The Stephane Hamel, Susan Bratton, Eric Peterson Convergence and more “Thoughts on Blogging”

Okay, I’m chuckling. I keep on thinking of that scene in Godfather III where Al Pacino’s character says “No sooner do I think I’m out then they pull me back in”.

Stephane Hamel read yesterday’s Thoughts on Blogging and offered [[an unfortunately lost]] sage comment, that historically blogs were meant to be personal journals and thus are more apt to be opinion and emotion rather than researched information.

Stephane’s comment caught me off guard. I always considered my BizMediaScience blog as personal, my blog as “business”.

I’ve also had enough training to know that anything anybody writes is going to be a demonstration of their personality unless they’ve had lots and lots of training (no, don’t worry, I know most of the people with that level of training and you’re not one of them).

Way back when I was studying (when haven’t I been studying? I mean “Way back when my study was more formal”) we did an exercise where everybody in the class had to write a story from an opposite gender perspective; men had to write from a women’s perspective, women from a man’s perspective. We turned the stories in anonymously (this was back when you either typed things up or printed them out. Nobody used emails for class work back then).

The purpose of the exercise was to determine if we could determine a) the true gender of the author and b) who the author actually was.

Interestingly enough, much of what I did in that exercise is currently being echoed in some responses I’m posting on Susan Bratton’s blog. I’m offering some suggestions for getting members to interact more on social sites and how the genders will interact differently.

Getting back to that class exercise, the true gender of the author was obvious to me, as was the author’s identity. Nobody caught me or mine.

I cheated, though. I used a trick. I knew (at the time) that I couldn’t rewire my brain from male to female orientation (now it’s much easier. Still no piece of cake, simply much easier (something I demonstrated recently during a training in NYC)). One of my teachers often described ways of using “levels of awareness” and “levels of abstraction”, something more colloquially stated as “Fake it until you Make it”.

So I didn’t write a story from a woman’s perspective. I wrote a story from what’s called “3rd person omniscient” perspective and added a twist — one of the characters had never encountered a woman therefore everything the female characters did was absolutely correct, right and true.

Women in the class were convinced that one of their own had cheated, had written from a woman’s perspective already being a woman. This wasn’t fair on a number of levels. Whoever she was, she had violated a basic tenet of the sisterhood by not letting her peers in on the scam. But they knew each other — it was imperative that we knew a great deal about each other in order to be in the program — and they knew (They knew!) that none of them would do such a thing.

I can’t tell you the amount of respect I got from both genders when the truth came out. I won’t tell you the number of dates I was invited on.

All of this plays into this thread (yep, I sew things up in the end).

I’ve always stated that I never hide my emotions, that I don’t play things close to the vest and that if anybody wanted to know what I was thinking all they had to do was ask. Eric Peterson read one of my posts and jokingly offered that I wear my heart on my sleeve.

Too true!

But in answering the questions on Susan Bratton’s blog and doing some research about the lack of readership on this blog I’ve come to realize several things about my brand of personalism.

One of the things I was going to write today for Susan is something she did today (I think it was today). She asked people to help her increase her readership in Rally for Suz: Help Me DOUBLE My DishyMix Audience. In my last post to her (not sure if she’s published it yet) I left off with “This form of reafference brings us back to “direct address” again.

Direct address is something NextStage and others’ research has indicated is a powerful motivational tool in social networks — simply asking people to take part. Works 99.99999% of the time and is an element of what NextStage talks about in our Full Day Training “Using the 10 First Contact Marketing Messages”.

Funny thing is, when I first started writing this blog, I was explicitly told not to comment on readership numbers or such or make requests such as those.

And I tend to do what people ask of me. If nothing else, it makes for good research.

By the way, that story I wrote was nominated for a Nebula Award. I think it was a Nebula. Some science-fiction, speculative-fiction award. I’ll run it here as a series of you’re interested. [[you can now read an anthology of my writings including the Nebula Award nominated Cymodoce in Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires or as the single Kindle story, Cymodoce.]]

Just let me know.

And keep it personal.

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Thoughts on Blogging

Ah, the freedom.

I’ve been doing some thinking about blogging since my liberation therefrom. That, of course, means research. My curiosity knows no bounds, I’ve been told.

I’ve wondered at my lack of number generation. I stopped writing for a online magazine because they wanted me to write “rants”. I remember when the editor-in-chief told me they were looking for rants I had to ask what she meant. Pretty much what she meant was “A rant or harangue is a monologue that does not present a well-researched and calm argument; rather, it is typically an attack on an idea, a person or an institution, and very often lacks proven claims.

“Some rants are used not to attack something, but to defend an individual, idea or organization. Rants of this type generally occur after the subject has been attacked by another individual or group.

“Rants are used often in situations requiring monologue. Comedians, such as Lewis Black or Rick Mercer, use rants as a way to get their message or punch-line across to the listening audience.”

I like Lewis Black’s comedy. Not sure if I’ve ever seen Rick Mercer. I also recognize (in Lewis Black’s case) that much of his rants are well researched. To me, it’s that research that makes it worth waiting for his punchline.

But the problem for me in ranting was the “…does not present a well-researched and calm argument; rather, it is typically an attack on an idea, a person or an institution, and very often lacks proven claims.”

Well, heck…why would I waste my time on a not well researched attack on someone or something, especially when they or it are not there to defend themselves?

