Monday, January 29, 2007

Amazing Powerpoint Presentations:

Seth Godin writes:

Here are the five rules you need to remember to create amazing Powerpoint presentations:

1. No more than six words on a slide. EVER. There is no presentation so complex that this rule needs to be broken.
2. No cheesy images. Use professional stock photo images.
3. No dissolves, spins or other transitions.
4. Sound effects can be used a few times per presentation, but never use the sound effects that are built in to the program. Instead, rip sounds and music from CDs and leverage the Proustian effect this can have. If people start bouncing up and down to the Grateful Dead, you’ve kept them from falling asleep, and you’ve reminded them that this isn’t a typical meeting you’re running.
5. Don’t hand out print-outs of your slides. They don’t work without you there.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Making Ideas Stick

Guy Kawasaki says:
We spent lots of time researching sticky ideas—ideas that people understand, remember, and that change the way people think or behave. The ideas we studied ranged from the ludicrous to the profound, from urban legends (no, there is no kidney theft ring) to great scientific theories (yes, the land we walk around on does ride on giant tectonic plates and when they collide they cause mountain ranges and earthquakes). We found there were six principles (“SUCCES”) that link sticky ideas of all kinds. Sticky ideas won’t always have all six, but the more, the merrier.

For example, JFK’s idea to “put a man on the moon in a decade” had all six of them:
1. Simple A single, clear mission.
2. Unexpected A man on the moon? It seemed like science fiction at the time.
3. Concrete Success was defined so clearly—no one could quibble about man, moon, or decade.
4. Credible This was the President of the U.S. talking.
5. Emotional It appealed to the aspirations and pioneering instincts of an entire nation.
6. Story An astronaut overcomes great obstacles to achieve an amazing goal.

and he continues:
... the villain of our book: The Curse of Knowledge. Lots of research in economics and psychology shows that when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators. Think of a lawyer who can’t give you a straight, comprehensible answer to a legal question. His vast knowledge and experience renders him unable to fathom how little you know. So when he talks to you, he talks in abstractions that you can’t follow. And we’re all like the lawyer in our own domain of expertise.

Here’s the great cruelty of the Curse of Knowledge: The better we get at generating great ideas—new insights and novel solutions—in our field of expertise, the more unnatural it becomes for us to communicate those ideas clearly. That’s why knowledge is a curse. But notice we said “unnatural,” not “impossible.”

Retailers and Customers

Edge Perspectives writes on Retailers and Customers

Let’s take a simple, yet very revealing, indicator of business focus. What are the relevant metrics of profitability? Most retailers focus relentlessly on profitability by store and, even more granularly, profitability per foot of shelf – these are facilities-based measures of profitability. True customer relationship businesses focus on profitability by customer, yet few retailers (with the possible exception of some direct marketers) even have a clue of their profitability by customer. Ask them which 20% of their customers generate 80% of their profitability and you get a blank stare. Ask them about customer churn rates and they start looking for a way to change the subject.

Or, take a stroll down the aisles of your nearest “big box” retailer. Try to find someone to talk to in order to get a suggestion for a product you need or to get a question about a product answered. Good luck. It is pretty hard to talk about being in a customer relationship business when you are not available to talk to a customer. Big box retailers are the epitome of an infrastructure management business – reducing operations to high volume, routine processing activities with as few people as possible. They dream of even eliminating the cashiers and automating the check-out process.

Of course, merchandisers live or die based on their ability to anticipate the evolving needs of the market. Some retailers have become very sophisticated in understanding certain customer segments – teens, techies, suburban soccer Moms, etc. In this sense, they are very customer focused. But that’s a pretty shallow notion of customer relationship – all businesses have to do that to stay in business.

True customer relationship businesses set a much higher bar. Deep, lasting, trust-based relationships with customers – the hallmark of a customer relationship business – are generally built one customer at a time. They require the investment to learn about each customer’s needs and then they require the skills to take that understanding and turn it around into relevant, timely suggestions regarding products and services that might be most meaningful for that customer. Think of a good Mom and Pop retailer where the clerk knows you by name and greets you with a suggestion about an interesting new product when you walk in the door.

Ah, but that’s not scalable, the skeptic will say. Ever heard of Amazon? They do something pretty much like that for millions of customers. Ah, but that’s on the Internet and not in a physical store, the skeptic responds. True, but that’s one of the problems – with few exceptions, we still draw hard lines between physical facilities and virtual services.

Now, this is not just an opportunity; it is rapidly becoming a necessity, shaped by the shift from shelf space scarcity to attention scarcity, something I have written about frequently. In the face of this shift, retailers have two choices. They can become vast, automated warehouses with a high return on assets – in other words, infrastructure management businesses. Or they can find creative ways to build real relationships with customers in ways that significantly increase the return on attention for their customers – in other words, customer relationship businesses.


