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Episode 06

To Be Creative is to Take Control—Scott Riley

This is the second of two episodes in which host Menka Sanghvi speaks to designer and author Scott Riley. This time the conversation is about autonomy, intrinsic motivation, and being more creative with the digital tools we use. Warning; Scott speaks honestly and passionately about these subjects, and at times the language in this episode may not be suitable for young ears!

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About the guest

Scott Riley is a designer and developer, an advocate for mental health discourse in tech and the author of Mindful Design: How and Why to Make Design Decisions for the Good of Those Using Your Product.”. He has spent the majority of his career consulting with companies around the world on creating useful, mindful, seamless products that integrate into the lives and lifestyles of humans.

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Episode notes

Regardless of our intentions, technology is designed with it’s own “goals” based on its success metrics. In a way, tech has its own intentions for us, leading to that misalignment we sometimes feel!

The blunt truth is - says Scott - that companies are often rewarded for creating exploitative products. This is demonstrated by the correlation between those attracted to a product, and those impacted badly by them. The intentions of those working in tech may well be good, but the result often isn’t. The problem, he explains, is the success metrics. Scott recommends trying to understand what kinds of success metrics companies use - whether it’s Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok, or a software to help you write. Consider whether it’s a free or paid service. Explore what the app seems to “want” you to do?

Menka asks how we can go on that journey of exploration and Scott suggests learning more about motivation theory, which is about understanding what actually makes us feel good, rather than just focusing on superficial dopamine hits. For example, we may be craving competence, autonomy, belonging, mastering something, or solving our own problems. Intrinsic motivators like these all tend to lead us to feeling good naturally.

Building on the last episode’s conversation, Scott explains that most tech works with these motivators in a snacking style - never really fulfilling us, so we have to keep doing more, coming back, repeating the actions to get some satisfaction, but it’s never enough.

Looking at the positive potential of technology, Scott believes that it gives us access to systems that we could not previously access. We can use tech to do things in our way, making best use of this access, rather than do what the designers of tech would have us do. Scott gives unusual use cases in Minecraft as a good example of this! “Don’t be controlled by technology - be creative with it.” Tech often tries to get us to do certain things, in a certain order, which is the hallmark of persuasive design, but that doesn’t give us autonomy.

Scott ends with this wise advice: “Practice what you want to get really good at.” Don’t keep going on Twitter and being outraged, for example, unless you want to be really good at it!

Bonus Content

  1. Self Determination Theory website
  2. ‘Simply Psychology’ Overview of Self-Determination Theory
  3. ‘Positive Psychology’ article on Self-Determination Theory

Tools and Apps Mentioned

Resources Mentioned

  1. Mindful Design - Scott Riley’s book
  2. Pigeons, Operant Conditioning and Social Control
  3. Persuasive Design
  4. Digital Habit Lab card: Avoid Early Morning Tech

Get in touch

Send us feedback, suggestions, or questions about anything you’ve heard or would like to hear:

The Digital Habit Lab Podcast is produced by Menka Sanghvi and Jonathan Garner. Thanks to Jack Fletcher for audio engineering chops and music.

Show Contributors

  • Scott Riley
  • Menka Sangvhi