So I began to wonder…

I don’t get a lot of comments on my blogs. I do get lots of emails about them. I compared what happens on my blogs to what happens on other people’s blogs. I have about 300 blogs in my reader, about 30 are from research institutions and are really updates on what they’re doing, who’s presenting, who’s coming and going. There’s not a lot of comments. I’d call them “news” feeds more than anything else.

There’s probably another 30 or so that are industry specific. Again, they’re more newsfeeds than blogs as I understand blogs. Another 30 or so are written by multiple authors or contributors.

I don’t follow any of these blogs daily. Heck, I don’t follow these blogs monthly. Or quarterly. I open up my reader every once in a while when there’s a break in my work and see what’s out there. “…a break in my work…” translates to maybe once or twice a year. I most often get my information from journals (Nature, Science, Journal of Consciousness Studies, Cybernetics and Human Knowing, Perception and Physical Reality, …).

When I do read through them, it goes pretty quick and mainly because most bloggers don’t offer a lot of information and do offer a lot of opinion.

Opinion again. I’ve studied how opinions form. I stay away from them the best I can.

So right now I’m answering some questions people sent in to Susan Bratton’s blog. It’s a fascinating exercise. I’ve been watching myself compose the answers.

Each response is basically a seminar in print. That’s not what I want, it’s simply that I don’t like offering an opinion unless I can back it up with lots of research.

Which means it’s not really my opinion. A few times people challenged my columns and I welcomed their input. Once or twice their challenges were what I recognize as rants. I thanked them for their thoughts. In all cases, I also posted the bibliographies for what I’d written. Never heard from any of them again.

Guess it’s a little harder to rant against someone who recognizes opinions for what they are and returns research in its place.

Sorry about that.

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Rocks, Hammers, Competition and How People Get Left Behind

Note: this post is from Jun ’07. We’re reposting because J references it in Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation.

I’ve been talking with lots of people about what NextStage does, about our Evolution Technology, and about how I never wanted people to lose their jobs because of it. Ever since I made the first announcement about being awarded our patent, people have been walking up to me and saying things like “Well, there’s goes A/B and Multivariate testing” or “There goes web analytics as we know it” or “There goes marketing”.

It was never my intention to have people lose jobs or have industries go away. I am (at my core, probably) a tool maker. I recognize challenges and create tools to address those challenges.

I also make the tools I create available to anyone who wants to use them (and often at a sliding scale based on their ability to pay). Nobody gets it for free, though. That’s pretty well understood by anyone who asks me.

I also often talk about the history of technology, how tools change culture and, in environmental time, how tools change tool users.

Consider rocks, hammers and those who lost their jobs versus those who didn’t when this technology — a mass accelerated through a torque arc. That’s what both hammers and rocks are — changed.

You can think that the hammer put the rock out of the business of being a striking tool in flint based societies (“stone age”). The hammer’s advantage was it took less effort to do the same amount of work as a rock. Rocks had to be accelerated through the torque arc of the arm and lacked the ability to deliver constant impact strength to small areas (you usually had to swing your whole arm and you couldn’t do fine work).

The hammer could be accelerated by the whole arm. It could also be accelerated by the wrist and deliver close to the same impact strength. Also, because it was controlled by the finer muscles of the wrist, it could do finer work.

So the hammer put the rock out of business, yes?

The hammer put the rock out of business, no!

The hammer put people who refused to learn how to use the hammer out of business. People who learned how to use the hammer could also learn how to use the rock. The aboriginal people I’ve been with often start people with rocks when teaching them how to knap, then progress them up to primitive hammers as the student’s skills develop.

However, people who stop their education with the rock? It might be impressive to watch (it is. I’ve seen it) and the amount of time required to do the same amount of work with hammer or rock? Much longer with a rock. Much more expensive.

I won’t stop people from using rocks. I just think hammers are much more effective.

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The Complete “Canadian Based Business Differences — Responding to June Li, Christopher Berry and Jaques Warren” Arc (also known as “Responding to Christopher Berry’s ‘A Vexing Problem…” and incorporating “The Language of Web Analytics – The Hard(er) Sell in Canada”)

Note: this post comprises several threads that wound together in J’s mind. God save us…

Canadian Based Business Differences — Responding to June Li, Christopher Berry and Jaques Warren.html

This blog post is a response to a request from June Li, “the matriarch of Toronto Web Analytics”, for me to take part in an online discussion about challenges the Canadian analytics community is facing getting its value proposition across. You can read the leadins to my response in “Good Time Had By All”, and Vexing Problem, Lively Web Analytics Wednesday T.O. and The Vexing Problem, Part 2. My response follows.

Thanks to June Li for calling me and asking me to take part in this discussion (for those who don’t know, you can reach me far quicker and more easily by phone or Skype than email).

Okay. First question: “Why are Canadians so reluctant to embrace data driven strategy?” …

I’ll offer an opinion based on lots of research (from others as well as NextStage’s). Canada is still a pioneering society, the US isn’t. Nor is much of the EU…I’m sitting here wondering where else pioneering…probab…Oh, Australia. Duh!

I don’t have any direct data and I’m willing to bet northern Europe still works on pioneering manifestos.

I also need to share that I haven’t found Canadians skeptical of a marketing science approach. At least I haven’t found them skeptical to NextStage’s approach.

