99.3 Random Acts of Marketing

Bite-sized business tips in a regular-sized package. What a deal!

Written by the owner of an ad agency in the central United States, Random Acts serves as both a reminder of what you may already know about marketing your products, services, or organization, and a gently humorous nudge to get busy about putting that knowledge to use.

Whether we like it or not, in our 24/7 constant-contact world, all business owners and employees are de facto marketers for the places they work, the clients they hold in relationship, and the products and services they provide.

Totally new ideas may be few and far between, but, as author/marketing guru McLellan points out, success often comes by doing the obvious and the mundane consistently and regularly. He quotes facts and figures — also an appropriate thing to do in marketing materials that cry for specificity instead of glittering generalities — and he mixes in anecdotes, bullet points, and references to other useful resources.

More than once, we are treated to the admonition to think of our audience(s) instead of ourselves when developing marketing materials and approaches. That’s a reminder that never grows old, especially in our ultra-consumer-driven world. Just because we’ve seen the ad or heard the story a hundred/thousand times doesn’t mean our potential customers have encountered it at all.

“According to a study by Thomas Publishing Company,” states McLellan, “most marketers give up too early. The study reveals 80% of sales to businesses are made on or after the fifth contact, but only 10% of all marketing efforts go beyond three times!

“When planning your marketing efforts, remember that frequency is critical to success. You have to get your customers’ attention, pique their interest and create the need for your product or service. Then, you have to stay under their nose until they are ready to buy. No single ad or direct mail piece can be expected to accomplish all that in a couple of attempts.”

The book is set up in an interesting format: all the information nuggets are on the right-hand pages. All the left-hand pages are blank, with the heading “Random notes:” — leaving plenty of space for you to doodle your own ideas and applications.

Random Acts is an easy read, but don’t let that fool you. You’ll learn everything from how using the two-letter U.S. state abbreviations can save you money on your direct mail projects to the value of thinking about marketing campaigns, not just brochures or one-off splashes. Like the adage about the irresistibility of potato chips or chocolate chip cookies, take just one taste of these Random Acts and you’ll stick around for the whole book.

Author: Drew McLellan
Published: Des Moines, Iowa: Innova Training & Consulting ©2003

Copyright ©2014 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos

Managing Humans

— Biting and Humorous Tales of a Software Engineering Manager —

Despite what you might think from its title (and subtitle), Managing Humans has a lot to say to all types of businesses, all types of managers, and, really, anyone who wants to lead or is trying to be a leader anywhere.

Tell the truth now. Wasn’t it just yesterday (or maybe earlier this morning) when you were buried nose-deep in the latest stats from Google Analytics or the quarterly reports from accounting and you blew off the real, actual person hovering outside your door? Or your boss yelled at you about some missed or slipping deadline and you passed that kick-the-dog behavior down the line to your direct reports? Welcome to management. Welcome to business. Welcome to humanity. Welcome to life.

At one point or another, if you’re in a leadership position (whether inside a business or out), you’ll probably get wrapped up in the nuts-and-bolts of everyday events and forget that work gets done through people — the messy and inspiring, frustrating and amazing hot-bodies-with-brains-and-feelings who work for and with you. No matter how challenging these folks can be — and we recognize them when we look in the mirror and see that they mirror us, too — we all work better, and work better together, when we’re seen for the real people we are.

In addition to the messiness of our humanity, manager/leader wannabes must deal with another confounding factor — technology (namely, computers) — which leads to the time-sink of e-mail, social media, and the pervasive black hole of electronic gadgetry and software. Today’s companies and independent road warriors run on some flavor of Windows, Linux, OS X, iOS, Android, Google, assorted mobile apps for smartphones, text messaging, and a Web browser or two. Nerd heaven. The rest of us are just the complicating interlopers in this space, but we’re tethered to it because we must use the magical black box with the related QWERTY keyboard or beam-me-up-Scotty system — or die trying.

Enter Michael Lopp, a k a Rands (his alter ego appearing in the form of a Weblog — blog), a manager of 15 years from Silicon Valley, California’s software development partyland. He worked at the likes of Apple Computer, Netscape Communications, Borland International, and Symantec Corporation, and has been as involved as anyone in the thick of our workplace culture’s latest incarnation.

