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Insulation from the user experience

When a small enterprise offers a lousy user experience, the person in charge learns about it, fast.

Customers leave, visitors bounce, complaints roll in. It’s expensive and it undermines the goals of the organization. Fortunately, in a small organization, the person with the ability to make change happen hears about it and can take action.

In a large organization, like my bank, the resources to make things better are dramatically bigger and largely underused.

That’s because the person who should take action has other priorities. Not only aren’t they exposed to the valuable feedback that frontline workers get (because the organization doesn’t reward ‘bad’ news), but they haven’t prioritized getting the user experience right.

It seems more important to please the boss, go to meetings and keep the numbers on track than it is to fix what might not feel broken.

Spend some time in the store.

Visit your own website to get work done the way a customer would.

Answer the tech phone calls for a few hours.

And figure out how to turn the user experience into a metric that’s as easy to measure as how much money you made last month.

Generalizations work (until they don’t)

Unlike natural phenomena like orbiting planets or geologic formations, there are no consistent and perfect laws of human behavior.

If we’re talking about groups of people, if we’re teaching, leading or trying to predict future behavior (all three are related) then we’re making a generalization.

And perhaps we don’t realize it, or aren’t clear that we are.

“In general, in many settings, most kindergarten kids have trouble getting through a long day without a nap.”

That’s not quite the same as, “all kids need a nap.”

Useful generalizations are essential to productive interventions and generous leadership.

Without generalizations, it’s almost impossible to begin to serve people.

And there lies the trap. If we stick with them too long, or insist that they are absolute, or fail to seek out the exceptions that all generalizations have, then we end up excluding or ignoring people who need to be seen. Which betrays all the work we set out to do.

We begin with a market or an audience, but we ultimately serve the individual.

Understanding the automatic self

How do you act when you’re not thinking about how you act? When no one is looking and when you’re just doing what you’re doing…

That’s the automatic self. No narrative, no second-guessing.

Now, here’s the real question:

Has your automatic self changed since you were a kid?

If it has (and I hope it has) then that’s all the proof we need that the automatic self isn’t a given, it’s not hard-wired and it’s not permanent.

In fact, it changes from practice. It’s a skill.

We can learn to be the ‘authentic’ version of ourselves that we’d like to live with.

It takes habits, learning and feedback. And the commitment to become a better version of ourselves.

Shopping is not the same as buying

Just about everyone over the age of fifteen, anywhere in the world, engages in the market in some way. We need things and we buy them.

That’s not what shopping is.

Shopping is the act of imagining what you might want. It’s the thrilling but risky exchange of money for something that you’ve never purchased before. Something that might be better than you hope, but it might not.

In some communities, shopping is so foreign and risky that it simply doesn’t happen.

Shopping is a cultural activity, with styles and approaches varying depending on who you are and where you live.

Shopping releases chemicals in our brain. In many cases, particularly with luxury goods, it’s this emotional shift that we’re actually paying for, not the thing we’re buying.

The trillion-dollar industries that are based on shopping as a sport (as distinguished from buying what we need) are relatively new, but have been around long enough that many of us take them for granted–normal activities that appear to have always been around.

Money is a story. Your story is probably different from everyone else’s. Our relationship with debt, savings and earning money is extraordinarily complex. Consumer credit has turned from a convenience and useful bridge into, for many people, a trap.

Gift cards, garage sales and self-storage units start to reveal just how many layers we’ve built up around our commitment to shopping.

In small doses, for many people, shopping can produce happiness. But it doesn’t usually scale.

More stuff might not be the substitute for the things that we truly want.

The monopoly distinction

At enlightened companies, leaders are smart enough to ask, “how do we make things better for our customers?” They realize that this simple ratchet leads to loyalty, word of mouth and more customers.

At monopolies or companies that seek to act like them, the question is, “how do we make things better for us?”

The persistence of hierarchy and status roles

REM was one of the most respected indy rock bands. You’d think that a group that somehow managed to thread the needle between whatever authentic means to them and huge popular success could walk away from traditional measures of who’s up and who’s not…

In a long-ago Rolling Stone article, lead singer Michael Stipe said that he had never heard a song from Mariah Carey and in fact had just learned how to say her name. There’s a difference between focusing on your lane and denigrating the others in your field.

In the same article, bandmate Michael Mills expresses disappointment that even though they recorded at Prince’s studio in Minneapolis, he never stopped by to say hello or even invite them to the party on Friday.

Turtles all the way down, turtles all the way up.

High school persists.

It’s possible to use the status hierarchy as a sort of fuel, a way to motivate yourself to push a little harder. But it is also possible, and far more resilient, to use connection and possibility as fuel as well.

The best lesson of high school might be that everyone has a noise in their heads, everyone feels uncomfortable and everyone would appreciate a little kindness and respect.

More popular (and cheap, too)

If Harper Lee had written To Kill a Mockingbird today, there’s no doubt that the salesforce and the marketers would have pushed for a catchier title, probably with better SEO.

And it’s hard to imagine that Waiting for Godot would have ever been performed on Broadway.

On a similar note: What would happen if instead of taking elements out of our work in order to make the product cheaper, we put things in instead? What if we made it better?

It’s tempting to race to the bottom. The problem is that you might win, and then you’ll have to stay there. Worse, you might try and come in second, accomplishing not much of anything.

Linkbait is a trap, because it brings you attention you actually don’t want.

The alternative is to be idiosyncratic, specific and worth the effort and expense. What would happen if you made something important, breathtaking or wonderful? The race to the top is not only more satisfying, it’s also more likely to work.

And then you get to live there. Doing work you’re proud of, without excuses.

Contradictory answers to obvious questions

That’s how you know that they’re not obvious.

When smart, committed people disagree about the answer to a question, you’ve found a question worth pursuing and a discussion worth having.

The grateful pumpkin

It might not be autumn where you live, but the iconography of the large orange pumpkin travels around the world.

People carve faces into them, stick a candle inside and use them to ward off the darkness.

Perhaps we could consider writing on one instead. Inscribing all the things we’re grateful for, all the people who show up in our lives. We could highlight our heroes, our friends, the selfless people who show up for the community instead of simply looking for a shortcut… We could even remind ourselves of the systems, situations and dynamics that we take for granted.

Seeing that pumpkin every day is a great way to remind myself of how extraordinarily lucky I am. Even when it seems as though the news is an unending litany of selfishness and tragedy, it’s possible to find someone who made a difference.

Thank you for caring, for showing up and especially, for leading.

Butterfly hunting

Ideas are like that.

The successful editor, curator or entrepreneur doesn’t go hunting ideas to kill them, but to celebrate them, identify them and dance with them.

And a brutal, all-out frontal attack won’t work. It’s not about raising a ton of money or insisting that the world supply you with only the good ideas. Quibi failed because of the hubris of believing that the ideas could be conjured on a schedule. And countless middlemen have struggled with the dead-end of only wanting to embrace the good ideas, which are often impossible to distinguish from the others at a distance.

Sometimes, you need to look more closely, to reconsider or to circle around again.

And sometimes we go butterfly hunting and find nothing at all.

Fred Hills, who published fifty New York Times bestsellers (including my first one) died a few weeks ago. He took the quest literally, and used to go butterfly hunting with Nabakov. His belief in my book was matched by the trust he offered me and so many authors to find our voice and share it.

Chris Meyer was another butterfly hunter, patiently connecting, leading and challenging, turning on lights in a way that made everyone in the room see the possibilities that lay just ahead.

The ideas are there. It might take patience to nurture them.

[HT to Lisa DiMona.]

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