Presenting at Customer Experience Design 2013

This week, representing SMS Management & Technology, I presented at the Customer Experience Design 2013 conference in Darling Harbour, in Sydney Australia. 

Such a beautiful place and I wish I could have stayed an extra night and visited my sister-in-law.  Alas.

The conference was a pretty good day, with case study-style talks from the banking industry, the National Broadband Network, insurance & financial services and industrial product design, as well as thought leadership talks from customer experience design experts. 
My presentation was on Quantifying Customer Experience - the Four Eras of Customer Analytics.  The basic point was that as experience designers, you've got two questions to ask:
1 What's going on, and where should I meddle, (let's call that one question) and
2 If I do, will it be worth it?
While analytics alone are deeply insufficient to drive experience design, if you want to get funding for a customer experience improvement project, you're going to have to satisfy the bean counters.  (I think I was saying "bean counters" when my mate Stephen took this shot.)  And if you're collecting analytics around customer satisfaction, chances are, you're doing it wrong. If your metrics can't tell a story about real business outcomes and show a positive link to increased revenue, then as far as a CFO is concerned, you're dead in the water, and you may as well pack up your Sharpies and your Post-its.
There's a Storify summary of all the Twitter traffic from the conference here. (I have to admit, I did quickly scroll down to the after-lunch portion of the timeline to see what the reaction had been, and if people were saying good or bad things about my talk.) 
You can see the talk on Slideshare above.
(and here is the official link to the pdf in the SMS Publications, and to the Conference recap, which will eventually include the SOUND)
Hope you enjoy.

4 Lessons in business transformation from a former religious extremist

Learning can come from unexpected places - Notes from a terror propaganda man:

Maajid Nawaz was born in Essex in the UK.  He gave a TED talk at TED Global in July 2011.  In his talk, he revealed that from the age of 19, for thirteen years, he was a member of an Islamist extremist organisation, and his focus, from the UK to Pakistan, to Denmark and to Egypt, was on spreading the messages of their social movement in order to unite similar extremists across borders, to make it easier to take collective action.

After spending time being tortured in an Egyptian prison, he had an ideological change of heart.  He also has a message to spread:  
"The people - he says - taking best advantage of the state of the art in knowledge and tools to effectively spread big messages are the extremists... and this isn't right."  
His talk is aimed at giving some insight to people he would like to see spreading pro-Democracy messages.  I think there are lessons that can be extracted for busines people too.

The four ages of identity - our messaging needs
His brief history of time includes a description of four ages of identity, and what it was  in each of those ages that scholars believe gave us our sense of belonging:
  1. The age of religion:  In medieval times, identity came from affiliation to a religion
  2. The age of the Nation State: where ethnicity was the principal focus
  3. The age of Globalisation: where in citizenship in a nation superceded ethnicity, and
  4. The recently established age of Behaviour: in which people have allegiance to ideas and narratives that transcend borders.
It is in this age of behaviour - where communication is borderless and where allegiance is to ideals, that social technologies  can allow what would otherwise be isolated pockets of parochialism feel connected to each other and start taking action.  This works if they harness the key ingredients of a social movement.

The key ingredients - The anatomy of a social movement in 4 parts:
In his role as a trans-national propagandist, Maajid was conscious that the strongest social movements had four key ingredients:
  1. Ideas
  2. Narratives
  3. Symbols
  4. A Leader
You can see his description in the TED talk here.  His discussion of the four ingredients starts at 8:05.

To bind people together, these four ingredients must spring instantly to mind.  

He uses Al-Qaeda as an example and describes it thus:  
The ideas - the cause - of Al-Qaeda are something you can think of straight away.  The Narratives, the background stories or propaganda Al Qaeda uses to back that up (The "West" is at war with Islam etc...) also spring instantly to mind.  The symbols are easily conjured up (Journalists being executed by hooded men, the twin towers falling etc...), and the leaders of the movement are easily identifiable. 

Applying this thinking to business.
If you have anything to do with sponsoring transformation in your business, how often do you hear about problems relating to organisational "silos"?  I hear it all the time.   The political, ideological and structural 'identity borders' an extremist faces on the world stage show up in a company as its functional silos, its geography, its org design lines and its other organisational constructs.   