It’s fairer to suggest that it’s how things are taught in the schools rather than “…something in our school system that turns people off and away from statistics.” I know some very impressive statisticians based out of NS (Hi, John! Hi, Shauna! Yo, Roger! Caimar tha sibh, Calum agus Eachainn agus fearheann a’ Castail na Gunnah!) and to be honest, I doubt any of these people would consider themselves statisticians, only people who use statistics as part of what they do. I also think this last element is part of at least the NS if not Atlantic Canada culture.

One way pioneering mentalities manifest themselves is something I’m often guilty of; I don’t get something until it’s totally, completely obvious I need it. A polite way of saying this might be “fiscal conservatism” and I hesitate to use the term because I’d rather people not think in socio-political-economic terms so much as in psycho-behavioral manifestation terms. In much of Canadian business this manifests itself in a hesitation to adopt new concepts and technologies. This hesitancy has nothing to do with the inherent accuracy or value of the new concepts or technologies, only in that there is not a strong enough case made for adoption (even on a trial basis).

This (I believe) is what June is commenting on in her “But it seems that squeezing insight from data, testing and optimizing fall into the “important but not urgent” category by opinion and “not urgent, not important” by action (or lack of action).” My opinion (big warning here. I’m offering my opinion. I know lots of people who’ve done studies around these elements and read their work, I’ve not seen anything directly on it, hence I’m synthesizing lots of material to form an opinion) is that June (and obviously others) are observing some behaviors and implying an inaccurate attribution (Joseph speak for “You saw what you saw and I think your interpretation of what you saw is incorrect. You, dear June, are of course perfect. It’s the interpretation I question, not you.”). June’s statement that what’s being observed isn’t new and has a history is simply an exemplar of this cultural motif — It’s not new either and its demonstration has been in Canadian culture for some time.

June also offers “We’re lamenting the lost opportunities that Canadians are missing on the global stage. And we can’t afford to lose more opportunities on the Web, a more level playing field than others…”

This is something that falls out from what I was showing in my Emetrics Toronto presentation. People might remember my sharing how seasons and location effect a society’s thought processes. I took a peek just now at the NextStage’s SampleMatch report on Canadian overall cognitive processfor the past few days and what do I see?

  • These people tend to keep their own counsel although they will listen to others
  • They are swayed by statements and/or arguments of what is going right, right now
  • They base decisions on what might happen right now rather than what might happen later on

This (to me, anyway) fits in well with what June is describing in her post. Pioneering mentalities are adept at prioritizing and the benefits presented by the type of testing and optimizing suggested by June and others simply isn’t making it to the top of the priority list (as it is being currently presented. You can get it to the top of the lists and that’s about a day long class, if anybody’s interested. I will offer that demonstrating value along the elements I’ve listed above is the key. The methodology got us some very lucrative Canadian based contracts. We’ve repeated the cognitive methodology many times, always successfully).

Jacques Warren (Bonjour, mon ami!) doubts the challenge is because of the schools and has more to do with Canadian business culture. Well…I’d offer that it’s endemic to both and again has its roots in the pioneering cultural motif. I truly appreciated his “I find Canadian business culture to be far more sheepish when it comes to trying new things. Whereas Americans will fill up the tank and stump the gas pedal to see how far they can go, Canadian business people will put a liter in the tank, and decide to add gas based on how far they will get with the first liter.” This is (to me) a very direct statement of the psycho-behavioral “fiscal conservatism” I mentioned earlier in the post. Well done and well stated, Jacques!

Jacques then suggests “I think we need to wait until Americans have really proven something to work before we decide to fully engage it in. By that time, our friends south the border have already gotten a dominant position.” Again, this plays into the motif mentioned above. I also need to offer a counter example; Maritime Canada has been years ahead of the US in digital telephony simply because they never made the investment in copper. Canada’s weakness can also be its competitive strength, it’s simply (simply???) a matter of recognizing the correct triggers to drive investment and action.

Another example is a counter to Jacques “It could also be a question of available capital. It’s by far easier to fund new ideas in the US.” For what it’s worth, NextStage’s early funding has come mostly from Canada, as did the majority of its early adopters. Americans will move quickly and often in an invalid direction. This is because America still has and promotes a colonizing mentality, a shoot first and ask questions later mentality (yes, I know that’s stereotyping. Someday remind me to explain the function of stereotyping in social concepts. I wrote in KBar’s Findings: Political Correctness in the Guise of a Sandwich, Finale that marketers use stereotypes all the time, they just call them personae and that name change seems to make stereotyping much more acceptable).

Christopher Berry then offered that universities “…don’t have a very nice approach to statistics – it’s all ‘counting’ problems.” Amusing to me because I’m currently Skyping with one of my mentors in statistics. I do agree about the challenge with universities. I recently had a discussion with a statistician and realized quickly that this individual’s training (I’m sure this person is an excellent statistician) made them into a very good tool user, not a very good tool maker. There is extreme value to me in the melding of both. People who know how to make tools are usually very adept at using them. Others might be more adept in the use of the tool and it would never occur to them to make the tool in the first place, regardless of the need (very few sword makers are also sword masters and very few sword masters are master sword makers. The few that fall into both camps are rare indeed).

Christopher also writes “I think that in some ways, it might be a failure to communicate the advantage. In other ways, I think there are credibility gaps.” I would offer that the former is creating the latter in many cases.