Hee-Haw Marketing has a great post on how not to do retail.

I wouldn't be what you would consider a 'luxury" shopper. Generally, I'm more comfortable in a vintage shop rather than at a Nordstrom's, but, jeez, some level of decency would be nice.

I've got this Kohl's right next to my house, and with that proximity, I'll make a stop by every few weeks to check out the sales. Its always bad, but this Dallas, Texas Kohl's would look more at home in New Orleans after the flood.

See the pictures and full post here:hurricane Kohl's and also see Kohl's response and a Kohl's employee's response.
From Science News
Weighing In on City Planning
Could smart urban design keep people fit and trim

Lawrence Frank is no couch potato. Taking full advantage of his city's compact design, the Vancouver, British Columbia, resident often bikes to work and walks to stores, restaurants, and museums. That activity helps him stay fit and trim. But Frank hasn't always found his penchant for self-propulsion to be practical. He previously lived in Atlanta, where the city's sprawling layout thwarted his desire to be physically active as he went about his daily business.

"There was not much to walk to," says Frank, a professor of urban planning at the University of British Columbia. For example, he recalls that there was only one decent restaurant within walking distance of his old home. Many restaurants and other businesses in Atlanta cluster in strip malls that stand apart from residential areas

n 2004, Frank and his colleagues produced additional connections among urban form, activity, and obesity. The data on more than 10,500 people in the Atlanta area indicated that the more time a person spends in a car, the more obese he or she tends to be. But the more time people spend walking, the less obese they are.

Frank's team, like the other groups, found that areas with interspersed homes, shops, and offices had fewer obese residents than did homogeneous residential areas whose residents were of a similar age, income, and education. Furthermore, neighborhoods with greater residential density and street plans that facilitate walking from place to place showed below-average rates of obesity.

The magnitude of the effect wasn't trivial: A typical white male living in a compact, mixed-use community weighs about 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds) less than a similar man in a diffuse subdivision containing nothing but homes, Frank and his colleagues reported

thanks to Boing Boing

Friday, January 26, 2007

Innovation and diversity

Scott Page writes

Most people believe that innovation requires smarter people, better ideas. That premise, though intuitive, omits what may be the most powerful but least understood force for innovation: Diversity.

and continues
Some of the innovation policies of Toyota Motor Corp. and Google Inc. illustrate a similar understanding that differences in the composition of their work forces boosts their bottom lines.

To appreciate the full potential of the power of difference, however, requires opening up the pumpkins. What we find inside people's heads is that people possess ways of seeing problems and solutions—oftentimes different perspectives depending on the kinds of people viewing particular problems and solutions. People's perspectives are accompanied by ways of searching for solutions to problems, something scientists call heuristics. When confronted with a problem, people encode their (often quite different) perspectives and then apply their particular heuristics to locate new, possibly better, solutions.

A person whom we think of as smart is generally someone who has lots of interesting perspectives and many effective heuristics. A smart person performs well, and often innovates, because of the many tools she possesses. Yet most of these tools won’t work on a given problem, which is why innovation is 99 percent perspiration. That's why Edison once claimed that he knew “a thousand ways not to make a light bulb.”

But how would several dozen Edisons, or several dozen Edisons from different social, racial and educational backgrounds, approach the making of a light bulb? To answer that question requires a fuller grasp of the pitfalls and idiosyncrasies of innovation and the power of diversity, which in turn requires a slight detour into theory.

First, for any problem there exists a perspective that makes it easy to grasp a solution, though that may mean waiting for a person as unique as Edison to come along. Second, across all problems no perspective or no heuristic is any better than any other. In plain English, any approach may be just as good as any other until it is tested.

Third, teams of problem solvers—viewed as bundles of perspectives and heuristics brought together to solve a particular problem—do better when the diversity of perspectives and heuristics is greater than the overall ability or talent of the team’s members. In other words, diverse teams outperform teams composed of the very best individuals. Diversity trumps ability.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

How can you boost your web site's credibility?

Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility

1. Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site.

2. Show that there's a real organization behind your site.

3. Highlight the expertise in your organization and in the content and services you provide.

4. Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site.

5. Make it easy to contact you.

6. Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose).

7. Make your site easy to use -- and useful.

8. Update your site's content often (at least show it's been reviewed recently).

9. Use restraint with any promotional content (e.g., ads, offers).

10. Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small they seem.

Missing skills

13 Things I Wish I Learned In College
from Nextpath

1. Getting to the Point – Most of the term papers I did in college were long and had minimal requirements. The last thing my boss wants to read is a 10 page report that could have been one paragraph long. Professors need to teach students to get to the point and not push for lengthy essays.

