Kathy Sierra came back to BoS2013 with a deeper dive into the art of building awesome users. If you have seen Kathy’s 2012 Business of Software Conference Talk, Building the Minimum Badass User, you won’t need persuading about Kathy’s gifts as a communicator, teacher and provocateur.
The second talk builds on this and stands on its own but the two talks make a very nice pair. (And you can see all of last year’s talks here).
We can’t wait to see Kathy at Business of Software Europe, June 25-26th, Cambridge UK to catch up, hear about her forthcoming book and learn more from someone who has had a profound inpact on the way that companies are starting to think about building products people love.
Nobody wants a quarter inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole, says marketing wisdom. But if you’re truly building an awesome
user, you need to help them make something with that quarter inch hole, and make it with a degree of expertise. Kathy’s talk is all about how to help people do stuff with your products:
- How people learn
- What real expertise looks like
- What to do next to help your customers and your team become awesome
- Why bad design and junk marketing initiatives is cognitive theft
She also explains why teaching your team good coding habits through bad code teardown is actually a really bad idea.
Eric Ries says the only way startups can thrive is by learning fast. Kathy shows you how to do this and how to embed that knowledge in your team and in your customers.
For more like this, visit the BLN’s talk collection and find seven years of insights on building a great tech business.
Kathy Sierra: Where’s Paul Kenny? Yes, so when you were doing your thing the other day and you said something like, oh, no, I’m in a hurry, now, I’m going to have to go at Kathy Sierra’s speed. I take that as a challenge. So I’m going to go for personal best. So, quick little review from last year or from the video if you’ve seen it. This is what we’re going for. This is want we want. What made him say that. Ooh, I need a better clicker. Uh-oh. Hello. No, it’s, it’s…Oh, thank you. Okay. Oh, the latency is kind of an issue. Okay.
So this is what we want. Person’s going to go, okay, I’m awesome. That’s what they’re thinking. That’s what drives the feeling of wanting to talk about it. So they might not say I’m awesome. They’re going to say this app is awesome. This product is awesome. This service is awesome because they’re really thinking it helped me become more awesome.
So the key attributes of the successful app don’t live in the app, they live inside the user. So if we know that we can compete on user awesome, not on the awesomeness of our great thing. But, this is of course the sad, Sad Venn Diagram. Not the saddest diagram in the world cause that’s coming in a minute. So, but, here’s an encouraging one.
The bar is really high for people who are competing on, “We’re the best! No! We’re the best! No! We’re the most awesome!”, which of course also leads to all the problems with featuritis and all the things that actually makes you less awesome, but not a lot of competition for making the user more awesome or badass. So competing on your own awesomeness is fragile. So we’re gonna design for badass.
And just a little review, badass at what? This is you. This is your competition or maybe the sizes are reversed. None of that matters because what matters is the bigger context. You’re just a tool. What is it that your tool enables? What is the bigger context, the bigger compelling context? And that’s what people want to be badass at.
So you’re just a tool. You have to think about the context. Everything we do is gonna be about trying to make the users more badass at that compelling context. Now, and you all know about the jobs to be done. That’s really about context. Although we’re gonna go one step further. So they don’t want to be badass at the drill, but they don’t really want to be badass at the quarter inch hole either. They want to be badass at whatever it is that quarter inch hole is enabling. So it’s really context all the way down.
So here’s the really sad business graphic that I’ve shown I think in every presentation I’ve ever done my entire life, only it’s updated for an even more expensive camera. This makes no sense. Right? This is how we treat people before they give us, in this case close to $3000.00. And then this is how we treat them afterwards.
Now, the problem is not again, that we have you know glossy awesome marketing production values and this terrible boring dry impossible to read manual. That doesn’t even really matter. What matters is that marketing is trying to sell them on the context and then as soon as they buy it, it’s totally bait and switchy because now suddenly we’re all about just the tool. So they were sold on the promise of the context.
So if they want to be badass at the context, we have to design for the post UX-UX. What happens after the clicking, swiping, pressing, interacting is done for that session, for that day, for that week, for that month? What happens? What happens next for that person? What do they have to show for it? What’s the result? How are they gonna talk about it? Do they really feel more badass in a way that’s compelling for them?
So, this is what we want. This is how we create it, by designing for that experience and not faux awesome. Right? Getting a badge not necessarily real awesome. And even good customer service can be a trap because that’s still about us. We give great customer service. We made the person feel pampered. Right? Pampered is still not badass. So they didn’t become more awesome if they didn’t become actually better in some meaningful way, not just had a more taken care of experience that, time.
So, and remember there’s a science of badass. I won’t talk about the details of the science, but there’s 80 years of really rich detailed research on badass, only they call it expertise. I think it should be updated, but they call it expertise. Now, and real expertise. Right? That word is so overloaded cause we say expert often to mean just someone who’s popular. Has a big blog about the top whatever and of course, that’s not what real expertise is.
To study the science of expertise, they had to have a way to actually objectively measure it. I’ll tell you about that in a second and then we’ll go forward. But, right at this moment I’m gonna have you do just this one exercise and I want you to think and then you’re gonna talk to the person next to you in a moment. I want you to think about something that you really wanted to be or still would like to be badass at. Not necessarily some childhood fantasy, I mean something that you really would love to have been a lot more skillful at. Whether it was, you know, guitar, or sports or some kind of engineer, whatever it was, something that you really wanted to be completely amazing, hardcore, intense, ninja, at.
And then, also I want you to be thinking about what you would like your employees to be really badass at, only, not from your perspective from their perspective. What is it in relation to their job that they would like to be really bad ass at? For you it doesn’t have to be related to your job. It can be anything you wanted to be really badass at.
