Friday, April 24, 2015

Goal Setting: Big and Small

In the past year, six books by well-known authors were published on the subject of goal setting.  This is perhaps not too surprising because setting goals is a popular business topic and a popular focus for self-help books.  What caught my eye is the clever way Fortune Magazine contrasted three that advised to “think big” and three that advised to “start small.” These are not necessarily mutually exclusive – it is possible to have a big long term goal and to set up a path of incremental goals.  But the clever way they contrasted the six books inspired me to contrast the two approaches, even though they are not direct contrasts.

The first three books are:

The second three books are:

Here are the key differences that contrast the two approaches.  In Bold, Diamandis recommends that we ambitiously target a huge problem with a large impact and/or for a wide population.  It would be hard to set small goals to get from here to the moon.  Newton tells us to ignore the little diversions that fill up a normal life so that you can truly focus on the grand challenge of your life.  Ignoring the little things requires avoiding the incremental to some extent.  Mohr’s recommendation is more about one’s attitude, recommending that her readers put forth the air of confidence and greatness in all of their dealings.  To pull this off, it would be necessary to do it all the time, which would mean never having a visage of uncertain confidence.  So in all three cases, “Thinking Big” is really the antithesis of “Starting Small.”

Now let’s turn the tables and look at the other three.  Arnold’s recommendations share some similarity with the progressive extremism I shared here.  Instead of “eating healthy” just give up cookies at first. Work on the rest once you have the cookies out.  For this to work, it is best not to think of the end goal too much or it will seem overwhelming.  Lots of temptations to give up after cookies.  So thinking small requires ignoring the big.  Martin et al’s recommendations are similar, which is not surprising if you are familiar with the wide body of behavioral research published by Robert Cialdini.  They tell us that if you design to trigger unconscious behaviors, no one will even know you are there are can’t take steps to counter your objectives.  By definition, none of these can be big, or even medium sized.  Finally, McKeown recommends that we learn to value small things so we don’t need to pursue big goals in the first place.  Again, directly in conflict with big goals.

So which of these approaches is better?  Does it depend on who you are?  Your personality?  Your talents?  Your abilities?  Your motivation?  For today, I will leave that up to you.  Perhaps later, I will fill in some of these blanks.

This Week in EID - Episode 51

We have a new feature on EID this week: our Hall of Fame article. On Monday we republished an earlier piece on eReaders.  France when through our analytics for the year and picked out the one that was read the most.  Many of you probably still missed it, so this is our attempt to save you from your own inattention :-). 

Then on Tuesday we started a new series: socially responsible human factors and ergonomics.  Kind of like corporate CSR, but with the idea that we can apply our tried and true methods and principles in ways that increase the general welfare.  Perhaps the environment. Perhaps global health. Perhaps global happiness.  I am not sure how many of these we will do, but at least a few.  This week we featured pre-cycling and the article next week will continue the idea with an article on up-cycling.

On Wednesday, we continued the “Fun with Words” series. Another great and amusing example of the government getting caught up on the meaning of one or two terms in a 400-page legislation and going to court about it.  And not using anything resembling user centered design to decide.

Finally, we summarized the human factors and ergonomics principles that were common among Fortune Magazine’s Best Places to Work. It should be no surprise that there are so many.  After all, that is what we do. We make the company happy by making the employee effective and efficient and make the employee happy by satisfying their personal motivations, both intrinsic like expertise self-expression and extrinsic like money and socializing.

Hope you liked them!!

Monday, April 20, 2015

What’s in a Name redux

NPR had a story this morning about a service in China that helps people who are coming to the US select a “US” name.  Many Americans have faced a tough-to-pronounce Chinese name and are told by the individual “don’t worry about it; just call me “Fred.”  I have blogged about that before.   But this service has a more strategic approach than “Fred.”  It helps Chinese from selecting stripper names like “Twinkle”, confusing names like “Eleven”, or unreal names like “Popeye.” 

One example stood out at me and I wanted to ask for opinions.  One somewhat overweight client selected the name “Phat.”  You might think that this is a poor choice.  We have historically looked at nicknames like “Fatty” as pejorative and derogatory.  And the service does warn against this name for that reason.  But they also explain an interesting framing effect that I had never thought of. 

If all you do is announce your name is “Phat”, you will probably be met with some muffled chuckles and an attempt to hide their amusement.  You become the silly, na├»ve, chump.  But if you frame it as a self-deprecating nickname (a quality that many people might not culturally associate with Chinese businessmen, but respect as a sign of self-confidence) and that in China people get nicknames that really describe them and this is his English example, there are some real advantages. 

I am not sure if I agree that this is a good approach in general. I can see it work in some contexts, but not in others.  And for a Chinese person just coming to the US, how can he know what context he will face?  But I can’t discard the idea completely because it does have a subtle resonance with me.  I want it to be a good idea.

Your Turn

So I need your input on this one.  What do you think?  Would this fail 99% of the time?  Succeed 99% of the time?