Okay. Enough, me thinks. If you’d like more or other call or skype me. You can email me and I haven’t downloaded my emails since 22 May 08. I think that was the last time.

And many thanks for inviting me to participate in this conversation. – Joseph

Responding to “Christopher Berry’s Vexing Problem, Part 3” post

Christoher Berry wrote The Vexing Problem, Part 3 and included much of my Canadian Based Business Differences — Responding to June Li, Christopher Berry and Jacques Warren in it (any my thanks to him for doing so).

I wrote a response to Christopher’s Part 3 and, being a Luddite, couldn’t post it to his blog hence am posting it here and hoping he’ll once again quote the parts he feels worthy.

Hello again,

Nice thoughts here!

I hope it is understood that my use of “fiscal conservative” was not from a socio-political perspective (NextStage has worked for politicians and political parties and I don’t follow politics much), it was from a neuro-economics, psycho-socio-linguistics perspective.

That offered, it seems the two overlap based on your comments. Funny how often that happens, yes?

“The power of the status quo” — very well stated although I’d never heard the phrase before. I’ll be sure to use it liberally and reference you as the source.

“Every single amendment to a bill permanently changes it.” Someday remind me to give you the semioticist’s version of that statement. So close it scares me.

Do I agree with what you’ve written? Some of it, yes, and purely from research and observation as well as another set of paradigms.

Thank you for suggesting that necessity is the key. I’m not sure that’s the entirety of what I meant, though. I believe I wrote “…there is not a strong enough case made for adoption…”. Necessity is part of the mix, I’m sure, and I would be failing you if I encouraged the thought that necessity was the sum of it.

I also offer that it’s not a losing battle, nor do we need to sensationalize or exaggerate, or resort to fear tactics. Definitely not fear. Not with a pioneering mentality and not as is suggested (the competition is doing it). The response to that would be “Really? Good, let’s see what happens and if they really absolutely positively get an advantage that we can’t duplicate or approximate without going through everything they went through, we’ll do it. But only then. Maybe.”

I’m also quite sure logic (at least as we’re using it here) isn’t the answer because the language of analytics (as exemplified by this blog, June Li‘s, (oh, just pick any one but not Stephane Hamel‘s or mine because Stephane and I use different language models, me all the time and Stephane much of the time) is to effect action, not promote logical processes. Effecting action rather than promoting logical processes is not specific to analytics although analytics really enforces that former aspect of language.

I would offer that effecting action rather than promoting logic is another reason why (pulling from some other disciplines I study) this type of analytics is all over the place in the States and catches on more slowly everywhere else (with exceptions being Asia, India and Australia, probably).

Is it a combination of all three? Let me offer the following for example purposes; “if any of you are interested in putting NextStage’s analytics on your own sites we could probably tell you in a relatively short period of time exactly what your customers (potential and otherwise) are thinking, tell you their objections and hot button items, and provide methods for overcoming conscious and non-conscious objections (if any) as well as activating their “buyer” mental states.”

I offer the above for example purposes, not as a sales pitch. The above paragraph is a demonstration of a “sales” methodology that works very well with Canadians (has so far, anyway, and everywhere from Atlantic Canada to the Pacific). The case for adoption (in the above paragraph) has little to do with necessity, much to do with understanding and usability of the information supplied. To date one Canadian client (just one!) asked us to provide an idea of ROI on their investment in us. This is extremely revealing as we know they ask it of others (and we’ve worked with large and small businesses, in educational settings, politics, …).

Readers who’ve seen my eMetrics presentations might remember my emphasis on the {C,B/e,M} or Cognitive, Behavioral/effective, Motivational matrix. These posts/discussion are/is an example of interpreting a behavior (reluctance to adopt) through a set of filters that may not be the same filters (that’s the cognitive and motivational parts of the {C,B/e,M} matrix) used by the target audience in their decision making. “Necessity” to a pioneering mentality is a much richer concept than most people are trained to recognize. I once explained to someone that no farmers I know of or farms I’ve worked on have snowblowers or even snowplows. What they have are tractors with CVDs and PTOs. The CVDs and PTOs allow the farmer to attach an amazing variety of apparatus to their tractors, hence one purchase — the tractor — allows the farmer to accomplish a great deal and variety of work. Yes, the apparatus must be purchased (or are often made by the farmers themselves in the off season from spare parts) and again, only as the need arises. (and who would recognize that the tractor-apparatus concept is based on a biologic, anatomic paradigm? ie, sell what is familiar)

What I’m suggesting is that analysts start selling tractors with CVDs and PTOs rather than snowplows and snowblowers. I believe one reason NextStage can get in to companies that are ignoring, doing away with, reconsidering their investment in, etc., traditional analytics is because we’re offering them a tractor with CVDs and PTOs along with a set of apparatus that not only thresh the field but also plow, plant and accurately predict the harvest all in one operation. If there’s something a (potential or otherwise) client wants to know we can usually fashion that apparatus in our off season (many of our reports came from specific client requests). None of what we offer falls under “necessity”, me thinks, because the separate pieces can probably be found elsewhere with a little work. It definitely falls under “understanding and usability” because our tractor also determines optimal field size, fertilizer spread, sowing pattern, etc., and then calculates harvest after being driven across the field once.

