles of all time. During the making of the film someone sent us an essay called “Escape Fire: Lessons for the Future of the Health Care System,” by Dr. Don Berwick based on a speech that he gave about 10 years earlier where he draws a metaphor between a forest fire in 1949 and our burning healthcare system. In the essay Dr. Berwick is essentially saying that there are solutions right in front of us, but because we’re so stuck in the status quo, we can’t recognize them.

And so I think, in the context of the film, there are many escape fires that we’ve pointed out but first and foremost we have a disease care system not a health care system; a system that is oriented and profits from sickness, not from keeping people healthy. So we as a society need to find ways to create a system of health; a system that incentivizes people to be healthier; a system that incentivizes doctors and team-based systems to provide care before disease actually takes place as opposed to only treating disease after it occurs. Seventy-five percent of healthcare costs in America are diseases that are largely preventable.

This is really a multifactorial problem, and as such really requires multifactorial solutions. But change is happening. We are seeing change happening all across the county, positive change. As we’ve been able to meet people all across the country from screening the film hundreds of times we’ve found change is really happening at the local level. And as this change is occurring community by community, hospital by hospital, hopefully it will become the norm, not the exception.

2) It is clear that Steven Burd, the CEO of Safeway, is a pioneer in reducing employee health care costs and is highlighted in Escape Fire for his efforts in influencing his workforce to create healthier behaviors through extrinsic means. What’s your opinion on the role of this economic innovation in motivating people to engage in healthier behavior?

In 2005, Safeway had a billion dollar health care bill and Steven Burd realized that it was clearly not sustainable. So, he incentivized his employees to eat healthier, lower their cholesterol, lower their weight, stop smoking and through that he not only improved the health of his employees, but he improved the bottom line for his company. I think providing positive incentives holds great promise in creating a healthier society. There are many, many large corporations, and small corporations as well, that are doing (or trying to do) what Safeway has successfully done.

I really believe that the private sector has a big role to play in terms of helping to solve our healthcare crisis. Roughly 178 million people get their healthcare through their employer, so if more solutions can come out of the private sector we will all be better off. The key is not to blame the individual–it’s my belief these incentives should not be positioned as penalties. In my opinion, the key is to figure out how to incentivize people to stay healthy. And with Safeway, it’s important to acknowledge that the story is not just about incentives; Mr. Burd changed the company’s culture. He changed how his employees thought about health and healthcare and provided opportunities for them to make changes–that’s why he was so successful.

3) There are so many facets to the ongoing health care crisis in America. If you were able to create Escape Fire Part II with unlimited resources and access what would be the next chapter of your exploration of this topic?

I think if we were going to do a part two we would start looking at the ramifications of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. There are many aspects of the Act that people really don’t quite understand and that are going to play out over the next couple of years. One key element are Accountable Care Organizations that are moving us away from a “fee for service” model that currently compensates and incentivizes quantity over quality. It would be interesting to examine whether paying for outcomes – i.e. paying for quality – is a better way of doing things. Also looking at the expansion of electronic health records and other ways that make the system more efficient are key aspects that we were not able to examine in the original film but are key aspects of this complex story.

4) I found it compelling in Escape Fire that Dr. Martin (a physician whose story is documented in the film) externally struggles with the lack of a crisis counselor during the lunch hour when one of her patients is in need, but internally struggles with the desire to maintain her own autonomy — and practice medicine on her terms — stating, “I’m not interested in getting my productivity up, I’m interested in helping patients.” A quagmire is evident in the balance between accessibility and quality of care. In your exploration of this topic, do you believe it’s possible for the system to have it both ways?

Yes, the problem Dr. Martin faced in the film is only going to get more poignant as time goes on. It is estimated that we will have 30 million more people entering the system with the new healthcare legislation. We already have a shortage of primary health doctors, so the story we see with Dr. Martin where she’s forced to see a revolving door of patients that is going to be an ever-growing problem if we don’t change it.

It is very important to give access to care, but it is also important that doctors are given the ability to spend more time with patients. One solution might be that doctors aren’t the only ones to meet with patients. We can create more team-based systems in healthcare, where nurses and nurse practitioners provide more of the day-to-day, week-to-week, follow-ups freeing up doctor availability. In my opinion, the model in which Dr. Martin was operating where she was forced to see so many patients per hour, that is simply not sustainable. I don’t think anyone would be happy in that model. Patients aren’t happy, doctors aren’t happy, so the model needs to change.

