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« December 2012 | Main | February 2013 »

Customers who break things

2% of your customers don't get it. They won't read the instructions, they'll use the wrong handle, they'll ignore the warning about using IE6. They will blame you for giving them a virus or will change the recipe even though you ask them not to.

And not only that, they'll blame you when things go wrong.

If you do a very, very good job of design and UX and process analysis, you can lower this number to 1%.

But then what?

The thing is, blaming this group for getting it wrong helps no one. They don't want to be blamed, and they're not going to learn. 

The other challenge, of course, is that the 1% keep changing. If they were always the same people, you could happily fire them. But there's no way to know in advance who's going to get it wrong.

If you're going to be in a mass market business, you have no choice to but to accept that this group exists. And to embrace them. Not to blame them, but to love them. Successful businesses have the resilience to make it easy for them to recover. To make it easy for these people to find you and to blame you and to get the help they need.

Sure, whittle down the number. But the ones who are left? They're part of the deal.

Watching is not doing (confronting the spectator problem)

Talk shows, from Johnny Carson to Fresh Air, have always been about spectating. Comedy, TV, graphic arts, business leadership, politics--they've been sold to us as spectator sports.

Selling spectatorhood is pretty easy. It's safe and fun and easy. You hit the remote. You pretend you have power--the power to turn it off, to change the channel, to buy or not to buy. We've seduced the masses with a simple bargain, and even permitted the role of the spectator to move into the work world. Most people, most of the time, are told to watch, not to lead, to follow, not to create.

Waiting for breakfast in bed to be served is very different indeed than getting up early and serving breakfast in bed.

The spectators foolishly assert that if everyone was a doer, a leader and a maker of ruckuses, then there'd be no one left in the audience. As if those that do require an audience.

The alternative to being a spectator involves failure and apparent risk. It means that you will encounter people who accuse you of hubris and flying too high, people who are eager to point out the loose thread on your jacket or the flaw in your reasoning. The spectators in the stands are happy to boo, happy to walk out when the team is struggling in the third period, happy to switch if the bread or the circuses cease to delight.

Why on earth, they ask, would they want to be anything but a spectator?

And yet, those that have foolishly picked themselves, stood up, stood out and made a difference, can't help but ask, "and why would I ever want to be a spectator again?"

[More on this from fabled professor Jeffrey Pfeffer]

Owning vs. renting

You don't own attention or trust or shelf space. You don't even own tomorrow's plans.

It's all for rent, with a cancellation clause that can kick in at any time.

The moment you start treating the rental like a right, it disappears.

Beyond showing up

You've probably got that part nailed. Butt in seat, smile on your face. We often run into people who understand their job to be showing up on time to do the work that's assigned.

We've moved way beyond that now. Showing up and taking notes isn't your job. Your job is to surprise and delight and to change the agenda. Your job is to escalate, reset expectations and make us delighted that you are part of the team.

Showing up is overrated. Necessary but not nearly sufficient.

Eleven things organizations can learn from airports

[Of course, this post isn’t actually about airports]. 

I realized that I don’t dislike flying--I dislike airports. There are so many things we can learn from what they do wrong:

  1. No one is in charge. The airport doesn’t appear to have a CEO, and if it does, you never see her, hear about her or interact with her in any way. When the person at the top doesn’t care, it filters down.
  2. Problems persist because organizations defend their turf instead of embrace the problem. The TSA blames the facilities people, who blame someone else, and around and around. Only when the user’s problem is the driver of behavior (as opposed to maintaining power or the status quo) things change.
  3. The food is aimed squarely at the (disappearing) middle of the market. People who like steamed meat and bags of chips never have a problem finding something to eat at an airport. Apparently, profit-maximizing vendors haven’t realized that we’re all a lot weirder than we used to be.
  4. Like colleges, airports see customers as powerless transients. Hey, you’re going to be gone tomorrow, but they’ll still be here.
  5. By removing slack, airlines create failure. In order to increase profit, airlines work hard to get the maximum number of flights out of each plane, each day. As a result, there are no spares, no downtime and no resilience. By assuming that their customer base prefers to save money, not anxiety, they create an anxiety-filled system.
  6. The TSA is ruled by superstition, not fact. They act without data and put on a quite serious but ultimately useless bit of theater. Ten years later, the theater is now becoming an entrenched status quo, one that gets ever worse.
  7. The ad hoc is forbidden. Imagine an airplane employee bringing in an extension cord and a power strip to deal with the daily occurrence of travelers hunched in the corner around a single outlet. Impossible. There is a bias toward permanent and improved, not quick and effective.
  8. Everyone is treated the same. Effective organizations treat different people differently. While there’s some window dressing at the edges (I’m thinking of slightly faster first class lines and slightly more convenient motorized cars for seniors), in general, airports insist that the one size they’ve chosen to offer fit all.
  9. There are plenty of potential bad surprises, but no good ones. You can have a flight be cancelled, be strip searched or even go to the wrong airport. But all possibility for delight has been removed. It wouldn’t take much to completely transform the experience from a chore to a delight.
  10. They are sterile. Everyone who passes through leaves no trace, every morning starts anew. There are no connections between people, either fellow passengers or the staff. No one says, “welcome back,” and that’s honest, because no one feels particularly welcome.
  11. No one is having any fun. Most people who work at airports have precisely the same demeanor as people who work at a cemetery. The system has become so industrialized that personal expression is apparently forbidden.