As a person deeply immersed in technology and the science of computers, you might be surprised to find Lopp saying things like, “Your traditional management book is based on the idea that there is a science behind management. It suggests means of reducing managers and management activities to a pleasant set of rules that, if followed, will result in organizational happiness. This is not that book.”

You’ve just been given fair warning, as you listen in on the (mostly) boys’ club, to expect more than a bit of attitude and a smattering of four-letter words in the fictionalized-but-essentially-true war stories of corralling the nerd herd. Don’t be put off by the occasional raunch or rant or by the technology focus. What soon becomes obvious in Managing Humans is that people are people and management is management, tech-focused or not. And people are the most important ingredient in any company’s success.

Here’s a taste from early on:

“My definition of a great manager is someone with whom you can make a connection no matter where you sit in the organization chart. What exactly I mean by connection varies wildly by who you are and what you want and, yes, that means great managers have to work terribly hard to see the subtle differences in each of the people working for them.

“See. See the people who work with you. They say repetition improves long-term memory, so let’s say it once more. You must see the people who work with you….

“Being a manager is a great job (I mean it), but it’s your ability to construct an insightful opinion about a person in seconds that will help make you a phenomenal manager….

“Every single person with whom you work has a vastly different set of needs. Fulfilling these needs is one way to make them content and productive. It is your full-time job to listen to these people and mentally document how they are built. This is your most important job. I know the senior VP of engineering is telling you that hitting the date for the project is job number one, but you are not going to write the code, test the product, or document the features. The team is going to do these things, and your job is the team….

“Organizations of people are constantly shifting around. They are incredibly messy. In this mess, judgments of you and your work will be constructed in moments — in the ten-second conversations you have in the hallway, and in the way you choose to describe who you are.

“Meanwhile, you need to constantly assess your colleagues, determine what they need, and figure out what motivates them. You need to remember that what worked one day as a motivational technique will backfire in two months because human beings are confusing, erratic, and emotional. In order to manage human beings in the moment, you’ve got to be one.”

If you don’t do anything else, check out this little Flash video. Then, for other clues about care and feeding, read Lopp’s blog, where you’ll find the eminently useful Nerd Handbook.

Oh, yeah. Welcome to life.

Author: Michael Lopp
Published: Berkeley, California: Apress ©2007

Copyright ©2014 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos

Simplicity

— The New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster — 

Are you running on information overload? Too much to do and not enough time? How do you figure out what’s important, how to get things done, make successful decisions, work productively?

Bill Jensen’s Simplicity: The New Competitive Advantage in a World of More, Better, Faster draws on a study of over 2500 people in 460 companies and states the crux of the problem: “The hardest work is figuring out what to do in a world of infinite choices.”

According to Jensen’s sources, “cognitive overload” costs U.S. industry $1.3 trillion through problems such as work complexity’s drain on the economy, the cost of stress-related problems, business’ tab for remedial education, and yearly fees for management consulting. In striving for clarity and simplicity, however, people can work smarter by recognizing what’s valuable and ignoring what’s not important. And Jensen practices what he preaches in this relatively small, clearly written handbook for “simple” success. Just remember: “simple” doesn’t mean it’s easy. You still have to do the work of change.

In slightly over 200 pages filled with chapter punchlines, one-page summaries, short quizzes, discussion points, theory corners, simple notes, models, examples, meaningful graphics, and typographical shifts that get attention and highlight key points, Jensen describes the concept of simplicity, helps us appreciate how work got to be so complex, and offers solutions for what to do about it, including a call to change how we structure companies.

“Simplicity,” says Jensen, is “the art of making the complex clear,” and it “can give us the power to get stuff done…. It’s a prerequisite if we want to leverage the untapped energy, innovation, creativity, and ideas that already exist in our organizations.” But in order to achieve this power, we have to change some habits, especially how we use time. “By changing how you organize and share what you know, you’ll spend a lot less time on…things that don’t matter and a lot more time on things that do.” Workplaces must organize time both so work can get done and so people can think — or you’ve lost your creativity, innovation, and competitive advantage, all of which reside in your workers.

Senior executives can facilitate simplicity by “working backward from what people need. People will trust the corporate infrastructure to help them work smarter if tools, processes, and information are grounded in their needs. Simpler companies start where employees and customers meet, then work backwards into business needs.”