Canada is much more a networked society than the US is (again, a perceived weakness is actually one of the country’s great strengths) and recognizes that “understanding others better” has value. Is it an analytics sale? No, it’s a “better understanding/networking/usage” sale.

To me (emphasis on “to me”) this comes under the category of understanding how the customer thinks and tailoring the sale to the customer’s thought processes. I know you’re all shocked that “understanding how someone thinks” would be my take on it. I know you’re all also shocked that I’d work a farm metaphor into this. Hey, at least I didn’t write it all in Gaelic.

Thanks again – Joseph

The Language of Web Analytics – The Hard(er) Sell in Canada

Stephane Hamel and I were having a conversation earlier today about the online discussion Christopher Berry and I have been having about…well, I think it’s about selling web analytics to the Canadian business community. It’s gotten into some different areas and Stephane picked up on these in his comment [[(sorry, it’s lost to internet antiquity)]] on my above entry.

Christopher has since posted A Vexing Problem, Part 4 and I promise to get to it soon (heaven knows what that means with me, of course).

It’s amusing to me that I take a weekend off and several of the blogs I write get lots of traffic. Maybe I should stay away from the computer more often?

Stephane was most curious about my “I’m also quite sure logic (at least as we’re using it here) isn’t the answer because the language of analytics (as exemplified by this blog, June Li‘s, (oh, just pick any one but not Stephane Hamel‘s or mine because Stephane and I use different language models, me all the time and Stephane much of the time) is to effect action, not promote logical processes. Effecting action rather than promoting logical processes is not specific to analytics although analytics really enforces that former aspect of language.”

I asked Stephane if I could respond to some of his comments in a post and he, gracious man that he is, agreed. My purpose is to clarify what I meant by the above. I’ll also add some when I respond to Christopher’s latest.

First to clarify, all language effects action. That’s it’s purpose. It’s why languages have “command” forms and not “repose” forms. Therefore, using language to cause people to repose, rest, think, etc., is usually more complex than language used to effect action. It’s kind of like using a hammer to dig a hole. That’s not what a hammer is designed for and you can do it if you’re willing to put in the work.

What I was commenting on in the above was that Stephane will sometimes encourage people to think in his language usage. I do it a lot (force of habit, I guess).

I consider this with the postings of other “web analysts”. Note that I’m not evaluating their web analytics knowledge or any knowledge, opinion, inference, etc. What I’m considering is their language use, ie, are they using language to effect action on the part of the reader/listener/audience or are they effecting mentation?

Here I pick up my conversation with Stephane:

I need to explain what is meant by “language …effect action, not logic…”
It’s not indigenous to the language of analytics, per se, although the language of analytics intensifies the effect.
The function of all communication (human communication) is to cause people (the audience) to act in response to what is being communicated.

and I bet this difference would be reflected in most aspect of our lives, being more “directive” (you MUST do this) or more “convincing” (you SHOULD do this)
isn’t it MUST vs SHOULD and the ending result is DO? The end goal is still to DO, the difference is in how you influence people to actually get there?

Big question you’re asking, my friend. You’re getting into Linguistics, Theory of Mind, Cognitive Theory, Linguistic Cognition Studies, Philosophy of Learning, Morality versus Ethics, …

(why can’t people have more discussions like this on their blogs? This is interesting stuff we’re talking about here. To me, anyway)

“Must” == an obligation statement
“Should” == a choice statement


Lots of my training went into learning to recognize the difference between inferring choice v obligation in language.
Then again, lots of my training went into figuring out my training.

and I guess my communication style might explain why my clients hire me to get advice, I bring recommendations, and then they fail to implement. Maybe because I’m giving them the choice (should) in the way I’m communicating and I should emphasize more the “must”

A book that plays into this discussion is “Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?” Not generally accessible for a lay audience but funnier than heck because of what’s presented. Makes good reading, me thinks.

A simple read of Stephane’s language above (well, a simple read to me, anyway) demonstrates that Stephane is working towards both understanding and concensus, both of which are elements of mentation, not action.

Way to go, Steph! You’re the man….I mean, You’re one of the men…I mean, when you think about it…

Responding to Christopher Berry’s “A Vexing Problem, Part 4” Post, Part 1

First off, my thanks to Christopher Berry, June Li, Stephane Hamel and others for both engaging me in this discussion on why web analytics is such a hard sell in Canada and for keeping the conversation going in blog posts, phone calls, Skype sessions and (oh, lordy) emails (I will get an email you send me and usually only if you call me to let me know you sent it). As I wrote in the above, “why can’t people have more discussions like this on their blogs? This is interesting stuff we’re talking about here. To me, anyway”

Allow me to add a little to the discussion, some more information on how we are prisoners to language…

(and I admit now that I’m going to have some fun with this)

And no, I don't mean you reading this and I don't mean this post

Human thought processes aren’t designed for analytics in the way the word is used today (definitely not the way the word is implied in “web analytics”). Give most humans lots of data or information and their eyes glaze over, their minds go numb. What human thought processes are well designed to do is understand what science calls “anecdotal information” and what business calls “case studies”.

This lack of ability (at least without training) is an example of where heuristics demonstrates its strength and where Occam’s Razor fails — sometimes the simplest solution isn’t the correct one and touches into a field called “economic psychology” (amazing the specialties there are, isn’t it?).

