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Dignity is Deadly, Part Two


In an earlier post, I talked about Paul Graham's talk at Amazon, on what the corporate world can learn from start-ups. The point that stuck with me the most is this:

When you evolve out of start-up mode and start worrying about being professional and dignified, you only lose capabilities. You don't add anything... you only take away. Dignity is deadly.

So I made a list of what I've found in start-ups versus what I've lived in the corporate world. I painted this in the extreme on both sides, of course.

Or did I?


I'm not saying start-ups couldn't learn a thing or two from Big Business, but keep in mind the name of this blog. We're not doing Best Business Practices For Maximixing Profit. This is about creating passionate users. The good news is the big(ish) companies that "get it" are working hard to incorporate the best of both cultures. There's no REAL reason why a big, established company cannot keep the start-up spirit alive, while still running a business and yes, maximizing shareholder value. And as each day goes by, the chances that your users/customers/clients are from the gamer generation goes up. That's the best news of all... because the post-boomers don't give a damn about your "professionalism". They want to know how you can help them kick ass, and why you don't have a blog.

[apologies for the huge graphic there, but I wanted to make it easy for people to grab it]

Links from the table:
Gaping Void
Presentation Zen

Posted by Kathy on February 28, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Love and courage

Yesterday I wrote a post about learning, and linked to my friend Dan Steinberg's new blog about creating a calculus book. He was supposed to have arrived here in Boulder today, to spend the weekend working on it with us. He had just turned in the first chapter, and it was the most amazing thing. He cares so deeply about learning, and he has always been inspired by the idea of creating the book that his children would one day grow into. Dan isn't interested just in teaching the topic, he wants to inspire. He cares about giving his learners a taste of "the soul of math."

Shortly after I made that post, he sent us a message that his young daughter Elena had died quite suddenly and unexpectedly. He is the definition of family man and proud father--I've never known ANYONE who was so devoted to his children (and his wife, who he always refers to as "Kimmie the Wonder Wife".) I edited the post to remove the link because--knowing Dan--I was worried that he'd want to be "the good host." If it were me, I'm pretty sure I would just disappear and give not a moment's thought to anyone or anything else.

But that's not Dan. He is dedicating the book to his children; it's very important to him. So here's the link to his Extreme Teaching blog again. He'll need our help when he returns to work on it.

But Dan has created a new journal, Dear Elena, to help express his thoughts and feelings about this tragedy. Whether you know Dan or not, you will find courage in his messages, and as Brian Bailey said in the comments, "Such an emotional reminder to treasure every second with our children."

I'm sure Dan and his family will appreciate your thoughts, especially knowing that he inspired one more person to read just one more bedtime story...

Posted by Kathy on February 24, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

iPods increase performance?


The Winter Olympics motto is Passion lives here, and music plays a big role. (Yes, despite my lack of TV I found a way to watch the snowboarding and last night's ice skating.) It seems you can't swing a cat in Torino without hitting an iPod.

First it was the US snowboarders, who have iPod controls built into their Olympic uniforms (some even had the tunes coming through their helmets). And no, it wasn't Apple sponsorship. These riders need the tunes to compete. I had originally assumed it was just a warm-up thing, but many of them actually have it playing during their event. A Baltimore Sun story explains that when halfpipe gold winner Hannah Teter announced that during her gold-winning performance she was listening to a song from her boyfriend's band, it immediately sent 37,000 hits to the band's Strive Roots blog.

But last night, I couldn't help notice that the fabulous young skater Sasha Cohen was warming up and staying focused with her iPod. She couldn't wear it during her performance, but she spent that agonizing endless time before she skated (she was dead last) loosening up, singing along, and blocking out everything including the other competitors' performance.

So what is it about music and performance?

From the Sun article:
"Experts say the proliferation of iPods this Olympics merely highlights the long-standing relationship between athletes and music. Competitors have long been known to rock out before performances or during practices, in order to relax or reach their ideal 'arousal levels', according to Sam Zizzi, a professor of sports and exercise psychology..."

