Archive

Archive for January, 2010

The power of emotions

The image above is said to be the most successful and powerful customer letter ever written. But what is the strength. To the musical genius, it might be a mystery but for all us who never successfully played an instrument we can just read the headline, close our eyes and immediately get a strong scene in our minds.

The letter is discussed in the brilliant blog, http://www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/articles/your-brain-on-stories.htm, which focuses on Marketing and Neuro science.

But what is a product without it's market image? Nothing. You might build the best software /product in the world but if no one has ever heard about it or if people thinks badly about it, what is that worth. Here are some well put advice from the blog:

Clearly, the narratives in the successful ads resonated in some special and universal way with their readers. We’ve all experienced moments of social discomfort, much like the would-be pianist who sits down at the piano only to have his friends laugh. And we’ve all had moments of pride when others acknowledge our skill or accomplishments. Is the narrative nature of the wording in “They Laughed When I Sat Down…” bringing these deep-seated memories to the surface to produce a more profound effect than had the ad simply suggested that we could impress our friends if we could play the piano?

My advice: to engage potential customers, write a vivid story involving your product. It’s worked for the best copy writers and most successful ads in history, and it can work for you.

There is so much emotions involved in user and customer experience. I cannot help but be amazed by this week's discussions concerning the IPad. Those who are talking about it simply loves it or they hate it. Not that they've touched it or used it but the emotions are already sky high because of the emotions that the brand Apple means for many. Apple are great at telling stories and yes, those stories do not apply to all. Quite the opposite; when you tell intriguing stories, they tend to either affects you positively OR negatively. If there is no chance of that high negative emotion, the chance of the positive one is slim. Just look at HP's design notebook in pink and red.

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Categories: Agile

A really cool solution

I guess few people turn to software development because they hate the new, cool stuff. I guess there are not a majority of software developers who hate making that intelligent, impressive solution to the problems. But what can we learn from this video?

http://www.chilloutzone.de/files/player.swf?b=10&l=197&u=ILLUMllSOOAvIF//P_LxP92A42lCHCeeWCejXnHAS/c

Impressive, isn't it? I guess you developer guys look and that and are amazed by the smartness, the cool details and the automation. But even if it's a really clever solution for solving the problem of opening the blinds when you're going up in the morning, is it really the smartest one? Even if the individual details and solutions are really smart, the overall result is just an over complicated system which is impossible to maintain or scale.

Categories: Agile

Up or down?

When I've been working in projects which involve integrations between systems (which projects does not include that, I wonder), I often think about how developers refers to the integration and most specifically how they describe the direction. In my department at least, you have your own system on top, and then you send stuff down to other systems.

Dev System A: – We need info BB, so you'll send that up to us.
Dev System B: – Yes, and you also need info BBB, so we'll send that down to you.

For me, that is so confusing. What is Up and what is Down in an integration? I've up until now seen UI as above the business and database layers, but these discussions are making me unsure. Or perhaps it's just my developers pulling my leg and having a laugh on my behalf.

Categories: Agile

What are you focusing on?

It’s winter here in Stockholm and I’m pretty tired of the cold and most of all; icy pavements. Since I run to work at least twice a week, the icy roads are an annoyance. To put it mildly, I get pissed every morning when I try to spot which areas are the least icy in a dark, unlit, Stockholm.

What I could do is try to solve this problem. I would get involved politically and work for these roads being winter kept. That would solve the problem, but it would take years, would perhaps never be realized and a big risk is that if I focused my time on this, I would perhaps not have time to run. And my objective was to be able to run to work.

Another solution is to continue running, using studs.

I don’t say that the first solution is wrong, but as Dan & Chip Heath points to in an extract from their new book Switch, it is easy to loose the goal if you try to solve the COMPLETE problem. This is of course one of the core values of agile software development. Trying to make the complete specification before you start implementation is just one other example.

It also goes hand in hand with one of the ideas presented by Anders Colstrup on Friday’s seminar on Inspiration – you need to focus on the objective and every day take a step towards that objective.

If the problems in your project seem unsolvable, and hopeless, read the story of a man, struggling to help undernourished children  in Vietnam. Your problems have never seemed more trivial.

Categories: Leadership

Don’t think about oranges!

The final part of Friday's seminar on Inspiration was about mental training. Colstrup stated that every given day, we have about 100' thoughts in our mind. The day after, we've kept about 95% of those thoughts, so we focus on trying to control which new thoughts enter our minds. Have a thought entered our minds, it's difficult to get rid of it. And those thoughts we keep, are the positive motivating ones. Therefore we make it a habit to think about our objectives and the steps we will take today to reach them.

Another interesting reflection is that it's not suitable for our brains to have "not" thoughts. You know the old trick – close your eyes for 30 seconds and DON'T THINK ABOUT ORANGES. What do you do? Well, some cannot restrain themselves from thinking about oranges while most of us others think about apples, pears and such. We could think about just everything in the world but think about something similar to an orange. Are you surprised why negative motivations don't work as well as positive?