So I want you to take just a minute and talk to the person next to you and tell them what you want to be really bad ass at and what you think employees might want to be really bad ass at on their job. So go ahead. No one leaves until you all do this so.
So just a little review. This is the definition of expertise, that they use so that they can actually study it in a meaningful way and they’ve studied it across every possible domain that you can imagine. So given a representative task, so that’s a key word, representative task. It can’t be just any random thing. They perform in a superior way, more reliably than experienced non-experts.
So it’s not that meaningful to compare experts verses beginners. What we want to know is what happened among people who had seemingly similar years of experience, whatever it might be. Why are these people just consistently giving better performance? And that’s what the science actually looks at, so reliably superior performance. Right? Not just one random act of brilliance that people often call badass that just makes you a jackass, so, consistently superior.
So what did experts do differently? Well, we’re gonna start by looking at this framework. This is really how anyone in the simplest form would want to move skills across from I don’t know this, I can’t do this, to I’ve mastered it, I’m reliable. So imagine that you had these three white boards with yellow post-its representing the individual skills that are required to become expert badass at this thing and the goal is just to move them across. So that’s a framework.
But what we know is true experts, true experts, they also do this. They move things back from mastered to, uh-oh, I can do it, but it takes effort. Which of course seems counter intuitive at first, but one of the main problems with people who get stuck at intermediate, in fact, let’s consider probably, the problem, is that there stuck at intermediate because they have too many things that have become automatic at a crappy level or a level that’s holding them back. And once it’s automated, it becomes unconscious.
It becomes so much more difficult if not impossible to change unless you keep making an effort. So true experts keep making an effort. They keep doing the hard work of bringing this thing that is now automatic, which means it requires no resources and effort, but bringing it back, either rechecking, is it still working at the high level that I thought or now can I actually refine and improve that thing?
So that’s one of the first things that we know experts do that separates them from people with the same effort and determination, and experience. But there’s something even worse than just stuck in intermediate, and it’s this notion. So maybe you should “use it or lose it” but that’s completely wrong because using it isn’t enough and this is to me, pretty horrifying. You know, as I’m about to get on a plane today, right? My pilot’s there, you know, I have had, you know, knee surgery. You don’t want to think of your pilot and your surgeon as having skills that slowly deteriorate.
Now, what they used to think is that this curve was more over a great period of time in someone’s career. They use to think, well, maybe this is just age related cognitive decline. At my age I was like really excited to hear that that’s probably not the case. That for the most part, they now think that it’s not really, unless you have some really serious condition, it’s not age related cognitive decline that shows these curves. It’s that it’s more like lifestyle. Like a person’s reached a certain level and said, awesome I’m as good as I want to be in this.
Now, I can finally enjoy it. I don’t have to work so hard at clawing my way through these skills, but the minute you stop it’s a myth to think that as long you were using it you won’t lose it. You will steadily lose it unless you are really working to keep bringing those things back.
So if you’re not still continuing to make effort you are declining. There is no staying flat line. So being badass takes three things. This is the first one, most obvious, but everyone kind a says, yeah, no. Nobody could have practiced harder than me and I still sucked. So it didn’t matter. So we get all those myths about how it’s this special magical talent that these people have, which turns out to be true in only very rare circumstances.
So the problem with practice is that we all have a lot of practice at practicing badly. We don’t have a lot of practice at practicing well and at practice the right things. So this is a huge problem. So in the science they’ve named it deliberate practice. So a lot of you have heard the 10,000 hours thing. Right? That wasn’t 10,000 hours of doing stuff. It wasn’t 10,000 hours of practice. It meant 10,000 hours of a very specific kind. And it’s not a rule. He never intended it to be a rule or a law or anything else.
It’s just it was often correlated with certain domains, people who had reached a certain level. Even young people they found that they had spent 10,000 hours roughly some less, some more of doing the right things. So the right things, but deliberate practice is really a bad thing. Right? Because people go I practiced deliberately, but if it wasn’t the very specific kind. And deliberate practice fixes the one big reason that people don’t get better. That they either just top out or that they struggle and the gains are so slow compared to other people. They can’t figure out why. So if you’ve had to really try hard to get good at something and couldn’t.
It is almost certainly this problem. Pile-up on the B-board. We have so many skills that still require effort and very few that we’ve already mastered and that are reliable. So every one of those things on the B-board is draining a huge amount of resources and we’re just stuck there forever. So it’s very difficult to make progress in that situation. Yet, that’s mostly what we do. Right? That’s the mentality of just keep putting in the time. You just do more of it and you will get better. If you continue to do more of that you will get worse. So this is a big problem and deliberate practice fixes this.
It has a built-in way if you really follow it, to help you no to have that really bad balance. And this is one way to think about it. Right? Half a skill beats a half-assed skill. In fact, half a skill beats lots and lots of half-assed skills. So it’s better to have just a tiny, tiny, sub skill completely nailed to very high quality. Even though on its own that particular sub-skill is meaningless. So well I’ll get to it in a minute that spring up of motivation problem. Right?
If you have a bunch of crappy skills, you can at least do something. If you have only a few, you know, nanoskills, but they are really dead on you might not even have enough to do something. So there is an issue that we have to balance in the beginning. Now, this is how you know, there are other ways to do it, but this is how you could know for sure that you are doing deliberate practice. If you can reach 95 percent reliability at something within one to three sessions, each session no more than 45-90 minutes, think of how often we do things that go way past three, 45 to 90 minute sessions and we still haven’t nailed them.
So this is how you know how to determine the granularity of the thing that you need to be practicing. So reliability for that, you have to have clear criteria and feedback. I mean you have to be able to say, okay, I’m gonna hit the ball and it’s going to land in that quadrant. I’m going to compile and run programs using this API that are going to draw these geometric shapes in these colors on this side of the screen and if I can’t do that reliably or my students or employees can’t do this reliably then I’ve picked a skill that’s too fast ranged. And we know this.