Science works kind of like this: there’s data, you create a theory that explains the data, you test the theory by doing an experiment that should create similar data, you lather-rinse-repeat the theory-experiment process until the error between theory and experiment is acceptable (the “±2db” people often hear me talk about. What some people call “±2s“).

Holmes thinking. You can tell Holmes is the one thinking because he's smoking a pipe. You can't do much of anything else when you're smoking a pipe because you need your hands to smoke a pipe. You can smoke a cigar or cigarette without using your hands much but you're pretty much committed to thinking if you're smoking a pipe because you have to hold your pipe with one of your hands. That means your other hand is probably busy writing something or holding something you're reading, something that requires thinking, anyway. You won't be digging a hole or hammering a nail, that's for sure. Probably knock the pipe out of your mouth if you did. Anybody reading these? Comment if you do, I'm curious

And this is where being a prisoner to language comes in. The theory-experiment process requires people to think, not do…or at least to think before they do. Having managed labs, I can tell you that there’s lots of thinking before doing because (contrary to opinion) there’s not a lot of money for scientific research so you have to think before you do a lot. Doing and doing incorrectly depletes your budget rapidly and is hence a no-no.

You’d think that companies investing in solutions — any solutions — would like to see the data behind the solutions.

I don't want to understand it. I don't wanna I don't I don't I don't. Just tell me what to do. Tell me right now or I'll hold my breath until I turn blue! (anybody laughing?)

This is rarely the case. Any solution report that doesn’t have bulleted suggestions immediately following the cover page is doomed to go unread, it’s suggestions unheeded in most cases. Drawing from my own experience, the more complex the science, the more business people want you to distill the findings to one or two or at the most three elements.

Allow me to share an anecdote that demonstrates this. In NextStage’s early days we talked to VC. One incident that stands out was talking to a fellow who told us he didn’t believe Evolution Technology (ET) did what we claimed. Fine, we showed him the proof of concepts, detailed scientific experiments that demonstrated yes, ET was doing what we claimed.

Hmm...he didn't even look at the data? Just plain wouldn't accept it because he didn't like the implications of such a technology? And they think I'm not evolved. Ha. I'm engaged, just not evolved. There's a difference. I think. If I was smoking a pipe you'd know I'm thinking, right?

He barely looked at the proofs. Instead he looked at me and said he still didn’t believe it. I thought for a second and asked, “It doesn’t really matter how much proof we give you or what independent studies we show you, you just don’t believe ET does what we claim, correct?”

He didn’t hesitate. “Correct.”

I was a little upset

I gathered my things and walked out. Oh, alright, I made a few comments first. Most of them in Italian, most of them I learned from my grandfather and father when a cow stepped on their foot or something similar.

Sometime I should do a presentation on “Getting Your Business Through the Early Days”.

The above example also illustrates the difference between American and Canadian audiences. Americans tended to call me “arrogant” (also obnoxious and disliked). Canadians tended to call me “confident”.

Are you a Colonist or a Pioneer? A Canadian or an American? Your mindset is revealed by whether you see Einstein or Marilyn Monroe in this image.

This plays directly into Pioneering versus Colonial thinking. Colonists huddle together for mutual defense against the outsider and define anything new or different as a threat. Pioneers expect to encounter new things and are slow to respond except to direct and obvious threat. IE, the latter will think before it acts, the former will act before it thinks.

Bet you spent days if not hours working on that previous image, right?

And now we bring this back even more to scientific thinking versus anecdotal thinking and economic psychology. Most people reading this post will recognize and accept (even if they don’t necessarily agree with) what I’ve written. More people will nod knowingly at the anecdote above about the VC. I could have presented all the data we collected during our early days that demonstrated our travails (the presentation I suggested above. Yep, it was so fascinating we turned it into a research project. Got one of our most used Language Engines out of it, the RWB Language Engine).

Okay, we'll make it easier. Do you see a Venture Capitalist or ...?

However, the true majority of people will respond to the anecdote much more intimately (ie, have a direct emotional response) than they will to the science because the anecdote is (you guessed it) more intimate, more personal, provides more connections between “me and thee”. It puts a face on things, it makes the situation human, far easier to understand and because of these two far more believable than not.

Anecdotal thinking also allows someone to completely ignore the science and focus on similarities and differences that have no basis in addressing the original problem. For example, company A is shown how web analytics can create financial benefit. Lots of numbers, lots of data. Company A ignores that and asks “What is company B doing?”

Hey! We're all the same because we're all wearing hats! But wait a minute...that one guy's wearing a brown hat. He's not one of us! Alien! Foreigner! Jacobite! Neophyte! (Did you focus on the brown hatted fellow first or the three white hatted fellows? Has nothing to do with being Canadian or American, a Pioneer or a Colonist, just thought I'd ask while I'm here)

It won’t matter that companies A and B are in completely different markets addressing completely different audiences with completely different products. All that matters is that company B is Toronto based and company A is Toronto based, their websites have similar looks&feels, the CEOs play golf at the same club, … It especially won’t matter that company B’s solution won’t work for company A.

This is the power of anecdotal thinking. It allows humans to ignore obvious errors in reasoning and logic and why case studies and recommendations have a great deal more meaning than all the science in the world when it comes to making business cases (and this is true for all but a few borders you may be crossing).