[There's another good article about the Olympic iPod thing at the New York Times]

And it's not just athletic performance--I bet way more than half of you use music to focus or stay motivated whether it's coding to drum n' bass with LTJ Buken, or cooking to Beethoven's seventh, must of us have a soundtrack to go with our passion or being in flow.

Music tells us what to feel. Without music and sound design, most movies lose their emotional pull. One of the more obivous sound design examples is the 5/4 drum beat used in the Lord of the Rings movies. Think back to the Orcs... the Isengard Theme and Mordor 5/4 asymetric beat would have made you feel very uncomfortable regardless of the visuals. Your body does NOT like it. (For non-musicians, here's a midi example of 5/4, slowed way down so it's not as disturbing, but you'll still get the idea.)

But sound is still the forgotten stepchild of multimedia, among non-professionals. Everybody is at least an amateur photographer now, but where's the FlickR equivalent for music? (Although breakthrough products like Garageband are a huge first step... finally.) More and more students today are expected to develop a greater visual/graphics sensibility than ever before, but music is still seen as "for musicians"--for those who play an instrument. Then again, there is a bright spot that the definition of "instrument" is changing thanks to turntablism...

So back to Olympic athletes, music, and passion... there's still a big debate over the whole Mozart effect, and the effect of music on learning and retention. But at the very least, music (or even white noise) can help you focus and concentrate and stay in flow by blocking out other distractions. The problem with higher-level cognition and music is when the music itself becomes too distracting, so I normally prefer music with no or very unobtrusive vocals if I need to think. If it's just about staying awake, give me something faster than my heart beat!

I'd love to hear what kind of music (or silence) you prefer when you want to focus and stay in flow. What works for you?

Posted by Kathy on February 22, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (49) | TrackBack

John Seely Brown is hot

He's been into digital learning and artificial intelligence and technology and culture longer than nearly anyone. He was the head of Xerox PARC (the folks you should think of every time you move a mouse or pulldown a menu). He doesn't seem to have a blog (yet), but his site has a ton of links to an endless number of papers and articles on things that I guarantee a LOT of you care about.

About that "hot" comment... I was a kind of PARC/JSB groupie in the late 80's and early 90's, haunting every obscure, academic AI or Intelligent Tutoring conference. While most of us know PARC for giving us GUIs and Smalltalk, they were at the forefront of "learning sciences", working on research that has driven a great deal of the principles we use in Head First. So there I was, with only half the IQ required to understand what these guys were saying, but some of it was eventually absorbed through my skin.

John Seely Brown has a cool title too--now that he's left PARC, he's "Chief of Confusion." Start with this page if you want to read things about learning, but I mean it -- he's got enough on that whole site to keep you busy for days. Not so interested in learning? He's got stuff on IT, "the social life of information", and a lot to say about design, too.

Here are a few learning-related snippets:

On wikipedia:
"...it plays a much more subtle role as an emerging form of cognitive apprenticeship"

On digital learning:
"...there is a new kind of digital divide now and it is the divide between faculty and students. Faculty, stuck in yesterday's analog world, are confronted with students who arrive nicely fluent in digital technology and the virtues of hyperspeed. Students already have a handle on how to convey their emotional states electronically. It's up to adults to learn that vernacular..."

On passion, learning, and school: (my favorite)
"I’m very unpopular in certain circles for saying that we are all inveterate learners but when we go to school we get our passion for learning turned off. I keep hoping we can change schooling so as to amplify our innate passion for learning and that we can change the workscape into becoming a true learningscape. "

I was reminded of JSB by a kick-ass woman who stumbled on this blog, Judy Breck. She's been in there fighting the good fight to drag learning experiences out of the dark ages (and getting much of the same trouble for it that we got). Judy has a new book on virtual learning that brings an open source sensibility to learning. I can't recommend it yet because I haven't read it yet (should arrive any moment), but I ordered it the moment I saw that John Seely Brown wrote the forward.

(What first got my attention from Judy was that she mentioned how the cubicle problem maps to classrooms.)

Posted by Kathy on February 22, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Brain death by dull cubicle


You always knew that dull, boring cubicles could suck the joy out of work, but now there's evidence that they can change your brain. Not mentally or emotionally, no, we're talking physical structural changes. You could almost say, "Dull, lifeless work environments cause brain damage."

