Almost every element of good bread happens long before it goes into the oven.
Too often, we spend our time and effort on the exciting last step. And too often, we forget to spend our time and attention on the preparation that’s a lot less urgent or glamorous, but far more important.
Poor preparation is a lousy excuse for a last-minute selfish frenzy. That frenzy distracts us from doing it right the next time.
If you want to understand where mastery and success come from, take a look at the inputs and the journey, not simply the outputs.
“Which one do you want?”
There were 100 quarts of strawberries at the farmer’s market yesterday. In answer to the farmer’s question, the person ahead of me in line spent a full minute looking them all over before picking one.
The thing is: 90% of the strawberries in a quart are hidden from view. They’re beneath the top layer. There’s no strategy to tell which quart is better than the other, unless you (erroneously) believe that the top layer is an accurate indicator of what lies below.
The analogy wasn’t lost on me: We do this all the time. We do it with job interviews, with dating sites, with decisions about who to trust with an investment or even to drive our Lyft.
The other thing is: We get satisfaction out of picking, even if we know that our data is suspect and evidence is limited. We like the feeling of power and control, even though we have very little.
If all you’re seeing is the top layer, you’ve learned nothing. Maybe less than nothing. Con men are particularly good at seeming trustworthy, and the outfit worn to a job interview tells you nothing about someone’s dedication, work ethic or honesty.
The real information comes from experience. If the farmer is the sort of person who won’t put the clinkers on the bottom, she’s earned our trust.
That’s how we choose who to work with.
We want someone who’s good at their job. And the ones we pass up are usually labeled as, “not good enough.” And we label ourselves as well. “I’d like to do that sort of work, but I’m not good enough.”
This is obviously a trap.
In almost every line of work, the truthful sentence is, “not good enough yet.”
Of course, at least once you wrote a great line of code or crafted a good headline. At least once you made a good diagnosis or calmed a patient. At least once you did something extraordinary. So it’s not that you can’t do it.
It might be that you don’t care enough to try.
“I’d like to hire that programmer, but he doesn’t care enough to get really good at his craft.” That’s certainly more true than, “He’s never going to be good at programming, because his DNA doesn’t match the DNA of a good coder.”
It’s true that you’re not good enough yet. None of us are. But if you commit to trying hard enough and long enough, you’ll get better.
An ideal project is one where the users are better off if others are using it too.
The train to the plane in Oslo is a great example. It’s faster, easier and nicer than driving. Its existence belies the argument for selfish chaos.
The same is true for the connected phone system. We all benefit from the fact that everyone uses the same protocol to make calls or send a text.
And the CES trade show was a hugely profitable project for decades for a similar reason. One big trade show was better than 200 competing ones…
When in doubt, look for the network effect.
Should you give up?
There are people who have read far more books than you have, and you will certainly never catch up.
Your website began with lousy traffic stats, in fact, they all do. Should you even bother?
The course you’re in–you’re a few lessons behind the leaders. Time to call it quits?
Quitting merely because you’re behind is a trap, a form of hiding that feels safe, but isn’t. The math is simple: whatever you switch to because you quit is another place you’re going to be behind as well.
It’s not a race, it’s a journey. And the team that scores first doesn’t always win.
[PS you’re not behind on my podcast, Akimbo, but there are plenty of episodes you haven’t heard yet. Last week was about blogging, and today’s is about chocolate. Except it’s not about the chocolate.]
It seems to be getting more difficult to trust that someone is going to do what they say they said they were going to do.
“It was a misunderstanding.”
“That’s not what I said.”
“So, sue me.”
When local newspapers disappear and can’t keep a close watch on the government, it turns out that costs go up. When people need a lawyer to make an agreement and a lawyer to enforce an agreement, costs go up. When it’s not clear whether or not it’s worth the emotional and organizational risk to engage with someone, engagement doesn’t happen and costs go up.
Handshakes matter. They make our transactions more efficient and we all benefit.
But handshakes matter even more as part of our internal narrative. When you see yourself as a weasel, or as a bully, or as someone who is entitled to win at all costs, you’re poisoning your ability to be a generous creative. When you tell yourself a story of insufficiency, that you’re the sort of person who can’t possibly find the emotional or financial resources to keep your word, you make everything smaller. And when you’re always looking over your shoulder at who might be catching up to your most recent shortcut, you’re spending less time looking forward.
The bullying/shortcutting/legalistic approach to destroying the honor and trust of a handshake can lead to a downward ratchet. “Well, if they’re going to be like that, so will I…” The alternative is to reserve your best work and your best ideas and your best partnerships for people and organizations that work the way you’d like to work. A virtuous cycle, one in which the selfish people can peck at each other while you work overtime to keep your word with people who deserve it.