Humans, due to anecdotal thinking and a lesson from economic psychology, have an amazing ability to dig themselves into a hole they can't get out of. Kind of the way I feel right about now trying to figure out where the heck this blog post is going to go...

And what about economic psychology? One lesson from economic psychology is a recognition of personality types that only learn via pain, ie, they have to make the same or similar mistakes repeatedly (repeatedly!) before they’ll consider something new. The truth is that most people get wired this way. We are trained to be cautious, it’s not a part of our natural wiring.

Babies crawl and then walk all over the place with a complete disregard for how dangerous the world is. They explore everything because their brains are hungry for information. This experiential information (ie, “doing”) is what creates the mind and later the personalities we recognize they have. Part of that exploration involves the parent or guardian saying “No!” and sometimes reinforcing the “No!” with a firm pat on the butt.

Scientists, me thinks, never got enough pats on the butt to remove that original wiring because scientists explore all the time. It’s what they do. Perhaps the pats on the butt created the need for data to analyze where as in others they simply removed the original wiring.

Anyway, the desire to gather data was replaced (in most cases) by a desire to think anecdotally, ie, cautiously. Being cautious helps us survive therefore to heck with logic and science, give me anecdotes each and every time!

<RAMBLE, part 2>

Do this, then this and then that. No, not that, this. Now do this. Okay, now do that. Again

I’m not good at bridging the gap between anecdotal and scientific thinking, me thinks. This is evidenced by this post, by my guest posts on Susan Bratton’s blog and such. I can provide a few bullets, a set of action items, and usually only after I’ve numbed you with the research that led up to those suggestions. NextStage currently has 80+ reports in its website tracking system. What’s the most used one? The “Suggestions Report” that lists Critical, Important and Desirable things to do to improve online performance. “Those other ones are real interesting, Joe, but they don’t tell me what to do. Just give me the Suggestions Report and we’ll ask for the others when we’re creating our internal reports for in-house use.”
</RAMBLE, part 2>

The problem with anecdotal thinking is that we can be fooled easily. Everyone from magicians to confidence hustlers exploits this. You would think that a tendency towards caution would make us less likely to be fooled, yes?

No, whether colonist or pioneer any ploy to caution will be internalized first and regardless of any scientific evidence contrary.

The anecdote — because we’ve acquired the wiring — always wins.

Responding to Christopher Berry’s “A Vexing Problem, Part 4” Post, Part 2

As I type this, two people have contacted me about Responding to Christopher Berry’s “A Vexing Problem, Part 4” Post, Part 1. I’ll be sharing some of their thoughts in future blog posts. Here I want to conclude my response to Christopher Berry’s “A Vexing Problem, Part 4“.

My previous entry dealt with language issues and why an analytics argument won’t work with any audience. Here I’ll mix in cultural learning and how working memory affects how we interact with clients. It turns out that most people are not only prisoners to language, most people are also prisoners to what they’ve learned, how they learned it and the last time they used it.

(And at some point (tha mi duil na dhia) I plan on actually getting back to what Christopher wrote in his post)

The folks in charge of teaching and designing web analytics courses might benefit from knowing that how they present their information in class is going to deeply influence how that discipline will be presented and performed in the real world. This is true of everything, not just web analytics.

People who know me or who have taken part in one of my or NextStage’s classes have heard me talk about my belief that regardless of the subject matter, people who teach really demonstrate to others how they do life. The subject matter is just the vector by which that demonstration occurs. This is one reason I mark a difference between people I recognize as my Teachers and people who stood in front of a class and talked. To me, Teachers know the entirety of what they’re sharing and do so willingly.

Stephane Hamel, for example, teaches some of UBC’s online web analytics courses and shared that there’s little being done to mentor students in real world practice (“…there are a couple of assignments but the feedback are sometimes not very positive (too disconnected with the course content, applied to specific sites instead of their own employer’s site, etc.) they don’t have access to a live tool, or real data, etc.”).

Stephane is currently preparing some courses for Laval University and is working “…to create a text book (maybe even just a structured list of articles to read). The information is all out there, the challenge is to structure it, give it a sense of continuity and think about real situations and cases.”

I’ve known Stephane for a while and have a great deal of respect for him. I’ll also be quite curious about how his future Laval students do applying their knowledge in the real world because (as I’ve pointed out in previous posts and Stephane has admitted to) his thought processes aren’t typical to typical web analysts. His metaphysic is different enough that his differences will be demonstrated to his students via what is called cultural transmission.

Cultural transmission is an anthropologist’s way of saying “structured, standardized learning”. Learning (not to be confused with “education”) occurs in two basic ways — social transmission and cultural transmission. Social transmission is learning that’s done by all animals on the planet, cultural transmission is specific to humans (so far as we know) and the difference between the two has to do with humans’ ability to store information internally (in our memories) but also externally (in print, electronically, etc.). Cultural transmission also tends to be both person and topic specific. For example, a professor will culturally transmit knowledge of quantum physics to students while parents will teach their kids how to cook. As the language in the previous sentence demonstrates, the former is specific knowledge transmitted between specific individuals, the latter borders so greatly on social transmission that I could just as easily have written “…dolphins teach their calves which fish to eat.”

So, long story short, how web analytics is done and how it is presented to clients has a lot to do with how it is taught and by whom.

And this is probably why people who take my or NextStage trainings or who’ve been in my presentations tend to reference them as “experiences” rather than “classes”.