I said "almost", because it depends on your definition of brain damage. What the research suggests is that in unstimulating, unenriched, stressful environments, the brain STOPS producing new neurons (more on that later). But it's only been the last few years that scientists have finally realized that the human brain can build new neurons. For most of the previous century, it was believed that we were born with all the neurons we'd ever have.

Scientists who believed in and studied the idea of "neurogenesis" were dismissed, criticized, ignored. But Princeton's Elizabeth Gould has picked up the neurogenesis ball and run with it. She is almost single-handedly changing the face of neuroscience and psychology.

From a fascinating article in the new print issue of Seed Magazine (my new favorite):

"Eight years after Gould defied the dogma of her field and proved that the primate brain creates new cells, she has gone on to demonstrate that the structure of the brain is incredibly influenced by one's surroundings."

One of the most interesting (and, in hindsight, "doh!") discoveries was that one of the main reasons researchers kept finding NO evidence of new neuron development in their test primates is because they kept them in an environment which shut that process down. In other words, it was the caged-living that stopped the neurogenesis process. By giving her animals a rich, natural enviornment, Gould "flipped the switch" back on, allowing their brains to work normally, and sure enough--the happier, more stimulated animals showed a DRAMATIC increase in neurogenesis as well as dendrite density.

One summary:

"Complex surroundings create a complex brain."

[One interesting and beautiful back story--researcher Fernando Nottebohm had showed earlier that neurogenesis was necessary for bird songs. "To sing their complex melodies, male birds needed new brain cells. In fact, up to 1% of the neurons in the bird's song center were created anew, every day." Of course, his work was dissed as irrelevant. I mean, come on, these are bird brains. "Avian neurogenesis was explained away as an exotic adaptation..."]

So, back to cubicles. The key to Gould's demonstration of neurogenesis (where virtually all other primate studies had failed) was the stimulating environment. Cages stopped neurgenesis, which she describes as "The neurons stop investing in themselves." She links caged environments with stress, and stimulating natural environments as less stressful, so there is a big assumption here that a dull, boring, unstimulating cube life is also stressful (for the brain, anyway--it doesn't mean the work itself is stressful).

But she didn't just throw them in a natural environment... she also made sure they had a lot of opportunities for play. And perhaps very importantly--frequent rotation and introduction of new toys. I've always wondered why in every game company I worked for (or anyplace with "creatives"), it was assumed and encouraged that people made elaborate virtual worlds out of their workspace, but in non-game/creative workplaces, not so much. While this is often allowed in the cubes of non-game programmers, for the most part it's only the young hipster startups that consider this a primary, essential element of their corporate culture. [Apparently those ping-pong tables and games in those web startups were more than just examples of bubble/VC excess.]

With Gould's work, it would seem, we should not only be allowing employees to, say, decorate their cube, but we should be encouraging it at every turn AND take steps to make frequent changes to the area. (And by "changes", I don't mean rotating demotivation posters). For too many places I've worked, a new "official policy poster" or some new HR thing is about all the stimulating change we got. (That, and the increasingly emphatic signs posted in the coffee/kitchen area about "your mother doesn't work here, it's up to US to keep it clean!!!")

It would appear that blowing your own mind on a regular basis is not just a good idea, it's a key part of neurogenesis. One of the conclusions she came to is that "learning heals the brain." And again, we aren't talking emotionally or psychologically, we're talking physical structures. She believes that even those who have been in a stressful environment can undo much of the damage by not just removing the stress, but actively introducing enriching and stimulating things.

Experiencing and learning new things is literally exercise for the brain!

That's so cool.

The implications of her work are of course much deeper and more significant than just "dull and/or stressful work environments with low stimulation suppress neurogenesis, which means less or no new brain cells." There are all kinds of social implications as well, although she points out that like most scientists, she does not want to see her work "twisted for political purposes".

