Author Archives: Gerry McGovern.

The need for diversity and collaboration in coding and design

I saw my first intranet in 1997. It was not a pretty sight. I will never forget its “Feedback” icon. It was in the shape of a letterbox, from which suddenly a grabbing hand burst forth.

Being allowed to view the intranets and internal systems felt like being an investigator on Silence of the Lambs. ‘Ah, so this is where he tortures his victims.’ Because that’s what intranets and internal systems were, rubbish dumps and torture chambers. Many still are.

For years, I wondered why there was such a yawning divide between software designed for employees (enterprise software) and software designed for consumers. Why was so much enterprise software so utterly unusable, so incredibly badly designed?

A lack of commitment to delivering a quality employee experience by senior management is certainly the most important factor.

However, over the years, I noticed a pattern in the intranets that were striving to improve. There was nearly always a woman driving the change. Most often, this woman came from the Communications Department. She was tech-savvy and worked hard to build relationships with the IT Department.

Whenever I saw intranets that were delivering business value they were always collaborative efforts. It was IT working closely with Communications and HR and Support and Marketing and Sales. Working across divisions and boundaries and silos.

Traditional internal IT departments have been almost exclusively male dominated. Not simply male, but a very particular type of male. These hermetically sealed monocultures were like they were some sort of monastery where men could code in solitude, while sharing the occasional in-joke with their brothers. These monasteries of code delivered some of the worst software I have ever come across.

It is not wishful thinking but rather my constant experience that diverse teams deliver better software, deliver better customer and employee experiences. It is thus important to see the debate in Silicon Valley about the need for diversity as a critical one. The release of an internal document from a Google engineer challenging approaches to diversity within Google allows us to continue that debate.

The author of the Google piece makes the groundbreaking statement that there are undeniable differences between men and women. It is the differences we should celebrate, integrate and learn from. If we want software to work for the widest possible groups we must involve the widest possible groups in software development. A team with different genders, cultures and backgrounds delivers more usable, useful software.

One thing I noticed about the female champions of the employee experience is that they were often seen as troublemakers. Their desire to build bridges, encourage collaboration, put the employee first and help develop enterprise systems that actually worked, did not sit well with macho senior management culture. Men don’t like their monasteries being disturbed.

The old male world was: Listen to this leadership insight explaining how wonderful it is to work for us and how much we’d like your feedback telling us how great it is to work for us. And, by the way, we’ve just bought and installed a new sales management system. Pease learn how to use it by Monday latest.

Exclusive: Here’s The Full 10-Page Anti-Diversity Screed Circulating Internally at Google

Men are emotional, women are rational

When confronted by data, our gut instincts, received wisdom, common sense, and stereotypes, are often proven to be wrong. We need to be able to change our opinion based on evidence.

I was brought up to believe that women are more emotional and less rational than men. But in a range of behavior data I’ve been examining recently, it is men who are more emotional, more likely to be led on by ego-based brand messaging. Women, on the other hand, are more practical and cost-focused. (The data examines how people buy a high-priced consumer product.)

So, can we conclude that men are more emotional than women? Of course not. No more than we can say the opposite. Data lifts the lid on human behavior and what it shows is complex and changeable based on time and context. Modern life is complex and unpredictable. There are no easy answers, and there are always more questions.

Data is a torch in what has generally been a large, dark room. It throws some more light on the subject, but it’s open to misinterpretation, and rarely tells us the full picture because the full picture is a very complex one full of nuance and hidden depths.

However, you’re better going into that large dark room of human behavior with a torch of data than with blind instinct. Of course, instinct can be useful if it’s well trained. Instinct is a repeated behavior in a repeated situation that has become habitual and automatic. It works well in environments that don’t change much. It can be dangerous and misleading in rapidly changing, unpredictable environments. Like the world we live in today: unpredictable, often random, highly complex.

The way we succeed in such a world is to use data to create hypotheses and then to test these hypotheses, and to continuously tweak and evolve them based on feedback. We need a new mindset, one that is focused on how to know rather than what to know. We cannot hope to have a fraction of all the answers. Rather, we should seek to have the tools, methods and network of other people to get the answers, knowing that the answer today may not be quite right tomorrow.

