Taking advantage of the herd mentality

It is a sad truth, people go in herds. There are obviously some early adopters, but the majority of people do not want to be the first one to do something, even if it is clearly a good thing to do.

Case in point: The NFL Draft.

It has been studied and proven that the 2nd and 3rd rounds are nearly as effective as the first round when it comes to getting NFL starters and potential great players. However, the 1st rounders get paid 5x as much. A smart team will always trade their first round picks to the highest bidder in exchange for many picks in rounds 2-5. In other words, never draft in the first round. Ever.

How many teams do this despite scientific evidence that it works? Just the New England Patriots. Why can’t my team, the New York Jets, do this? The answer is the herd mentality.

The owners are the only ones who can take responsibility for such a move. These are conservative white men making the decisions. They don’t want to look foolish. So they end up doing what everyone else is doing and the Patriots keep getting a statistical edge.

Another case in the NFL is going for it on 4th down. Check out this chart:

These are statistics that show that NFL coaches are wildly conservative in their play calling. It’s not only scientifically proven, but obvious to the fans that when you are 4th and 1 at the 50 yard line that you should go for it. Yet, despite all evidence and common sense, coaches do not go for it.

How does this apply to software UX?

I often find myself arguing with people over these exact issues. People do not want to be trend setters, they do not want to be early adopters. Thankfully, startups are generally filled with early adopter types, which is why startups can more easily innovate. However, even within that crowd, skepticism is the norm.

For example: The Save Button.

There are times when a save button makes sense, but usually a save-as-you-go (Autosave) method is preferable. The system should allow undo and let the user just work. Think about how Google Docs work. You just type and it saves. However, most UX designers still think that the long form save button methodology is the way to do things.

It’s herd mentality.

The Good News.

Everyone is doing it wrong! You can be Bill Belichick if you want to. All you need to do is identify when people are all doing something BECAUSE they are all doing it. That is the litmus test. Find the herd. Then look for options. When you find something that few people do, yet is really good, you have struck gold.

Here are some of the choices I have made exactly for this reason:

  1. App metaphor in a browser (Hotkoko 1999)
  2. jQuery on the website for enhanced interactivity (Intuit, Quicken, Quickbooks, TurboTax – 2006)
  3. Drag and drop landing pages rather than boxes in a template. (Marketo 2007)
  4. Using a JS component library (Marketo 2007)
  5. Autosave (lots of examples over the years)
  6. Animations and transitions (Engagio 2016)
  7. Cartoon characters in the UI (Engagio (2016)

Anti-herd choices are valuable to you to differentiate and to gain benefits against competition. It’s worth your time. The real question is: Can you escape the herd mentality that may guide your decisions?

Verizon didn’t exactly buy Yahoo

In the news today it says “Verizon Announces $4.8 Billion Deal for Yahoo’s Internet Business” and “Verizon Buys Yahoo for $4.83B”. This confused me at first because Yahoo has over 40 billion in assets. Then I read the article and realized that Verizon bought the operating business but NOT the capital and assets.

Here is the relevant part:

“After the sale is completed early next year, Yahoo will become a holding company for its two stakes in China’s e-commerce leader, Alibaba Group, and Yahoo Japan. Those investments” … “are worth more than $40 billion before taxes.”

“Yahoo also still has a patent portfolio that it intends to sell, and about $7.7 billion in cash.”

“The holding company will drop the Yahoo name and adopt a new identity after Verizon takes control.”

With that much money and holdings, the new identity (let’s call it NewHoo!) could potentially become the world’s largest venture capital firm. My prediction is that NewHoo! Investments becomes a world behemoth in VC. This will spur innovation (and some wasted effort) in lots of new companies.

It’s possible they retain some building space and do a Y Combinator space sharing incubator thing with their investments.

For Verizon, the deal makes sense. They need page views to put their AOL (purchased last year) ads on. 5 billion is chump change to them. It might as well be a life-style purchase.

For Yahoo! it makes even more sense. They have no reason for making content. They don’t know who they are. This is way to put their assets to work. They collect 5 billion and sell another 7 in patents. Google and Microsoft are likely bidders in that war.

So, Verizon bought the crap Yahoo wanted to get rid of. Yahoo becomes the worlds largest VC. And the world keeps on spinning. Long live Silicon Valley.

The Uncanny Valley

The Uncanny Valley
used in reference to the phenomenon whereby a computer-generated figure or humanoid robot bearing a near-identical resemblance to a human being arouses a sense of unease or revulsion in the person viewing it.

In other words, the uncanny valley is when something looks close to the real thing but our brain freaks out and keeps saying, “Something is wrong.” If you have ever been to a Wax Museum, you get that feeling alot.

which is real?
It’s really easy to tell which is real and which is fake, but look closely. They are very similar. This is a really close match, like a wax statue
Uncanny Valley
The uncanny valley is what happens when your brain tries to make it real, but keeps finding flaws.

I have been a fan of this new technology called a Bond letter. It’s kind of awesome. It is a machine that writes in your own handwriting. Today, I got my hands on a real bond letter written by a robot. Here is a picture of it:


It’s hard to tell from the picture, but something just seemed wrong about it. I didn’t feel right. It felt like a machine wrote it. What was happening?

For several minutes, I studied the letter to see what my brain was “feeling”. The letters were different from each other, no pattern was visible. The line-heights were varied. However, I found a couple of flaws.

