Saturday, July 20, 2013

The avoidance mindset: or why dieting makes you unhappy

I knew I was going to blog about this study before I was even done with the abstract.  I suspect that it will be one of those things that once you hear it, it makes total sense - but you never really thought about it before.

This study had an interesting approach.  There are four studies, but the method is about the same in each and I am only going to cover the first one.  They created a fake restaurant menu and put a daily special on the front.  In every case, the picture, the description, and the list of ingredients of the daily special were exactly the same and it was made up of pasta, vegetables, and dressing. The only thing different was the title.  Half of the people saw it labeled as “Daily Pasta Special” and half saw it as “Daily Salad Special.”  Then they tested it on people who were either dieting or not dieting.  And they had respondents rate the special for how healthy they thought it was and how good it would taste. 

First the non-dieters.  They didn’t seem to care what it was called.  Non-dieters who saw the “salad” rated it the same on expected healthfulness and expected taste as non-dieters who saw the “pasta” (a little more healthy, but not statistically significant).  Apparently, non-dieters don’t really care about ingredients or titles, they just select what they want.  The follow-up studies confirm this explanation.

The dieters who saw the “salad” special rated its expected healthfulness and taste the same as the non-dieters did.  So they don’t look at healthy items as extra special (a positive attitude).  But the dieters who saw the “pasta” special rated it less healthy and less tasty.  They turned this into a negative experience.  So it wasn’t that dieters are happy to get a salad or overconfident that the salad is healthier.  It was that when they saw the “pasta” special, they got a negative bias – expecting it to be less healthful and less tasty. So when dieters look at a menu, they aren't happy that there are healthful options, they are unhappy at the unhealthful options, even if they don't have to order one.

In general, negative biases like this lead you to avoid the option, have increased mental workload, more stress, and be less happy overall.  So if the dieters around you are unhappy, it isn’t because they are always hungry, it is because they look at the world with a negative frame.

Friday, July 19, 2013

10 Types of Facebook Like

Here is a similar thought as my post the other day about social media through the lifecycle .  This one is a post on 10 kinds of Facebook likes.  The author only wrote a sentence or two explaining each one, so I will liberally replace his descriptions (so blame me if you disagree!!) with my own thoughts for each one.  And of course, these categories would work in any reputation management environment, not just Facebook.

The basic idea is that “Likes” often have nothing to do with actual liking.  They can be signals to the person posting, his/her other connections, your connections, or even to yourself. 

I Saw It:  this is a simple one to one communication.  On the surface, you are saying you like what the person posted.  But really, you are telling them that you are actively reading what they post.  You haven’t forgotten about them.  Or if they don’t know you, it is kind of like a “here I am – check me out” request.

Pile On: this is when there are a lot of people liking a post and you join in.  You aren’t talking to the original source as much as you are declaring yourself part of the in-group. This is one of the few active communications some lurkers use because it is relatively anonymous and risk-free.

Bookmark: when you"like" something, you can find it later on your own page.  So this works as a bookmark to remind yourself to come back later.  You might not even like it at all in the real sense.

Lazy Like: I hadn’t thought about this one, but as soon as I read it I realized that I do it all the time.  I have a lot to say (like you didn’t already know this :-)), but I need to strategize about where to spend my time.  So sometimes there is a post that I would like to talk about, but just don’t have or don’t want to invest the time in.  This "like" is a quick replacement – perhaps signaling to the poster or other readers that you have something to say so that they know it.  But you don’t have to actually do anything. 

Shine a Light: I would have called this one something else, but it is basically just a way to get the post onto your own page so that your own connections will see it.  Or for people who would have seen the post anyway but perhaps trust you more than they trust the original source, you are highlighting its value for them. This is a cheap form of content curation.  Perhaps we should call it a "Curation Like".

Dislike:  We have all done this.  You “like” it because you don’t like it, and assume everyone will know.  It is an understandable business decision for Facebook not to include a “dislike” button, so this is a decent replacement.

Condolence: Similarly, sometimes there is a sad post and you don’t want to signal that you like the content, but that you like the person and feel for them.  You “like” the post, and assume that everyone will know what you mean.