2. Making Proper Presentations – I have made a lot of presentations in college, but the professors did not show me how to successfully communicate my ideas. Having cheesy designed slides may have worked well in college, but in the corporate world simple, effective designs are preferred. Now I have learned that slides with less text and larger font sizes are much more effective then slides with lots of text and small font sizes.

3. Working on a Team – Most of my college career was made up of reading, studying, test taking and paper writing. Most of which I did alone. I was graded on how well I performed, not on how well I performed on a team. But now, my boss wants to see how well I can cooperate with my co-workers, how well, WE can complete projects. So, being diplomatic and being open minded to team-member’s ideas has become second-practice. It’s important to understand that every member of a team brings their own skill set and perspective to a project.

4. Writing a Resume – It seems like one of the biggest college and post college misnomers concerns “writing a resume.” College seminars that help students prepare for the great “job hunt,” should teach students how to create a basic resume template and then custom tailor it to fit specific job requirements. I’ve found that resumes that address the specific skills associated with job or company work best. Research the company you are interested in working for. Try to find how your interests, skills or knowledge directly applies to that company and that position. Then sell it on one page. There is no reason you can’t have more that one resume.

5. Interviewing – I spent some ample time in college talking to my professors in an attempt to highlight my value in class, but dropping knowledge to a professor in order to increase my grade and proving that I am the best candidate for a job are two very different things. First off, be prepared to be judged, by how you are dressed, how well you answer questions and in “stress interviews” where there are multiple people interviewing you at once, on how well you keep your cool. Again, research the company before you go on your interview, go ahead and Google the name of the person who is interviewing you, find out as much as you can before you step into that room. I’ve also found it helpful to take about an hour the day before the interview and imagine what questions you might be asked and how you would respond to them. This gets your brain working in the right direction.

6. Networking – Social life in college seemed to revolve around partying. I looked for opportunities to meet new people but not necessarily people who had like interests and career goals. Now I understand that friendship is the first step to networking. Having a base of friends with similar interests doesn’t only lead to interesting conversion it can lead to job opportunities. Building a social network online, through alumni groups or industry associations can lead to career growth. Not to mention, being friendly and social is a great way to communicate with your co-workers and has been directly correlated reaching the coveted “Top Executive” position.

7. Accountability – If I did not feel like getting out of bed to go to class, I just skipped. I didn’t need to inform anyone why I didn’t attend. In my job, if I were to feel sick and not show up, I would be out of a job quickly. Also, it is important to communicate with supervisor regarding the status of assigned projects. Since others depend upon me, I can no longer do everything last minute like at college.

8. Money Management – In school my parents footed the bill, so I never really worried about saving money, balancing my checkbook or overextending my credit card. If I got in a pinch, I always had a back up plan—calling home. Since I am now on my own, everyday expenses like eating lunches out add up. I have found that budgeting and saving is critical, and investing wisely is crucial to my financial future.

9. Taking the Initiative – I remember doing only what I needed to do to get by when I was in college. It was easy doing only what my professors required of me, and often, most students never learned to think for themselves. My boss now expects me to come up with ideas and unique solutions to problems, not just “meeting the minimum standard.”

10. Strategic Planning – Though I learned study skills in college, I never had a clear plan or strategy for what I was doing or where I was going, other than completing my courses. In the business world, every outcome is measured, every result analyzed. I have learned to formulate strategic plans to accomplish my objectives so that I am more focused and productive.

11. Dressing for Success – Rolling out of bed and slipping into something comfortable doesn’t really cut it in the world of work. As the saying goes, “Look the Part.” As an emerging MBA graduate, it’s important for me to look professional, to wear a shirt and tie, shoes that aren’t sneakers. Most companies have a dress-code, and a lot have casual Fridays, make the most of these guidelines, but try to go above and beyond and if you are into fashion, there is no reason you can’t accessorize.

12. Negotiating a Raise – In the real world, my salary is tied to my productivity. If my efforts are continually generating revenues or tangible benefits for the company I work for, my boss should reward my efforts accordingly. In all the college business classes I took, the subject was never breached. This knowledge would have saved me a lot of embarrassment. Also, it would have resulted in a healthier raise and higher perceived value to the company I work for.

13. Writing a Letter of Resignation – Almost every year in college I had a part-time job. If I did not like it, I just quit and moved on. In the real world if I were to do that, my resume and references would be ruined. A resignation letter is not an excuse to criticize a company, no matter how bad it is. Instead, one that is professionally done can preserve a good reference, or open doors for new prospects.

