Are You Having Fun Yet?

David Maister manages to simultaneously offer you a helping hand and kick in the seat of the pants with his latest podcast Are You Having Fun Yet?. All of David's podcasts are good, but this one is a standout. If you aren't loving every minute of your work life, you owe it to yourself to spend 15 minutes with David. Here's what you'll get:
00:30 – David Maister’s Job Satisfaction Quiz
02:33 – Revealing the pattern behind the quiz results
04:44 – Making the choice to increase your job satisfaction
06:03 – The effects of job satisfaction on your job performance
07:30 – Choosing success despite a dysfunctional workplace
09:18 – Attitude check: do you have a job or a career?
11:51 – Understanding what marketing and selling is really about
13:15 – Loving what you’ve got right now
13:48 – The critical element to professional success

Thanks, David! I really needed that.

posted by Mike at 9:09 AM 0 comments


Principles of Experience Design - Anatomy of a Joke

Sharing a joke may seem like the simplest of experiences, but this little joke can tell us a lot about experience design if we look closely. That two-liner only works if:
  • You know what a psychiatrist is
  • You know what a light bulb is
  • You know that most people think 'change is hard'
And even then, the results aren't guaranteed...

Huh? Why doesn't Tom Cruise like that joke?

Poor guy. I was just trying to illustrate a point and I've inadvertently created a hostile blogging environment!

The point of this vignette is to provide context for my definition of an experience:
"An experience is a set of impressions formed by an individual based on a series of interactions with his or her environment."
A little different from your typical dictionary definition. And dry as a set of old bones in the Sonoran desert. But this definition highlights the key components and challenges of experience design. First, all experiences happen in people's minds, and as we saw in our example (and as we know from our own experiences), you don't always know what's going on in my mind. But you can make some guesses based on what you already know about me, and through a series of interactions can form an ever-improving model of how my mind works. You could ask me a series of questions or observe me as I operate in a controlled environment. You could make some indirect guesses by asking or observing people like me (a focus group!).

It's important to understand that designing experiences is a complex task, not a complicated one. [For a definition of the difference, go here.] You cannot control someone else's experience. You can only influence it.

So what IS going on inside my head? While brain science is advancing rapidly these days, even geniuses like Dan Abbott wouldn't claim we're close to definitive knowledge. The good news is that there are plenty of good, functional models we can use in experience design. One of my favorites is Col. John Boyd's Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) loop (click to enlarge):

If you review the contents of Boyd's Orient step, you'll see that it involves a complex set of interactions of various factors:
  • Genetic Heritage
  • Cultural Traditions
  • Analysis/Synthesis
  • Previous Experience
  • New Information
Two of these factors contributed to people not liking our joke. For Cruise, Scientology's long antagonistic relationship with psychiatry made the joke culturally intolerable. For the ampaholic light bulb, previous experience ruined the joke.

Your mind's orientation processes are very complex, in most cases subconscious, and they run massively in parallel. Think about the example joke. Why is it funny? Because the setup line implies that "change a lightbulb" means "unscrew and replace a lightbulb", but the punchline fires off a match on the "change means heal" pattern in our head. That reframing of the phrase "change a lightbulb" makes us laugh.

Experience design is about creating a series of interactions that fire the patterns of orientation that create the impressions we want the experiencer to form. What a mouthful!

In the next post, we'll look at a game designer's model for doing just that.

Part 2 of the Principles of Experience Design series:
  1. Introduction

Don't miss a single part of the series; Subscribe to Spooky Action today!

posted by Mike at 12:08 PM 0 comments

It's Official - I'm an SOB!

Original SOB Button

We productive irreverence practitioners get called lots of names, and I've been called an S.O.B. before, but today I proudly proclaim my official status as Successful and Outstanding Blogger! Click on the image above and check out all the wonderful SOBs out there. I am humbled (at least momentarily) to be in such company.

Many thanks to Liz Strauss of Successful Blog for the honor.

posted by Mike at 7:10 AM 2 comments


Principles of Experience Design, The Series - Introduction

Q: What do Thomas Mann, Albert Einstein, Ray Nitschke, Tim Allen, and Winky Dink have in common?

A: They were all part of Categories of Fun and Experience Design, a post I was really proud of writing, but which has never generated any traffic. That's a shame, because it's a darned good primer on experience design. I guess there's just not a lot of call for information by that name. The funny thing is that I get lots of traffic from searches for "customer delight", leading to The Theory and Practice of Customer Delight in a Nutshell.