Again, it’s been studied for so many years. Now, here’s the scary thing, right, you have to stop practicing that thing if you can’t reach reliability within that time frame because the scary thing about practice, is that it doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. So the longer that people spend doing things in a crappy way, while they’re attempting, to actually keep doing it so I’ll get better. Keep doing it so I’m working on it. Right? The longer you do that. The longer you practice at macro skill, not nailing it, the less likely you really are to actually be able to get better because now you’re burning in crappy skills. So half a skill, beats half-ass skills.
So if you have a skill and that’s why, you know, when they studied musicians for example they will, if they’re actually using deliberate practice they will do things like play the tiniest sliver of this music maybe one hand only, maybe half speed. Whatever the granularity is that takes you to get 95 percent reliability at that thing. It’s just that, that thing often looks like something meaningless, but it’s the fastest and best path to being able to do it well.
So what can we do for our users ? We can just talk about it. We just make sure that we have a culture for our users that says, yeah, this is what it takes to be good at the context that you care about. Right? Not using our drill, not making quarter inch holes, but the thing that you actually want to use those quarter inch holes to create. Help them find resources. If you Google deliberate practice, there are even a lot of websites where people have actually started to create exercises for a variety of domains. But, it’s not that hard to do if you just put that question out.
Here’s the criteria, you know the 95 percent reliability, one to three sessions, etcetera. What could you do? So for your employees, same thing, but for your employees there’s a bigger issue. We’re in software most of us. Right? In tech. We don’t have a culture of practice. People expect for musicians to practice. People expect lots and lots and lots of domains to have practice. Practice meaning we’re not just, you know, well, what we consider practice in the software world we’re really trying it out on a paying customer.
So practice is or we call it beta. So practice is meant to be thrown away. It’s meant to be something that no one actually consumes for real because it’s designed for a practice, not a let’s just keep doing the thing and hoping we get better. So if we’re not designating actual practice time, and that means there is no criteria for that practice time where you need to ship.
Now, it might be that you need to demo to everybody because it’s part of the festivities of using that as a constraint to get people to try something. Which is another reason that some of those hack days, or the FedEx ship days could actually be very powerful for that because they force people to not be hung up on all the other things they’re doing. But if we have that culture that always says everything is about shipping then there’s not a culture of practice and that’s crucial. So, we have to designate both time and a chance for them to do those things and a chance for them to not be practicing crappy.
And that’s really hard and we tend to do it in all of our systems. Right? We have beginners. We put them in a beginner class so they’re now surrounded by other beginners. This is a problem. And they’re practicing beginner things. So Allen Case, says, for all of our users, for everyone, our kids, what can we do to somehow like teleport them into intermediate as early as possible at least at some things? That’s the challenge. That’s the goal. So we know experts practice better.
This is another thing though, a big one, this can be our big secret weapon. Experts were exposed to better in a meaningful way. So when we think of experts, right? We’ve all heard of the curse of expertise. You pretty much probably everyone in here actually has the curse of expertise because you all are expert at something.
And it looks like this, where we are so frustrated because we try to ask people well, how do you do what you do? How did you know this? And there like, I don’t know I just know. Right? This is just really frustrating. I don’t know how I do it, it just happens or this one. So as someone who used to have interview engineers to try to represent what they knew, to teaching programmers about these new technologies, oh yeah, dude it’s not obvious to anyone except you and you know three other rocket scientists.
So we used to say though well it’s because they forgot. Right? They’re experts so they forgot what it was like to not know, but there’s so much more to it than that. If they are true experts, it wasn’t that they forgot. It’s that there’s a whole bunch of stuff and when you get to the high levels of expertise, it’s all the good stuff they never knew. They never went through the stage of knowing. It was all this other stuff that the brain was doing without telling the person who was actually picking up on it.
So we often call it deep intuition when it’s a real intuition by an expert. And I ‘m sure you know the studies. Right? That deep intuition or someone who has like a gut feeling. If they are an expert and it’s in their area of expertise that’s pretty reliable. If they are not an expert It’s really unreliable. So if you’re gonna have the intuition and go with your gut, you need to have had so much expertise and experience to have that be meaningful because this is how the brain works.
So I’m sure you all remember this. This is the most extreme example. Right? Chick sexing. Well, just a quick review. So it apparently it’s really hard to determine the sex of a new born chicken whether it’s male or female. They look the same. So, and it’s a very important skill for where it matters to be able to sort them into male and female when they’re born. And they can’t figure out in many ways for some forms of chickens how people every became experts at it.
So for a long time, the only way they could train people to actually do it is they took people who for seemingly mysterious reasons became really good at it, extremely reliable, almost a hundred percent. Then they said oh, well, will you just teach these other people? They couldn’t because they really didn’t know all that they were doing. They knew some, but not enough.
So instead, they found that the way that they could train people is they would just, here’s the trainee, here’s the trainer. The trainee just picks up a chick starts randomly guessing male, female, I don’t know. I’m just guessing. And the trainer’s just going yes, no, yes, no, male, female. And over time their guesses start to become not random. They start to become better, and better, and better, but they never know why or how. So this is where expertise just completely happens with bypassing any conscious awareness.
Now, brains are really good at this. So that’s an extreme example. The other one I’m sure you’ve heard about from me or someone else, plane-spotting in World War II. In England, there were civilians who got to be really good at spotting friend or foe planes coming in, same thing which was really handy. Right? Because you wanted to know who to shoot down and who to, yeah, come on. Really important. But, again, they couldn’t figure out what criteria they were using and the people who were good at it couldn’t figure out what criteria they were using. They did the same thing really as the chick sexing. They said all right we’re just gonna take these people who are really good and they’re just going to sit here with the trainee and the trainee’s going to go, I don’t know, friend foe, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know until they started to become much better than random chance. Again, nobody knows exactly how they were doing it.