The kinds of challenges most businesses are dealing with often require those silos to dissolve - to become irrelevant.  For instance, I'm currently working with a very large national infrastructure provider, and one of their chief strategic goals - on the radar of the CEO - is to become more collaborative.  That is a tall order.  To move a big comapny from a state of being 'not collaborative' to something that people would be happy to describe as collaborative involves big changes to all kinds of things:  Culture and behaviours, the physical environment and processes, and of course the introduction of new technology.  It's a big challenge and it means that the company has to be viewed and treated as a complex adaptive system - while at the same time acknowledging that it is a collection of disparate 'nation states'.  The silos are a fact.

As architects of the transformation, we're being conscious to pay attention to the four key ingredients of social movements in order to help penetrate the silos.

Ideas - This strategy of collaboration is being well defined.  We're using specific strategic planning techniques (including RIOS planning - brainchild of my friend Chris Tipler and subject of a future post) to ensure that those things the company has to be good at are clearly defined, without being restrictive.  Complex adaptive systems have to be able to take advantage of emergence - and trying to lock the ideas into too rigid a construct can backfire.  (Imagine trying to throw a birthday party for 24 nine-year-olds using a Gantt chart and milestones...)

Narratives - Narrative is one of the most powerful tools for establishing boundaries, getting complex messages across, making expected behaviour clear and for answering the question WHY.  The strategic story behind a transformation has to be made explicit.  I first really got bit by the bug of applying narrative techniques in business when I met Shawn Callahan of Anecdote in London.  Gartner has published an article (Use Storytelling to Solve Wicked Problems), quoting a lot of Shawn's research. 

In his last keynote as CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs uses narrative to explain why Apple was doing all the things it was doing in launching iCloud.  It's masterful, and worth the watch.  There's a brilliant analysis of it as a Strategic Story at Anecdote here, but in a nutshell, 

Steve starts by describing the 'Once upon a time' history. He then goes on to share the Turning point (what changed), describe What we want to be, and therefore What we have to do.  Then, he spends the rest of the time interacting with other Apple execs doing live demos to show What the new world will look like
"Ten years ago we had one of our most important insights at Apple..."
In less than two minutes, that core narrative structure did a great deal of the heavy lifting answering the question "Why" about all the work that must've been going on at Apple.  Why people were working overtime building more server farms.  Why, while the champagne had probably just stopped flowing over wrangling out the legal issues to get the Beatles on iTunes, all the contracts were probably having to be re-written because of the new conventions iCloud indroduced around rights and syncing.  Maajid Nawaz, our former extremist knew the power of narrative in doing his job - so does Apple.

Symbols - Symbols - especially concrete object symbols give us a tangible, visual reminder of the cause.  Here's a symbol I saw a week ago at a major bank: 

When I took the picture, I didn't even know the whole story yet, but good symbols say so much on thier own:  

It's pretty clear that in a movement to simplify processes, one of the bank's internal paperwork forms was universally hated.  Once they had managed to streamline their processes and retire that form, they mocked it up in cement, smashed it to smithereens with a big hammer and then, like heads on a row of pikes on the road into a medieval village, they left the rubble in a wheelbarrow in a prominent communal place as a symbol of the movement.  (And a warning to any other overly bureaucratic and un-necessary bits of paperwork?) 

Non-visual symbols
Of course, not all symbols have to be visual.  This is another role for stories.  Good executives can tell stories.  Better execs can tell a story and recognise a story when they hear one (so it can be harnessed..)  The best executives can tell a story, recognise a story and know how to trigger a story.

Two companies known for their outstanding customer serivce, US retailer Nordstrom and global hotelier Ritz Carlton use stories of amazing, surprising, inspiring acts of customer service as the main focus of their induction and training material.  Blow the profitability of a sale at Nordstrom by going over the top with story-worthy customer service do you don't get sacked?  No - you get turned into a rock star.  Both that fact, and every story associated with it are great symbols in aid of their movement.

The fourth ingredient for a social movement is a leader.

