Author Archives: Gerry McGovern

No, we don’t really care about your privacy

I know you’ll be shocked to hear this but that annoying sign you just clicked on, it’s not true. I know it said: “We care about your privacy”, but nobody in here really cares about your privacy. Don’t get me wrong now. It’s not that we actively don’t care. It’s not that we wake up in the morning with new ideas of how we’re going to abuse your privacy. Well, it’s not exactly like that. It’s just that you’re our product. We sell you, and the most valuable thing about you is your privacy.

The more confidential the information, the more valuable. What is there about you that’s worth selling if not the stuff you hold private and personal? The stuff about your daily life, your likes and dislikes, your habits (bad habits are even better), what you’re searching for, what you buy, who your friends are, your age, sex, relationships. I mean, you are the product. What do you expect?

You didn’t actually think this stuff was free, did you? There’s nothing free, my friend. Every time you get something for free, you sell a little bit more of your freedom, your privacy. It was always thus and will always be thus. We’ll get the money out of you one way or another. Free is just another word for pay later. It’s a form of digital barter, maybe. We give you something for ‘free’ and you give us information that we (or our partners) can use to get money out of you later.

You’re so gullible, my friend, such an easy fool. You have something that’s worth €20. I give you something that’s worth €10 for ‘free’. Then you give me the €20 stuff, and I pocket a nice and easy €10 profit. Now, that’s what I call a bargain!

We give you all this free stuff and then we can nudge you in some political or other direction that someone has paid us to nudge you in. Or maybe we just allow them into your cosy little community and then their bots can have some nice conversations with you. You didn’t actually think it was all about the community and love and digital hippy stuff now, did you? We may be from San Francisco, but there’s no flowers in our hair, know what I mean?

So, we have to pretend that we value your privacy because of that annoying European Union and their recent legislation. Don’t you just hate them. All that stupid bureaucracy and red tape. The news media that we control have relentlessly exposed the EU for the consumer-protecting bureaucracy that it is. So, when we say “we value your privacy” we’re really saying that we have contempt for your intelligence. We think you’re so stupid that you’ll actually believe us.

If only you weren’t so innocent. If only you placed more value on your worth rather than on your convenience and getting free stuff. We value your information because from your information we make money. With your information we control you. You’re our cash cow. How does it feel to be the product?

No, I don’t want to take your survey

Take your survey? Why on earth would I want to do that? Help you improve your website? Am I your employee? Are you my boss? Last time I checked, I wasn’t. So, do your job. It’s not up to me to help you make your website better. What do I think of your new redesign?

What do you think of my new classic straight toecap Oxford made tan crocodile shoes? They’re very versatile; have an elegant and semi sports look to them. What do you think of that? They feature a Rendenbach sole in a refined Goodyear welt construction and full calf lining. I was informed that these shoes are very carefully manufactured by expert craftsmen who follow the exact same techniques that Charles Goodyear created in 1869. Hah? Ok. Ok. I get it. Well, then, can’t you get it? I have as much interest in your redesign as you have in my new crocodile shoes.

Can’t you ever understand that I, your customer, do not wake up in the morning wondering about what you’ve done or what you’re about to do. When I hear that you’re “excited” or “delighted” to announce the launch of something, I just yawn. Your personal mood is of zero consequence to me.

And when you talk about your anniversary. Listen, last week it was our wedding anniversary. Did you call? Did you send a gift? Why should I care that it’s your anniversary? You are such a naval-gazing, narcissistic organization. And that won’t do. Because if there’s going to be a narcissist around here, it’s me, the customer. Remember, I’m the king.

What’s in it for me? What do I get out of it? If you ask me what my top concerns are, then I might respond to you. If you ask me about how you could make things easier and faster for me, then I might respond. If you talk to my needs, rather than your needs, then I might respond. But, please face reality, I don’t care much about you or your organization. You’re just a tiny, inconsequential part of my day. I’ve got much bigger things to think about, like paying bills, dealing with some personal issues. Do you want to hear about my personal issues?

Only joking! Wow, you sure looked worried there. You’re so puffed up in your own little world. Digital has made you so detached. You don’t see me on a day-to-day basis. You don’t hear me. You don’t listen to me. You don’t watch me. You don’t know me. You really don’t. All this digital stuff has made you so detached.