Why is that funny? Because customer delight is all about experience design! The latter post talks about creating surprise as the key to delight, but doesn't say how. Categories of Fun provides a set of tools for doing just that, but remains an undiscovered treasure, like the Rosetta Stone prior to Bonaparte's arrival in Egypt.

My post Mini Confectioner's Haggis - A Tale of Experience Design was actually about designing THREE experiences:
  1. Pot luck attendees'
  2. My own in creating a dish
  3. Yours in reading the post
In this series of blog posts, we will explore the principles and tools you can use to design experiences, using the 3 Mini Confectioner's Haggis experiences as examples.

This series will answer the questions:
  • What kinds of experiences can I design?
  • What secrets can I learn from game designers?
  • What is the difference between process design and experience design?
  • How do I design for customer delight?
  • What does Harry Potter have to do with all this?
and more! (We take requests, too.)

posted by Mike at 7:24 PM 2 comments

Productive Irreverence vs. "Rest" Practices

I've been thinking about a new banner for a while, so when I read Lisa Haneberg's Cultivate Productive Irreverence:
"When we are irreverent, we show a lack of respect for people or things. Productive irreverence is showing a lack of respect for things, processes, practices, and tasks that ought to change in order for the team to progress. I am not advocating that team members demonstrate a lack of respect for one another, but I am encouraging a lack of respect for projects that no longer makes sense. Productive irreverence is needed to ensure that you and your team members are questioning practices and tasks that ought to be questioned. Someone who is productively irreverent is an occasional troublemaker and a person you want on your team – more than one would be even better."
Wow! There's my career, and this blog, in a nutshell.

Since my first post, I have been lampooning the 'Best Practices' fetish:
"Whenever someone says ‘best practices’ we here at Spooky Action hear ‘rest practices’, because generally the practice consists of what the rest of the industry is doing. There’s nothing wrong with rest practices, as we will discuss in the next section, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that there is some inherent virtue to them.

Then again, Professor Robert Cialdini might say that there IS an inherent virtue in rest practices. He wrote a book entitled: Influence: The Psychology of PersuasionInfluence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which is essential reading for any adult whose career aspirations extend beyond hermit. The gist of the book is that Cialdini, an experimental social psychologist, spent 3 years undercover working in various “compliance professional” roles (e.g., sales operator, fundraiser, recruiter, advertiser) to learn the secrets of how to persuade people to agree to things they often would not do without said influence. He found that there are six distinct weapons of influence:

  • Reciprocation

  • Commitment and Consistency (Ho! Ho!)

  • Social Proof

  • Liking

  • Authority

  • Scarcity

Social proof is the tendency to view a behavior as correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it. It works subconsciously, in proportion to the number of people we observe doing it, and we are most influenced by the behavior of those we perceive to be most like ourselves! No wonder industry rest practices are veritable siren songs for managers."
I continued the theme in When Bad Things Happen to Good Concepts
"...but eventually, consultants get involved, and you end up with...

Which wouldn't be so bad, except the consultants insist that the color of the boot is a key system parameter, and that you need to hire a group of experts in rabbit husbandry to define and monitor key metrics such as RPPPS (Rabbit Pellets Per Pencil Sharpened).

How can such bad things happen to good concepts?

Simple. The executive who read about the new concept in Harvard Business Review doesn't really want to apply the concept. No, he wants an instant application that gives him the same results as the HBR case study! And he wants it in time to effect this year's earnings!! There's no time for a complete definition of context, and besides, we're mostly similar to those other companies anyway, so let's bring in a complete application, tweak it for the most important unique characteristics of our company, and get a quick win!

But since we don't know anything about the new concept - and because we're in a hurry - we don't realize that the color of the boot was only relevant because the last application the consultant built was at a bullfighting establishment in Matamoros. Dios Mio!"
And continues on with stuff like this, from How To Make Important Decisions:
"In summary, the questions to ask yourself when faced with an important decision are:
  1. Can I define a necessary and sufficient set of facts to make this decision a complicated one?
  2. Can I simulate the dynamics of the decision sufficiently to create an adequate model of the situation?
  3. Can I devise and buy options that defer the ultimate decision until I have a better understanding?

This simple checklist will insure that you won't unwittingly fall victim to Lovaglia's Law.