While most work is no longer done with brute strength, many businesses operate as if it was. We’re knowledge workers now, and “productive knowledge work,” states Jensen, “is all about how we use each other’s time and attention as we try to get stuff done. Your worst competitor is day-to-day confusion — the time it takes everyone to figure out what to do and what not to do.” A shocking “60 to 80 percent of us can’t find or translate the info[rmation] we need for decisions.” To get simple, we must compete on clarity by using time differently, we must design smarter work by working backward from what people actually need, and we must lead through navigation — structuring companies according to the questions people ask, creating maps that follow human nature.

Jensen has written several other books, the newest of which is The Simplicity Survival Handbook, and he’s recently contributed as a guest editor to the staff blog at Fast Company magazine.

Author: Bill Jensen
Published: Cambridge, Massachusetts: Perseus Publishing ©2000
Website: www.simplerwork.com

Copyright ©2014 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos

How to Become a Rainmaker; The Invisible Touch

These two little books pack a big wallop that can benefit your business in many ways if you do even some of the things they suggest. Don’t let the easy-to-read, one-minute-manager approach fool you. Each author is at the top of his field and, therefore, able to boil down years of painfully acquired experience into the critical elements of success.

The rainmaker in Jeffrey Fox’s title is aimed at sales professionals. But as all business people worth their salt should know by now, we’re all sales people all the time — or we don’t have a business. Before he even gets to the heart of his subject, Fox reminds us that “the most important success factor in any business or organization is having a customer.” No surprise there. But just think how often customers are discounted in your company. We forget, as Fox says, that “it is customer money that pays everyone’s salary” — and benefits, and rent, and office furniture, and sticky notes, and telephone calls, and so on. It doesn’t even matter whether your company delivers the next killer app or the most brilliant business idea, if you don’t have customers, your business can’t survive. Hel-lo.

In Fox’s estimation, rainmakers are made, not born. That should be good news. It means you can learn these skills and techniques, even if you consider yourself the farthest thing from an effective sales person. After all, the way you answer the telephone and help customers solve their problems is part of the sales process. Every contact has the potential for creating a long-term relationship between current/potential customers and your business. Whether your company manufactures a product or delivers a service, it’s important to start simple and think big.

One of Fox’s key points is that rainmakers sell money rather than products or services. Rainmakers serve the customer’s self-interest in solving problems, which usually translates into some kind of dollar savings — better known as “value.” And as always, because the fields of sales and business are full of people, and people rely on relationships, good communication is a huge component of any rainmaker’s success.

How to Become a Rainmaker uses short chapters, to-the-point stories, and “killer questions” to explain “The Rainmaker’s Credo.” Here are a few of its points:

  • Cherish customers at all times.
  • Treat customers as you would your best friend….
  • Show customers the dollarized value of what they will get.
  • Teach customers to want what they need.
  • Make your product the way customers want it….
  • Thank each customer sincerely and often.
  • Help customers pay you, so they won’t be embarrassed and go elsewhere….

Harry Beckwith’s approach to marketing in The Invisible Touch focuses on people, relationships, and good communication, too. After all, he says, “work is not about business; it’s about us. The human dimension of business — the messy, emotional, utterly human dimension — is not merely important; it is all-encompassing. As a result, we must plunge into the world of feelings….” And he spends a good chunk of this book exploring the ways interpersonal communication affects business relationships and the ability of organizations to do effective marketing.

We are reminded in the introduction to The Invisible Touch that Beckwith’s also excellent first book, Selling the Invisible, explored a key concept: the difference between selling products and selling services. He explains that:

  • “Products are made; services are delivered.
  • Products are used; services are experienced.
  • Products possess physical characteristics we can evaluate before we buy; services do not even exist before we buy them. We request them, often paying in advance. Then we receive them.
  • And finally, products are impersonal: bricks, mortar, pens, car seats, fruit — things with no human connection to us. Services, by contrast, are personal — often frighteningly so.”

As a result, Beckwith feels we must approach the marketing of services — and the development of a productive, long-term business relationship — as if we are humanities scholars asking, “What does it mean to be a human being?” Because “no one knows exactly…,” and because “we cannot wait for the Absolute Truths…, we must settle for some Apparently Useful Premises: assumptions that usually produce good results.” Sounds like a reasonable way to get our feet wet in this messy work of creating, nurturing, and marketing relationship-based service businesses.