But I exist. I’m real. I’m real mad. I’m real cynical. I’m real skeptical. I’m real disloyal. I’m obsessed with my own world, my own network. You’re going to have to work really hard to understand me. It’s going to be a constant, ongoing struggle. The more digital you become, the more disloyal I will become, because digital is a fickle, shallow mistress, unstable, shifting, constantly dissolvable.

And no, I don’t want to take your survey.

Marketing: the truly original fake news

Some marketers are deluded. Too much hype, spin, fake news. While 87% of marketers say they are delivering engaging customer experiences, nearly half of consumers say that brands don’t even meet their basic expectations, according to survey published by Acquia in November 2018. Another 2018 study run by Arvato found that while 89% of brands felt their customer service was “excellent” only 9% of consumers agreed. According to a global 2017 survey by the Fournaise Group, 80% of CEOs don’t even trust their own marketing teams.

Many marketers unfortunately believe that fake beautiful smiling ‘customer’ images they put on their homepages are actual customers. They have convinced themselves of their own hype and hyperbole and live in a bubblegum world, where they rarely deal with real customers. Sitting with their advertising executive partner over lunch they bemoan the fact that marketing has got so much harder with this whole damn digital thing. The ad executive, who is even more clueless, but desperate to peddle his next fabulously useless, enormously expensive redesign consoles the poor (metaphorically speaking) marketing executive by saying things like: “It’s time to be even more interactive, engaging, robots, algorithms, chatbots, hamburger menus, millions of stock images, caring language, influencer marketing, fully embracing the most expensive brochureware design option, innovative, I don’t get out of bed for less than half a million, bots, we’ll win awards with this one, we need a new utterly meaningless generic branding tagline such as ‘Dreaming beyond the dreams and possibilities,’ Big Data, interactive, mobile is the past, VR is the present, the now and beyond, CDROM, sorry misspoke, we need more videos, huge giant expensive videos, I know a Hollywood director, he’ll make you look like James Bond, even better than James Bond, targeting, campaigns, interactive, utterly meaningless language that spouts a caring simplicity and the most deep holistic desire to engage and experience a real customer just once (but not for too long) because we all know that only suckers deal with real customers on a regular basis, where did we outsource support to this time, wow, those annoying idiotic customers who actually believed our advertising, don’t they know that we are the original masters of the universe when it comes to fake news, bots, interactive, immersive, you do this ridiculously expensive redesign and watch your career soar, it’s all about you, my friend, my entire focus, my every waking hour, I think up ways to make you look good, to do things normal humans don’t dream of, in order to help you shoot up the career ladder, new projects, new initiatives, new redesign (very expensive), they’ll think you’re so-so creative, innovative, hardworking, pushing boundaries, bots, hamburger menus, it’s all about you, it’s always been about you, you stick with me and it’ll always be about you and your ego until the end of time and beyond, bots, typewriters, CDROM, the wheel, show me the money!

Acquia global survey: Closing the CX Gap

CEOs Don’t Trust Marketers

Arvato survey: Very few consumers report excellent customer service

Brad Tuttle, Customer Service Hell, 2011



A better digital experience for Irish health

When the US Department of Health deleted 150,000 out of the 200,000 files that were available on its public website, nobody noticed. Too much content, too many websites, much of the content out-of-date. Important information hard to find and even when you found it, hard to understand. These are the classical symptoms of “orgitis”. Orgitis is “a condition that leads organizations to believe that the more websites, content or apps they publish, the more value they are creating.”

The Irish Health Services Executive (HSE) was diagnosed with orgitis. Historically, the main website (HSE.IE) has some 30,000 pages. Then there are more than 30 standalone websites, more than 35 microsites, 50+ social media accounts, 20 hospital websites, and multiple transactional portals. It’s confusing.

Orgitis is very common in Ireland, where the needs of organizations have nearly always come before the needs of the people they are supposed to serve. Where the powerful, instead of delivering good service, expect instead subservience. But the winds of change are blowing and every year the public becomes more educated, better connected, and less willing to accept poor service and condescending attitudes.