What are you going to think about today?

Categories: Agile

The need for the concrete objective

2010/01/23 2 comments

Returning to Anders Colstrup’s inspirational seminar on inspiration, I focus my attention to objectives and goals. Do we need objectives and what is a good objective?

This post shares a lot of ideas from previous posts, covering 7 habits, scrum and commander’s intent. But Colstrup somehow got a new twist to the importance of objectives.

Learning how to swim under water

He started by sharing a story. Read it and reflect.

A girl was learning how to swim and at age 8 had become a skilled swimmer for her age. She had decided to take one more swimmer’s level, after which she felt she was done. One thing she needed to do was to swim 11 meters under water.

Having not had any problems up until then, she jumped in, swam under water but surfaced just after 7 meters. Up she went and then down again. Surfacing, she could see on her father’s face that she hadn’t succeeded. Now the tips from the others started coming. She should swim until she ran out of air, take three more strokes and then surface. She shouldn’t ascend directly upwards but trying a forward angle.

She tried once more but failed. Now, she was almost in tears.

What did Colstrup do?

Think what you would have done.

What he did was that he placed a person 11 meters from the descend. The girl just had to swim to the person and then ascend.

What happened?

She succeeded immediately.

Why?

According to Colstrup, and I agree on his finding, the reason for the girl failing was not her lacking the skills. She couldn’t see the goal. Under water, you can see perhaps 30 centimeters so how could she know if she has swam 11 meters? By placing someone in the water, he made the objective concrete and visible.

I can only agree from my own findings. One of the most successful projects I’ve been a part of, we had a very clear picture which we all could touch and understand.

The makings of a good objective

Objectives must be there and they must be concrete. You must know if you’ve reached them.

If you go back to my previous post and read about the negative bunch, those not performing at their best. How many do you think are negative because the objectives are not clear or reachable? Colstrup was more direct in his critique of managers. Bad leadership.

But if someone does not share the objective? Colstrup worked with a team, and found that the players didn’t feel anything for the management’s objective. What he then clarified what what were the players objectives and if they were combinable with the management objectives. As they were, he could translate and relate them. If we together reach X, can’t you work at Y at the same time?

He then made the objective very concrete. The guys then got to build a number of small tokens, visualizing the reached objective.

What was also very interesting was how much he works with the mindset of placing athletes in the moment of reaching the objective. “When you’ve won that contest, where will you go for dinner? What clothes will you be wearing then? What will be your next competition after that? Will you get some new gear for that competition?”

Again, I cannot help but agree. When I’m completing a competition, I start thinking about what I’m going to do when I’m done. How long I will sleep, how much and where I’ll be dining. What form of exercise I will focus on then, etc. And also, the only time I’ve broken a competition was when that image disappeared from my head.

Working towards three objectives

He also warned about just giving one objective. You need three objectives, a Barrier braking, a Realistic and a Safe:

image

The safe objective is when you are satisfied with the performance. You didn’t do anything new, but anything worse than that is not acceptable. The realistic objective is somewhere you haven’t been before but it should be reachable. The barrier braking objective is something that you thought was impossible, but that is because you and everyone else sees that there is some barrier reaching this.

Why do you need three levels? Colstrup sees the objectives a a target area and the larger that is, the more do you have to aim for. But does this not mean that everyone will focus on the safe level? Well, Colstrup thinks that again that is where leadership comes in. It is a leader’s role to help the crew aim for the realistic objective, knowing that it is ok not to reach it.

If you don’t have the safe objective and the realistic objective cannot be met, is it a total failure then? No, not if at least the safe objective is met.

What about the barrier braking objective? Well, that serves many purposes and one is to enabling the participants placing themselves in the situation when the realistic objectives have been met; where do we go then? Also, there are often mental barriers which makes things seem impossible but by talking about them and de dramatizing them the mental barrier can fall and even the barrier breaking objectives can be reached. Colstrup does not see it as a coincident that when there is a record which is “impossible to break”, and it has been so for ages, when it is broken, it is broken by many and repeatedly.

By having this large success zone, Colstorp hopes that people can be more in the Learning zone:

image

If you’re just working for the safe objective, you tend not to learn anything, if you are going to reach the realistic objective, you need to stretch your capabilities and learn new skills. But if the objective is set to high, you stop learning and instead turn to panic.

Think again about the negatives. Where are they? Where do they want to be? Are they in the panic zone and are therefore negative? Or have you never reached your goals so that they mean nothing, and people are in the comfort zone since “nothing really changes anyway?”. Or does the objectives change all the time?