But it does mean that the work we are all doing to help our users learn and grow and develop (and kick ass ; ) is a lot more meaningful than just good customer support. Remember, when WE say "passionate users", we mean the kind of passion that inspires people to spend time learning and getting better at whatever it is they're passionate about. So it would seem that it might not be a huge stretch to say:

Passionate users grow more brain cells!

Apparently all work and no play makes Jack not just dull, but dumber. So don't forget to have fun...

Posted by Kathy on February 20, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack

The Clueless Manifesto


Here's to the clueless ones.

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." - Shunryu Suzuki

Cluelessness is underrated. It's the newbie who does something he didn't know was supposed to be impossible. It's the naive guy asking the one dumb question any clued-in person would diss. And it's that question that leads to the answer no expert would have found.

The clueless accomplish amazing things--not necessarily because we're bold, brilliant innovators, but perhaps because we just don't know any better. We see the simplicity of the forest while Those Who Know are overanalyzing the complex subtleties of the trees (and miss the point). Sometimes NOT knowing about a "problem" weakens (or eliminates) it.

Perception is a powerful tool. Believing there's a limitation can sometimes create that limitation. And for the clueless who don't know about the limitation, well, it's as if it doesn't exist. Belief matters. Not everywhere, not in everything, but more than we give credence to.

And it doesn't take any new-age/self-help foofiness to explain it. This is not about "the power of positive thinking." You probably all know the story of Roger Bannister--prior to 1954, experts believed that running a mile in less than four minutes was beyond human capability. People assumed it was an insurmountable human limitation--not possible. Some believed that even if you could, your heart would explode. But in 1954, Bannister broke the four-minute-impossible-barrier and clicked in at 3:59.4.

That was cool, but the remarkable thing is what happened immediately after that. Just over a month later someone else did it, and then before too long a ton of people were doing the "impossible" sub-four-minute mile. The real barrier was psychological.

In this case, Bannister wasn't clueless. He believed in his training. But I think it still demonstrates the point. The people who broke the record after Bannister were essentially the same as people who'd always been clueless about the "impossible" limit. If--prior to Bannister's run--some of them had missed the memo on the whole heart-exploding thing, chances are the record would have fallen sooner.

Part of the charm of cluelessness is that you approach things with a hopeful perspective, trying to figure out how to do the I'm-too-clueless-to-know-it-cannot-be-done thing, rather than accepting the "reality". Often, by the time you learn you can't do it, your response might be "Oops! You mean this thing I just did?"

Example: a group of seven middle school girls from Petaluma, California--12 to 14--year olds, accomplished something that everybody said was impossible. They fought city hall and won. They created a business proposal, refused to be derailed, and after several YEARS of work pushed through a multi-million dollar project that the best commercial developers in the state hadn't been able to pull off. These young girls simply didn't know that you just can't DO that... especially if you aren't old enough to drive. Their story is one of the most inspirational things I've ever heard.

The clueless tend to be a bit more optimistic--after all, we don't know how bad things really are. But this can be a blessing too--there's evidence to suggest the optimistic live longer and are less prone to depression. So there's that.

As a poster child for cluelessness, I have many clueless experiences I treasure. The Head First book series would most likely never have happened if we'd had a clue about the tech book publishing world. Our cluelessness is the only explanation we have for why two unknown non-authors (who knew zero about publishing) went forward with something so strange. "If books like that would sell," the seasoned publishers told us, "Trust us, someone would have done it by now." (If I had a dime for everytime I heard that one, I wouldn't need royalties to pay the rent.) The ultra-experienced, it seemed, were blinded by their certainty of "the way things work." In other words, they knew it wasn't worth the risk, and had no reason to revisit their assumptions.

Yes, I recognize that it's ridiculous to equate "cluelessness" with "beginner's mind". Or is it? What if "clueless" is simply a label the glass-half-empty folks give the glass-half-full folks. If we're optimistic, we must not have a clue. What if we simply see the world through a different lens? A lens that opens doors and windows the cynical and pessimistic are too busy dissing to notice?

Mathematician/philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said,
"The 'silly question' is the first intimation of some totally new development."

The clueful need us. We're the ones who ask the silly questions.