The danger for all of us is that the knowledge and instincts we have gathered in the past become blockages to our ability to clearly understand the present. Forget about the future. Those who predict the future are fools hoping to find bigger fools to believe them. At best, we can only have a rough guide, a general direction, and we must be ready to constantly adapt based on continuous feedback.

Along the way we will discover that things we were certain were true are not true at all. True wisdom is to acknowledge your ignorance, and to celebrate a new fact rather than dismiss it because it challenges your established thinking. The goldmine of digital is data, and it is the data miners and interpreters who will pave the road to the future.

The caring economy: careers of the present and future

Today, and tomorrow, it pays to care.

“Let’s face it, many of the products made today are becoming commodities with the same basic components and performance levels. How different is one bank ATM machine from another? How different is the performance and reliability of one car from another?

“How will business differentiate itself in a world becoming increasingly commoditized? In a world that is becoming increasingly automated? For some products and services, the lowest price will always be the focus. But there isn’t an economy in history that is ruled by price alone.

“To differentiate itself, a company can start by using the Internet to engage with its customers more, seeing them as partners so as to develop solid, long-term, mutually profitable relationships. By developing products that truly match customer needs. By focusing on service. By being friendly and helpful.”

I wrote the above paragraphs in the introduction to The Caring Economy, a book I published in 1999.

“Disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence and big data are changing the world of work,” Livia Gershon writes for the BBC in July 2017. “Retail jobs are disappearing in the US while the online sellers supplanting them fill their warehouses with robots instead of human workers. In China, manufacturing businesses that fled wealthy countries to find low-wage workers are now replacing those humans with machines. And on farms around the world, automated systems are beginning to take on backbreaking tasks like weeding lettuce. Studies have found that new technologies threaten around 40% of existing US jobs, and two-thirds of jobs in the developing world.”

“There is one kind of job though, that is both indispensable and difficult – perhaps impossible – to automate: the kind that requires emotional skills,” Gershon continues. “Artificially intelligent software is being built that can recognise emotions in people’s faces and voices, but it is a long way from simulating genuine empathy, and philosophers have been arguing for centuries that a machine with real feelings is impossible. Computers are nowhere near being able to compete with humans on the ability to really understand and connect with another human being.”

Emotional intelligence is the final frontier of human intelligence. It is the most complex, least understood, and has the most potential for humans in this age of smart machines. If your job involves you working on your own, figuring out things on your own, then, with a few exceptions, your job is in danger of being automated.

The future is for the carers, the connectors and the collaborators. The future is for those humans who understand other humans in the deepest possible way. The future is for those who thrive in multidisciplinary, multi-ethnic, multi-gender, multi-everything teams. The future is for those who are humble about what they know, and hungry for what they don’t know.

Break down the silos, the walls, the barriers, both inside and outside your mind. See your customers as your greatest partners. Today, if you truly care about what you do, and if you truly care to serve, to connect, to collaborate, it will shine through, and it will give you a path to the future.

The automation resistant skills we should nurture, Livia Gershon, BBC



Young people are skeptical, connected and happy

Viacom surveyed 28,600 young people in 30 major countries. 9% trust religious leaders, down from 42% in 2012, when the survey was last carried out. 2% trust politicians, down from 27% in 2012. Yes, 2%, an astonishing 2%.

So that means young people around the world are depressed and cynical? No. 76% describe themselves as happy, down just 1 percentage point from 2012. 32% say they get stressed, up just one percentage point from 2012.

Here’s some quotes from these young people:

  • “Technology doesn’t make me who I am, it lets me be who I am”
  • “I still want to land the job of my dreams, but right now it’s more important to get a job at all”
  • “My age group has the potential to change the world for the better”
  • “It is great to have people from other countries coming to live [in my country]”
  • “Having access to the internet makes me curious and changes the way I think about the world”
  • “We can learn from global trends and ideas to push for improvements and change here in our country”
  • “Sharing and connecting, it isn’t just about Facebook and Twitter – it’s about maintaining a meaningful connection with friends and family”

Trumpism and Brexit are not young people phenomena. They are the delusional dreams and nightmares of old people desperately wanting to get back to some perfect past that never existed.

