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If you could change only one thing...

A manager at Sun asked me this question in a recent con call: "If you could change only one thing about our courses, what would make the biggest difference?" That's just cruel. One?

My answer was, "cut the content in half but keep the course duration the same."

In that spirit, I tried to force myself to come up with more "someone is holding a gun to your head and telling you to pick just one thing to make a difference" answers. By definition, these don't apply to everything, lots of exceptions, all disclaimers apply. etc. More importantly, I'm not an expert at all of these things, so I'd love to hear what others come up with as an answer to the same question for some of these topics (wisdom of crowds and all that).

One thing that could make a big difference

Non-fiction writing: write conversationally

Blogs: reduce talking about yourself by 80% (make up the difference with things that benefit the reader)

Classroom teaching: reduce lecture by 50% (make up the difference in listening with interaction and doing

Tech books and articles for learning: reduce lecture by 50%, make up the difference with graphics, case-studies and examples, interactive exericses, thought-provoking puzzles, FAQs, etc.

Paragraphs: vary your sentence length (related to pacing)

Stories: think seduction

Photographs: use aperture-priority (unless you're shooting water and want that fuzzy flowy water thing)

Photographic composition: use the rule of thirds

Digital video: (applies to photography as well) pay attention to nose room

Nose room:

Not enough nose room:

Video and photographic composition of people: don't crop/cut people off at joints unless you're going for that edgy "dismemberment effect"...

Bad Crop:

A little better Crop:

Graphic design: reduce trapped white space (note: do as I say, not as I do here... I SUCK at HTML)

Typography: one word--kerning

(Notice how the "o" tucks under the "V" in the bottom example... that's good kerning. Even in our 700 page books, I still go through and kern by hand where I need to, when the software doesn't do a good enough job.)

Marketing: Stop talking about how much you/the company/the product/the project kicks ass. Use your marketing budget to help your users kick ass.



Product design: be brave


Brainstorming: use mind maps
(Brady did this map of my ETech talk, on a tablet PC using Mind Manager)

Creativity: ban the devil's advocate (bring him in LATER)

Stress reduction: GTD

Running a user-friendly company: make sure *everyone* in the company is exposed to real users as often as possible (not *prospective* users--REAL ones), and that everyone is rewarded (or suffers) based on the user's perception. If possible, give almost every new employee a stint at either a customer service or tech support role. (Even better to do this with non-new employees from time to time)

Happiness: Reduce caring about other people's expectations by 85% (closely related to: don't take things personally), with the exception of users (increase caring about user expectations by 85%)

OK, your turn. I want to hear your "pick one thing" answers, and it can be on any helpful topic -- not just the ones I have here.

Posted by Kathy on October 27, 2005 | Permalink


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She offers useful tips for bloggers ("reduce talking about yourself by 80%") and others. I'd offer some suggestions, too, but I prefer to talk about myself. [Read More]

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Encontré esta gráfica en Creating Passionate Users:[Read More]

Tracked on Nov 10, 2005 3:26:18 PM


Don't be so fixated on your users' asses. (just kidding)

Realise that there is such a thing as users who get too passionate, and thus don't promise your users a solution to all the world's problems.

Posted by: Paul Montgomery | Oct 27, 2005 7:28:10 PM

I completely agree on the mind map advice. But not everybody wants to pay for those things -- I found FreeMind a while back and love it. It's Java based (translation: cross-platform) and very nice:


(insert standard "I'm-not-affiliated-with clause" here ;-)

Posted by: David W. | Oct 27, 2005 7:57:39 PM

Ok, here's my suggestion:

Reduce Distration:

Try listening to either classical music or pink noise (a lower pitched version of white noise) in headphones. Either will help drown out outside noises/distrations. Pink noise, I believe, has been demonstrated to improve concentration. I suggest classical music because most popular music actually creates distraction:

- your mind 'listens to' vocals even if it's not loud (think of your brain like a computer processor that is being asked to run a translation program as a background task)
- volume levels in most pop music are specifically designed to capture attention!
- most pop music involves heavy, accented beats (e.g. the drumbeat or a bass guitar) which will draw your attention

Posted by: David W. | Oct 27, 2005 8:08:12 PM

Kathy sez: "I SUCK at HTML".

Not for long! :-)

Posted by: Beth Freeman | Oct 27, 2005 8:20:00 PM

Offshoring: involve offshore resources at ALL stages of the software development lifecycle (make them "partners" in success not "black box" coders)

Job Satisfaction: introduce novelty into daily activities, personal goals, team objectives, career path (step outside your comfort zone)

Corporate Initiatives: teach executives that perfect is the enemy of good

Blog Commentors: eliminate hateful criticism completely (bad ideas and failed attempts can sometimes lead to advancements but hateful criticism from people who have never put there own necks on the line never will)

Posted by: Steve Akers | Oct 27, 2005 8:56:37 PM

Add 20% of extra boldness to everything.