Car factories are a bit of a miracle. They make a complex, expensive device, and they do it close to perfectly. People love their cars, and regularly buy new ones long before they need to. It’s a largely solved engineering problem.
On the other hand, car dealerships are a disaster. No one likes them. They’re scammy, stressful and unpredictable.
The difference comes down to management vs. leadership.
Car factories are measured and managed. For a hundred years, stopwatches and spreadsheets have turned the process of making a car into a predictable, improvable system. Management is an act of authority and compliance, and in the controlled setting of a factory, it works.
Car dealers might try to measure the easy metrics of output (how many sold) but they’ve consistently failed at managing the improvised human interactions that car salespeople engage in. It turns out that the few great car dealers are great because of leadership, not management. Leadership is engaged with voluntarily, an enrolled engagement around meaning and manners, not process and motion.
Most of don’t work in a factory. Most of us aren’t trying to solve an engineering problem. On our best days, we are leaders, or we are led by humans worthy of our best selves.
Leadership is difficult work, as far from a solvable engineering problem as we’ll encounter. It’s easier, though, if we realize that that’s what we’re doing.
When you run your dealership like a factory, you’re not going to succeed, nor are you going to please your staff. This is what creates senseless and humanity-starved bureaucracies.
Hire the right people, walk away from those that aren’t on the journey.
Celebrate the right contributions.
Develop a culture, a language, a way of being on the path.
Commit to the journey.
People like us do things like this.
Raise the standards, repeat the process.
There are two polar opposites: Staying still and Breaking. It's easy to visualize each end of the axis, whatever the activity.
In between is stretching.
Stretching is growth. Extending our reach. Becoming more resilient, limber and powerful. Stretching hurts a bit, and maybe leaves us just a little bit sore.
But then, tomorrow, we can stretch further than we could yesterday. Because stretching compounds.
If you're afraid of breaking, the answer isn't to stay still. No, if you're afraid of breaking, the answer is to dedicate yourself to stretching.
The business of software is a bit of a miracle. Properly designed, software isn’t more expensive to create when more people use it. In fact, when network effects are involved, it’s actually more efficient when more people use it.
That’s one of the reasons that people hesitate to pay for software. There isn’t a feeling of scarcity, that the store will run out if it’s free…
But of course, this overlooks the two-and-a-half essential missing factors:
- Businesses need money to make the software in the first place.
- Software is complicated, and it breaks. And when it does, you probably want to be the sort of user that gets focused, fast and useful help. And you want ongoing upgrades that make it better still.
- It costs money to market the software, to tell you about it (that’s only .5, but still)
I like paying for my software when I’m buying it from a company that’s responsive, fast and focused. I like being the customer (as opposed to a social network, where I’m the product). I spend most of my day working with tools that weren’t even in science fiction novels twenty-five years ago, and the money I spend on software is a bargain–doing this work without it is impossible.
To name a few, I’m glad to use and pay for: Overcast, Feedblitz, Discourse, Zapier, Dropbox, Roon, WavePad, Bench, Nisus, Zoom, Slack, SuperDuper, Mailchimp, Hover, TypeExpander, Tidal, and many others. I wish I could pay for and get great support and development for Keynote. And I’m sorry I ever encountered the one or two rare exceptions in an industry that generally does amazing work with care and responsibility.
In my experience, the great software companies are run by singleminded people who bend the physics of design to their will, creating powerful leverage for those that they serve. They are craftspeople, impatient with the status quo and eager to make things better.
In many ways, software development has plateaued, and part of the reason is that people hesitate to pay for software worth paying for. I’m looking forward to the next golden age of tools that open new doors for creators and organizations.
Time zones are a recent invention. It used to be that local time was different everywhere. Each village had its own high noon.
Factories required synchronization, so that workers would all show up at the same time (which probably led to the alarm clock's invention as well).
Today, of course, two things have happened:
- Everyone knows what time it is, all the time. Precisely the same time, to the second.
- It matters less. More work is asynchronous. The work itself now tells you when to start working on it, as the project is passed from desk to desk, from account to account.
Work is no longer time-based. It's now project based.
A note from the editors: It’s our pleasure to share this excerpt from Chapter 2 (“Pinning Down Touchpoints”) of Orchestrating Experiences: Collaborative Design for Complexity by Chris Risdon and Patrick Quattlebaum, available now from Rosenfeld Media.