Reminder Like: I did change the name of this one.  Have you ever posted something at an odd hour and then by the time anyone logs in, it is gone from their feed and they never see it?  You can’t repost it (well you can, but . . .).  So if you ‘like” your own post it reappears at a better time.  It is better to use a dashboard system like Buffer, but this is good for emergencies.

Mercy: I would have called it a “Pity” like, but the idea is the same.  You know someone has few connections or that no one ever responds to them.  So you "like" something they post just so they get some feedback.  Maybe they are a friend and you feel bad for them.  Or maybe you just want to encourage them to post more.  At the basic level, you are telling them that they are officially one of the in-group.

Absence: His tenth one isn’t a like, but I have felt this so I thought I would include it anyway.  Have you ever posted something and no one liked it even though you thought it was worthy?  Or perhaps you posted it specifically for one person, and they didn’t respond with an “I saw it’ like to confirm.  It just leaves you wondering.  I hate that :-).  

Thoughts on these?  Any to add?  Any you think no one would ever really do?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Social media through the lifecycle

A recent article on MIT Sloan Management Review sparked my interest.  The article listed some lifecycle stages and suggested that people at each stage have different needs for social media.  It is a short article, so I had to add some of my own thoughts.  Here are some ideas:

Early adolescents are strongly affected by peer pressure and have a need to belong to the in-group.  So the design of the social network should make it easy for someone to join a group and look good in the group while making it hard for the group to exclude someone or make them look bad.  Since many perceptions at this stage are as much imagined as real, testing should look into whether designs make a teen feel excluded or bad even if no overt action was taken.

Late adolescents have a strong need to find themselves, develop an identity, and perhaps try out some alternatives that might not be popular.  So the design of the social network should support experimentation.  It should be easy to get information about a group’s story, perhaps through testimonials, group psychographics, and similar information.  It should support anonymity so people can try out a group without being trackable by their peers. 

Young adults have a need to develop one-to-one relationships, including intimate ones.  I am not just referring to on-line dating, but also communicating with a good friend or finding and interacting with a mentor.  Other channels could include interacting with a sports partner, a doctor/patient pair, or any number of specialized relationships.  The social network should support private one-to-one connections, making it easy to find the person and communicate. 

Mid-career adults have a need to feel productive and valued.  I would suggest the Community of Practice model that I have published on extensively (Yeah, self-plug. I am a mid-career adult so I need to feel valued J).   Use extensive reputation management to make posts, comments, and other contributions more valuable.  Use contestification to reward activity.  Lurkers (which is often 90% of the users of a CoP) can be supported through anonymity and learning badges.

Later-stage adults (retirees) need a way to reflect backwards.  The social network can support a more organized personal portfolio, groups focused on the past, a way to reconnect with old groups or individuals, probably in a more casual and limited way (you may want to know what happened to that old girlfriend, but not THAT much).

Notice that this whole approach suggests that a single time-line that is the same for everyone (this means YOU Facebook) is not particularly helpful for anyone.  And it can actually be counterproductive in cases where it is important to make it easy for a member to show content to limited subgroups of their social graph or to protect anonymity. 

If you disagree with the lifecycle stages or the basic needs of each group, you can blame Gerald Kane over at Sloan Management Review.  For the design ideas, blame me.  Comments welcome.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Stereotypes save time, but . . .

Two similar experiences today got me thinking, and of course that often leads to a blog post.  The experiences were about stereotypes.  The scientific version of stereotypes is that the brain is wired to consolidate how we store memories to save time and storage space.  We save something like a statistical average of similar experiences.  Anything that is true of many members of a group becomes our mental model of the whole group.  Unless a particular individual is important to us, we forget most of the details about them and just use the average – the stereotype.  It makes sense adaptively when you think about survival over the past millennia of evolution.  But today, it leads to jumping to unconscious assumptions about groups (like race, occupation, or height) that may not fit many individual members of that group.