Donald A. Norman

Donald A. Norman website

"Yes, we want simplicity, but we don’t want to give up any of those cool features. Simplicity is highly overrated."

Things That Make Us Smart
The power of the unaided mind is greatly exaggerated. It is "things" that make us smart, the cognitive artifacts that allow human beings to overcome the limitations of human memory and conscious reasoning.

And of all the artifacts that have aided cognition, the most important is the development of writing, or more properly, of notational systems: number systems, writing, calendars, notational systems for mathematics, engineering, music and dance. So when I was asked by Forbes to help them "rank the 20 tools which have had the biggest impact on human civilization," I was ready.

"Writing," I proclaimed. "The invention of writing is probably the most important tool for human advancement, making it possible for each new generation to build upon the work of the previous, to transmit knowledge from person to person, across cultures and time."

"Sorry," came back the response. "We decided early on to try to limit the list to handheld objects..."

See also his webpage: In Praise of Good Design

How to Write More Clearly

How to Write More Clearly, Think More Clearly, and
Learn Complex Material More Easily
by Michael A. Covington

•The world is run by people who write.

•Clear writing leads to clear thinking.

•You don’t know what you know until you try to express it.

Also available in other formats


Sociable Media interviews Lawrence Lessig
Larry Lessig: Simple. Powerpoint has all sorts of power built into it, but it turns out the hardest thing is to keep it simple, and I think people connect with simple.

CA: Based on your experiences seeing other PowerPoints, how would you assess the current state of PowerPoint presentations in business and education?

LL: Awful beyond belief. If I were an executive at a major corporation, I'd ban it most of the time. The tool makes it too easy to hide reasoning. The viewer is less critical and less engaged. Less is communicated. This is not always the case, of course. Visuals are sometimes important for conveying some ideas. But bullet slides packed with data and text are worse than useless.

CA: How would you describe your own approach toward PowerPoint? How is it different from other PowerPoint approaches you've seen?

LL: I use the screen to frame what I am saying. One word, or a few words, so that the audience sees what they are hearing. But I never allow the screen to compete with what I am saying. I want them to be focusing on my words, not on PowerPoint graphics. So the word(s) on the screen help them tune into the words on the stage. Plus I use it to demonstrate abstract ideas, with drawings or moving objects. And it is brilliant for clips, etc.

See also these resources from Sociable Media

Customers, software, and icebergs

Joel on Software:

If there's one thing every junior consultant needs to have injected into their head with a heavy duty 2500 RPM DeWalt Drill, it's this: Customers Don't Know What They Want. Stop Expecting Customers to Know What They Want. It's just never going to happen. Get over it.

Instead, assume that you're going to have to build something anyway, and the customer is going to have to like it, but they're going to be a little bit surprised. YOU have to do the research. YOU have to figure out a design that solves the problem that the customer has in a pleasing way.

and he continues

Assume that your customers don't know what they want. Design it yourself, based on your understanding of the domain. If you need to spend some time learning about the domain or if you need a domain expert to help you, that's fine, but the design of the software is your job. If you do your domain homework and create a good UI, the customer will be pleased.

Now, I promised to tell you a secret about translating between the language of the customers (or nontechnical managers) of your software and the language of programmers.

You know how an iceberg is 90% underwater? Well, most software is like that too -- there's a pretty user interface that takes about 10% of the work, and then 90% of the programming work is under the covers. And if you take into account the fact that about half of your time is spent fixing bugs, the UI only takes 5% of the work. And if you limit yourself to the visual part of the UI, the pixels, what you would see in PowerPoint, now we're talking less than 1%.

That's not the secret. The secret is that People Who Aren't Programmers Do Not Understand This.

Brochures or manuals?

From Creating Passionate Users:
Why do so many companies treat potential users so much better than existing users? Think about it. The brochure is a thing of beauty, while the user manual is a thing of boredom. The brochure gets the big budget while the manual gets the big index. What if we stopped making the docs we give away for free SO much nicer than the ones the user paid for? What if instead of seducing potential users to buy, we seduced existing users to learn?

Let's take the whole damn ad/marketing budget and move it over to product manuals and support. Let's put our money where our users are. If we're in it for the short term, then sure--it makes sense to do everything to get a new user, while doing as little as possible once we've got them. But if we're really in it for the long haul--for customer retention and loyal users--then shouldn't we be using all that graphic design and pro writing talent for the people we care about the most? Our users?


Seth Godin says:

99% of the time, in my experience, the hard part about creativity isn't coming up with something no one has ever thought of before. The hard part is actually executing the thing you've thought of.

The devil doesn't need an advocate. The brave need supporters, not critics.


This blog is a collection of information for a new course I may teach in Fall 2007 at Kalamazoo COllege.