Now pepper how something is taught and by whom with the fact that our behaviors are most strongly influenced by our most recent experiences (unless you’ve had lots of training. This is becoming my standard caveat, me thinks). More exactingly, our behaviors are most strongly influenced by our most recent experiences rather than the sum of our experiences. Example: someone burns their hand on a stove. They come back the next day, the stove is obvious off and has been for a long time, there’s nothing boiling, baking, broiling, braising, burning and they’ll still think twice before touching the stove.

Thus, not only is how someone does web analytics and interacts with clients (even in-house clients) going to be strongly influenced by how and who taught them, it’s also going to be strongly influenced by their last web analytics experience.

And if that last experience was less than positive? That less than positive experience will be re-enacted (totally non-consciously) in their present experience. Heaven forbid if the sum of their experience matches their last experience, both practitioner and client are doomed to a painfully non-positive experience.

Meanwhile, back in Canada…

So we have web analysts that are being trained to think in a way that doesn’t match the cultural metaphysic or identity, then sell into (make best use cases for) a mindset in ways that don’t demonstrate what that culture recognizes as having value.

And because their training doesn’t include (I admit I’m guessing their training doesn’t include) the tools necessary to adapt facilely to new situations (they are pioneers who have been trained by colonists, primarily) the less than positive experiences become the sum of their experience and their personal metaphysic becomes one of self-fulfilling prophecy (as was demonstrated by the Toronto WAW question, “Why are Canadians so reluctant to embrace data driven strategy?“, that led to these missals).

Ouch! (and did I mention NextStage is available for trainings?)

And now a return to Christopher Berry’s “A Vexing Problem, Part 4

You liken my approach to Jim Novo’s. I’m flattered. Don’t know if Jim is or not.

My use of “if” in “if any of you are interested…” has more to do with my methodology than an intentional structuring of the language, me thinks, although I believe the outcomes are the same even if the motivations that lead to those behaviors is different (a clear case where understanding the {C,B/e,M} matrix is vitally important to solving the problem). I tend to present suggestions backed up with lots of data and research (both NextStage’s and others’) then let clients make their own decisions regarding what suggestions to act upon. You can see this methodology echoed in NextStage’s Principles as applied to cultural transmission — people learn best and most rapidly from their own mistakes (even though that learning will probably be anecdotal in nature).

Skepticism and credibility are topics I dealt with above.

Your statement “…understand how the buyer of your product is thinking” I agree with completely. I would edit your “…we’re not quite enunciating the real value of action-oriented analytics” to “…we’re not enunciating the client-based value of action-oriented analytics”, ie, what would the client recognize as the real value of action-oriented analytics?

You also supplied the root of the answer, me thinks, in “Good old fashioned Canadian pragmatism at work.” I disagree with “Front load the argument with a bottom line value statement” and apologize if I’ve mislead or confused. Or more likely I misunderstood what is written. My rephrasing would be “Front load the argument with a the client’s bottom line value statement, not necessarily a ‘web analytics’ bottom line value statement“.

Two things fall from this, me thinks, one a question and the other a suggestion (and did you notice how I gave you all the data and research, am offering some suggestions and leaving it up to you to decide?):

  • What would a pioneer use web analytics for?
  • Find more pioneers who’ve found a use for web analytics and invite them to teach it to other pioneers.

Whoosh! And great conversations, folks! I love these kinds of backs&forths.

(and I hope Dr. Geertz is pleased with my use of multi-syllabics in this post. More on The Good Dr. Geertz soon)

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Liberation and Heuristics

I learned earlier this month that my blog isn’t making the numbers it should. This doesn’t surprise me for lots of reasons. My writing will only appeal to a small audience to begin with and very few things I write are quick reads. NextStage’s own research indicates that these are not winning elements in the greater blogosphere.


I know I have a readership…the emails I receive and comments posted to the blog are good indications that I’m reaching a reliable audience, simply not an audience large enough to warrant the overhead.

Strangely enough, I find the fact that my blog isn’t economically viable liberating. I don’t have to worry about posting something every day. When I do post something it’ll be important and/or fascinating to me, not something I feel compelled to post on.

Take heuristics, for example.

Lots of people are talking with me about heuristics lately. I don’t think they know that’s what they’re talking about. Often I listen to them and say, “I think you’re talking about heuristic solutions.”

What are heuristic solutions?

In a nutshell, I use the term to describe logical calculus solutions that determine best fits for all involved in a given ecological system. These are not optimal solutions for any one stakeholder although you could define them as optimal solutions for all stakeholders provided you recognize that optimal for all might not be optimal for any specific one.

Think of “All for one and one for all” where the former is traditional statistics and the latter is heuristics.

Heuristics draws its power from being able to provide ecological solutions with a recognizably small data set. “Recognizably small” is a mathematical way of saying “it fits in a breadbox” or “you don’t need an infinite data set to have confidence in your solutions.”

The great thing about heuristic solutions is that their use is how we’re wired to begin with. The great scientific axiom of Occam’s Razor is actually what’s called the “fluency heuristic”. Occam wanted us to go with the simpler solution, fluency wants us to go with what we know. By definition, what we already know is simpler to us than what we don’t know.

The kick here is that the more experience and education one has the more often what they know isn’t necessarily the simplest solution.

Go figure.

Or “Go heuris”.

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