[Jim Gaffigan audience voice]"That's an awfully presumptuous title for a nobody like him!"[/JGAV]

Yes, but that's productive irreverence in action and I'm full of it!

posted by Mike at 8:01 AM 3 comments


Mini Confectioner's Haggis - a Tale of Experience Design

Pot Luck. A team-building tradition in organizations large and small, formal and informal, for centuries! About once a year we have one at work, and when they came around asking for volunteers to bring a dish I was glad to sign up. I felt like I hit the jackpot and drew a coveted dessert slot. One quick trip to Costco for some macademia nut cookies and I'd be good to go!

Or so I thought.

The day before the luncheon a colleague said "Did you know the pot luck was ethnically-themed?"

A chill ran down my spine as I casually replied "Why no, what gives you that idea?"

"The posters they put up to advise the locations of the appetizers, entrees, and desserts."

I like eating ethnic food, but my skills in cooking ethnic food start and end with Sheboygan-style bratwurst! I had a choice: a) make this into a fun learning experience, or b) make a horrible mockery of the concept.

Have you ever played the game Balderdash (or it's open-source predecessor, Dictionary)? The concept is simple. A group of 3 or more players gets a dictionary and some paper and pens. One person randomly selects a word from the dictionary that the other players are unlikely to know. The person reads and spells the word to the group. Each player then writes a fictious definition of the word on a slip of paper, and the word selector writes down the real definition. The slips are passed to the selector, who reads them aloud. People then vote for which definition they think is the real one. Players score points when their bogus definition is chosen. It's a real challenge to write a good fake definition. You need to devise something that fits the sound of the word, and something that sounds unusual, but not too outlandish. You also need to factor in the kinds of associations other players use in making their guesses (Are they relying on phonetics to discern meaning? Do they have biases for length of definition or certain adjectives?).

Horrible mockery Balderdash-ethnic-food-style it would be! And for added excitement, I challenged myself to come up with a concept that used Hostess-style snacks as a base and required less than 5 minutes prep time.

First concept: Redneck Petit Fours - cut up some Twinkies and decorate them with a can of cake decorator frosting. Workable, but too much of a cliche.

Second concept: Mini Confectioner's Haggis - similar concept using Ho-Ho's and leftover chocolate syrup from a recent ice cream social. Yes, this one had possibilities. It was a real ethnicity with a caricature reputation for questionable foods such as the haggis itself. But wait, the caricature Scot also has a reputation for being cheap, so instead of Ho-Ho's let's see if Little Debbie has a cheaper alternative.

Yes! Cue heavenly choir!

Chocolate syrup and pre-swirled frosting! The blind squirrel has found his acorn!!

Cut these babies in half and stick a toothpick in each piece and you'd have a workable mini confectioner's haggis. But who would know what they are?

We could just put a little name card next to the plate, but pot luckers would be more likely to fall for believe in MCH's if we provided some additional details about them. It's what they call 'provenance' on the Antiques Roadshow. Where did Mini Confectioner's Haggis come from, and who the heck would call a dessert a haggis? Here's what I came up with:
"Originally developed in EuroDisney test kitchens as a fingerfood snack, these delicacies have since become staples at Robert Burns dinners worldwide."
Those crazy Europeans eat lots of stuff us 'Mericans don't, and a specific well-known organization sounds even more plausible. And what else do you bring for dessert to a Robert Burns dinner - besides whiskey? Yes, that'll do.

So now we have a cheap, premade, snack cake - based recipe that embodies the Mini Confectioner's Haggis concept under $5 with less than 5 minutes prep time. We've got provenance to help sell the concept, and we're ready for the event itself.

A couple more things went into the actual prep. First, presentation makes a difference, so you don't just want to randomly place the MCHs on a paper plate. Use a real dinner plate and arrange the MCHs in concentric circles with the cut sides facing out to the edge of the plate. It doesn't take any extra time, but looks much better. Second, sprinkling a little powdered sugar on the final product partly covers the obviously pre-swirled frosting. They are now unrecognizable to the untrained eye.

So how did they fare at the actual pot luck event?

I first showed them to a couple of colleagues who thought I was lying about where I got them, until I produced the box. At that point they burst in laughter! So far, so good. I set out the MCHs and a tent card with the name plate and provenance and went back to work. The woman who was monitoring the dessert station came to me and said "Who the &%#$ serves haggis for dessert?" I explained the story and she, too, laughed heartily. It's a good thing I told her the whole story, because she later reported that people largely reacted in one of two ways: the revulsion-turned-mirth reaction she had or "Ooh, something with toothpick! Mmmm."