Young people today have few delusions. They are better educated, better informed and much more connected than their parents were when they were young. Yet, their job opportunities and pay are less. They’re not looking for the dream; they’re looking to keep it real.

“In 2012, people defined happiness in terms of time and money,” the Viacom survey states. “In 2017, their sources of contentment shifted from the material to the experiential. Success today is more about deep connections to others and less about superficial markers like looking good or driving a nice car. The top 5 signs of success now are happiness, being part of a loving family, enjoying your job, finding balance in life, and being around the right people.”

That’s a big shift. Today, it’s the experience with the thing, not the thing itself, that matters most. Brands, are you listening? Governments, are you listening? The captive audience is no longer captive. They just don’t trust the Man or the Brand anymore. Every day there are billions of connections and conversations that you’re not invited to. You don’t control the message anymore.

“The internet is helping people connect more with others, exposing them to new perspectives, and inspiring curiosity and community action,” the Viacom survey states. “There is a pervasive and strengthening sense of unity among people of all ages – most agree that their age group has the potential to change the world for the better.”

Young people are already changing the world for the better, but the Empire of the Man is striking back. There are no guarantees in life but if I were betting, I’d be betting on youth.

The New Normal: Viacom young people study



The New Zealand All Blacks are the ultimate committee

Since 1905, the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team have won an extraordinary 77% of all the games they’ve played. “Ranked world number one for twice as long as the rest of the world combined, they have only ever been as low as number two,” James Kerr writes for the BBC.

Fear of failure used to be driving force for them. However, since 2004 they shifted their coaching philosophy in a more positive way towards “embracing expectations”, “walking towards the pressure”, and developing “gratitude” for the opportunity and “expressing themselves”.

A cornerstone of their new philosophy is that “Better People Make Better All Blacks.” “It’s not just about winning,” coach Steve Hansen told the Guardian, “It’s about maximising the talent and making sure that in the rest of his life, he has the tools to be a decent person.”

“It worked,” Brian Kerr writes. From 2004 to 2014, the All Blacks went from a 75% win ratio – already the world’s best in any sport – to an extraordinary victory rate of almost 95%. Better people, it seems, finish first.”

“Rather than an autocratic coaching style,” Kerr explains, “this coaching group seek to become a ‘resource’ for the players. After all, in the end it is the team who must play. Former head coach Henry even had to give up his stirring team talks. By that point, it is the team’s team.”

Just like the German team that won the last World Cup, the All Blacks do not depend on or encourage stars. There is no room for egos. Head coach Steve Hansen once said: “Take a bucket of water, put your hand in it, now take it out. That’s how long it takes to replace you.”

The All Blacks are the ultimate proof that multiracial collaboration works. They are the coming together of native Maoris and European emigrants. The All Blacks are the ultimate committee. They show just how powerful teams can be when they are focused, cohesive and unified.

The committee has suffered constant, unrelenting negative propaganda throughout history. Yet in this complex, unpredictable world, it is the multicultural, multidiscipline, multi-perspective cumbersome, consensus-driven committees and teams that are our true hope of solving the problems we face.

Today, as we watch the rise of crude, megalomaniacal, corrupt Great Leaders, it is important to know that there are other more powerful and successful models of leadership and organization that don’t depend on the Great Leader syndrome.

Any good student of history will know how much misery and waste Great Leaders have wrought on the world. How for each single act of genius they perform, they commit 10 acts of stupidity and cruelty. We must overcome our societal obsession of waiting for the next Great Leader to solve our problems. They won’t. Their iceberg-size egos will submerge all our futures.

The Web is the greatest network ever invented. It gives us the potential to create the greatest teams and committees ever invented. But it’s just potential. It’s up to us to make it happen.

British and Irish Lions third Test: What makes the All Blacks great?