But, a lot of people look at those studies for all these years and have said, okay, sure, that’s awesome, but it’s chick-sexing and plane-spotting it’s a simple ID task. What about more advanced complex tasks like engineering for example? So there’s people who said, well you know you all had it wrong on how you were viewing these results. So they did a study with someone from NASA and another psych engineer on the six-pack. Any pilots in here? So these instruments, is kind of important, especially if you’re flying by instruments, that you know what these really mean and that you learn not to trust what it feels like, but what the instruments are actually telling you.
So this is an incredibly important skill for flying. So what they did, is they took, this is very important. They took two groups of people, non-pilots. I don’t mean beginner pilots. I don’t mean novice pilots. I mean people who had just never even considered flying a plane ever, knew nothing about it, not even, you know, flight simulators on their PC. So they took these people and they put them through this training.
Training lasted less than two hours, five minutes of actual instruction. Five minutes on this, this was the result. They were outscoring these very seasoned pilots. Now, they weren’t outscoring them in accuracy, but they were outscoring them in speed and that matters. Now, they also put the seasoned pilots through the same thing and they of course already had accuracy, so they didn’t improve their accuracy, but then they too improved their speed. So it worked on people on all levels.
But this was pretty intense because no one saw that coming. No one imagined that. And then they said, well let’s do it again with a different aviation thing and being able to look out the cockpit and then know where you are on the map, again, I’m not a pilot, but apparently that navigation is not trivial. There’s a lot of things that experienced pilots use to do this. So they said, we’re going to teach people to do that. So they’re gonna show them video of an actual cockpit and then we have this aviation map and it was marked off into these regions and they have to pick the region that they’re in.
Now, what was interesting is same thing, very short learning with no instruction. Didn’t tell them how to do it. They didn’t give them any of the tips or tricks. Actually, there was another group where they did give them kind of the tips and tricks that pilots use but it didn’t make any difference. They weren’t doing it any better than the people who got no instruction. Now, they did tell them a little bit about how to read the symbols, but they didn’t actually tell them how to do the thing and same results.
So imagine how much more quickly people could come up to speed if they’re able to use these techniques for some of what they do. The reason why, I mean this is so profound, but the reason that it’s not used is because for so many years, 50, 60, years, two reasons. Mainly researchers were studying perceptual learning. They really thought it was just for sensory perception, just sensory discrimination, not deep underlying patterns.
So they just thought it’s like, well, yeah, we can teach you to recognize horizontal lines with some finer distinctions, but it turns out that while we were using sensory pickup as the studies, the brain is actually just as good at picking up underlying deep structures and patterns. So being able to actually get, you know,just see finer discrimination in the symbols, but to actually get a meaningful pattern from that an underlying structure even if no one ever actually knows what it is. Because trinity.
So here’s the big problem though right. This is the big problem. This is what experts think they’re using. This is what they’re actually using. So there’s at least two big problems with this. So, this is a word that you’ll see sometimes that some of you I know are familiar with. It’s not the perfect distinction because perceptual learning and what we call implicit knowledge are not necessarily exactly the same but huge cross over. So explicit just means, we can talk about it. We can say it. We know what it is. We can describe it including all that stuff on the outside that we’re not even using but hey those are important facts.
So, and then implicit is all the stuff, that the person, the expert is using to do what they do and we don’t know about it. We don’t talk about it and unfortunately, a lot of times we don’t want to know about it. We don’t even want to think about because, hey, we can’t test it so. But we can test it cause we can test it in results, but it doesn’t make for a really easy, you know, we can’t put it a nice easy manual.
It takes a little bit of effort to do this and yet it’s the most powerful tool we have to help people get better more quickly and get really, really, good. So we talk about the things we can talk about. Now, we thought that all that implicit stuff, all that expertise, we thought that was what experts develop just through lots and lots and lots of experience, which is true. That’s is how it’s actually developed, but so we kind of assumed people who didn’t go back and look in the deep research of perceptual learning, we looked at this and we said, well, you can’t really speed that up. There are no short questions, but there are short cuts for some of it or rather at least, you know, why take the long way when there is a shorter path that’s real.
So when you look at what they did with for example just with, you know, the aviation, the six pack and the mapping. And there have been lots and lots and lots of studies like that. So when we look at that it’s like, wait, there is a way to speed a lot of that up. Is we can compress the experience that normally takes a long period of time and may not happen because the brain to really sort signal from noise it needs these things to be compressed. So people who are like in the field all the time, right, can start to develop these implicit things this intuitive ability.
But we can actually cause the brain to do it and this is just one of the benefits. Right? Is we can send things straight from A to C. That’s one thing we can do. We also by using this perceptual learning we can speed things up that are moving across the board. We also end up putting more high quality things because the answer is we just have to make an experience for people that creates this.
So think about the pilots, right? Think about that. Think about the two hours. It worked almost exactly like the chicken sexing and the plane-spotting. It’s just lots and lots and lots of examples with instant feedback of what it means to be correct at this. So and I’m gonna give you an example in just a second. So high quantity, high quality and you have to have both. It has to be examples of good because the brain is pattern matching, which it always is.
Right? You want to be really careful what it’s matching. So, as much as you can expose people to high-quality, but they won’t get the actual pattern learning unless they also have high-quantity of diverse examples. Because if you have the same example or just two or three good examples and now you can see why it’s really difficult to learn from good case studies because the brain says I don’t know what part of this is noise and what part of this was actually a signal. It’s not until it sees lots and lots and lots of examples the brain starts looking for what doesn’t vary. What stays the same despite that so much seeming diversity here there’s a common thread will the brain will find it.