Simply reading the Table of Contents in The Invisible Touch offers a good idea of Beckwith’s style and philosophy. From the first three major headings (Research and Its Limits; Fallacies of Marketing; What Is Satisfaction?), let alone some of the intriguing subtitles (The Unreliable Subject; Data Misleads; When Butterflies Turn Ugly; The Fallacy of Best Practices/Imagination/Leadership/Competition/Quality; If They’re Satisfied, You’re Doomed), his heretical — and incredibly effective — approach to marketing (especially to marketing service businesses) challenges you to open up a new box of crayons.

Oh, and here are Beckwith’s “four keys:” price, brand, packaging, and relationships. But you really need to read this surprising, enjoyable, and well-written, kick-in-the-pants book for yourself. Perhaps you don’t expect a marketing guru to spend most of his time talking about the critical value of relationships and the importance of the good (and effective) communication on which they are built. But keep that attitude and the rest of us will benefit. You and your company will miss the boat. Which is just another reason to put Beckwith in your business library.

How to Become a Rainmaker:
The Rules for Getting and Keeping Customers and Clients
Author:
Jeffrey J. Fox
Published: New York: Hyperion ©2000

The Invisible Touch: Four Keys to Modern Marketing
Author:
 Harry Beckwith
Published: New York: Warner Books ©2000

Copyright ©2014 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos

The Myth of Excellence

— Why Great Companies Never Try to Be the Best at Everything — 

Although it was published a year before Shoshanna Zuboff and James Maxmin’s The Support Economy, The Myth of Excellence walks a similar path, encouraging companies who want to succeed to find the ‘new consumer,’ the one that most companies don’t understand and, therefore, don’t serve. It’s a huge — and largely untapped — market, a market concerned more with values than anything else. As Crawford and Mathews went on their “expedition into the commercial wilderness,” they encountered at least one consumer who described the situation this way: “I can find value everywhere but I can’t find values anywhere.”

During interviews and research with more than 10,000 consumers, company executives, and international clients, Crawford and Mathews concluded that “most companies priding themselves on how well they ‘know’ their customers aren’t really listening to them at all. Consumers are fed up with all the fuss about ‘world-class performance’ and ‘excellence.’ What they are aggressively demanding is recognition, respect, trust, fairness, and honesty.” That should come as no surprise in our imploding Enron-WorldCom-GlobalCrossing-ArthurAnderson-Countrywide-WallStreet world.

Crawford and Mathews define the ‘myth of excellence’ as the “false belief that a company ought to try to be good at everything it does.” Obviously, if you “misdiagnose the problem…, you almost inevitably misdiagnose the solution. Because businesses focus on increasing transactional value rather than nurturing sustaining relationships, and increasing the value of a transaction rather than worrying about the values surrounding the transaction, they almost intuitively adopt strategies aimed at becoming the best at every aspect of a transaction, an approach that leads to a lack of enterprise focus, which in turn confuses and alienates customers.”

Devising a “Consumer Relevancy” scale from their research and analysis, Crawford and Mathews identified five elements present in all commercial transactions — price, product, access, service, experience — and assigned a numerical value to each (1-to-5, lowest-to-highest). They’re not lost in Consultant Pollyanna permafrost, either. They found that businesses could profitably operate by being world-class (rated as 5) in only one of these areas, while differentiating around another aspect (a 4), and simply meeting the industry standard (a 3) on all the rest. Another caveat from Crawford and Mathews: companies shouldn’t try to be either a 5 or a 4 on more than one attribute. Nor can a business sink below par on any element. You must stay even (a 3) to stay in business, but if you’ve created too much differentiation (4s or 5s in more than one area), you’re “leaving money on the table.” Obviously, that’s not a good plan.

The crux of the matter is that “customers are looking for deeper levels of personal recognition and a clear statement of values, but their pleas are going largely unheeded by the businesses that serve them. The context in which your business engages consumers (in Wal-Mart’s case, the absolute trust of an honest low price) has grown in importance, eclipsing the content of your product or service. Most businesses have been improving their product offering since opening their doors, yet the context surrounding the transaction has been an afterthought, a necessary evil in the mindless dash for differentiation. Human values, not commercial value, have become the contemporary currency of commerce.”

Beware the focus of your marketing and advertising because it too often is “concerned with creating transactions rather than building relationships and emphasizes value over values. In short, it mirrors all of the mistakes being made by most businesses.”