  1. The lines were perfectly horizontal. When I write on unlined paper, I never ever get the line so even. (See image below)
  2. The quality of the writing didn’t vary through the letter. Usually my writing changes from the beginning when my hand is steady to the end when it is a little tired. It’s not perfect, but it’s not unperfect enough.


In theory, this could have been written by a person, but they would need a combination of slightly messy handwriting and perfect line management. That just didn’t seem right to me.

I love that Bond is trying to get this right. It’s amazing to me that something like handwriting could trigger that weird part of our brains.

In Marketing, people send dynamic content emails all of the time. I believe that the content of the email fails the uncanny valley test all of the time. Does this sales person know me? or is it just “close” and feels wrong.

Beware the uncanny valley.

There are two kinds of people…

Of course there aren’t, but it is a great way to simplify decisions. Break down the problem to two kinds of people and decide which one you want to optimize for. Some examples:

There are two kinds of people…

  1. Those that wants their inbox to be empty except new things and
    those that let’s their inbox pile up until kingdom come.
  2. Those that browses by clicking and
    those that searches.
  3. Those that likes their UI to be dense with every choice available and
    those that likes progressive disclosure.
  4. Those that loves analytics and
    those that don’t.

The reality is always a mix. There are people on all points of the spectrum, but putting people in a mutually exclusive paradigm that then you can sometimes shed light on your design choices.

When I design user interfaces, I try to remember my design principles, but also be open to the minority of people who like strange things.

There are two kinds of people … those who think there are two kinds of people in world and those who think there are more…or less…or both.

Pokemon Go is already over

The speed of memes has been rising exponentially since the industrial revolution. When I was a child and a new idea or fad became popular it would take 1-2 years for the idea to spread and take a few more years for it to become officially dead. Just look at mullets from the 80’s!

Last week Pokemon Go hit the world like a ton of bricks. There was literally hundreds of people roaming the streets staring at their phones while walking. Today, I visibly can see a drastic diminishment of the zombie numbers on the sidewalks. My oldest kid said he gave it up and started playing Overwatch.

This whipsawing effect of new memes is the fastest I have ever seen. If you weren’t part of the pokemon revolution, don’t worry. It’s already over and a new meme is about to take its place.

Here are some funny vines about Pokemon Go.

Lastly, I think the reason for the quick demise of the game is the fact that you can only collect Pokemon. You really couldn’t battle all that much. The game was just too limiting.

Product Responsibility Framework v0.1

I’ve been thinking about how product teams are organized. I have seen several good frameworks out there, but none felt quite right to me. There are traditional models, but of course, I want to try something new. I took the framework from Pragmatic Marketing and started moving things around.

I put the columns into chronological order when thinking about building a product and bringing it to market. One thing I realized was that Product Marketing has a responsibility in the beginning and the end of the product life-cycle. Here is a little breakdown of my initial thoughts.

Product Intelligence
This is the time for research. I think almost every department has a role to play with interacting and interviewing customers, however, some responsibilities are very specific. I think having a department focused on this would be beneficial. This is typically a product management or product marketing task in more traditional companies.

Product Planning
This is the meat and potatoes of product management. Figuring out the roadmap, developing use cases and requirements. Defining the problem space in detail and prioritizing different projects. Planning is a crucial part of product development and often left to executive whim and the squeaky wheel.

Product Design
This is supposed to be the User Experience department, but often is done in product management anyway. This is where the design/build spec is formed. It’s alot of work. I’ve blogged about this particular area for a long time.

Product Positioning
I actually do alot of work in this area. For my current company, I write and maintain demos and train everyone internally. Additionally, I work on outside training and support. I have tremendous respect for people who can create a pricing plan that monetizes properly, doesn’t leave money on the table AND is easy to understand. It’s a real art.

There is so much that goes on in Marketing from demand gen to events to Account Based Marketing. The sheer number of marketing technologies is vast. One area often overlooked is branding. Most companies do not spend time on their brand. They assume it will take care of itself.

All of these areas (if left to chance) will break your company. You need all departments pulling their weight. Of course, these aren’t the normal titles of the departments in Silicon Valley. Product Management, Product Marketing, Sales Consulting, Sales Enablement…these are the names of the departments we are used to.

Maybe, just maybe, if we change the labels we put on things, we will change the way we think about those same things. If we call it Product Intelligence, how would we staff it? Who would it report to?

This is version 0.1 alpha. I will be working on it further, but I appreciate your input. If you want to have lunch with me to talk about it, just let me know.

Managing via Dials

Often, I will have feedback for a product manager, marketer or designer when they are writing text. I find that people have a hard time taking the feedback in a very specific way. If you say it’s too serious, they assume you want to take it to the extreme. As if there are only 2 settings. People naturally think in binary terms; it’s either fun or not, verbose or completely word free.

The reality is that text exists in a spectrum where you can change things slightly and have a big impact. I find the best way to give feedback is in terms of speedometer dials. For example:

Rather than saying, “The text isn’t action oriented, Fix it.” you can say, “Here is a dial of how action-oriented your text is. You are currently at level 3. If it was level 6, what would it look like? What about level 4?” Turn the conversation into baby steps and give someone an idea of how far off it is.

The same holds true for UI Design. Let’s say there is a button that the user needs to see. You might say, “It is too hard to see.” which is vague. Better to say, “The visibility of this button seems to be level 2. I think it’s importance is such that it should be higher. How high would you go with this button and still feel comfortable? 3? 5? 9? Why?”

The dials automatically create an atmosphere for discussion where the binary feedback does not. I find this technique is extremely useful in collaboration and mentoring.