If you embrace the recommended collaborative approaches in your sense-making activities, you and your colleagues should build good momentum toward creating better and valuable end-to-end experiences. In fact, the urge to jump into solution mode will be tempting. Take a deep breath: you have a little more work to do. To ensure that your new insights translate into the right actions, you must collectively define what is good and hold one another accountable for aligning with it.
Good, in this context, means the ideas and solutions that you commit to reflect your customers’ needs and context while achieving organizational objectives. It also means that each touchpoint harmonizes with others as part of an orchestrated system. Defining good, in this way, provides common constraints to reduce arbitrary decisions and nudge everyone in the same direction.
How do you align an organization to work collectively toward the same good? Start with some common guidelines called experience principles.A Common DNA
Experience principles are a set of guidelines that an organization commits to and follows from strategy through delivery to produce mutually beneficial and differentiated customer experiences. Experience principles represent the alignment of brand aspirations and customer needs, and they are derived from understanding your customers. In action, they help teams own their part (e.g., a product, touchpoint, or channel) while supporting consistency and continuity in the end-to-end experience. Figure 6.1 presents an example of a set of experience principles.Figure 6.1: Example set of experience principles. Courtesy of Adaptive Path
Experience principles are not detailed standards that everyone must obey to the letter. Standards tend to produce a rigid system, which curbs innovation and creativity. In contrast, experience principles inform the many decisions required to define what experiences your product or service should create and how to design for individual, yet connected, moments. They communicate in a few memorable phrases the organizational wisdom for how to meet customers’ needs consistently and effectively. For example, look at the following:
- Paint me a picture.
- Have my back.
- Set my expectations.
- Be one step ahead of me.
- Respect my time.
Orchestrating experiences is a team sport. Many roles contribute to defining, designing, and delivering products and services that result in customer experiences. For this reason, the label experience—rather than design—reflects the value of principles better that inform and guide the organization. Experience principles are outcome oriented; design principles are process oriented. Everyone should follow and buy into them, not just designers. Patrick Quattlebaum
Experience principles are grounded in customer needs, and they keep collaborators focused on the why, what, and how of engaging people through products and services. They keep critical insights and intentions top of mind, such as the following:
- Mental Models: How part of an experience can help people have a better understanding, or how it should conform to their mental model.
- Emotions: How part of an experience should support the customer emotionally, or directly address their motivations.
- Behaviors: How part of an experience should enable someone to do something they set out to do better.
- Target: The characteristics to which an experience should adhere.
- Impact: The outcomes and qualities an experience should engender in the user or customer.
Many universal or heuristic principles exist to guide design work. There are visual design principles, interaction design principles, user experience principles, and any number of domain principles that can help define the best practices you apply in your design process. These are lessons learned over time that have a broader application and can be relied on consistently to inform your work across even disparate projects.
It’s important to reinforce that experience principles specific to your customers’ needs provide contextual guidelines for strategy and design decisions. They help everyone focus on what’s appropriate to specific customers with a unique set of needs, and your product or service can differentiate itself by staying true to these principles. Experience principles shouldn’t compete with best practices or universal principles, but they should be honored as critical inputs for ensuring that your organization’s specific value propositions are met. Chris Risdon Playing Together
Earlier, we compared channels and touchpoints to instruments and notes played by an orchestra, but in the case of experience principles, it’s more like jazz. While each member of a jazz ensemble is given plenty of room to improvise, all players understand the common context in which they are performing and carefully listen and respond to one another (see Figure 6.2). They know the standards of the genre backward and forward, and this knowledge allows them to be creative individually while collectively playing the same tune.Figure 6.2: Jazz ensembles depend upon a common foundation to inspire improvisation while working together to form a holistic work of art. Photo by Roland Godefroy, License
Experience principles provide structure and guidelines that connect collaborators while giving them room to be innovative. As with a time signature, they ensure alignment. Similar to a melody, they provide a foundation that encourages supportive harmony. Like musical style, experience principles provide boundaries for what fits and what doesn’t.
Experience principles challenge a common issue in organizations: isolated soloists playing their own tune to the detriment of the whole ensemble. While still leaving plenty of room for individual improvisation, they ask a bunch of solo acts to be part of the band. This structure provides a foundation for continuity in the resulting customer journey, but doesn’t overengineer consistency and predictability, which might prevent delight and differentiation. Stressing this balance of designing the whole while distributing effort and ownership is a critical stance to take to engender cross-functional buy-in.