(30% can be a bit daunting.)

Posted by: olivier blanchard | Oct 27, 2005 9:30:23 PM

Don't call them "users". "Users" buy drugs on street corners. They're your customers. They're paying you money to get things done. (From an un-named IBM presenter at a SHARE (http://www.share.org) conference in the 1980's.)

Posted by: hobbitt | Oct 27, 2005 9:44:24 PM

best_posts_ever ++;

Punctuality: Leave 5 minutes earlier and don't hurry.

Meeting new people: Smile and shake their hand like you mean it. (And mean it!)

Packing for a trip: Lay it out on the bed. Take half.

Posted by: Aaron | Oct 27, 2005 9:44:36 PM

I second these motions:

1. MindManager!! It is the *only* thing I run on Windows any more; the rest of my life is Linux-based!

2. Classical music: I can't get anything done without my noise-cancelling headphones and Beethoven, Mozart, Hovhaness, Shostakovich, etc. But ban the Brahms. :)

3. Creating Passionate Users: Well, of course!!

4. Capacity planning, application response time, scalability, performance engineering: nothing tells a user "I suck" as much as an application that takes for-(gerund-deleted)-ever to respond!!

Oh, yeah ... it was supposed to be "if I could change just **one** thing. Well, then, I'll go with the response time thing, because that's what I do for a living, so that's what **I** can change!

Posted by: M. Edward (Ed) Borasky | Oct 27, 2005 9:45:51 PM

Hobbit: yes, we've heard that one before and are aware of the complaints and suggestions about that word (which we use *proudly*). But we explain our choice in an early post called "Why We Love Users".

In a nutshell:
1) The word "user" focuses us on things that matter to them like "usability" and "usefulness" and, well, "using".
2) We aren't about to let drug references rob us of a really *useful* word, so... we're taking it back
3) The word "users" makes no distinction between those who pay us for the thing they use and those who don't, and we like that about it
4) We hate the word "consumer", but "customer" does not apply to much of what our readers might be doing (building an online community, increasing church membership, getting people to join our open source project, blog readers, etc.) So again, when we say "passionate users", we don't care if they're customers, members, friends, guests, visitors, volunteers, etc.

But we do understand the complaint, and that people have their heart in the right place when they make that comment, we just passionately disagree with it and we're all for taking back the word and restoring it to its former, useful, glory.

Paul: saving the world? But isn't that what Web 2.0 is about? ; )

David W. excellent suggestion on the music thing!

Beth: just when IS that book coming out?

Steve Akers: I especially like the "novelty" one.

Olivier: I'm sure there's a story behind why 30% is too much, but 20% is good... ; )

Aaron: Two of yours are directly related. I'm never *early* enough to have time to pack properly, so I end up throwing everything in. So your suggestion #1 would help with #3.

Ed: If I have to code or write or think, I can't listen to *anything* that doesn't keep up with my hearbeat. So yeah, ban the brahms. But I meant "if you could change just one thing about a particular thing..." so you can have as many different things to change as you like, but just one *change* per thing. Or something like that...

Cheers, everyone, for the great suggestions.

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | Oct 27, 2005 10:39:58 PM

Alrighty then... hobbit, I just clicked that link for the Share.org site, and, well, the big ol' banner on the main page says "User Events." So maybe you were kidding?

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | Oct 27, 2005 11:57:25 PM

Get Personal - use more emotive words and get more personal in your language and presentations. Communicating structures and outilning strategies are all well and good but bring it back to how it will affect the person (both within the company/organisation and your consumers/customers)...

Posted by: DK | Oct 28, 2005 1:17:59 AM

Get Personal - use more emotive words and get more personal in your language and presentations. Communicating structures and outilning strategies are all well and good but bring it back to how it will affect the person (both within the company/organisation and your consumers/customers)...

Posted by: DK | Oct 28, 2005 1:18:10 AM

There are many great ones there, Kathy. Unfortunately the post breaks one of my other important rules. All lists should have no more than three items. If you get it down to three, then you really have the gold. There's also a chance that your listeners will remember the three. That's why I think the Rule Of Three is so important.

Posted by: Barry Welford | Oct 28, 2005 3:40:07 AM

See the good things in people. And tell them!