And in the spirit of Apple's Here's to the Crazy Ones:

Here's to the Clueless Ones

The ones who see things differently

They're not fond of rules (granted, that's because they don't actually know about the rules)

They have no respect for the status quo (see previous statement)

You can praise them, disagree with them, quote them,
disbelieve them, glorify or vilify them.

About the only thing you can't do is ignore them.
Because they change things.

Maybe they have to be clueless.

How else can you take on city hall at the age of 12?
Or break the impossible record?
Or build an internet startup without VC bucks?

While some see them as the clueless ones,
we see a fresh perspective.

Because the people who are clueless enough to think
they can change the world, might be the ones who do.

Do not underestimate us.

Posted by Kathy on February 19, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (29) | TrackBack

OK, this one really pisses me off

Here's yet another way to help others create spam blogs and make search results suck. Instant Article Ghost Writer auto-generates so-called "articles" for you, on any topic, by searching the web for the keywords you put in and returning single sentences (allowed by fair-use) from different articles.

If that's not sleazy enough, they apparently don't mind taking all those single sentences from the SAME DAMN BLOG. So it could return, for example, a result of, say, 60 single-sentences, 80% of which came from different posts by the same author, on the same blog.

I tried it.

I signed up for the trial, typed "passionate users" into the little box, and off it went to create me "an article", by walking the web plucking one sentence at a time. Guess where 80% of those single sentences came from? Either this blog, or someone quoting this blog. Here's just a small sample of what was returned:


Given that it would be virtually impossible to automatically construct anything useful or meaningful from these sentences, I reckon it's good for one thing only -- blogs designed to fool the search engines.

I'm not pissed off about copyright or anything like that -- it's what they are doing with these sentences that bothers the hell out of me. And it takes an awful lot to bother me.

Someone else in an email list mentioned that students would love this as an instant homework generator. Fortunately, this thing is way too stupid for that!

Posted by Kathy on February 16, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (22)

Where there's passion, there are stories


Anyone who is passionate about golf knows the backstory about Tiger Woods. Those passionate about film can tell a story or two about Fellini, Eisenstein, and Kubric. Those passionate about open source know the story of Linus, Stallman, and the stories from Revolution OS. Most serious Mac lovers know a good bit of lore from the Revolution in the Valley. Heck, those who are really into Web 2.0, or FlickR, know the backstory of Caterina and Stewart's it-was-supposed-to-be-part-of-a-game creation.

From "creation mythology" to gossip to heroic against-all-odds tales, one of the ways we judge whether someone is truly passionate (as opposed to just enthusiastic) is if they know the key people and their stories. Do your users know your story? If not, you might consider writing it down and making it public.

But what if it's not interesting? Look again. Are you sure there isn't something worth telling (and more importantly, that others will enjoy re-telling)? No? If your founder story is just...too... dull... then find a compelling user story. After all, Tiger Woods didn't invent golf. Ask your users if they have an interesting, "hero's journey" story that somehow involved your product. It may not be dramatic enough to count as actual "lore", but it's a start.

Look at your website. Do you have a backstory there?

We don't, so we're writing one -- although many of the bits and pieces of the Head First story is somewhere in this blog. Short version -- Sun tells me that my ideas about learning are bad. I tell them that their ideas are bad. That didn't go over well. I'm kicked out and vow to put EVERYTHING I wasn't allowed to do there in a book series, to prove that the learning theory was sound, just for the satisfaciton of saying, "Told you so!" I get Bert to help me, and we create and submit an unsolicited proposal, cold, to O'Reilly, who had never heard of us (we had never written a book at the time we sent the Head First proposal). Tim O'Reilly loves it, most of O'Reilly hates it. Most other tech book authors hate it too. The only bright spot was shortly after it was released when author Dori Smith, of whom I was a fan, sent me an email saying, "I saw Head First Java in the store and told my husband that 'this is the book I wish I'd written'" She had no idea (until now) how much of a turning point that was, after we'd been taking such a beating from other authors. (Some day I'll say more about the details of that first year, and why so many people hated the book.)

