The Complete “Nothing New Under the Sun: Designing for the Small Screen” Arc

Note: this was a two part post and so apropos that we’re reposting now, on the eve of our releasing Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation, don’t you think?

Nothing New Under the Sun: Designing for the Small Screen, Part 1

I read an interesting post on Andy Beal’s Marketing Pilgrim blog. The post, by Janet Driscoll Miller, was iPhone May Present New Mobile Design Challenges. It was interesting because it was yet another example of Nothing New Under the Sun.

I commented on the blog, “This reminds me of an early consulting project I was on. We saw from the client’s web data that people were browsing their site using these odd sized, small screens. It was their browsing patterns that explained what was going on. We decided to create an all-text site to accommodate them and business went up. This was years ago, though. Nothing new under the sun, yes?”

Here I’ll share a little more on this. It’s a fond memory and, at the time, it was a nice piece of research.

NextStage’s first client was a B2B specializing in warehousing technologies. They noticed a decrease in online sales even though their web traffic was increasing and asked me to figure it out. Their focus was on bandwidth, page load times, things like that, and were ready to do a major overhaul of their website to make it “friendlier”.

Okay, I thought. But friendlier to whom?

We attached our tracking tools to their website and noticed two fascinating features of the increased traffic; the browser window sizes were small and oddly shaped. That was interesting and the kicker was something (and I’ll admit to some vanity here) that (I think) only NextStage’s Evolution Technology could determine; the patterns in the page navigations.

It was the patterns which revealed the mystery of increased traffic and decreased sales. Visitors would navigate busily then stop for a period, navigate busily then stop for a period, navigate busily then stop for a period. They never closed the browser window. They might keep it open for hours at a time. But during these hour long visits they would navigate busily then stop, navigate busily then stop.

These odd navigation patterns did end up with online orders but only of specific items. Usually items located at the top of the client’s webpages.


Nothing New Under the Sun: Designing for the Small Screen, part 2

This is part 2 in a two-part arc trigged by reading Janet Driscoll Miller‘s interesting post, iPhone May Present New Mobile Design Challenges, on Andy Beal’s Marketing Pilgrim blog.

I commented on the blog, “This reminds me of an early consulting project I was on. We saw from the client’s web data that people were browsing their site using these odd sized, small screens. It was their browsing patterns that explained what was going on. We decided to create an all-text site to accommodate them and business went up. This was years ago, though. Nothing new under the sun, yes?” and am sharing more of this story in this arc. Part 1 described the problem and provided pointers to the solution. Here I share the solution itself.

As I wrote in the previous post, it’s a fond memory and, at the time, it was a nice piece of research.

This was a case of listening to the silences rather than the sounds. The pauses in navigation were extremely regular, too regular and over too long a period of time, to be un-noteworthy. Also, the pauses had different periods depending on the visitor but were consistent time-wise by visitor; a visitor might have consistent pauses of three seconds and another perhaps of five, but the three-second visitor always had three second pauses, the five-second visitor always had pauses of five seconds.

Was there variance? Yes, a little. That was a clue. The variance was organic (by which I mean “biologic”) in nature, not inorganic (by which I mean “machine-based”). More correctly, the variance was biomechanical, not automated.

I thought about biomechanical mechanisms that follow pause-activity, pause-activity natures and realized I was observing cursorial tracking behavior. Humans, like wolves, are cursorial hunters. We use to jog after our prey and follow them. These evolutionary roots remain with us and even manifest themselves in screen navigation patterns.

Here I was witnessing people following prey, stopping to gather their kill, following prey, stopping to gather their kill, … But I also knew nobody was navigating a website while killing that night’s dinner.

What could my client’s clients be doing that mimicked that behavior?

Because I worked in warehouses to support myself in high school and college I quickly came up with the answer; my client’s clients were walking through their warehouse, stopping at each rack and checking inventory. The small and oddly shaped screen sizes were due to the end clients’ realizing they needed to reorder something and coming to my client’s website while the end client was checking inventory, carrying a handheld.