The Irish health service seems like it has spent the last twenty years in the emergency room. It feels like every time you turn on the radio, TV, or pick up a newspaper, there is a new crisis. The biggest recent one was the Cervical Check Scandal, where many women were not given the proper information in a timely manner.

There is now a real determination to get things right, to be transparent, to be clear, simple, easy to find, easy to use. A talented and passionate digital team is being assembled that is genuinely focused on delivering an excellent patient experience. To this end, in 2017, we did a Top Tasks analysis to find out what really matters to Irish people in relation to health. 3,500 people voted from all sections of Irish society. Here are there top 5 tasks:

  1. Waiting times (hospitals, clinics, other health services)
  2. Mental wellbeing (stress reduction, mindfulness, positive thinking)
  3. Costs and fees (treatment, drugs, consultant visits, care)
  4. Screening (breastcheck, retinal, bowel, cervical)
  5. Diagnosis of condition / disease

Not surprisingly, waiting times is number one. Mental wellbeing is number two, which is again not surprising, seeing that Irish people are finally rising above the stigma and silence in order to address critical wellbeing issues. Screening is the fourth most important task, reflecting the importance of preventative medicine.

Over the coming months, I’ll be delivering a series of webinars exploring how a patient-first, evidence-based approach is being used to help people find the health-related information they need. I’ll be examining how decisions are now being made based on evidence of what people are actually doing online, rather than based on opinions. It’s a process of discovery, of getting the language exactly right, of understanding how people search and navigate for health information. It’s about measuring the top tasks, seeing where the blockages are and designing ways to make things faster and simpler. It’s about measuring the outcomes of the people who use the service rather than the inputs and activities of the organization.

So, success will no longer be about launching a website or campaign or getting lots of traffic. Success will rather be about ensuring that Irish people can get the information they require in the simplest, faster, most accurate manner possible.


The accidental discovery of Top Tasks (Part 2)

For years, I had run card sorting workshops. To keep track on the cards, I used to hand out a sheet that contained all the names of the cards. One exercise involved deciding what cards to use when designing a classification for a homepage. I wanted people to prioritize, so I asked people to choose no more than 10 cards and to give their most important card (class) a vote of 10 and so on.

There were 150 cards and people were supposed to sort and group these and then finally choose their top 10. But some people started cheating. They went straight to the sheet that contained the list and began choosing from there. Once I’d notice that I’d go up to them and explain that sorting and grouping was an essential first step in the process.

They needed to sort. They needed to group the cards because that was what I was teaching. That was what I believed. That was what I had been trained on. And I had created 15 sets of 150 cards each. Did they not realize how much effort went into all that? How much printing? How much tearing of serrated edges? How much neatly stacking and wrapping in elastic bands? My set of cards were my pride and joy and they were going to sort them whether they wanted to or not.

Except that more and more people didn’t want to. And some were quite stubborn. They wouldn’t accept my arguments. They challenged my dogma. “You can’t scan a list of 150 things and choose wisely,” I said. “There’s years of research to prove that you can only scan about 7 things.” And yet they were scanning 150 things and the choices they were making seems to be roughly the same choices that those who went through the much longer process of physically sorting were getting.

So, one morning I did something brave and risky. I left my box of cards in my hotel room and headed to the workshop armed just with sheets of paper containing the list of 150 things you might be interested in if you were planning to go on holiday to Ireland.

When I calculated the scores, I found that in the workshop I just did with the sheets I got essentially the same top 10 as in the previous workshop using the cards. Except that this process was 4-5 times quicker. The next workshop I tried using the list. It worked. It kept working.

Then someone else said: “Why don’t you do this as a survey?” Another crazy idea. You can’t list 150 things in a survey and ask people to quickly scan and choose just 10. It won’t work. But it did. Since 2006, there have been more than 400 Top Tasks surveys, with over 300,000 people voting in more than 30 countries and languages.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned over the years is that the best way to design, develop, innovate or discover is through use. Get the thing used and observe and learn from the use. Keep your mind open. Design and evolve through use. Design with people. Don’t let the effort you invested in something become a ball and chain. Don’t let your expectations, attitudes and opinions get in the way of the evidence. Stay open, connected and constantly evolving within the network.