Leader - Does the leader of the movement spring to mind?  Who is steadfastedly sticking to their guns in the face of difficulty?  On whom can you depend as a beacon when the waters get muddied, when the decisions get tough or when you just don't know what to do next? 

How emboldened, empowered, and galvanised for action do you think employees would feel under these circumstances:  They got the email describing behaviours they were expected to start showing because of the new program, they'd been subjected to the PowerPoint presenation, seen the roadshow and have the little reminder card that has been deposited on every desk.  But then, when their boss, or their boss's boss stood up at some event, or had a one-on-one with them, or was somehow involved, they got nothing.  Or worse, they saw something inconsistent or off-message with the transformation?

Steve Jobs is an obvious visible leader for his cause.  So was Osama bin Laden.  If the leader of the movement springs instantly to mind, it's easier to unite those critical pockets who are already living the new values.  Who is the face of your transformation effort?

Learning can come from unexpected places.

Clarity Rule:  Know the anatomy of a social movement, and cover all four bases.  Know your ideas, have a core narrative, propagate symbols and have a leader.

5 presentation lessons from the King's Speech

Jesse Desjardins @jessedee pulled together a nice slideshare presentation with five good preso reminders we can take from the popular movie the King's Speech.

The five lessons are the following:

  1. Have faith in your voice
  2. Admit you need help
  3. Put the hours in (!!)
  4. Become an expert from experience
  5. Broadcast a true version of your self (a bit like Garr Reynolds' presenting naked)

Have a peek at his great slideshare slides below. Note the full-bleed images (no logo-every-page-corporate-template-nonsense there) and the appropriate use of typography. I like how well the tone of the font on the 'lessons' pages matches the old school microphone.

Thanks to Darren Rouse @problogger for the tweet.

Creepy robots and how not to turn people off when telling business stories

On the right is the face of one of the most sophisticated androids on the planet. Nevertheless, the face isn't quite right is it?... In fact it's kind of creepy.

So! It looks like authenticity is going to be one of the new trends in presentation for 2011. Hallelujah! (See Nancy Duarte's other predictions here.)

I once had a mentor of mine tell me:
"Greg, listen very carefully and remember this: Intent (he said,) counts more than technique."

And he was right. It's a saying that has stuck with me for a lot of years. What he meant was that you can learn all the clever people-influencing techniques you like (You know the ones:
  • conversations for rapport through common ground,
  • mirroring and matching body language and breathing pattern,
  • benefit-focussed solution selling, or
  • S.P.I.N. selling,
  • etc... etc...)
But if your intentions aren't in the right place, it shows. You just somehow know when someone is 'techniquing' you. You can see right through it can't you? On one hand, your friend waxes lyrical with puppy dog-like enthusiasm about why you should switch from your boring old PC to a super-cool Mac like she has, and even if you don't want to switch, you don't really mind her (neverending) insistence. But if some cheesy, over-slick salesperson tries to 'sell' you on one, it just leaves a bad taste in your mouth from the second they sidle up to you and come out with their first over-friendly greeting.

The truth leaks out the sides
The difference is about where they're genuinely coming from. No matter what 'technique' the super-slick salesperson may be using, there's something - some subtle combination of non-verbal cues that leaks their real intent (to 'sell' you) out the side and gives you a feeling in your gut - one way or another.

Of course nobody wants to be presented to by a "hey-there, hi-there, ho-there" cheesy salesperson type, but I read a very interesting analogy from robot design of all things that puts some science behind at least one reason authenticity counts.

It's from my friend Shawn Callahan
(one of my Clarity Heroes) over at Anecdote. He found a great parallel between the feeling we get looking at different kinds of robots and the difference between what he calls 'Big-S' storytelling and 'Little-S' storytelling at work. What am I talking about - you ask? Read on.