So here’s an example. Now, I would need to do this with 300 photos not just you know eight, but I’m just going to show you an example of what you could do. You’ll just have to imagine it scaled up. So imagine that none of you really know anything about photography. You’re just getting started. All right. And I’m going to do a perceptual learning exercise with you also since I didn’t want to get stock photography, I used my own. I don’t know, ponies.
So look at these pictures. Now imagine that I just exposed you to these pictures and they were going to be 300 of them, which is maybe my secret way of brainwashing you to love ponies, Icelandic ponies. If you follow me on Twitter, it’s about to happen to you. You’re getting to the hypnotic point. So, there’s something about these pictures, right? So imagine that you looked at tons and tons and tons of pictures. So maybe 300 pictures. Even though they all are different, I mean they’re all kind of the same subject, but compositionally they’re all very different. Different color, different aspect ratio, different everything, but they all have something in common. Anybody know what it is?
Participant: (inaudible) [00:32:04]
Speaker 1: Oh, that might be true. Now, see that’s what can happen, one eye showing. Right? So imagine you’re trying to teach someone good composition, if you don’t show them enough examples that could happen. It’s one eye. I’ve got it. Right? So, but with 300. Oh, no.
Participant: (inaudible) I was sure I got it right by the way.
Speaker 1: I know. That’s hilarious. I wish I had meant to do that. But, anyway, cause that would be great, but no. So they all to some degree follow the rule of the thirds. Now, I bring up rule of thirds because, oh, my gosh consumer cameras now, right? How many of you have a camera that you can choose to put up the grid for the rule of thirds when you’re composing or like an IPhone or whatever, right?
So I mean you can teach people the rule of the thirds and we know what happens. Teach people the rule of the thirds it does not make them better photographers. Right? But it makes them very good at the mechanics of rule of thirds. So and that’s what happens when we, you know, we can teach rule of thirds in like, you know, 30 seconds and then give them tools to do it, but you end up with mechanical explicit knowledge. So it’s easy to do, but if you do it with perceptual learning.
Okay, first of all you can speed it up. They might not even actually say it was about the rule of thirds. And thank you so much for expressing why we have to have a high number of examples. It’s the one eye, I know it. Because not only does it bring things over to the mastered side real fast, but it also brings things extra special implicit magic, we don’t even know what it is. So it might be you know some of the aesthetics of composition about why the rule of third was ever even a rule. Right?
So if you teach someone something explicitly you may end up with just a mechanical implementation, not the actual feel. So perceptual learning gives you both. Even though you have to be comfortable knowing that you don’t know all of what the brain is actually picking up on. You hope you have enough examples so that they do. Right?
So, now, a pilot, you can say well, no one learned to fly because of this. Right? They still can’t fly the airplane and no, they can’t come out after this and have flown the airplane, but they are so much further ahead. So the very least you’ve greatly accelerated and as we said, in that one thing, which is a very important thing they are able to do it faster than really seasoned pilots. So, any place you can find that advantage it doesn’t have to be the whole thing.
So what can you do for your users? Well, we tend to give people content right whether it’s the manual or you know, content on our website. Whatever it is or, you know, employees, it’s all living in the explicit things we can talk about. Right? We can write it down and it also means we’re giving people even more than they need and we need to give them examples. So this high-quality examples and they have to be diverse so that the brain can sort a signal from noise.
And here’s a huge problem. I know that it’s really common especially in software, right? To want to train people with anti-patterns or spot the flaw, or here’s the problem. Whenever I bring this up someone goes, yeah, but it’s hard to find good examples of code. Right? And well, that’s a problem. Right? Well in my company we don’t have any good examples of code. Okay. That’s a problem.
And if you keep teaching people to just spot the problem in this crappy code, there brain is actually picking up the crappy patterns in the code and this is a problem. Because even if and this is true for you as well. Right? Even if you’re sitting there knowing, right, on looking on examples of bad and you can even be like horrified and go, oh yeah, that’s clearly bad. Right?
Here’s the problem. Your brain is like, hey, don’t be judgy I’m just picking up the pattern. Right? And it’s not necessarily letting you tag this thing as bad. So your brain is mimicking. It’s picking up what it’s exposed to. Right? How many of you find yourselves picking up someone’s accent? Right? How many of you have ever done that? Right. Your brain knows you’re not actually British, but. Right? You’re not actually from Texas, but it’s like it’s really…your brain just wants to do that. So it’s just picking up that pattern. It’s trying to mimic. It’s trying to do it all the time.
So if you show it bad code it’s going to see bad code and it’s going to learn bad code. And because the part of the brain that’s really picking up the patterns is not the same part of the brain that’s talking and judging. So this is an issue. So spot the flaw, is something you can do with people who are much more advanced, but you really don’t want to train beginners or even intermediates that way if you can avoid it.
Now, there is one possible work around, if you can teach people to show them fixes for bad code. Right? That’s one thing that you can definitely do because now you’re showing them or how to recover from failure, it turns out, is usually more effective at preventing failure than teaching them to prevent the failure. So think about anything that you can do to reinforce what it is that you really want them to do, not teaching them to go, oh, my God that’s a terrible thing to do. Right? And then their brains like, yeah, but I learned it. It’s great. So be around what you wish to see in the world.