Top Tasks – A how to-guide

It’s been 15 years in the making, but Top Tasks began as an accident, something I had not planned, and initially, at least, something I didn’t want to happen.

Now, here it is. A book containing everything that I and the partners I’ve worked with have learned about how to implement Top Tasks. A detailed step-by-step guide on how to identify customer top tasks, design a better information architecture based on this data, and then measure and improve on ongoing basis how the top tasks are performing.

Back in 1996, a report on the potential of the Internet that I had written for the Irish government was published. One of the ideas in the report was about creating a type of online Irish community. Around 1998, this idea got significant investment and we set about trying to implement it. One of the challenges we faced was how to create a structure, an information architecture, a navigation system. We looked at many systems, including the Dewy library approach, but all had major issues.

The whole idea failed but some valuable lessons were learned. Information architecture is hard but it is essential. Over the years, I have found that confusing menus and links have had a majorly negative impact on the customer experience.

Around 2002, I became familiar with card sorting as a way to design more intuitive navigation. I created a case study based on tourism to a national destination. I had about 150 cards covering things like: Accommodation; Special offers; Getting here and around; Things to do and see, etc. I created about 15 sets of these cards and started including card sorting as part of my information architecture workshops. I had a special little box where I stored my cards. I was quite proud of it all.

Between 2002 and 2005, I was travelling extensively in Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand. However, no matter where I went, people were sorting the cards into the same basic groups. A particular part of the exercise was to decide what would go on the homepage of this tourism website. I asked people to choose the 10 cards that they would put on the homepage. In order to get better results, I asked them to rank their top 10, giving 10 to the most important, and so on. To allow them to give their scores, I handed out a sheet listing all 150 tasks, with scoring boxes beside each task.

I should never have run this exercise before lunch. I told people that the sooner they had voted and handed in their sheets, the longer the lunch they’d have. That’s when I began to notice that people were cheating. People were not doing the exercise the way I had intended them to do it. The card sorting process was breaking down and I was quite annoyed because I had made a lot of effort creating all these cards.

Next issue I’ll tell you about how this cheating, these ‘errors’ people were making led me to the Top Tasks method. Because I didn’t discover it myself. I was against it. I thought it was wrong. I thought it would fail. It was the people attending my workshops who discovered it and forced me to see that they had discovered a much simpler and faster way than card sorting to identify what matters most (and what matters least) to customers.

The re-emergence of collaborative cultures

“In the Depression years of the 1930s, the card game contract bridge, first played in the United States in the late 1920s, blossomed,” according to George Akerlof and Robert Shiller in their 2009 book, Animal Spirits. “Contract bridge is a game played by partners, who must cooperate. In contrast, in recent years poker-and especially its 21st century variation, Texas hold’em-has surged forward. These games are played by individuals for themselves alone, emphasize a type of deception variously called bluffing and “keep a poker face,” and are generally played for money.”

Could the 2008 recession have been a catalyst for a new way of thinking towards collaboration? When the going gets tough do the tough get collaborating? Certainly, the younger generations are much more focused on sharing and working together. There has been an explosion of collaborative technologies and approaches in the workplace.

There are other macro trends driving collaboration. As complexity and the speed of change increases, the ability of individuals to understand or affect things on their own diminishes. “Tackling global challenges such as food insecurity, or advancing complex technologies like quantum computers, requires collaboration,” Kara Hall wrote for Nature in 2017.

A globalized world is also driving multicultural, multidisciplinary and diversity thinking. If you’re selling stuff to people all over the world then you have to understand and reflect their unique needs. The best way to do that is with a diverse team.

Collaboration is growing in areas where it was historically not so prevalent. The Panama and Paradise Papers and the Edward Snowden’s NSA files have shown a new collaborative model for journalism. In an industry that traditionally thrives on exclusivity, multi-disciplinary, multi-country groups came together to understand and communicate about these highly complex subjects.

In science, collaboration is blossoming within environments such as ResearchGate and MCubed. There is a massive growth in scientific papers involving hundreds and even thousands of authors.

“Collaboration in health care has been shown to improve patient outcomes such as reducing preventable adverse drug reactions, decreasing morbidity and mortality rates and optimizing medication dosages,” Brennan Bosch and Holly Mansell wrote for the Canadian Pharmacists Journal in 2015. “Teamwork has also been shown to provide benefits to health care providers, including reducing extra work and increasing job satisfaction.”