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Wasted Human Capital

There is a pretty broad consensus that the U.S. prison system is seriously flawed on many levels.  The “prison-industrial complex” has incredible influence through its lobbying and political clout and former felons are often not given the right to vote so they can’t get their voices heard as loudly as other groups.

But today I want to make the case that there is a strong economic benefit of some very specific and focused changes we could make. This is not a bleeding heart call for mercy and it is not an ethical call for fairness. This post is pure pocketbook.

There are currently about 2.2 million people in the U.S. prison system.  Many of these are non-violent drug offenders who are POWs from the war on drugs.  The economic cost of this prison population goes way beyond the tens of thousands of dollars per year that we spend on the room, board, medical care, and security for each and every one.  What I want to highlight today is the continuing cost of these prisoners once they get out of prison, in large part due to the poor way we manage them during their sentences.

After even just a few years in prison, inmates lose a large part of their human capital, social capital, technological literacy, cultural literacy, and prospects for a future in a legitimate and valuable occupation.  Let’s start with social capital.  The prison system encourages them to develop strong social ties to the other inmates, even if only to protect their personal safety. There is a visceral incentive to make friends with the most violent inmates and prison gangs.  This is not a great source of social capital when they get out, at least not if they want to pursue a noncriminal livelihood.  The prison system also makes it hard to maintain their social capital with the outside.  This Big Think article reports that it is incredibly challenging for friends and family to find inmates let alone keep in touch with them.  It is equally hard for the inmates to contact and maintain social connections with their networks on the outside.  Who can they turn to for support when they get out?  No one.  They are on their own.  Few of us could handle that kind of isolation while looking for housing, a job, and a new start.

Second, let’s look at human capital.  There is lip service paid to job training while in prison, but it is really quite pathetic.  The best thing to do, not just for the inmate but for the pocketbooks of you, me, and all of society, is to ensure that when they get out they are qualified for a  halfway decent job.  That means developing some kind of job skills, advancing their education, and making sure they don’t fall too far behind understanding technological advances.  After 20 years in prison, can you imagine looking at a smartphone for the first time? Trying to understand how to use Linked In to find a job?  The difference between a resume and a career portfolio?

Finally, let’s turn to cultural literacy.  When an inmate gets out, they are not going to be familiar with basic etiquette because these things change faster than we realize.  They not going to know what the hell a hashtag means or be able to talk about how the Red Sox did last season.  They haven’t seen the latest season of House of Cards either. How can you make small talk when your personal experience is limited to conversation in the prison yard?

And finally, there is the discrimination they face when it comes to applying for jobs, even those for which they are qualified.  I can fully understand a company being fearful of employing a former felon to handle important documents, customer service, cash registers, etc.  But from the inmates point of view, this makes life impossible. We are literally forcing them into recidivism. 

Of course there are exceptions. Frederick Hutson on and Shaka Senghor who are mentioned in the two articles I linked to are great role models.  But they are definitely the exceptions.  We need a better plan to transition inmates from prison to a successful life on the outside.  And this needs to start from their first day in prison, not the day before they are released.

Friday, April 17, 2015

This Week in EID - Episode 50

The new format seems to be working out really well for the EID daily rhythm, but I don’t want to stick to it every week or our topics might get a little stale.  In part, I think if I vary how widely we define the daily themes it can stay pretty fresh.  This week’s definition of “design” is a good example.

For Innovation Monday, I wondered whether the dotcom vibe that WeWork is trying to set up in its coworking spaces is worth the extra costs. You should definitely read the article if you use coworking services of any kind because it is an interesting idea.  Does a foosball table at work really increase creativity?  Collaboration with people from other companies who happen to be coworker on that day?

On Science Tuesday, I presented Nir Eyal’s idea of progressive extremism as a way to break bad habits.  He was being quite literal because his expertise is in habit formation and behavioral design to create unconscious and automatic habits among users.  This isn’t really a new idea, it follows very well from what Gretchen Rubin recommends for “abstainers” and what James Clear uses for his “bright line rules.”  But the progressive part is new and could be useful if you need to eliminate a behavior that has already become habitual.

Our Design topic for Wednesday was from one of my favorite sources, the Bloomberg Law podcast.  This episode covered the NJ fight against the federal government about sports betting.  But our article is not about sports betting, it is about who decides what words mean.  As a human factors practitioner, it seems to me that the way words are used by customers and providers should decide it. But in this case, a panel of Appellate judges will be deciding.  Silliness as usual in our government.

Then finally, I hope I provoked some real thought with mypost on Persuasive Design and the White Hat/Black Hat distinction.  Some of the debate on Linked In kind of missed the point.  Every design strategy can be used well or poorly and many of them have black hat and white hat strategies. My point here was that in persuasive design, the difference is larger and our techniques are more powerful.  So we have to be more careful.  And I hope more ethical.  The problem is that a lot of designers don’t seem to notice or care about the difference.