And they were gone in no time!

posted by Mike at 11:16 AM 1 comments


Be Careful What You Wish For - 1

Niccolo Machiavelli regularly spent evenings channeling and conversing with leaders of ancient times, as he recounted in a letter to a a friend:
"When evening comes, I return home [from work and from the local tavern] and go to my study. On the threshold I strip naked, taking off my muddy, sweaty workaday clothes, and put on the robes of court and palace, and in this graver dress I enter the courts of the ancients and am welcomed by them, and there I taste the food that alone is mine, and for which I was born. And there I make bold to speak to them and ask the motives of their actions, and they, in their humanity reply to me. And for the space of four hours I forget the world, remember no vexation, fear poverty no more, tremble no more at death; I pass indeed into their world."
Apparently Chris Lynch does the same thing, because his interview with Donald Rumsfeld has such a ring of authenticity that he goes to great pains to let people know that it's fictional.
"ALR: But Mr. Secretary are you saying your tenure as Secretary of Defense was ended simply to control news cycles?

Rummy: Goodness no. When all is said and done I will be the longest serving Secretary of Defense in history. All Secretaries of Defense step down. This just happened to be the right time for me and if the President was able to time the announcement to take the wind out the sails of some blowhards well then that's just gravy. The important thing to me is that our brave men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are honored and protected and I think this resignation helps with those ends."

"Oh and the confirmation hearings are a trap for the Democrats. You'd think they would have learned from the Justice Roberts hearings but I guess not."

Beautifully written, Chris. Thanks!

posted by Mike at 5:25 PM 0 comments


Spooky Action, Scott Adams-style

"As regular readers of my blog know, I lost my voice about 18 months ago. Permanently. It’s something exotic called Spasmodic Dysphonia...I asked my doctor – a specialist for this condition – how many people have ever gotten better. Answer: zero."
Thus begins Scott Adams' story of how he got his voice back. He continues:
"But have I mentioned I’m an optimist?

Just because no one has ever gotten better from Spasmodic Dysphonia before doesn’t mean I can’t be the first."
And he goes on to describe how he remapped his brain to regain control of his vocal chords. The key element:
"When I say my brain remapped, that’s the best description I have. During the worst of my voice problems, I would know in advance that I couldn’t get a word out. It was if I could feel the lack of connection between my brain and my vocal cords. But suddenly, yesterday, I felt the connection again. It wasn’t just being able to speak, it was KNOWING how. The knowing returned."

The original tagline of this blog was:
"Spooky Action at a Distance - particle interaction violating the speed of light barrier - was considered impossible by Einstein, but it was proven true. In this blog I explore ideas counter to the conventional wisdom of management Einsteins, because doing the impossible is what makes America great!"
Conventional wisdom doled out by 'experts' often leaves much to be desired. There is a lot more spooky action happening in the world - and certainly between our ears - than most of us realize or will acknowledge. We're either too busy to look for it or afraid of its implications.

What do you make of Scott's story? Is it a miracle? Seriously now, previously cured patients: ZERO. What if he said he had "prayerfully" gone through the same experiments? Would that change things? What if your neighbor told you the same story about himself? Would you give it more or less credibility (I've never met Scott; chances are you haven't either)? Would your opinion change if Scott's doctor wrote a testimonial in the blog post, too?

My favorite book of 2006 is Srikumar Rao's Are You Ready to Succeed?. In it, the author leads you through a series of exercises that show you just how much of your reality is self-inflicted. Of course, the upside is that if reality is malleable, you can make it infinitely better, like Scott did.

The secret is that you have to KNOW that you can. Not hope; not believe; KNOW. It's been shown that the biggest factor in survival of patients with severe cancers is that simple fact. The ones who knew they were going to live, did. Of course, that knowledge has to be congruent with all of your existing opinions, as the dapper Mr. James said. You can't just say "Well, I've heard from my doctor that I've only got 6 weeks to live, and Web MD doesn't give me any additional hope, but hey, I'm going to lick this thing" if you've always taken your doctor's word as gospel in the past. Not unless you can say, like I can, "Sure, they told my grandmother she had a handful of weeks to live and not only did she get better, she got her driving privileges back after a couple of months!" If you've personally experienced a miracle cure, another one fits much better with your current set of beliefs.

So what is my point here? I have two:
  1. Be very mindful of what you know. As old quote says: "The trouble with people is not that they don't know but that they know so much that ain't so", and yes, that applies to each of us.
  2. Spooky Action is everywhere!
We'll discuss point one further in subsequent posts. In the meantime, check out a podcast interview with Prof. Rao. You'll certainly find it thought-provoking. And thank you Scott for the inspirational tale!

[h/t: Graham English]

posted by Mike at 9:30 AM 0 comments