The news headlines may be screaming doom and disaster but underneath the surface there substantial and profound movements towards a more collaborative, diverse world that solves problems based on collective intelligence. There will always be a role for the individual, of course. Team think can become group think. Diversity should also celebrate and facilitate those who don’t work so well in groups, who are perhaps more introvert or solitary. However we do it we must be able to remain open, to synthesize multiple perspectives, to rapidly iterate based on evidence, and to constantly think beyond ourselves and our own most pressing needs.

Interprofessional collaboration in health care by Brennan Bosch and Holly Mansell

Animal Spirits: How human psychology drives the economy, and why it matters for global capitalism by George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller


Change is hard but not impossible

The bigger the change you want to see the longer it will take and the more setbacks you will meet. But big change can and does happen. And those who have changed the world the most have tended to be patient, resolute, determined and optimistic.

I’m reading a book on Ho Chi Minh at the moment. What a hard life he had. Progress rarely came easy. Setback piled on top of setback piled on top of setback piled on top of setback. When it couldn’t get worse, it got awful, and when it couldn’t get more awful, it got atrocious, and down and down and down. And yet and yet and yet, Ho Chi Minh rarely lost hope, and every opportunity he got, he wrote and he taught and tried to convince people about his ideas.

I’m doing digital stuff since 1994, and I’ve never had a perfect client. It never all fell into place. There was always something jutting out. Often, months and even years of work seemed to have been pointless because a new manager came in, or the budget got suddenly cut, or a key member of the team left, or another department started causing trouble.

These ae revolutionary times. Digital and AI and all that are changing the way we work, what we work at, and the way we live. This is big, big stuff. And if you’re involved in any of this digital stuff then you’re a change agent, whether you think you are or not.

The issue in most organizations is not the technology, not the website or the app. It’s that most organizations simply don’t understand what it all really means, how radical the change is, and how much change is required by the organization and its staff. It’s a mindset change. A huge cultural change. A change that massively affects traditional egos and hierarchies.

What does design thinking, lean design, agile design, user experience, customer experience, usability, minimally viable product, all have in common? They all put the customer / user at the center of things. Why is design thinking seen as so novel, so important these days? Because most organizations never had to think too much about design from the perspective of the customer, the user.

Most companies develop, engineer, produce, market and sell. They rarely do much design. That may seem shocking, even ridiculous but its true. The digital revolution has first and foremost been embraced by customers, by people. Most organizations are way behind the customer.

That’s where you come in: helping your organization catch up. It won’t be easy. You’ll have to be careful. You will become the enemy of those whose career depends on maintaining the status quo. And even when things go well, they won’t go perfect. And there will be so many setbacks.

Patience, good humor, optimism, the desire and ability to passionately and clearly explain the same thing you have explained one thousand times, one more time, and one more thousand times. You may never change anything but without patient, dogged, optimistic determination, you will never change anything.

Is trust and empathy overrated?

One of the best ways to get people to trust is to get them to hate. Hate is the glue that binds many groups together. Hate and fear are powerful, ancient elixirs. If we’re to build success for the future, we need to move beyond such easy remedies, because in an interconnected, complex, fast-paced world, the medicine of fear and hate may save a few but will likely kill the planet.

Tyrone is a very successful Irish Gaelic football team. One of its stars, Seán Cavanagh, talked about the manager, Mickey Harte. “He’s got a great way of bonding a team. Is it bonded sometimes by the best reasons? I don’t think so.” How does Harte ‘bond’ the team. Through intense hatred of other teams, through building an us against them fortress.

Competition fosters trust among co-workers, according to a study published in Science Advances in September 2018. The more intense the competition, the study found, the more sharing, co-operation, and volunteering, would happen within a particular company.

If you want to develop a high trust environment, then create a uniform group of people and encourage them to hate those who are not part of their group. Give them an objective such as destroying the hated enemy and watch them go.