To get with today’s consumer-oriented program, Crawford and Mathews recommend basing your efforts on their three Consumer Relevancy foundations: 1) human values are the contemporary currency of commerce; 2) human values determine commercial value; and 3) values are more important than value in the eyes of today’s consumer. They remind us that “context has overtaken content as the primary driver of consumer value. It is within the context of any commercial transaction that the representation of human values can be found. Consumer Relevancy defines the new competitive battleground and offers a blueprint for future success.”

Authors: Fred Crawford and Ryan Mathews
Published: New York: Crown Business ©2001

Copyright ©2014 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos

Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins

— How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate With Power and Impact — 

Expanding on themes she put forth in The Story Factor, Annette Simmons continues to make her case for the power of storytelling to affect people, and, therefore, business results. Hard to argue with that. Which may be precisely Simmons’ strategy. And she does tell a lot of good stories.

Whoever Tells the Best Story… also builds on Judith Bardwick’s work in One Foot Out the Door, which emphasizes that “feelings matter” all across the board, whether they belong to you, your employees, or your customers. Feelings or emotions are how we connect with each other, and, increasingly, feelings or emotions are how we connect with companies and products. Simmons agrees, saying, “Once food and shelter needs are met, the rest of our needs are psychological. Our psychological needs are met or unmet based on the stories we tell ourselves and each other about what matters most and who controls it.”

Stories carry the emotional connections between a company or product — including the people who make and/or deliver it — and the customers it serves. If that emotional link from company to product to employee to customer is broken or non-existent, the business has a much tougher time gaining market share.

The way to build these links, says Simmons, is through stories. She notes that “a perfectly happy customer can suddenly feel unhappy after hearing a story that another customer got a better product at half the price, then be satisfied again when you assure him that this story was not true and circulated by a competitor who didn’t have all the facts. Nothing physically changed, but the stories about reality completely change[d] perceptions of what is true, important, and thus, real.”

But the ‘best’ stories aren’t just any stories. They are your stories, ones you need to dig into yourself to discover and hone in their telling. If you don’t do your own internal work first, you can tell a story, and you may get a laugh, an a-ha, or a smile, but your heart, your self, won’t be in it, and your posturing will be immediately apparent to any audience. You’ll be quickly found out and discredited, hurting your chances, or, at least, delaying your potential, for success. Authenticity is the key, and in …Best Story…, Simmons actually provides note pages for the exercises she recommends, so you can do your homework right in the book.

Before she delves into the meat of her process, Simmons suggests we need to master “story thinking” by reframing our concepts of objectivity and subjectivity, starting from the very beginning. “Once upon a time, before you learned to be more objective,” says Simmons, “you thought you were important…. Chances are you asked questions that made other people uncomfortable. To protect you from a life of narcissistic, emotional waywardness, you were sent to school to learn how to be useful. You learned the scientific method…. Critical thinking, rational analysis, and objective thinking prepared you to put emotions aside and make better decisions.”

But human actions do not always plot neatly on a bell curve; we are variable, emotional, messy, individual, and yes — gasp — subjective in our behavior and outlook on life. Be not dismayed, however, for story thinking and storytelling provide those “useful” tools, because attention is the currency we need for any transaction — beginning, middle, and end.

“At a social level,” says Simmons, “stories replicate the neurological effect of attention in our individual brains. Society attends to what draws our attention, and what draws society’s attention is tended…. [W]hen you tell a story that both draws attention and is often retold within a group, you in effect control future feelings and filters about that subject. If you can control the feelings and filters of enough people you can alter their conclusions about reality. Attention is a prerequisite to influence because attention frames interpretations.” All that is to say, as Simmons continues, that “subjective is not the opposite of objective,” and that story is a “subjective thinking tool.”

Simmons provides many excellent examples and six useful frameworks for finding and telling appropriate stories.

  • Who-I-Am stories tell enough about you that the person listening is willing to trust you, which lets you influence their opinion, their reality.
  • Why-I-Am-Here stories put the truth on the table. Good or bad, own it and your listeners see you’re credible.
  • Teaching stories create a simulated shared experience that models the concept you want to get across.
  • Vision stories inspire a potential future and frame the frustrations as worth the cost. Better to underpromise and overdeliver, however.
  • Values-in-Action stories “demonstrate” a value you want to encourage or teach through examples of your specific actions.
  • I-Know-What-You-Are-Thinking stories help break through to people whose minds are already made up, giving you enough space to build trust and dispel objections.