This is from Shawn's post:
Imagine a spectrum of storytelling. At one end is Big 'S' Storytelling which includes those beautifully crafted stories we see in movies, novels, plays and even the latest Playstation games. Big 'S' Storytellers understand plot structures, character development, scene design and a myriad of other storytelling principles and practices. At the other end of the spectrum is Small 's' Storytelling where we find the stories we tell on a daily basis in conversations, anecdotes, recounts and examples.
Slipping into 'story mode'
Big-S storytelling techniques can be very useful to help with clarity - to help get your point across in a more vivid, engaging way. However, like the cheesy sales techniques, they can also be a trap. If you're trying hard with techniques like voice modulation and vivid imagery, even slightly missing the mark screams that you've stopped talking normally and have slipped into 'story mode'. Ever been having coffee with someone who recently started a new job? Often, if the conversation drifts to how they got it, you can tell the moment they've switched from just talking to you and started giving you the resume answers they used in their interviews. They've slipped into 'story mode'. And unless they're world-class seriously good at it, without meaning to, anybody talking in 'story-mode' risks being distractingly, eye-rollingly cringe-worthy.

So how do creepy robots fit in to all this?
In his post, Shawn introduces the findings of Japanese robot maker Mashahiro Mori, who found in his research that we only like our robots to be human-like up to a point, after which they fall into the creepy-zone he calls the Uncanny Valley - where they wallow in creepiness - until they become perfect and pop out the other side as likeable again.


Source: Crossing the uncanny valley, The Economist, Nov 18th 2010.

With this analogy, Shawn is saying that like making a too-close-to-human android face, using Big-S storytelling techniques to get close to delivering a Big-S story experience can be a dangerous thing, and risks alienating your listeners by propelling you into the creepy-zone of story-mode.

Like all things Anecdote, it's a post worth reading - see the full text here.

Clarity rule:
Sometimes an unvarnished recounting of an experience is better than a carefully prepared "the-moral-of-this-story" story. To get a point across at work, it's a million times better to be clumsy and authentic than it is to be too much of a storytelling technique try-hard.

Four presentation predictions for 2011

Nancy Duarte, one of my Clarity Heroes, author of Slide:ology and Resonate has posted her annual presentation predictions for 2011. In quick summary, her four predictions are:

  1. Tablet war will shape the future of presentation
  2. Authenticity will trump 'spin'
  3. Slides will be hand-sketched and scanned in
  4. People will opt more for 'no-slide' presentations
See her full post here.

The Surprising Truth about what motivates you

Below is a great video from Dan Pink.

In it, Dan presents some excellent research into motivation which will help leaders decide what to be clear about if they're trying to encourage good performance. A lot of it ties in with the earlier post on Clarity Rules: Why clearly linking reward to your change programme is harder - and easier - than you thought.

What's more, Dan's animation is also a terrific example of communicating something complex in a very understandable way.

Have a watch.


How to present numbers - Buffet Style

This article from HBR showcases a small trumph of plain language and humanising metaphor over technicals and jargon. I wanted to pass it on.

Every year, the chairs and CEOs of public companies write announcements to accompany their annual reports. Warren Buffet, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, and the most successful investor of all time wrote one that runs to 20 pages. You'd be forgiven for expecting it to be dry, jargon-riddled technical reading, but it couldn't be further from the truth.

Warren Buffet presents his results and his assessment of the economic climate using conversational (dare I say fun) prose, funny examples and memorable metaphor that make his messages both clear and sticky. This will be great news for his readers - both the Ordinary Joe investor and professionals alike. (Why do people assume that just because someone is 'professional' they all of a sudden thrive on jargon and obscurity?)

His letter includes language like:
"In poker terms, the Treasure and the Fed have gone 'all in'."
(To describe the response to the Global financial crisis),
"Even evaluations covering as long as a decade can be greatly distorted by foolishly high or low prices at the beginning or end of the measurement period. Steve Ballmer, of Microsoft, and Jeff Immelt, of GE, can tell you about that problem, suffering as they do from the nosebleed prices at which their stocks traded when they were handed the managerial baton."
(To discuss different ways they could choose to measure their own performance), and
"We pay a steep price to maintain our premier financial strength. The $20 billion-plus of cashequivalent assets that we customarily hold is earning a pittance at present. But we sleep well."
(To describe their liquidity ratio and justify the opportunity cost.)

HBR sums up four lessons from Warren's shareholder letter:
  1. Use numbers to season the points you serve - they're not the main dish
  2. Use analogies and metaphor
  3. Be honest and transparent
  4. Use facts to put things in realistic context.

The one and a half page HBR article is here.

It's worth the read.

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