Jul 312010

I Don’t Want to Be Your Friend (Today), part III

I Don’t Want to Be Your Friend (Today), part III

My first thought when my colleague Jen Goldman forwarded me a SlideShare presentation that was 224 pages long was, “really?”  But a short 10 minutes and 224 clicks later, I am glad I spent the time on it.

Paul Adams, a Senior User Experience Researcher at Google, put the presentation up called The Real Life Social Network.  Paul describes the problem I discuss in Part I and Part II of this series much more eloquently than I have, with great real world examples and thoughts for web designers at the end.

If you’re involved in social media and want to start breaking away from the “one size of friend fits all” mentality – this is a great use of time.

Jul 312010

Agile Marketing, Part II

Agile Marketing, Part II

I wrote about this years ago when I was temporarily running Marketing and was noting a lot of the similarities between running contemporary Product Development and Marketing efforts.

Nick Van Weerdenburg just put up a great post called Why Marketing is Becoming Like Software Development which you should read if you run or work in, or work closely with, a marketing department.

Jul 222010

Feature Requests

Feature Requests

Here are two new features I’d like to see in life:

  1. Any time you hit “reply to all” when you are in the BCC line – a giant red alert should pop up and say “are you really sure you want to let all these people know that you were BCCd on this thread?”
  2. Any time you place a call to a cell phone that’s outside of the person’s normal time zone – a giant red alert should pop up and say “are you sure you want to call this person at 3 a.m. in Singapore?” before completing the call

I’m not sure to whom these requests should be addressed, so I’ll just start with the open web.

Jul 152010

Mental Maps

Mental Maps

I recently went grocery shopping at a store I’d never been to before, Stew Leonard’s, and, no offense to Stew, I am unlikely to be a repeat customer.  While there were some things about the store that were better than most grocery stores, the experience drove me nuts.  Here’s why.

The store is laid out completely differently from standard grocery stores.  Most stores, even unusual ones like Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, have a nearly identical layout.  One side is produce, frozen foods in the middle, meats in the back, dairy around the other side, standard aisles have bread, baking stuff, cans, cereals, drinks and snacks, etc.  Go shopping enough, and you can generally find your way around any store in your sleep.

Stew Leonard’s decided to break the model.  The store has no aisles and is linear – you just keep walking in one direction/flow and hit every single section of the store before you reach the end of the maze at the cashiers.  One bonus is that they merchandise some things well and put logical items next to each other (burgers next to buns).  But you can’t really go back if you missed something, you have no idea what’s coming up next, you can’t tell if you’ve seen all of a given class of item yet since different elements of every category keep popping up.

Sometimes that kind of a risk can pay off in a breakthrough new product design.  Maybe people buy more items at Stew’s because things are set up differently.  But the experience was very disorienting, the shop took twice as long as usual, and I couldn’t find a bunch of things so I still had to go to A&P afterwards – basically, the costs outweighed the benefits.

The obvious comparison here to our professional world is UI design.  Breakthrough redesigns are always risky.  They can produce better user experiences, but they can also confuse new visitors or less sophisticated users, and they risk an immediate reaction of “I can’t figure this site out, goodbye.”

UPDATE:  Comments aren’t working today on the new blog, but my friend Pete Warden just emailed me a great comment about this post:

Your post reminded me of an incident at Apple that I wanted to share…One of the engineers was advocating for a UI change to an existing product. It clearly made the interface more elegant and logical, but our designer was pushing back hard. Finally the designer said “If you put that change in, I’m going to sneak into your house tonight and move all your furniture to different positions”. That analogy stuck with me; familiarity is what enables us to use a tool without having to stop and think, and so you need a really strong reason to change the structure of an interface.

Jul 092010

Book Short: Multiplying Your Team’s Productivity

Book Short:  Multiplying Your Team’s Productivity

No matter how frustrated a kids’ soccer coach gets, he never, ever runs onto the field in the middle of a game to step in and play.  It’s not just against the rules, it isn’t his or her role.

Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown (book, Kindle) takes this concept and drives it home.  The book was a great read, one of the better business books I’ve read in a long time.  I read a preview of it via an article in a recent Harvard Business Review (walled garden alert – you can only get the first page of the article without buying it), then my colleague George Bilbrey got the book and suggested I read it.  George also has a good post up on his blog about it.

One of the things I love about the book is that unlike a lot of business books, it applies to big companies and small companies with equal relevance.  The book echoes a lot of other contemporary literature on leadership (Collins, Charan, Welch) but pulls it into a more accessible framework based on a more direct form of impact:  not long-term shareholder value, but staff productivity and intelligence.  The book’s thesis is that the best managers get more than 2x out of their people than the average – some of that comes from having people more motivated and stretching, but some comes from literally making people more intelligent by challenging them, investing in them, and leaving them room to grow and learn.

The thesis has similar roots to many successful sales philosophies – that asking value-based questions is more effective than presenting features and benefits (that’s probably a good subject for a whole other post sometime).  The method of selling we use at Return Path which I’ve written about before, SPIN Selling, based on the book by Neil Rackham, gets into that in good detail.  One colorful quote in the book around this came from someone who met two famous 19th century British Prime Ministers and noted that when he came back from a meeting with Gladstone, he was convinced that Gladstone was the smartest person in the world, but when he came back from a meeting with Disraeli, he was convinced that he (not Disraeli) was the smartest person in the world.

Anyway, the book creates archetypal good and bad leaders, called Multipliers and Diminishers, and discusses five traits of both:

  • Talent Magnet vs. Empire Builder (find people’s native genius and amplify it)
  • Liberator vs. Tyrant (create space, demand the best work, delineate your “hard opinions” from your “soft opinions”)
  • Challenger vs. Know-It-All (lay down challenges, ask hard questions)
  • Debate Maker vs. Decision Maker (ask for data, ask each person, limit your own participation in debates)
  • Investor vs. Micromanager (delegate, teach and coach, practice public accountability)

This was a great read.  Any manager who is trying to get more done with less (and who isn’t these days) can benefit from figuring out how to multiply the performance of his or her team by more than 2x.

Jul 082010

OnlyOnce, Part II

OnlyOnce, Part II

After more than six years, my blog starting looking like, well, a six-year old blog on an off-the-shelf template.  Thanks to my friends at Slice of Lime, OnlyOnce has a new design as of today as well as some new navigation and other features like a tag cloud and Twitter feed (and a new platform, WordPress rather than Typepad).  I know many people only read my posts via feed or email (those won’t change), but if you have a minute, feel free to take a look.  The site also has its own URL now – http://www.onlyonceblog.com.

With my shiny new template, I may add some other features or areas of content over time, as well.  There are still a couple things that are only 95% baked, but I love the new look and wanted to make if “official” today.  Thanks to Kevin, Jeff, Mike, Lindsay, and everyone at Slice of Lime for their excellent design work, and for my colleague Andrea for helping do the heavy lifting of porting everything over to the new platform.