Oh yeah, before O'Reilly, we submitted it to two other major publishers. They turned us down. One of the editors who turned it down got into trouble when the book-he-turned-down went to #1 on the Amazon computer bestseller list. Tim has been known to "congratulate them on their fine judgement" ; )
Today it's one of the most successful new computer book series (in unit sales and revenue) since the bubble, has been on the Amazon Top Ten Computer Books each year since we started (2003), won the Jolt Cola / Software Development Award for Best Computer Book, and has survived two slashdot reviews. The whole "creating passionate users" thing grew out of our desire to teach the brain-friendly principles we use to others, and discuss how they can be applied to other things. It started as a talk to other authors and editors, then became this blog, and a book is in progress. This time, we got lucky and we were right. I'll spare you all of the other things we did that weren't ; )

Your turn.

Posted by Kathy on February 15, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Schrodinger's Products (ten ways to be desirable)

If a company makes a high-quality product, but user's don't find it sexy or appealing, does that product exist? Continuing our quantum physics theme, we did our own little "thought experiment" about that. One conclusion could be, "You have nothing until a user wants it."

(Shrodinger's Cat review)
[Update: trying to force this idea into anything remotely resembling real physics wasn't working, so I took it out. Consider it a very loose metaphor for this idea. A real stretch...]

So maybe that's a model for what our products are like. We make a high-quality product, but it isn't really alive/dead (hot/not, successful/unsuccessful, hit/flop) until a user finds it desirable. Unlike earlier days when there weren't so many choices and one could compete on features, product quality alone guarantees nothing. We can make a solid, bug-free, easy-to-use, feature-rich product, but we can't know it's true state until a user looks, thus collapsing the wave function. Is it desirable? Is it appealing? Is it sexy?

How do you change your odds? How do you reduce the chance of that "kill" trigger firing? It's tricky, since we already know that listening to users isn't the most reliable way to know we're on the right track. Perhaps the best we can do is stay more focused on the user's perception and experience than on the actual product itself. It's so easy to get caught up in feature lists, implementation quality, performance metrics, etc. and then miss the whole point. We focus on the trees, not the forest. We create a product that flawlessly meets a checklist, but that nobody lusts after. It's like the blind date your friends keep describing as, "Yeah, but he's got a great personality and he's smart and funny and..."

There's no denying the basic human fact that chemistry matters. Looks matter. Sexiness matters. Fortunately, we can define "sexy" quite broadly. The iPod is sexy. To a programmer, a slick, elegant framework can be described as "sexy". Some cars are sexy.

And if we're talking about desirability, sexiness doesn't always have to be in the equation. Things which evoke "good feelings" can be intensely desirable, even if those feelings are about having fun. Something that makes you say, "God, that's the cutest thing I have ever seen can be desirable. And you know I'm going to say it (Wally, cover your ears) -- something that helps you kick ass can be desirable.

So, back to the real question... what can we do so that when the user "opens the box", the wave form collapses in our favor? I don't know, but I'll throw some ideas out there and I'm hoping you will add more:

Ten ways to make your product desirable

1) Pay attention to style.
Aesthetics mean more today than they did even fifteen years ago. And don't be thinking that this does not apply to your product. Remember, this is like dating... it's not "selling out" to wear your good shirt on that first date, and first impressions matter deeply. For that cat, remember, that first look was life or death. (yeah, yeah, yeah, that was different -- radioactive decay and all that -- but I'm taking metaphoric license)

2) Pay attention to the emotional appeal.
Besides the product itself, this might include packaging, your website, documentation, anything that the user might see before making a decision.

3) Show it in action... with real people.
People are drawn to people. Brains pay attention to people. Seeing another person using the product or enjoying the service, whatever, is more powerful than just showing the product sitting there (exceptions are made, of course, if your product is inherently sexy and compelling all by itself. That's a little harder, though, for a software screen...)

4) Don't use pictures of generic shiny happy people that have become cliches.
I said, "real people." And use your most compelling testimonials. But... real doesn't have to mean unattractive or unappealing. Yes, we wish that people didn't have such a shallow perspective, but this is simple neurochemistry, and part of what makes us human is our brain's ability to seek out and respond to things it finds attractive. And many of the things that attract the brain (not necessarily the mind) are things it believes look "healthy." No, I'm not saying put a naked girl on the product page--that's way too unimaginative. But that doesn't mean it wouldn't work, unfortunately.