Reward outcomes, not inputs

Traditional pre-digital organizations reward production and a focus on hierarchy. Digital organizations reward consumption, and a focus on the customer and the network. Why? Because digital is a bridge between production and consumption. So much consumption occurs digitally today. Big Data is consumption data. Secondly, digital greatly empowers the consumer with information, tools and networks, making them more independent, more skeptical, and less loyal.

“My customer is my boss,” a digital manager once told me. “I try to focus on the real customer as much as I can, but you have to be careful around here. Being too customer-centric can be a career-limiting move.”

“Why exactly would I want to put metadata on this?” another employee said to me. “If I make it more findable, more people will contact me, and that’s more work. I have enough work already.”

“I know that reviewing, improving and deleting out-of-date content is important,” another employee told me. “But look at it this way. If I meet my boss on a Friday and she asks me what I did this week, and I tell her I deleted 50 pages, she’ll look at me and say: “But what did you do? What new content did you produce?”

In 2017, most organizations still reward employees based on how much they produce and how long they spend producing it. We also reward them based on how much they please their managers. When that ‘pleasing’ relates to digital, it often involves the production and publishing of stuff the manager wants published. (Or the manager’s manager.)

When it comes to government, for example, civil servants must focus first and foremost on their bosses’ and politicians’ priorities. As an election approaches, the need to publish political propaganda becomes almost irresistible. If you try to resist and focus on citizen needs, you can get yourself in serious trouble.

A culture that rewards production and pleasing managers faces severe stress today. Digital is not the transformation. It is the transformation agent. Simply making analog things digital is a process of digitizing—like turning print books into PDFs. It can serve a purpose but a very limited one.

Digital transformation, on the other hand, is essentially cultural and societal. It is the process of transforming from an organization-centric culture to a customer-centric one.

Microsoft gets it. They have changed how they reward employees to a model something like the following:
• One third for what you’ve produced
• One third for what you’ve shared
• One third for what you’ve used of what other people have produced

With the above type of model, employees want their stuff to be found and used. They will care about findability and quality. They will want to collaborate and reuse the stuff that other people have created.

Before digital it was really difficult to measure use. Digital opens up the goldmine of use. We must understand use, measure use, reward use because that’s where value in digital lies. If we don’t measure and reward use and instead measure and reward production, we will end up producing more and more of what is useless.

The customer centric universe

The Web has helped usher in a shift from an organization-centric universe to a customer-centric one. That’s the single biggest lesson I have learned in more than 20 years of consulting and writing about the Web.

Back around 1999, I came up with a title for a talk I was planning. I decided I’d call it “Customer Centric.” Since then, the vast majority of my talks and writings have used that title or a variation of it.

Today, I believe more strongly than ever that we have entered a customer-centric universe, that the revolution involves a shift in power from organizations (religious, government, commercial) to customers, people, communities. With every revolution, we find a counter-revolution. Today, the old forces of power are fighting back fiercely. While they have little positive to offer for our present and future, these negative and reactionary forces have the capacity to do huge damage.

In the organization-centric universe, the organization was at the center, and at the center of the organization was the Great Leader. The planets that circled around the organization were Ego, Control and Complexity. The atmosphere that was created by the combination of these planets was one of faith and blind trust.

The organization seemed to make sense of the chaos and the unpredictability of life. The organization gave us answers. Its leaders seemed to know what the future held. These organizations were complex and mysterious. Information was very tightly controlled. We were not supposed to understand or to question. In fact, many didn’t want to know. It was much easier just to believe in the leader or in the brand. We were given a role and we were told that if we dutifully played that role we would be rewarded and looked after.

That universe is crumbling. Great leaders still spout certainties, and even though facts pile up showing that, at best, they’re guessing, and very often they’re lying, many still want to believe in the old certainties.

The customer universe is not a comfortable universe. It’s not a predictable one. There are no certainties. The planets that circle the customer are Empathy, Flexibility and Simplicity. The customer at the center is very demanding. We who serve the customer must have great empathy for them. We must be constantly thinking about their world, not our world.

Digital is not fixed. Digital is not solid. Digital is not certain. Digital is not secure. Digital is fast, fluid and unpredictable. Digital has freed up all the information and all the tools of organization and made them available to everyone. Flexibility is key to survival. Planning for the future gives way to adapting to the ever-changing present.