With humor, delightful stories, and useful exercises, Simmons illustrates How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact, as her subtitle states. Good show!

Author: Annette Simmons
Published: New York: AMACOM/American Management Association  ©2007

Copyright ©2013 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos

The Elements of Persuasion

— Using Storytelling to Pitch Better, Sell Faster & Win More Business — 

It’s a brave new world, especially for business communication and marketing professionals. They/we struggle to keep up with rapidly mutating technology and the various forms of media through which an explosion of informative and entertaining messages appear. The way forward is about as clear as a fog-bound day on the Golden Gate Bridge.

Traditional advertising or marketing “pushes” information toward an audience, roughly analogous to throwing it against the wall to see what sticks. But with the diversity of media channels now running at warp speed, such an approach has become much too costly for anyone who wants to let the world know about a product or service. New technology offers methods where individuals — not whole groups or audiences — can choose, can “pull” out of the amalgam only what they want and only when they want it.

Caught in this current transition period, communicators of all stripes may often feel as if they take two steps back for every step forward. Many may seek refuge in “metrics” and data about pages viewed, conversion rates, website visitors, or actual sales. However, the most important and the most difficult element of any message to measure, the emotional impact, may never be quantified. That doesn’t mean we stop trying to communicate with each other. What this does mean is that we change how we do it — and not just by buying another gadget or adding another app to the smartphone, laptop, or tablet computer.

In fact, the new media/new technology time machine drives us back as well as forward. Who (besides The Firesign Theater) would have thought that high-tech toys could take us full circle into the storyteller’s once-upon-a-time? But that’s where we’re going: forward, into the past.

We’ve been hearing this for a while. One of the recent crop of books to extol the virtues of story in business communication is Annette Simmons’ The Story Factor, and it’s still an excellent resource. In The Elements of Persuasion, authors Maxwell and Dickman focus more specifically on business applications. And, of course (following current trends), they identify five elements they consider to be the heart of any storytelling effort.

But what is a story? According to our fearless duo, “a story is a fact, wrapped in an emotion that compels us to take an action that transforms our world.” That could be as simple as a baby waving an empty bottle and saying, “All gone.” Or it could be as long as the latest Iron Man movie blowing up the local cineplex, your last high school biology lab, or the health insurance directive from corporate headquarters. The Elements of Persuasion maintains that story is fundamental to our existence: “Story is not simply the content of what we think, it is also the how of how we think. It is one of the key organizing principles of our mind.”

Whether you’re in the corporate office, the entertainment field, or anywhere in between, Persuasion‘s principles can guide you to create effective stories that serve your own purposes. Maxwell and Dickman say they have “realized that all successful stories have five basic components: the passion with which the story is told, a hero who leads us through the story and allows us to see it through his or her eyes, an antagonist or obstacle that the hero must overcome, a moment of awareness that allows the hero to prevail, and the transformation in the hero and in the world that naturally results.”

The authors break down the history of story from the time of Pythagoras (yes, that old Greek from high school geometry was a storyteller!) to the evolving landscape of today’s multimedia messaging blur. And they focus on each element, chapter by chapter, using examples that range from Jack Welch’s GE and Frank Perdue’s chicken empire to Nike, Coca-Cola, the U.S. Marines, and Big Pharma. By the time you finish reading, you’ll be better able to tell your own stories — and recognize when you’re being fed a whopper of a line. All good.

Author: Richard Maxwell and Robert Dickman
Published: New York: Collins/HarperCollins Publishers ©2007

Copyright ©2013 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos

Emotional Design

— why we love (or hate) everyday things — 

Drive through the uniformly gray concrete-and-glass business districts of even the most modest-sized city in the United States or flip the switch on the standard beige box of a desktop computer and you probably don’t see any relationship between ’emotion’ and ‘design’ that could be called ‘good.’ Most likely, you wonder, is there any relationship at all? Despite the oxymoronic title of this book, the author shows a connection and makes it a most positive one at that.

Emotional Design turns out to be an expansion of Donald Norman’s earlier book, The Design of Everyday Things, in which his “intention was not to denigrate aesthetics or emotion.” Rather, he “simply wanted to elevate usability to its proper place in the design world, alongside beauty and function.” But Norman’s professional colleagues roundly criticized his early single-minded emphasis on usability, saying, “If we were to follow Norman’s prescription, our designs would all be usable — but they would also be ugly.”