Now, Paul and Greg talked about different cognitive styles, so there’s something really important about this perceptual learning. So I’m only going to touch on this because this wasn’t in my original presentation. Which is, there’s a lot of evidence that this stuff over here and including, like, the way the pilots learned and the chicken sexers and the plane spotters, this is very durable, far less sensitive to cognitive differences because it’s not going through that part of the brain that’s talking and thinking. Right? It’s much less dependent on how you actually think about things and how the information is organized etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
In fact, in the extreme, I’m sure you guys have heard some of these studies, right? That people who have no, who’ve had brain injuries and they have no ability to create any new memories. Right? They cannot remember anything. You can teach them something, you know, five, ten minutes, two hours later, they have absolutely no memory. They cannot learn consciously. But somehow they can get better at Tetris. Having no memory they’ve ever seen it, scores just start getting slowly better. Right? I mean, this is not a real fast process for them and other things too. Right?
I can think of one of the doctors that was first studying that, he cruelly, like, put like I don’t know, like a sharp thing, like a thumbtack or something on his hand. Right? And then would shake the person’s hand and that he had met like 500 times, but they had no memory, goes to shake their hand right, like, ouch, shit, oh, sorry. And then they’d, I was quoting. So then, they go back, they go back and then like the next day he comes to introduce himself to this person.
Right? And overtime this person just doesn’t know why because they don’t think they ever met him. They are kind of creeped out by him. So something is definitely happening and there are of course all these systems in the brain but this turns out to be really durable, robust, and not sensitive to all these cognitive styles. So it really helps level the playing field for people cognitively and yet it’s incredibly powerful and awesome.
Now, none of that matters if they can’t keep moving forward. So it’s great, they had practice, which is difficult, in perceptual learning, which actually isn’t difficult. It’s really kind of cool. It’s just that people tend not to believe it, so, but if they don’t keep moving forward then there’s a problem. So we know that this is the path. This is the problem. Right? There’s motivation that’s pulling you and there are derailers that are pulling you off. But what most people are looking at is oh, we have to just keep motivating people. Right? We’re not looking at what’s pulling them off.
So what do we do? Add more motivation. Right? Oh, let’s just make the compelling pull even bigger and maybe you know whether it’s marketing discounts or whatever it might be. Anything, badges, you know, you can’t tell I have a thing about badges. So, what’s stopping them is the secret weapon because for everything that I’m talking about people start out motivated. They are motivated. There’s some reason they are already there. They are already wanting to do this thing. Right? This is not a motivation problem.
When people buy the camera or whatever it is, it’s because they want to do that. This is compelling, they’re not like, oh, that sucks I never want to actually take good pictures. Right? Nobody says, or they might say it, but they don’t mean it. So they actually do. It’s not a motivation problem at all. It’s all the things that are derailing them. So we have to fix those. This it starts here. It starts right here because this is the first big derailer. Right? This is the big one. They wanted that, but now there finding themselves immersed in this tool. In fact, it happens really early. So that’s one.
There’s another big derailer, is just this one, right? It’s very compelling. I would love to be able to do that. Right? And then how many people snowboard? Because it is so awful, the first like, you know, two or three days and people, your friends lie to you. If your friends are good , they totally lie at first. It’s terrible. This is the, you know, this doesn’t mean that he doesn’t still think that would be awesome. Right? But he has completely lost faith that he can ever get there. So we have to fix these disconnects. So just continuing to focus on the same context that you know they were sort of sold on in the beginning, the real reason they’re doing it rather than just your tool. And then focusing on the facts that well, yeah, but wait a minute I’m over here and I want to be there.
Now, and this one turns out to have a pretty easy fix for restoring their faith. Right? Because we want these things to not be derailers, we want them to be things that are just part of the path. They’re not derailers, they’re just part of the path. And of course, this is a big problem and we make it worse because we don’t want to tell people that it’s gonna suck. Right? When that would be the absolute best thing most kindest thing and most motivating thing that we could do is to say that this is going to suck because these are the two best words that someone who is sucking can here. It’s typical. It’s temporary. Keep going, it’ll be worth it and you know, you’re not alone.
So Wasabe was a personal financial management software and they put in a button called the I’m freaking out. There was nothing particularly helpful when you clicked that button, but they said that they heard from so many customers that said, the fact that you had that button was so much of a relief because it meant, I’m not alone. It’s appropriate to freak out. Look, so many people freak out, there’s a button, so. So if you just had that button, right, it really doesn’t matter what the button does. The fact that it’s there says, that I get it. I understand that that’s probably what you’re thinking.
So that is hugely motivating because it helps you feel oh, I can get through this because clearly this is just a step, not there’s something flawed about me. Now, we also want to maintain motivation though by having people at least benefit from that process. So, we know, awesome. I’m flying. Worse day ever, but maybe help them understand that it well get better. Right?
Everyone who’s snowboarded knows if you stick it out you know, second day, third day, suddenly, you’re a whole lot better. So someone convinces you that’s true and it is true, you’ll keep going, but what happens the rest of the time. So we have to think about how to make that experience better. And we don’t want the minimum meaningful thing to be happening that far down the road. Right? We want to try to move it to as early as possible, something meaningful. Right? This is not meaningful. This is what we think we want our users to experience, but of course, that’s not meaningful.
So what we want them to experience is this, so while were trying to dazzle them with how awesome our app is, they need to be feeling, you know, dazzled with their own possibilities. So one of the ways we can think about it, user does something meaningful within 30 minutes. And there are companies I know who have adopted this as there policy. 30 minutes is kind of arbitrary, but if you had that for example, what would you have to change to make that happen?
And one of the things for some products is this, people are afraid to touch anything. How many of you have a DSLR with full manual controls and you still use it on programmed motor automatic mode? Right. And a lot of people are like they’re too afraid that if they touch things or change things or reconfigure things, you know, I have a stereo I can no longer use because I once tried to change something. So and it just never worked again.
So we’re talking you know at this conference about encouraging experimentation and let them feel it’s okay to take risks. Right? For our employees, but we need to do it for our users because that is the most motivating for them. So we need to figure out how to do that.