In the old organization-centric universe, things were often deliberately made complex for the customer, as this was a form of control. In the customer universe, blind trust and faith has evaporated. Customers now trust in use. They judge based on whether their friends have used it and how easy it is for them to use. They instantly withdraw from that which is complex, mistrusting and avoiding it if at all possible.

The customer is no longer king. They are dictator. And they’re number one dictat is: Make it easy.

Evidence, not ego, must drive digital transformation

On a hot and dusty day in Afghanistan, a group of men sat admiring patterns. “Don’t like that one,” said the defence minister. Those around him nodded in agreement. “Don’t like that one, nor that one, nor that one either.” The defence minister was hard to please. “Let’s go browsing on the Web,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. Many faces smiled. “Many pages were visited, and then, finally, the minister gushed: “That’s it! That’s the one!!”
“Perfect!” a chorus of voices chanted.

And so the US Army spent $28 million of US tax payer money on Afghan National Army uniforms in beautiful forest patterns. The slight problem was that only 2.1% of Afghanistan is wooded. The uniforms were a complete waste of money and had to be dumped.

Over the years I have watched in dismay as a disturbing number of senior managers talked about digital transformation strategy as if they were designing a print brochure for a country club. The colors, the colors, the colors—how they loved their colors. And the big cliché images promoting their pet projects. And the gushy, meaningless language.

Digital teams have often had to suffer in silence as a senior manager—often aided by an advertising executive—gutted their well-thought-through design, replacing it with an enormous carousel of vanity and ego.

They mean well, many of these senior people. They’re just clueless when it comes to digital, and very sensitive about exposing their lack of knowledge and understanding. They are supposed to know things, after all. Most of them do indeed know a lot of things about a lot of stuff—just not much about digital.

Evidence is a life raft in these stormy seas of ego, opinion and entrenched habit. It won’t always save you, but without it you will surely drown. Didn’t someone in that room know that only 2.1% of Afghanistan is wooded? If they knew, were they afraid to say anything?

The age of ego-based experts, whether they be senior managers or senior ministers, is on the wane. This is the age of evidence. Big Data is a goldmine of evidence. Everything that happens on the Web—for good or ill—leaves a trail of evidence. We can now know much better than we have ever known, what works and what doesn’t.

Gut instinct, experience and opinion are only useful when what is in front of us is going to be very similar to what is behind us. In a complex world full of surprises and randomness, gut instinct is very often dangerous.

We need new skills. We need people who can quickly and clearly frame a hypothesis, who then rapidly test this hypothesis in as close to a live environment as possible, and then who can properly interpret and act on the data. We need people who know that digital is never done, that it is not a series of projects but rather a stream of continuous improvements.

This requires a degree of inquisitiveness and humility that seems to get trained out of many managers. It requires thinking in connected networks rather than isolated objects and projects. Instead of trying to ‘manage’ the sea of complexity that faces us, we should learn to sail it, constantly adapting based on feedback.

Pentagon ‘wasted $28m’ on Afghan camouflaged uniforms

When to hide and show navigation

Hide navigation when it is disruptive to the journey the customer is on. Show navigation when it is supportive to the journey the customer is on.

The hamburger menu has become notorious as an ill-advised and poorly implemented form of navigation. But hiding navigation in and of itself is not a bad thing. It depends why the navigation is being hidden.

So, why has the hamburger menu got such a bad reputation? Because it was nearly always implemented from an organization-centric point of view. You’d be surprised how many decisions are made based on trying to be cool or ‘innovative.’ Another reason the hamburger menu is often chosen for mobile sites or apps is because of design convenience. Instead of prioritizing the top 3-4 navigation paths, everything gets stuck in a hamburger. It’s a nice, quick, easy fix that rarely works out well.

Sometimes the hamburger is used in an attempt by the organization to control the customer journey. Some organizations still think that if you limit all options on a page to marketing messages then the customer will have no choice but to click and follow one of these marketing journeys. It’s all about controlling the customer journey. This, of course, doesn’t work, but certain organizations like the illusion that they are in control of their customers.