Stung by the criticism, Norman used it to challenge himself. Open to the opportunity to revisit his ideas, he started again, with the results explored in Emotional Design: “Usable designs are not necessarily enjoyable to use. And…an attractive design is not necessarily the most efficient,” states Norman. He goes on to ask and investigate: “But must these attributes be in conflict? Can beauty and brains, pleasure and usability, go hand in hand?”

Through many examples and anecdotes, Norman convincingly argues “that the emotional side of design may be more critical to a product’s success than its practical elements.” He speaks to both the professional designer and the average user of everyday things, doing his best to illuminate the world of each to the other.

“In creating a product, a designer has many factors to consider: the choice of material, the manufacturing method, the way the product is marketed, cost and practicality, and how easy the product is to use, to understand. But what many people don’t realize is that there is also a strong emotional component to how products are designed and put to use.”

Why should we care? Because it’s the emotional connection that can often predict a product’s success or failure. If you’ve fallen in love with an iPhone, iPad, iPod, iMac, or any other Apple product, you know the power of design to evoke emotion. But beyond the interesting and engaging inventions that might result from such an infusion of fun, emotion — particularly positive emotion — also expands creativity and innovation everywhere; it makes work worth doing and life worth living.

“We cognitive scientists now understand that emotion is a necessary part of life,” says Norman, “affecting how you feel, how you behave, and how you think. Indeed, emotion makes you smart. That’s the lesson of my current research. Without emotions, your decision-making ability would be impaired. Emotion is always passing judgments, presenting you with immediate information about the world: here is potential danger; there is potential comfort; this is nice, that bad…. The surprise is that we now have evidence that aesthetically pleasing objects enable you to work better.”

Norman distinguishes between emotion and affect (emphasis on the first syllable), with affect regarded as a “formal psychological term that refers to an observable state” of an emotion that “influences behavior or action.” Such usage shows Norman-the-cognitive-scientist in action. Throughout the book, he weaves design principles identified as visceral (design focused on appearance), behavioral (dealing with pleasure and effectiveness of use), and reflective (“design [that] considers the rationalization and intellectualization of a product”) with research findings from cognitive science. The combination effectively — and readably — carries us through Emotional Design.

“One finding particularly intrigued me,” writes Norman. “The psychologist Alice Isen and her colleagues have shown that being happy broadens the thought processes and facilitates creative thinking. Isen discovered that when people were asked to solve difficult problems, ones that required unusual ‘out of the box’ thinking, they did much better when they had just been given a small gift — not much of a gift, but enough to make them feel good. When you feel good, Isen discovered, you are better at brainstorming, at examining multiple alternatives. And it doesn’t take much to make people feel good. All Isen had to do was ask people to watch a few minutes of a comedy film or receive a small bag of candy.”

That little nugget ought to be enough to encourage anyone to read this book and find out how to bring a bit of fun into the items and processes we use every day at home, at work, at play. Norman finishes off by making the connection between people and machine, discussing “the future of robots” and reminding us that “we are all designers. We manipulate the environment, the better to serve our needs. We select what items to own, which to have around us. We build, buy, arrange, and restructure: all this is a form of design.”

Norman started his career writing about memory, attention, and how people think and learn. As computers appeared, he began investigating human-computer interaction and user-centered design. Out of that came stints at Apple Computer and Hewlett Packard, and the formation of a consulting firm, the Nielsen Norman Group, with colleague and well-known computer usability guru Jakob Nielsen. Norman now splits his time between the computer science department at Northwestern University and the Nielsen Norman group. What an excellent deal for the rest of us!

Author: Donald A. Norman
Published: New York: Basic Books/Perseus ©2004

Copyright ©2013 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos

Crucial Conversations

— Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High — 

The first chapter-heading quotation in this book (by C. Northcote Parkinson) gets right to the point: “The void created by the failure to communicate is soon filled with poison, drivel, and miscommunication.” Hel-lo. And Stephen Covey, the ‘7 Habits’ guru, acknowledges in his Foreword to this book that he found himself “deeply influenced, motivated, and even inspired by this material — learning new ideas, going deeper into old ideas, seeing new applications and broadening my understanding.” Covey goes so far as to say that “crucial conversations transform people and relationships.” Although there’s a significant difference between reading about something and making a commitment to practice and implement it, Crucial Conversations offers a practical, straightforward, and engaging process that makes a lot of sense and actually seems do-able.