The first experience was listening to this TED talk this morning.  In it, a doctor describes two very different reactions he had to two patients in the ER.  The first was a cancer patient who was dying.  He felt overwhelmed with compassion.  The cancer was not her fault and it was terrible that life had dealt her this unfair early death.  He went out of his way to make her as comfortable as possible.  The second patient was an obese woman with Type II diabetes and for whom he had to amputate a foot.  He felt contempt for this patient.  If she had just cared a little more, exercised a little more, ate a little less, she could have avoided this fate.  Then, a few years later, he came to understand that we have more control over our susceptibility to cancer than we thought, and we actually have a lot less control over many kinds of obesity.  In tears, he described how much he wishes he could go back in time and apologize to the diabetic patient, not because he gave her insufficient medical care, but because he failed as a human.  His stereotypes about cancer and obesity led him to jump to conclusions that were not correct.

The second experience was standing in line at the supermarket.  In front of me was an obese woman who was purchasing 100 cans of cat food, four large bags of chips, and a gallon of ice cream.  I couldn’t help but notice how quickly my brain jumped to the stereotype of the “cat lady” even though I knew nothing about her.  I could image her living in a dark apartment with a dozen cats, no human friends, and the neighborhood kids ringing her doorbell and running.  As a Human Factors geek, my thoughts were about the speed and ease with which my brain jumped to the stereotype rather than any kind of contempt like the doctor had.  But still, very similar.

So where does this leave me on a cool (for July) Saturday afternoon when I have much better things to do than sit in front of my computer (I bet that activated a stereotype in your head !!!)?  I think this is a case for metacognition to the rescue.  Metacognition is the ability to monitor your own thinking with the intention to improve your situation awareness, decision making, and problem solving.  If we can recognize when a stereotype is leading us to a conclusion that may not be appropriate for this situation, perhaps we can take a step back and look for real evidence.  But only if we know it is happening, which means we need to accept the fact that

a) we have stereotypes
b) our stereotypes are often wrong (too positive for in-groups, negative for out-groups)
c) it is worth the time to get it right in whatever situation we are in
d) we can practice the metacognitive skills needed to recognize this when it is happening.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Weber Grill: Innovation through solving user experience pain points

Here is a great July 4th weekend story about innovation and some ideas for using a human factors approach.

About sixty years ago, a guy was grilling in his backyard.  It was windy and started to rain.  In those days, all grills were the flat open-air type.  He thought that a cover would be very helpful so he cut a kettle in half.  But it didn’t let in enough air so the fire went out.  His neighbor suggested drilling holes in the kettle.  That worked fine.  And the Weber grill was born. 

The Weber grill has come to dominate the market not because of fancy technology, but by identifying and solving user’s pain points – a key starting point for human factors.  I am not sure how they do it at Weber, but we can imagine a human factors-style ethnographic study that would be just the ticket.

Consider the example that many of you probably had on the 4th.  You invite over people with very different preferences in food.  Some like the traditional burgers and hotdogs.  And if the grease from one runs into the other, all the better.  But other people are a little more picky.  Perhaps they stick with fish and hotdog grease would spoil it.  Perhaps they are vegetarian, kosher or halal and the hotdog grease would be a serious transgression.  Or maybe you are grilling up sliced peaches for dessert (I LOVE these) and hotdog grease would ruin the taste.  This doesn’t require a technology solution, just a few grooves and separators and a way to cook different areas of the grill at different temperatures.  But it does require understanding the user pain points.  You need to understand the need for an absolute separate in the case of the vegan.  Or the need for everything to be done at about the same time, so that people don’t feel awkward when eating?  What other cases need to be designed in?  The design changes are cheap, but only if you know which ones are needed.  And HF ethnography is a good way to find out.

Consider the needs of an urbanite who needs to fit the grill on their small balcony.  This isn’t about making a scaled down model.  You need to understand the user context.  What kinds of access points and reach angles will be needed for someone to use the grill on the balcony at all stages.  Getting new raw materials from the kitchen delivered on a tray by a second person when you have the tray of raw meat already on the one flat area off the grill.  Adding new items to the grill without burning off your arm hair.  Is it possible to check on the food progress without coming all the way outside?  What cases are needed for access?  HF ethnography could find this out.

One pain point that Weber identified was the need to store some items so that you don’t have to go back and forth to the kitchen so many times that you don’t enjoy the grilling experience.  Adding a fridge would be too expensive (another pain point for the high end grills) without some of that serious technological innovation we are trying to avoid.  But what about a cooler?  That would only need some insulation.  How long would the food need to stay reasonably cool?  HF ethnography could figure that out.