As we see at many organizations that end up like this, the airport mistakes its market domination for a you-have-no-choice monopoly (we do have a choice, we stay home). And in pursuit of reliable, predictable outcomes, these organizations dehumanize everything, pretending it will increase profits, when it actually does exactly the opposite.

The long run keeps getting shorter

In the long run, we're all dead, sure that's still true.

But the other long run effects--in the long run, you get caught, in the long run, kindness wins out, in the long run, we learn about who you really are--all of those are happening faster than they used to.

The short run has always been short (and it's getting shorter still). The real change, though, is how short the long run is getting. 

Slow media

Slow media is patient. It's not on a deadline. It isn't measured in column inches. It can be calm instead of sensational, deep instead of superficial.

In the age of "Breaking news, Emmy nominations announced!" and 140 characters, it's sort of surprising to realize that we are also living in the golden age of slow media.

For years, on Sunday mornings, you could find me sitting in my driveway, recently arrived home from one errand or another, listening to Krista Tippett's extraordinary interviews on the radio. Thanks to the web, there's no need to sit in your car any longer, and Krista's groundbreaking approach is spreading. Spending 90 minutes in the studio with her to create this week's show was, for me, one of the highlights of my career. (download).

When there's unlimited shelf space allowing unlimited podcasts, which can be of unlimited length, the goal isn't to get the show on the air faster or to make it noisier. Instead, the goal, like the goal of a good book, is to say something worth saying, and to do it in a way that's worth waiting for.

The challenge used to be to promote your idea enough to get on the radio or get into the newspaper. Of course, along the way your idea was truncated, edited, misconstrued, amped up and dumbed down, because scarce media space often demanded this.

Today, the challenge is, as Krista has shown, to be insightful enough and patient enough to use the (unlimited) time to create slow media that people actually want to listen to. Not all people, of course, but enough. Not media for the masses, but media for the weird, for people who care. It might not be obvious media, or easy to understand media, or easily digested media, but that's okay, because slow media is not mass media. Slow media is not for the distracted masses, it's for the focused few.

One of the greatest privileges of publishing The Icarus Deception and V is for Vulnerable is that I've had the chance to talk with some amazing podcasters. And to do it slowly. With focus.

Go ahead and subscribe to a few. Slow media is good for us.

Ideal, average and outlier

Generalizations are the heart of marketing decision-making. When we look at an audience--customers, prospects, constituents--we make decisions on the whole based on our assumptions about the individuals within the group.

But are we basing those generalizations on our vision of the ideal member of the tribe, the average member or the outlier who got our attention?

It's easy, for example, to defend high-priced famous colleges if you focus on the ideal situation. The ideal student, getting instruction from the ideal professor and making ideal progress. No one can argue with this.

On the other hand, when we see the outlier (the person who is manipulating the system, or the one who is being harmed by it) it's easy to generalize in precisely the other direction, deciding that the entire system isn't worth saving.

And finally, it's tempting to rely on the average, to boil down populations of people into simple numbers. The problem with this, of course, is that if one foot is in a bucket of ice water and the other is being scalded, on average, you should be comfortable.

Before we start making decisions about markets, tribes and policy, we need to get clear about which signals we're using and what we're trying to focus on or improve.

On behalf of yes

Yes, it's okay to ship your work.

Yes, you're capable of making a difference.

Yes, it's important.

Yes, you can ignore that critic.

Yes, your bravery is worth it.

Yes, we believe in you.

Yes, you can do even better.

Yes.

Yes is an opportunity and yes is an obligation. The closer we get to people who are confronting the resistance on their way to making a ruckus, the more they let us in, the greater our obligation is to focus on the yes.

There will always be a surplus of people eager to criticize, nitpick or recommend caution. Your job, at least right now, is to reinforce the power of the yes.

A legend in my own mind

Everyone lives with self mythology.

The more important a memory is to the story we tell ourselves about ourselves, the more often we rehearse the memory. And the more often we relive those memories, the less likely it is that they are true.

Despite our shared conception that we are rational actors making intelligent decisions based on an accurate view of the world and ourselves, precisely the opposite is true. Your customers, your workers, you and I, we are all figments of our imaginations.

Understanding the mythology of your partner, your customer and your audience is far more important than watching the instant replay of what actually happened.

« December 2012 | Main | February 2013 »