To get broad acceptance of your experience principles, you must help your colleagues and your leadership see their value. You will need to craft value propositions for your different stakeholders, educate the stakeholders on how to use experience principles, and pilot the experience principles to show how they are used in action. This typically requires crafting specific value propositions and education materials for different stakeholders to gain broad support and adoption. Piloting your experience principals on a project can also help others understand their tactical use. When approaching each stakeholder, consider these common values:
- Defining good: While different channels and media have their specific best practices, experience principles provide a common set of criteria that can be applied across an entire end-to-end experience.
- Decision-making filter: Throughout the process of determining what to do strategically and how to do it tactically, experience principles ensure that customers’ needs and desires are represented in the decision-making process.
- Boundary constraints: Because these constraints represent the alignment of brand aspiration and customer desire, experience principles can filter out ideas or solutions that don’t reinforce this alignment.
- Efficiency: Used consistently, experience principles reduce ambiguity and the resultant churn when determining what concepts should move forward and how to design them well.
- Creativity inspiration: Experience principles are very effective in sparking new ideas with greater confidence that will map back to customer needs. (See Chapter 8, “Generating and Evaluating Ideas.”)
- Quality control: Through the execution lifecycle, experience principles can be used to critique touchpoint designs (i.e., the parts) to ensure that they align to the greater experience (i.e., the whole).
Pitching and educating aside, your best bet for creating good experience principles that get adopted is to avoid creating them in a black box. You don’t want to spring your experience principles on your colleagues as if they were commandments from above to follow blindly. Instead, work together to craft a set of principles that everyone can follow energetically.Identifying Draft Principles
Your research into the lives and journeys of customers will produce a large number of insights. These insights are reflective. They capture people’s current experiences—such as, their met and unmet needs, how they frame the world, and their desired outcomes. To craft useful and appropriate experience principles, you must turn these insights inside out to project what future experiences should be.When You Can’t Do Research (Yet)
If you lack strong customer insights (and the support or time to gather them), it’s still valuable to craft experience principles with your colleagues. The process of creating them provides insight into the various criteria that people are using to make decisions. It also sheds light on what your collaborators believe are the most important customer needs to meet. While not as sound as research-driven principles, your team can align around a set of guidelines to inform and critique your collective work—and then build the case for gathering insights for creating better experience principles. Patrick Quattlebaum From the Bottom Up
The leap from insights to experience principles will take several iterations. While you may be able to rattle off a few candidates based on your research, it’s well worth the time to follow a more rigorous approach in which you work from the bottom (individual insights) to the top (a handful of well-crafted principles). Here’s how to get started:
- Reassemble your facilitators and experience mappers, as they are closest to what you learned in your research.
- Go back to the key insights that emerged from your discovery and research. These likely have been packaged in maps, models, research reports, or other artifacts. You can also go back to your raw data if needed.
- Write each key insight on a sticky note. These will be used to spark a first pass at potential principles.
- For each insight, have everyone take a pass individually at articulating a principle derived from just that insight. You can use sticky notes again or a quarter sheet of 8.5”’’x 11”’ (A6) template to give people a little more structure (see Figure 6.3).
- At this stage, you should coach participants to avoid finding the perfect words or a pithy way to communicate a potential principle. Instead, focus on getting the core lesson learned from the insight and what advice you would give others to guide product or service decisions in the future. Table 6.1 shows a couple of examples of what a good first pass looks like.
- At this stage, don’t be a wordsmith. Work quickly to reframe your insights from something you know (“Most people don’t want to…”) to what should be done to stay true to this insight (“Make it easy for people…”).
- Work your way through all the insights until everyone has a principle for each one.
You now have a superset of individual principles from which a handful of experience principles will emerge. Your next step is to find the patterns within them. You can use affinity mapping to identify principles that speak to a similar theme or intent. As with any clustering activity, this may take a few iterations until you feel that you have mutually exclusive categories. You can do this in just a few steps:
- Select someone to be a workshop participant to present the principles one by one, explaining the intent behind each one.
- Cycle through the rest of the group, combining like principles and noting where principles conflict with one another. As you cluster, the dialogue the group has is as important as where the principles end up.
- Once things settle down, you and your colleagues can take a first pass at articulating a principle for each cluster. A simple half sheet (8.5” x 4.25” or A5) template can give some structure to this step. Again, don’t get too precious with every word yet. (see Figure 6.4). Get the essence down so that you and others can understand and further refine it with the other principles.
- You should end up with several mutually exclusive categories with a draft principle for each.
No experience principle is an island. Each should be understandable and useful on its own, but together your principles should form a system. Your principles should be complementary and reinforcing. They should be able to be applied across channels and throughout your product or service development process. See the following “Experience Principles Refinement Workshop” for tips on how to critique your principles to ensure that they work together as a complete whole.