A crucial conversation is defined by the authors as “a discussion between two or more people where (1) stakes are high, (2) opinions vary, and (3) emotions run strong.” Sounds like anything you’d hear during a typical day in the neighborhood, right? Of the three ways we might handle such encounters — avoid them, face them and handle poorly, face them and handle well — we most often do poorly, if we haven’t initially taken the avoidance option and are living with the often unintended (and usually unforeseen) consequences of that non-decision decision.

So why don’t we handle these important interactions well? As the authors contend, “we’re designed wrong.” We’ve been genetically prepared to fight, flee, or freeze, none of which serve our purposes in a world where we must continually — and appropriately — connect with people.

So how did the life-saving fight-or-flight response become a problem? Consider: “Someone says something you disagree with about a topic that matters a great deal to you and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The hairs you can handle. Unfortunately, your body does more. Two tiny organs seated neatly atop your kidneys pump adrenaline into your bloodstream. You don’t choose this. Your adrenal glands do it, and then you have to live with it. And that’s not all. Your brain then diverts blood from activities it deems nonessential to high-priority tasks such as hitting and running. Unfortunately, as the large muscles of the arms and legs get more blood, the higher-level reasoning sections of your brain get less. As a result, you end up facing challenging conversations with the same equipment available to a rhesus monkey.” And it works about as well.

Given that we’re almost always under pressure and we don’t know where to start (tell me the last time you witnessed or participated in a healthy conversation about tough and touchy issues…), it’s no wonder we behave in self-defeating ways. We’re scared of conversation because we’ve been burned many times before and because we don’t know how to conduct one properly.

How many times have you heard a family member or business leader say — or have you said yourself: “What? You mean I’m going to have to talk to this person?” Yup. And, the authors contend, it’s absolutely powerful when you do it effectively. Their “research has shown that strong relationships, careers, organizations, and communities all draw from the same source of power — the ability to talk openly about high-stakes, emotional, controversial topics,” and they claim that if you master crucial conversations, “you’ll kick-start your career, strengthen your relationships, and improve your health. As you and others master high-stakes discussions, you’ll also vitalize your organization and your community.”

Crucial conversations might explore such potentially volatile issues as “ending a relationship, talking to a co-worker who behaves offensively or makes suggestive comments, giving the boss feedback about her behavior, dealing with a rebellious teen, talking to a colleague who is hoarding information or resources, giving an unfavorable performance review, or asking in-laws to quit interfering.”

So how do we do this? Through dialogue, which the authors define as “the free flow of meaning between two or more people.” Duh, you say. Well, labeling the process is one thing. Getting out of our adrenaline-fueled brain warp and regularly using such a system is another. Not only do we need to create a “Shared Pool of Meaning” to get the process started, we must continuously work to make the space safe enough for dialogue to flourish.

The balance of the book covers three main areas: “how to create conditions in yourself and others that make dialogue the path of least resistance…;” learning the “key skills of talking, listening, and acting together…;” and mastering “the tools for talking when stakes are high.”

The process includes “start with heart: how to stay focused on what you really want” (often much easier said than done) and emphasizes both “how to notice when safety is at risk,” as well as “how to make it safe to talk about almost anything.” In working through the “Style Under Stress” quiz, you discover whether you move into “silence or violence,” both of which are common, often subtle, responses that can cause dialogue to collapse.

But the authors provide a way to recognize the story you told yourself about the situation, which put you in your current space — and how to uncover the path others took that brought the two of you to the crisis point. Then, they offer a process for returning to dialogue and moving forward productively. They even anticipate naysayers by providing seventeen “Yeah, But…” scenarios and solutions for those hard-to-crack, this-doesn’t-apply-to-me attitudes and cases.

Using real-life examples, a great sense of humor, and a number of acronym-based sequences (STATE, CRIB, AMPP, etc.), Crucial Conversations offers a solid system for making all kinds of communication more effective, more enjoyable, and more productive. Yes, it takes motivation and practice to apply the principles, but what else were you going to do today that could possibly be more important?

Authors: Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler
Published: New York: McGraw-Hill ©2002

Copyright ©2013 Jill J. Jensen | Clarity from Chaos