“Discoverability is cut almost in half by hiding a website’s main navigation,” Nielsen Norman found in 2016. “Also, task time is longer and perceived task difficulty increases.” Luke Wroblewski has written extensively on the impact of hamburger menus on a range of mobile apps. In one job search app, changing from hamburger to visible menu resulted in double digit growth in monthly users and visits. For other apps, engagement “plummeted” or “fell drastically” when they implemented the hamburger approach.

According to Wroblewski, “Facebook found that not only did engagement go up when they moved from a “hamburger” menu to a bottom tab bar in their iOS app, but several other important metrics went up as well.”

Sometimes, it makes sense to hide navigation. In the early years, Amazon had a visible navigation for its product categories. But as the range of categories grew, it went to a single “Shop by department” link. However, it compensated for this by having a large, prominent, extremely well-designed search. So, if you have a huge range of stuff to offer, it may be better to lead with search rather than navigation.

Another example of where hiding navigation makes sense is where your customers have a “super task”. This is a task that is way more important than all the other tasks, like booking a flight or a room. Then it may make sense to lead with the actual task itself, and hide the other navigation options.

On a related point, when a customer has chosen a particular journey, it is usually a good idea to hide all the navigation that is not directly relevant to that journey. So, if you visit the Kindle Books section on Amazon, practically every link and piece of navigation on that page relates to Kindle books. The navigation for all the other products Amazon offers have been stripped away so as to allow you to focus on Kindle books.

The core purpose of navigation is to help you progress on the journey you have decided to go on.

Hamburger Menus and Hidden Navigation Hurt UX Metrics, Nielsen Norman Group

Obvious Always Wins: Luke Wroblewski on hamburger menus

It pays to pay attention to current customers

Time spent (minutes per month) on websites was down across all industries in the U.S. in 2016, according to an Adobe report. “Despite time spent being down, visit rates are up 4% year-over-year (YoY) across all industries,” CMO Adobe wrote. This makes sense. The simpler, faster and more convenient you make your website, the more likely a customer is to come back.

Time spent and pages viewed are very dangerous metrics. They reflect the cult of volume approach that has dominated web management thinking for too long. Very poor websites that you have to use (such as government or support sites) can have really high time spent and pages viewed metrics that just reflect the awfulness of their design and management.

Adobe CMO suggests that the reason “time spent could be down is because the most successful companies have likely optimized their website experience to save people time when they are trying to complete tasks online.” True.

But then it quotes Catherine Diaz, senior analysis manager at ADI as saying that, “The need for differentiated experiences has never been greater. The battle is on for consumer time in a highly competitive landscape. Consumers are surrounded with options in this always-on world, and marketers need to surprise and delight their customers in order to win their time.”

This is the wrong focus. In fact, it is the ‘differentiated experience’, the concept of a ‘battle’ for time and attention, and the need to ‘delight’ that often creates the ‘marketing’ environments that are most wasteful of customer time.

Traditional marketers are trained to get attention of potential customers. The best digital marketers focus on paying attention to current customers.

Let’s say I come to my bank website wanting to transfer money. That website or app has my undivided attention as long as it is focused on what I am focused on: transferring money. There is no battle or campaign needed here and no need to delight me. I don’t like transferring money or paying a bill but it has to be done. Just help me do it as quickly and accurately as possible.

But what I find many times is that the bank is battling with me, trying to get my attention for a mortgage or a car loan. Things I absolutely don’t want, things that just annoy and disrupt me.

We dealt with one bank that had wanted to create a “differentiated experience” for its online banking by calling the Login button “NetBank”. They started getting a stream of calls from infuriated customers demanding to know where the “Login” had gone. This shocked management back to reality and they became converts to a radical simplicity approach. They stripped all product advertising from their homepage and just placed dominant login details there. They did place product advertising on the logout page. Visits to the product pages rose by over 500%.

The best organizations today are paying much more attention to the customers they have than in joining ever more costly and losing battles for the customers they don’t have. Customers are switching brands in epidemic proportions. Isn’t that something we should be paying attention to?

Consumers Spending Less Time On Websites Across All Industries