Posted by: Barry Crabtree | Oct 28, 2005 4:45:06 AM

Sorry, people, but *I* can't get anything done without my noise-cancelling headphones and Pantera, Back Sabbath, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy and all the Blues and Heavy Metal folks... These are my classics! ;) And, yes, Kathy, like you said, "If I have to code or write or think, I can't listen to *anything* that doesn't keep up with my hearbeat"... I guess my heartbeat is a little faster ;) But maybe the one thing I can do to change it is listen a little bit more to the instrumental blues...

Posted by: Pizzaman | Oct 28, 2005 5:27:43 AM

Don't be afraid.

Don't be afraid to start that book you've been wanting to write.

Don't be afraid to start your own business and leave corporate life.

Don't be afraid to do all those 43things that, deep down you really want to do...

Posted by: Vic | Oct 28, 2005 6:49:53 AM

Kids: Spend more time

my very important 2c

Posted by: //jorge | Oct 28, 2005 7:28:26 AM

People: When talking to someone and the phone rings... don't answer it... don't look at the caller ID... don't even flinch. (unless you're looking for an excuse to stop talking to this person!)

This has the dual benefit of making the person you're talking to feel important AND serves as an easy-to-implement idea for something THEY could do when they're talking to someone else!

Works both in the office and with family members at home!

Posted by: David | Oct 28, 2005 7:58:48 AM

Permit me to be very forward: my one suggestion to improve the Head First books? Rethink your fonts! I love the content of the books, but it's not the kerning that drives me to distraction!

Love this post. Great post. Thanks Kathy.

Posted by: Raymond Brigleb | Oct 28, 2005 9:12:28 AM

Problems: Don't solve them. Prevent them!

Posted by: Tom Asacker | Oct 28, 2005 9:45:02 AM

Career: think and act like an entrepreneur, even if you work for someone else. You're the founder and CEO of a company of one: yourself!

Money: value your freedom more. Treat spending money as trading your freedom for stuff.

Children: let your kids be themselves, not yourself 2.0; Believe it or not, your child's future happiness does not depend on forcing them to go to medical school, or forcing them not to make your mistakes. I realize I'm getting a little verbose now, but your children need three things from you (setting aside food, clothing, and shelter as assumed): affection, empathy, and opportunities. They will do the rest.

Posted by: Zach Thomas | Oct 28, 2005 11:14:01 AM

If the opening of Brahms' first symphony isn't like a heartbeat, I don't know what is. He wrote both fast music and slow music - if anything, I'd say don't listen to him while working only because his music is so interesting and engaging that you'd end up distracted and not getting any work done. Same goes for Mahler and lots of other classical music, particularly Romantic and Twentieth-Century. Doesn't stop me from listening to those while I work, though, since I love them so much. :)

Baroque and Classical music, on the other hand, do work pretty well as concentration music, though of course there's still the possibility of distraction (especially if you've played the piece you're listening to - I tend to play along in my head and realize I've been staring blankly at my screen for minutes on end).

Posted by: Jennifer Grucza | Oct 28, 2005 2:19:16 PM

You hit a lot of good ones with the Mind Mapping (I use visual mind), GTD, ass kicking and your advice on teaching blog writing. Here are a few more:

1. Use Personas when developing applications:
Rather than abstract roles assigned to the different people that will be interacting with your application, give them a name, a believable story, a photo and traits. As simple as this practice is, it helps unearth use cases that would have never come to light when using roles in the abstract sense.

2. Take a "Lights Out" day regularly-
see here -> www.LightsOutProduction.com

3. Socratic method in Teaching
Have the students "ratchet up" each other with open-ended questions that engage them in your topic and demand critical thought and taking on unorthodox perspectives.

4. User group participation
Whatever your field, you are an ostrich if you're not taking part in a local usergroup of some kind and helping to elevate the industry itself and train the newcommers. You learn anything 10x more-thoroughly when you have to teach it.

5. Basecamp for projects
The brilliant project management tool by 37signals is a must for a collaborative environment.

6. Read more than you write
Should be obvious but I swear I think some people write more than they read... If you're not digesting other ideas, synthesizing them and adding your insights then you're just spewing your own stuff on others and that's lame.

7. Force yourself into uncomfortable situations
Just like Kathy's post on "purposefully blowing your own mind" - you should strive to put yourself past your comfort threshold in all different respects because it broadens you as a person, allows you to come up w/ novel ideas by cross-pollinating things from different fields and extends your sphere of experience to encompass more of life.

8. Cool productivity extension
Check out the anagram extension for quickly extracting contact and appointment info from a block of text - http://getanagram.com/


Posted by: Sean Tierney | Oct 28, 2005 2:58:48 PM

Computer programming books: Invert the process; show the whole application code and then dissect it. (If I see one more book that starts with the minutiae of syntax and pages of data types...)

Posted by: Gary Bloom | Oct 28, 2005 3:03:02 PM

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