Moto-vating Change: How to Trip Our Transportation Trigger

By Bill Moore

Behavior specialist Ben Foster has made it his vocation to translate theory into product, taking the research of behaviorists like Robert Cialdini, Robert Metcalfe and B J Fogg and turning it into successful start-ups from eBay to oPower. If we're going to create a more EV world, we need to better understand why and how we make decisions. It all begins with a trigger; and no, not the horse.

Ben Foster is a behavioral science practitioner. He figures out what works best to motivate change in human behavior. He translates the theories of behavior researchers like Stanford University's Dr. B J Fogg into practical applications from start-up company smart phone apps to community public transit.

The topic has a great deal of relevance to the EV world where the challenge isn't so much one of hardware, but of human behavior; what causes a few early adapters to take risks on new technology and what hinders the majority, at least early on, from following their lead? One's personal level of risk tolerance certainly plays a part, but beyond that, what motivates us into making the decisions we do when we do?

The first thing we need to recognize, Foster explains, is that for all our talk about rationality in the decisions we make, that isn't really how we make them or why we make them. We often decide on a course of action for the most irrational reasons and then later justify them -- or try to - based on rationality.

Take the Tesla Model S that Foster bought. He can rationally justify the decision based on the car's supposed 'greenness' or performance or low operating costs, but in reality, the decision to buy it was made at a much deeper, emotional level. He didn't rationally compare the Model S to other buying options. He admits he didn't even consider looking at any other cars. Somewhere deep in his psyche, there was something about the entire package (the car, its Silicon Valley mystique, its high-technic-ness) that tripped in Foster what B J Fogg at Stanford calls a 'trigger'. Foster had the financial 'ability' to afford the car and sufficiently high 'motivation' for a likely a host of reasons: styling, performance, coolness to make the purchase, irregardless of any real or perceived negatives: range, recharge time, cost, waiting period.

Using Fogg's Behavior Model [], somewhere along the activation threshold, Foster crossed the line emotionally long before doing so intellectually. Finding that same threshold for any product or service challenges both established companies looking to stay relevant in a rapidly evolving market place, as well as hopeful techies and entrepreneurs. It's one that professionally and personally intrigues Foster as he works with various startups including Livesafe, Whoop , and Conveyal, the latter which describes its work as leveraging "the latest in web-based visualization practices to create a new type of user experience for online travel planning applications."

This is not our typical EV World Dialogue interview about hardware or policy. It is a bit more cerebral in nature where we talk about the core of what 'motivates' us. The Skype video is split into three segments due to its length. In part three, we get down to the question of how does all this effect today's carmakers as they face a very uncertain future in a highly-urbanized and carbon-constrained world, one where the products they've traditionally built simply won't fit all that well; a fact even Bill Ford, Jr. recognizes ['We Can't Sell Cars Anymore'].

In this context, Foster makes an interesting observation about why don't we have cars with bicycles in their trunk? In fact, both Volkswagen and BMW have demonstrated just such concepts. The e-bike pictured above is designed to fit in the spare tire well of a Volkwagen sedan. The e-bike below fits in the back of BMW's i3 electric city car. The products are there: tripping the right triggers is the trick.

Video Part 1

Video Part 2

Video Part 3


Foster refers to four behaviorists in our discussion. Also linked below is Foster's TEDx talk from 2012.

TEDxFoggyBottom -

CORRECTION: Ben Foster pointed out today (23-Aug-2014) that he was referring to Robert Cialdini, the author of Influence, not Rupert Sheldrake.

Times Article Viewed: 7971
Originally published: 18 Aug 2014


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