5) Make sure it's clear to prospective users how this helps them kick ass
The more obvious this is, the more compelling the product or service. Be sure the user can see a clear path to getting up the curve (if there is a learning curve), and demonstrate exactly how you will help the user get there. In this lifetime. This is where training and support really matter. But again, it's not enough to have good training, documentation, etc. -- you have to make sure this is clear to the prospective user.

6) Appeal to as many senses as possible.
Even if your product exists solely in software, use colors, shapes, and potentially sounds (audio is tricky, and a whole separate topic) to give users a sensation of touching or hearing something (heck, pictures of food may make them smell and taste something). Consider podcasts and video, or even song lyrics or poems. Think about rhythym.

7) Make it meaningful.
Give them something to believe in. Something real. I don't need to lecture any of you on ethics, so I won't. Something to believe in could be an approach to development, like the 37signals Manifesto, or it could be the charitable causes you support (and encourage your users to support), or it could be a philosophy that resonates with the user. (Watch the Sarah McLachlan Worlds on Fire video for inspiration.)

8) Make it justifiable, so the user doesn't have to feel guilty
We all make decisions emotionally, and rationalize them later. Helping the user with that after-the-fact rationalization makes it that much easier. Almost nobody makes a decision based solely on the hard, rational facts, but they are comforted by knowing that they "made a smart decision." Remember, even if your product does nothing more than help someone have a more enjoyable time, that's potentially a mental health/stress management benefit.

9) Support a community of users
We all want to belong. Products and services with affinity groups are a HUGE added value for users, whether it's the confidence of knowing you'll get technical help/support, or the joy of being part of a "tribe" we can be proud to belong to. (Make sure you give users a way to "show off" their affiliation--practice T-shirt First Development)

10) Never underestimate the power of fun.
Humans--all mammals--have a very strong play drive; it's crucial to our survival. Show someone how you can help them have a little more fun in their life, and you might be irresistable.

Remember, desirability does not necessarily mean we'll have passionate users, but it's a crucial first step. The more desirable the product, the more likely the user is to want to spend more time with it getting better. And it's the getting better and better part--the learning and growing--that is the foundation of passionate users.

Posted by Kathy on February 15, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Low-order bits

Here are a few things I wanted to point to (more on these topics later)...


Wow. This video is inspiring. And if you liked that (or even if you didn't), you'd probably love my all-time favorite conference (even non-techies love it), SIGGRAPH. Best of all, that's a conference where just the "expo" pass gets you into the most amazing things I've ever experienced. Remind me to tell you about the VR dolphins sometime...

[Thanks Dave Wood (author of the next Head First book) for the video link]

Two interesting brain things:

Brains run in reverse

The first step is acknowledging that the brain and the mind don't always agree... : )

[Thanks Dan Steinberg for the link]

Also, there's a rather detailed online report about How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, geared more toward school-age children, but still very relevant. I haven't been through the whole thing yet, so I don't have much to say, but it's got some great info.
[Thanks Greg Doench (Prentice-Hall editor) for the link, and isn't it time you started your own blog?]

And just in case there's anyone who out there who somehow missed it, Guy Kawasaki has a blog, and it's wonderful. It definitely falls in the "helps you kick ass" category.

Someone asked in the comments about the upcoming "passionate users" talks, so here's the upcoming schedule:

Emerging Technology (ETech) March 6-9, San Diego, CA (half-day tutorial)

SXSW Interactive March 10-19, Austin TX (short panel)

Webstock May 23-26, New Zealand (big tutorial, plus a keynote session)

Training Director's Forum, June 11-14, Palm Springs, CA (keynote)

GUADEC (Gnome User and Developer European Conference), June 24-30, Spain (keynote)

Cheers and I hope to see more of your book recommendations, or photos of your coffee table on your own blog.

Posted by Kathy on February 13, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack