New Media Consortium 2009 summer conference

11 06 2009
Kathy Siera as NMC Keynote Speaker

Kathy Siera as NMC Keynote Speaker

I am in Monterey, C A attending this conference. The plenary session was outstanding – the speaker, Kathy Sierra is a charismatic, hilarious and informed speaker. Love the talk. Here are the notes from that session which she called ‘Cognitive Seduction’:

Predictor of success: which is better is it how great the company is or how great the product is? How great the author is, or how great the author is? The answer is C which is talk about the user or the audience or the reader. What the testimonials are.. here is what I learnt from this product. Companies need to learn how to elicit first person language. It is all about how cool the technology is – but really how cool the user is who uses that technology, “What do you want to be really really good at? Imagine if we could actually do that for people. Why is it that the experience of being good at something is so powerful for people? How do you create passionate users? Creating hi-res user experience. Nobody is passionate about things they suck at. There is a suck threshold and a passion threshold.. one goes from beginner to expert. How do you get someone up the curve more quickly from bad to expert?

But it’s not about the tools we build. Don’t focus on the tools – people don’t want to be passionate about how good they are at tools but about what they are able to do with it. Let’s help them get really good at something. Just one problem.. your brain. Your brain and mind are in an epic battle. Brain wants food and sex but mind wants other things. The brain is filtering everything that is coming at it and trying to decide what to let through. The brain pays attention to chemistry: that which we feel., When we feel it we become passionate about it. Look at expressions of people and things and how we react to them passionately. There are many cheap tricks to get the brain to care.

The brain does not react to smiley tablet using computer. The brain does not like code because it is not life threatening. Yes you wake up the brain but sometimes for the wrong feelings.

Conversation beats formal and lecture tone. Talk to the brain not the mind. Using ‘I’ and ‘you’ makes people pay attention more because the brain thinks it is in a conversation.

Ten tricks:

  1. Focus on what the user does, not what you do. Exercise: don’t build a better x but ..
  2. Give them superpowers, quickly. Give them something that empowers them quickly. User must do something cool within 30 minutes.
  3. Make them smarter: what makes you smarter? Brain games? Puzzles? Those help a little – but aerobic exercise improves your brain capabilities. Exercise is the poor man’s plastic surgery.Stand up and improving your balance makes you smarter because the brain is trying to keep you balanced and upright. Those are the kinds of things we need to think for our users.
  4. Don’t focus on X, ask what X is a subset of. Find relevance. What is the bigger thing that your topic is a part of? Eg. Don’t blog about your product but about what people can do with it – it is about cooking, not the tool.
  5. Shrink the 10,000 hours. There are ways to shrink the 10 thousand hours to be good at something: learn the patterns, shorten the duration by helping them do them in a shorter period of time. Create and think in patters and chunking. Learn to do knowledge acquisition. Always be practicing. Create a culture of practice. We expect people to practice [athletes etc], but for software development we don’t have that culture. Only a thousand is needed to be expert. Experience is a poor predictor of performance/expertise. Offer exercises, games, contests, tutorials tht support deliberate practice of the right things.
  6. Make your product or docs reflect their feelings. Reflect the way people are using it. Help and FAQs are not effective. We write it for happy smiley people but not beginners. “Letting people off the hook is the killer app”. People should not be made to feel guilty and bad. How you make them feel about themselves drives how they feel about you.
  7. Create a culture of support. How do you ger them to answer and ask questions? There are no dumb questions. In communities people have to make people feel comfortable asking questions. No dumb answers too. We have to allow people to feel that it is ok to answer wrong. That’s part of how they learn.
  8. Do not insist on inclusivity. Passionate users though talk different. Part of what is cool is to be able to talk in jargon inspite of the presence of newbies.
  9. Make the right thing easy, wrong thing difficult. A treadmill is not in the corner because you don’t use it but you don’t use it because it’s in the corner. Make is easier for users to breakthrough.
  10. Total immersion jams: 16 hours over two days vs. 16 hours over two months. Compressed periods of time are better for creativity breakthroughs. The surest way to guarantee nothing interesting happens is to assume you know exactly how to do it.
  11. Be brave. Love is good, hate is good but in the zone of mediocrity you’re scrwed.



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