When it comes to barrier breaking objectives, I again as so many times before turn to a sequence with Lance Armstrong. Even if you think he’s been using illegal substances or hate his guts, do look at these 30 seconds. If you’ve missed the story, Armstrong was diagnosed with cancer and given 10% (!) chance of SURVIVAL. And here is what he said at the press conference, sharing this information with the public.

What was his objectives? Well, given the odds there was no “safe zon”, but we could say that the safe objective was survival. But Armstrong also had a next level: he was going to beat the decease. But what is truly exceptional that he also in this the hardest of moments had a barrier breaking objective: return to professional cycling. Cycling is a endurance sports, and recovering from cancer in the lungs to get to a professional level must have been seen as impossible. But he did it and by breaking this barrier, he gives hope to million of cancer strugglers out it the world: it is possible to work for not mere survival!

In his book, It’s not about the bike, Armstrong often goes back to these objectives and now when reflecting on it, he actually states that he needed all these levels of defining success during his hard trip back, to life and to professional cycling.

We are only lucky if our challenges are not including life and death.

But it’s not enough just to have a meeting, discussing the objectives. We must keep that objective in our heads, every day. Colstrup gave the indivual members of a team an illustration of the objective. And for each day there was one line where they had to place their signature if they agreed on that they understood, wanted and worked for the objective.

Symbols and concrete representations of team and risks

When you work toward common or shared objectives, Colstrup believes that you need not only a shared goal, but a sense of we feeling and a common symbol, something that shows how you act. He told us about teams picturing themselves as A Train or a Stove, which attributes where examples of how they were as a group.

If objectives must be concrete, the threats must also be concretized and de dramatized. Again, Colstrup uses concrete representations for the threats so that a team can “destroy” a threat in their mind.

Conclusions

To be able to succeed, you need to know we mean with success and then we have to work towards that every single day. Objectives which we have a concrete presentation of are easier to work towards and objectives which becomes a part of every day activities are the most powerful. Individual objectives must be translated to team objectives.

And if you get the chance to listen to Colstrup, take it!

Categories: Leadership

Getting inspired and feeling the flow

I’ve just gotten home from a really inspiring seminar, held by MIL Institute here in Stockholm. The title was I want to!

Anders Colstrup gives classes in athletics psychology, coaches athletes, mainly professional golf players but are now also coaching business leaders. I can understand if he’s successful. I was hopeful going to the seminar but it was better than I could ever have imagined. I guess I’m not the best of mothers writing this blog post fresh out of taking him from daycare, but I need to summarize. So here goes.

If we look at motivation factors, they can be internal or external, they can be positive or negative:

image

The idea behind Colstrup’s coaching is creating the bottom left corner – how to build internal positive motivation.

Colstrup asked us to spend a couple of minutes discussing what motivates us and then we could share our views. Besides listening to the different reflections, it was interesting (as Colstrup pointed out), that you get motivated by talking about motivation. And this is also why Colstrup works so much with the constant talking of the motivation factors – the actual talking builds motivation.

Colstrup then discussed the difference between motivation and inspiration. Motivation is when you get hold of an idea and you decide to reach a goal. Inspiration is when an idea get hold of you, and when the idea in itself is guiding you. Feeling inspired is a reward in itself for those who share that feeling.

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly talks about flow and has also written a book on the subject:

http://www.amazon.com/Flow-Psychology-Optimal-Experience-P-S/dp/0061339202/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1264178877&sr=8-1

It was a bit funny when he mentioned that book since it has been on my Want To Read List for a while. Mihaly (I’m going to use his Christian name here for some reason) describes flow as feel that your capability is enough and that you can focus on the exact now to reach where you’re going. You know exactly what your next step is and can focus on that while at the same time reaching your goal. Colstrup mentioned successful climbers as excellent examples of this but many of us has felt The Flow.

But the flow is not only about having the capability. There must be a challenge. There must be an objective and you need to balance that:

image

Colstrup then asked us to think about what we feel when we work. Again, he showed a matrix:

image

The matrix requires some explanation. The “positive” and “negative” is more how likely you are to be working for common objectives. People can of course be negative if they believe the objectives or the road is “wrong” but some are more rooted in the negative tree and would probably be negative independent of the current objectives.

Colstrup said that his experienced gave the following numbers in many organizations:

10% are low performers

70% are average performers

20% are high performers

The lower 10% are mostly on the Negative row of the matrix. Depending on the culture, managers tend to focus on different groups in the matrix. In Sweden, many managers spend too much time on the negative crowd, but what message are you then sending? That you get more attention if you’re negative? A good manager spends time trying to help those who are positive. The active ones might need some cooling down and the passive might need some spice. Focus your attention on the wanted behavior!

So, what to do about the negative? Well, what you can do? Try to figure out why they act as they do. In too many cases the basis for a negative attitude is the leader himself.

Tomorrow, I’ll continue my notes with some findings concerning the importance of goals and how to form them.

Categories: Leadership