“In politics and policy, trying to feel the pain of others is a bad idea,” Paul Bloom wrote for the Wall Street Journal in 2016. “Recent research in neuroscience and psychology shows that empathy makes us biased, tribal and often cruel,” according to Bloom. “One study, published in 2010 in the journal Neuron, tested European male soccer fans. A subject would receive a shock on the back of his hand and then watch another man receive the same shock. When the other man was described as a fan of the same team as the subject, the empathic neural response—the overlap in self-other pain—was strong. But when the man was described as a fan of an opposing team, it wasn’t.”

Bloom had just published a book called Against Empathy, whose central thesis seemed to be that humans find it hard to feel empathy for strangers. Also, the empathy often distorts logic as it generally focused on an individual. So, when you read the story about the poor, sick girl, you want to do something for that girl, but not for the thousands of other girls and boys who are even sicker than the girl you read the story about.

Emotions like empathy and trust are ancient and hugely powerful but are they the right tools to build a sustainable future. Multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural, multi-gender teams can deliver tremendously nuanced, balanced, fit-for-audience products and services. However, they are probably not likely to develop the same level of cohesion, trust and camaraderie as a group of young, white drinking-buddy males. And they don’t need to.

Perhaps trust and empathy are not as essential today. Then what replaces them? Maybe some other emotions: respect, humility, inquisitiveness, open-mindedness, reasoning, and evidence-based thinking. These emotions are not as raw and intoxicating as trust, fear and hate. However, in an increasingly diverse, interconnected world, they may just be the glue we need to build a better future.

Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion by Paul Bloom

Outside competition breeds more trust among coworkers

‘There always seemed to be a need to hate other teams’



Truth, Trust and the God Complex

In Ireland, we have painfully come to realize that all our gods were really men disguised in frocks or surgeons’ coats. Fallible men with feet of clay and egos often the size of Everest.

This is the age of brutal transparency. Sure, there’s a lot of fake news about, but there is also a tsunami of real news, real facts, real information. Ordinary people have never had as much access to information that was historically the preciously guarded secrets of the gods that ruled over us.

Ordinary people have never been better educated and more able to understand all this information. Ordinary people are still open to spin and manipulation, particularly when it comes to pushing those old tribal triggers. However, deep down, a great many ordinary people know that the system is broken. That the system was always primarily designed to protect the elite, the gods of society.

The latest scandal to rock the gods in Ireland has to do with cervical smear testing. In a number of cases, women were not informed of critical information that they absolutely should have been given. Many women would be alive today had they been given the right information on time.

There are many reasons for this appalling scenario. One of them, the victims point out is the “God complex”. I am personally well aware of this. My experience of 8 out of 10 medical people—particularly senior consultants—is one of cold, imperious creatures. I remember once my doctor sending me for a test with one consultant and saying, “He’s very good but he’s a bit like a morgue director.” Actually, what he said did a great disservice to morgue directors. The man in the sterile coat didn’t shake my hand, hardly ever looked me in the eyes.

Too much blind trust. A servile society breeds servants and masters. The servants are rebelling. All over the world there is a collapse in institutional trust because most institutions have abused the trust given to them. The Irish Cervical Check scandal only came to light because of brave, dogged, determined, articulate and well-informed women like Vicky Phelan and Lorraine Walsh. Here’s what Lorraine Walsh  said about her consultants. “The attitude I was given was; ‘I didn’t feel you needed to know, and in hindsight I should have told you, I don’t know what you’re making a big deal about, this is no big deal.’”

If you ever wonder why most senior managers are clueless about digital, or know hardly anything about their customers, or could care less that the intranet sucks, now you know why. They were trained that way. In the macho misogynist world, it is not cool to care, not cool to be humble. If you are clueless about digital you must lie and pretend and say things like “we need more interactivity; let’s do a redesign; I want to be first in the carousel; what about the branding?’ We breed a culture of men who feel they must know even when they don’t, who feel they should keep the key information and feed it out in dribs and drabs when they see fit, who bristle at being challenged and immediately look to take down the challenger.

That world is smashing straight into a new world where increasing complexity and rapid change means that nobody can possibly have all the answers, where multidisciplinary teams deliver better results, and where the customer / patient / student has lots of hard questions to ask and will not be fobbed off by some deluded soul with a god complex.

What is the Cervical Check controversy about?