Imagine a circle of ten kids, passing the ball from one to another.
What you do when you don't have the ball doesn't have much impact on how fast the ball moves around. But during the moments when the ball is yours, every second you spend is a second added to the route.
That route is called the critical path. It's the irreducible schedule, the sum total of all the required steps.
If you work on a team, part of your job is to know where the critical path is, and to know when you're on it. The rest of your day is devoted to helping those that are on the path or getting ready for your turn.
The story goes that James Cook brought fermented german cabbage with him on a long voyage, an innovative way to combat scurvy.
He knew that getting his sailors to eat this strange and stinky food was going to be difficult, particularly since scurvy is a long-term problem, not something you want to try to solve after you get it.
His answer was based on recognizing the power of status roles and is widely applicable:
For the first two weeks of the journey, only the captain and the officers were allowed to eat sauerkraut.
Demand creation through status roles has a long history, apparently.
“…but it might be for you.”
That’s a home run.
The stuff that’s for everyone, that’s easy to click, sniff, share, produce and learn–that stuff ends up having no character. It’s not memorable. Tater tots are for everyone.
But would you miss them if they were gone?
The goal isn’t to serve everyone. The goal is to serve the right people.
BIG PS: Today’s the first official post on my new blog, the first new blog platform for me in this century, give or take. If you’re getting this by email, click the title of the post to take a peek, or visit https://seths.blog if you’re curious. Delighted that we’re now powered by WordPress. Special thanks to Alex Peck and Noah Grubb for tireless, thoughtful, careful work on this transition.
When we go looking for a co-worker, a freelancer, a vendor or even a boss, we’re hoping for something. It might be:
and a host of other attributes that any of us are able to aspire to.
Of course, we never look for someone who is invisible, or brittle, or a bully.
The temptation is to take the lesson of a dozen years of compulsory education and choose to be the perfect one. The problem with perfect, though, is that it’s really difficult to pull off in the long run. The problem with perfect is that when you fail, you have none of the other more flexible human traits to fall back on. And the problem with perfect is that merely meeting spec means that the organization is soon going to be looking for someone cheaper and faster than you are.
It’s that time of year again… If you hear “Pomp & Circumstance” playing, you know you’re in the right place, and you also know you’re about to witness a pre-electrification (never mind pre-digital) event.
Who’s it for?
What’s it for?
I fear that tradition has gotten in the way of design thinking.
When we ask those two questions, great opportunities arrive.
A prime audience for graduation is the graduates. And what do they want? A moment in the spotlight. Official recognition. Digital media to prove it. Speed. Humor. Connection.
At the same time, expanding the amount of time spent parading each student on the stage for a photo and a handshake undermines most of that, and it alienates or numbs everyone else.
Consider: we have screens now. Our graduates believe in speed, screens and being seen.
I’d do the following things, simultaneously:
1. Instead of one team of two doing the handshake and photo dance, have three teams. I don’t think a student cares if it’s a dean or an associate dean (or even a department chair) who shakes their hand. With three processions at a time instead of one, we go from six people a minute to 20. That means, even if you change nothing else, you’ve cut the time by two-thirds.
Reading the names more quickly is easy if you have three people doing the reading instead of one. Read them with care, and respect, and honor them, but that’s no reason to dillydally.
2. You could add extra cameras and have all the photos instantly posted to Flickr or Instagram. This means that the pictures would be shared immediately and with more power.
3. But the real win is in using the iMax video displays. In the month before graduation, each student comes to an office at the school (you can have multiple offices that do this) and records themselves saying their name. Now, we have a video of their face, with their name in bold type below, saying their name with pride. Edited tightly, this would permit a fun, energetic video with each student in it. You could cut in, every few minutes, some singing groups, a on-campus charity event, etc. While the videos are rolling, when a student’s name comes up, she marches across the stage.
And it would look great.
I think the students would take even more pride in that sort of celebration. We would eliminate almost all the last minute worries (if someone doesn’t march when their picture is up top, that’s okay).
Graduation is a milestone. We should make it feel like one again.
Ice skating requires two things: smooth ice and gravity. Without a reliable foundation, you can't move forward. And without the constraints and boundaries put on us by gravity, you can't move at all.
The free market, the holy grail of some capitalists, is similar.
In a completely unbounded environment, markets can't develop, investments won't get made, nothing moves forward. You need clean air and water, a civil society, an educated workforce, a confident and trusting market and more. The very taxes that some whine about are the gravity that makes the system work.
There's a reason that there are no libertarian utopias. Left to its own devices, the market will fall apart, as a few race to the bottom and the pain of incivility takes over.