So for example, if you know that wild experimentation is what’s gonna you know, help make people feel better, but the manual likes oh, my God, I don’t even know if I can, I don’t even know if I could recover by reading the manual, let them know. Go ahead. You won’t hurt anything if you do this or if you do, here’s this button, that will restore you to factory defaults or what you last did or whatever it is. Think about that in your product design, but also just think about it in your support. And this would be awesome. Right?
This is imaginary, but this would be great. So just go wild, you can’t do anything wrong and everything will go back just the way it was, but you can try because if people are afraid to try they’re sure not going to get better. The best payoffs. Right? The best user delight. Right? And again, so many people say user delight and they really mean user delighted by us. Right? User delighted with themselves is an intrinsically rewarding experience. So this is why struggling is worth it.
That, that’s not an intrinsically rewarding experience. That is an externally regulated experience and those of you who know the psychology know this is actually a really damaging thing. Looks good. I’m an animal trainer and I’m a pretty good one so it doesn’t even work with animals well if you do it too much. So this is an intrinsically rewarding experience. So think about how we can do that.
These are two of the main reasons why getting better at something is so powerful and rewarding because it creates the opportunities for these intrinsically rewarding experiences. High-resolution and flow. So high resolution, where you actually have deeper riches experiences, you can hear more in the music because you have more expertise in even just listening to music. Right? You don’t necessarily have to be a musician. So the world becomes at least that part of the world becomes for you higher resolution and richer.
So for example, this is an example I know a lot of you see me use over and over again. I still don’t know if it’s actually real. I think there’s some evidence now that it’s cool, but people who are, you know, have great expertise in wine, claim, to be able to really have such fine distinctions. Right? A rich could be a 32-bit you know depth resolution in fine discriminations of wine. And from a sensory perspective, they do.
Now, what people argue about is that are they actually able to differentiate quality in that way, but they actually can differentiate. For them it’s richer experience. Right? On the other hand we have Mark. That’s a one-bit, I’m just kidding, but it’s a one bit experience. Red or white? Right? That’s not a very rich experience. But he has 8-bit experience apparently or compared to us. I said this yesterday. But he has very high resolution for his shirts. That’s bit depth. So high-resolution deeper richer experiences.
Flow, I won’t talk about. I’ve talked about that before, but if you haven’t gotten the book, please do. I worked at Virgin Games for a long time and that was the required book we all had to start with. So but none of that matters if we can’t do it. So I’m gonna do this little exercise I did before. I’m not gonna actually have you do it, I’m just gonna walk you through it in a second.
Remember we had this group for example, I’m gonna give you a test where you only have to memorize two digits. This group you have to remember just seven digits. Right? How bad can it be? That’s like a phone number, it’s seven digits; two digits, seven digits. You’re done with the experiment. Right? You walk down the hall, you know, they tell you it’s over, but of course, it’s not.
Then as you’re walking out, you get a choice. Would you like fruit or cake, right? These people totally fruit, right? You guys, cake, almost twice as likely to choose the cake. Now, they original, were considering all sorts of possibilities, like well, is it just that the brain just wants to replenish what it just used? That’s a small piece of it, but it’s much more complex than that and kind of depressing.
So, and it also works with dogs. This is now the sort of opposite. Right? That’s my dog. Where they had the dogs one group had to just sit obediently, but they just had to sit, they didn’t have to do anything, just sit for ten minutes. The other dogs just had to sit in their crates for ten minutes. They could just chill. Then they let them out to play with the puzzle treat and the dogs who had to sit, outside the crate, being obedient, right, use self-control to just sit. Right? They gave up much earlier than the dogs that were in the crate, so just exercising that self-control to be obedient.
So if your product is heavier on the cake side, right, it’s more complex, it’s draining my cognitive resources then you are hurting me personally in so many ways. So we want to reduce cognitive leaks because if the cognitive resources are going to the tool, they’re not going to the context.
So I’m going to go through some quick ways to reduce cognitive leaks. This will be the end. One of them is delegate knowledge to the world. Right? A stereo that tells you everything on its device that you can do, the knowledge is in the world. It doesn’t have to be in your head or in this complicated manual. On the other hand the one on the bottom is pretty much impenetrable, you have no idea what it does, but behold it’s sleekness, so and Don Norman talks to us about the slot.
You guys have probably all seen this example. Right? This is, you know, the, you know, stove and the dials that are mapped perfectly so you know which dial controls which, but on the other hand they mostly look like this. Now, they often will say, yes, left front whatever, although that rubs off, you know, over time, but and yet you can live in that house for a long time and still have to look. Right? So and there’s a translation there, drip, drip, drip, cognitive leaks. If you can’t do that I mean they could’ve at least had some better mapping.
But now check this out. I thought this was just, like, an internet beam. Now, this is true. This is apparently true Toyota Camry 2013 SE. And if that’s not fun enough, right? Withfries2.wordpress.com they actually have a blog about it. And you know, not only do you absolutely have no idea which tire, but you also don’t know what is appropriate tire pressure, but then my husband pointed out, and what does that mean? You know, try to come up with a scenario where those three things work together, the same buttons, but anyway. Death by a thousand cognitive microleaks. Right?
Now, remember now at zero sum every little leak is adding up. Every little leak is adding up. And here’s another one that I think people talked about yesterday. That we think people will love having choices, but this is what happens when people have choices. And choices are just expensive in the moment they’re cognitively expensive afterwards while we agonize did I make the right choice? Should I have chosen it, right? Very expensive.