5) You’ve stated that you hope Escape Fire can “catalyze a paradigm shift in how our country views health and healing.” With this aspiration in mind, what does success look like in five years?

The film has now been seen by millions of people and it’s been an enormously gratifying journey from the Sundance Film Festival and other festivals, to playing theaters, iTunes, CNN, etc. I think we’ve really helped raise awareness and helped elevate the issues around healthcare in a digestible and non-political way. One of the reasons we made this film is there’s so much hyperbole and misinformation on the topic of healthcare and we really wanted to try to bring clarity to the situation.

The legacy of the film is the question, “how do we create a highly sustainable healthcare system in the 21st century?” We do that by encouraging individuals and institutions to change. So I hope the film continues to do that, that we continue to raise awareness, that we continue to be used a tool to help propel change.

The momentum is already there. We’ve partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs, one of the largest healthcare systems in America, and they used the film to launch their Patient Centered Care initiative and humanize various internal issues to their doctors and their leadership. My hope is we can continue to inspire, not just large institutions, but individuals too.

Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change

The Prochaska Spiral

At some time in their lives, most people have made various attempts to modify their behavior. It could be to lose weight, start saving money, stop smoking, etc. Sometimes these types of changes occur gradually, sometimes abruptly. Whether quickly, or over time, change usually occurs throughout a series of stages. These stages are outlined in the “Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change,” or TTM.

TTM was founded in the early 1980s through the work of psychologist James O. Prochaska, PhD. This “readiness to change” model has enthused many to reevaluate theories about the most useful, apposite means of sustaining one’s self to achieve goals in relation to altering their behavior. The process in captured in the Prochaska Spiral.

Initiating one’s self into action is frequently more difficult than “just doing it,” and possibly less productive than anticipated. Without the proper emotional preparedness to tackle a particular goal, a person may actually sabotage their success. Prochaska devised a six-point model to clarify that lasting change seldom takes place due to a single ongoing resolve to act. More often than not, change develops from an understated, multifaceted, and at times, tortuous progression. A process that includes various phases of mental attentiveness such as thinking, pausing, going forward, going backwards, and sometimes starting all over again!

The Six-Stages of the Transtheoretical Model

Prochaska’s TTM hypothesis recognizes that enduring modification in a person’s behavior generally advances through six crucial stages: Precontemplation to Contemplation, and onto Preparation and Action. However, this is just the beginning, as individuals can indubitably slip back into the Preparation or Contemplation stages, if they lose their resolve.

For behavioral changes to be solidified, a person must enter into the Maintenance phase until the changed behavior “sticks,” so to speak. The final stage called Termination, means that the transformation is complete and permanently instilled in the person’s lifestyle.

Individuals in this phase desire to change; however, actual plans have not been conceived. This is because they may not be wholly cognizant of the potential advantages; they may be discouraged due to failure of past attempts, or lack energy.

Those in the Contemplation phase are considering taking action, but are not altogether ready, or, do not understand how to go about getting started. They are open to feedback and information. This is somewhat a “dilly-dallying” stage.

At this stage, people are geared to take action. They are more strong-minded, certain, and dedicated. They are developing their plan of attack and may have already taken action in small steps.

Apart from just thinking about acting, a person at this stage is actually doing something. This stage is when all the prior small steps, seeming irrelevant choices, and small sacrifices come together to make a significant difference.

Persons in the Maintenance phase have maintained the “Action” phase for a minimum of six months. This means that they have providentially shunned or conquered the obstructions that could have caused them to lapse into previous behaviors.

When individuals in the Maintenance phase prolong their healthier behavior for at least two years, they go into Termination. In the Termination phase, the new behavior is wholly integrated and the temptation to relapse into old behavior has weakened. This constituent of behavior modification is no longer something an individual needs to do. It is part of their standard operating procedure.

Why the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change is so Important

The idea of comprehending the art of behavioral change is for a person to develop the life of their highest choosing. By integrating a particular lifestyle change that benefit’s them, they are reinforcing within themselves that they have the ability to do it. When people explore how they may utilize their vigor, awareness of self, and the acumen they’ve gained to embark on new areas of challenge or learning, growth occurs. This is why TTM is so important, it acknowledges that change takes time; thereby, setting individuals up to succeed.