Now, it’s good to have choices, but it’s not good to have to make choices. So if we use defaults and filters it can really help people. I recently started a blog on Squarespace, got an email from Matt Mullenweg, going square space? You know, why not WordPress? And I said, I’ll tell you and this was the reason. Right? I went to WordPress. I love WordPress. It’s very powerful. I knew it was and I said, uh? Discover WordPress and oh, Discover WordPress actually takes you to other people’s blogs that are on WordPress. It doesn’t tell you about WordPress. So then I went, okay I’ll do this. I got to that and then I went, okay, I want to look at the themes. Right? Cool. First of all, what and then what? And then, what? Am I whimsical or grungy or tech plus textured and vibrant, I don’t know? I mean this is cool, but way to overwhelming and there was nothing I could find that would help narrow that down for me.
Went to Square Space, clicked that button, clicked that button, saw the first one. Right? Now and compare this is still not perfect, but compared to everything that I just saw on the WordPress site, right? I picked the first one and fifteen minutes later, so I said that’s why. I’m very constrained by squarespace, but I didn’t want to think about doing a blog. Right? I just wanted to think about coming back online and writing. I didn’t want to think about anything else.
So we really have to think about what these things mean and how much trouble that causes for people. But here’s another big one. Right? Background. Processes that are running in your brain. How many people here are actually software engineers here, programmers? Or even just power users. You are always thinking about what are those extra little processes that are running. Can I shave a little? You know, this cycle’s here and there and then we just let our brain be unbelievably inefficient with background processes. So this effect, right? I’ll just tell you what it is, you don’t have to read it. But, basically this means that when the brain has an interrupted task, it still hangs on to it. It can’t let it go. You’ve moved on. Leak, leak, leak, right? Film makers and novelist count on that. Right? But even if you think you care your brain still does. It’s a huge problem.
So if you don’t like say something like this to users, it’s not in your manual, it’s not in your information, it’s not in whatever. It’s in the back of their mind. Right? Drip, drip, drip, all these leaks adding up are a big problem. So how many of you have ever had this situation. You have to get up earlier than you normally would and then you can’t sleep because you’re like so afraid, I mean you want to sleep, but something’s keeping you awake, going, oh, I might not wake up. It’s the brain. The brain is going I got to look out for you so it’s really worried about this task.
But this is the interesting thing. If you had enough trust in the clocky, you know about the clocky, right? It will roll off the desk and roll across the room, you have to get up to turn it off. So it’s pretty much guaranteed. Right? Now, so here’s the thing. This is what’s interesting about it is the brain goes oh, that’s handled. Okay, not because you actually are already now up, but because the brain already perceives that you have a trusted system. So it’s part of what GTD is based on. Right? So, we have to close those threads and there are so many. Right? So many drip, drip, drip. All the ones that were causing and all the ones that we have.
Now, the brain totally a drama queen, right? Oh, my God, you almost fell of the chair. Because the brain wants more than anything in the entire to world to keep this from hitting a hard object. Right? It does not want to hit the ground. Right? Balance is really, really, important to your brain. So if you have bad posture, right? The brain is having to compensate in all sorts of ways to make sure that your balanced because you meant to be balanced in a particular way. But, improving your posture is a cognitive drain. Right?
So now, we have two problems. Our brain is going, oh, my gosh, your posture, oh, my God I have to work on it because your balance. And they’ve actually proven that with older people when they improve their balance they score better on cognitive tests. So you actually get smarter if you improve your balance.
So we have this final thing, which is solving the top of mind problem. Right? You just have to have someone’s mom follow them along all day long. Right? Cause this is not a deliberate practice problem. So it’s something you do for your 20 minutes, right? But there are devices, there’s tools. This is my favorite called the motivator. It’s just something that relieves you of the cognitive burden of having to remember to do it and it will just keep vibrating and it also comes in apps of course.
I’ll skip this part. Automating knowledge of course, once things get over there, they don’t take resources, but the biggest one is willpower. So we have to reduce the need for willpower. We have to reduce stealing their cognitive cycles so that that they can’t have willpower and we have to try to make things so that they don’t require willpower because we want all the cognitive resources, we think, to go to the context, not the tool.
And then look what we do. We go, yeah, that’s great. We don’t want them to stress over the tools and we want to make it really easy and we care about usability, but then, we try to suck them in with brand engagement and getting them to participate and we’re stealing their cognitive resources, but it’s much worse than that. Since it is zero sum. If we’re trying to get them engaged for no real benefit we can tell ourselves it’s a benefit, but it’s not. Right? This is not true. That’s so not true. This is so not true and on their death bed, that’s not true. So we just have to let that go.
But here’s the problem right? If we drain cycles out for anything but what’s really important, we’re stealing their ability to have intrinsically rewarding experience and its much worse than that. We’re stealing cognitive resources for this. Right? And we all know this. The person comes home from the office. They’re incredibly stressed. They had a rough day. Even if it was a great day, but they were just so consumed with hard problems then they come home, they have no cognitive resources left for what matters. For what matters and I’m willing to exploit anything.
So, these are the kind of things that are popular now, which is kind of horrifying because again that’s not gonna happen. We should be asking for this. Can we make that happen? This, first thing, that it’s Scott right, that had this Atlassian. Right? This was their earlier one. Right? The word lust is a keyword because it’s lusting after something else. Right? So that’s right out of the seven deadly sins. So found it in that book on the left. But look at the change. Look what that means. When you do this, it comes at a cost. And again, I’m totally willing to exploit children, so if you’re trying to suck people in, think about what we’re doing.
And because of the fact that what I’ve seen in the last three days has really, really, really given me just so much hope. And it’s how I felt last year and feel even more so this year. That we are thinking about people as human beings not just people as our customers and if we ask, will today be in there memoirs? And because of this event, this entire event will definitely be in mind and I’m so honored to be here with you. Thank you. Thank you very much.