Why were only the top items on a given webpage being ordered? Because navigating a regular webpage much further was too much trouble.

Easy solution; offer a text only page for customers coming in through handhelds.

Yes, NextStage’s client was thrilled. Their online sales increased dramatically, all the good stuff.

For me, though, it was the detective work, the research, that made it worthwhile.

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Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th edition

It’s with great pleasure and a little pride that we announce Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION.

Reading Virtual Minds V1: Science and History, 4th edThat “4th EDITION” part is important. We know lots of people are waiting for Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation and it’s next in the queue.

But until then…

Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION is about 100 pages longer than the previous editions and about 10$US cheaper. Why? Because Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation is next in the queue.

Some Notes About This Book

I’m actually writing Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation right now. In the process of doing that, we realized we needed to add an index to this book. We also wanted to make a full color ebook version available to NextStage Members (it’s a download on the Member welcome page. And if you’re not already a member, what are you waiting for?)

In the process of making a full color version, we realized we’d misplaced some of the original slides and, of course, the charting software had changed since we originally published this volume (same information, different charting system). Also Susan and Jennifer “The Editress” Day wanted the images standardized as much as possible.

We included an Appendix B – Proofs (starting on page 187) for the curious and updated Appendix C – Further Readings (starting on page 236). We migrated a blog used for reference purposes so there may be more or less reference sources and modified some sections with more recent information.

So this edition has a few more pages and a few different pages. It may have an extra quote or two floating around.

You also need to know that Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History is a “Let’s explore the possibilities” book, not a “How to do it” book. As such, it deals with how NextStage did it (not to mention things that happened along the way). It does not explain how you can do it. This book’s purpose is to open a new territory to you and give you some basic tools for exploration.

There are no magic bullets, quick fixes, simple demonstrations, et cetera, that will turn you into jedis, gurus, kings, queens, samurai, rock stars, mavens, heroes, thought leaders, so on and so forth.

How to Do It starts with Volume II: Experience and Expectation and continues through future volumes in this series. We’ve included a Volume II: Experience and Expectation preview with a How to Do It example on page 302 so you can take a peek if that’s your interest.

That noted, I’m quite sure that you won’t get the full benefit of future volumes without reading this one because unless you’ve read this one you won’t understand the territory you’re exploring in those future volumes.

Reading Virtual Minds V1: Science and History, 4th edThat’s Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History, 4th EDITION. It’s so good and so good for you! Buy a copy or two today!

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Panalysis’ Rod Jacka Said It

[Note: this post is from Oct ’07. We’re backfilling again for Joseph’s references in Reading Virtual Minds Volume II: Experience and Expectation]

Panalysis‘ Rod Jacka noticed that I referenced his email to me in Back from eMetrics Dec ’07 and invited me to both attribute the quote to him and provide the full quote.

I’ll gladly attribute the quote to him (and a G’Day, Mate! back to you, Rod).

What I will do is expand a bit on what Rod learned and is commenting on in his email to me. First, I’m not going to say A/B-Multivariate-Taguchi testing is a waste of time or money. Second, I will note that every time I do a quick analysis of a company’s website I get the same reactions; “…we just did some A/B-multivariate-Taguchi testing and everything you said is what we found out we had to do.” This has happened at IMedia summits, eMetrics summits and countless times with clients.

What’s it all about? It’s very simple, really. It’s all about knowing how the human brain is wired and how it’s going to respond to information in its environment. This is the key to it all and what NextStage has been researching, publishing about and helping clients with for almost seven years now. A web page and more recently multi-media (what NextStage calls “multi-modal”. see Get the attention you’re already paying for (page 2 of 4)) environments are nothing more than demonstrations of what the brain-mind has been dealing with for several millions of evolutionary history. This history exists and won’t be replaced any time soon so make use of it.

Think of it as “Those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it.” My guess is they’re repeating it by spending tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on A/B-multivariate-Taguchi methods.

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The Complete “The Curse of Knowledge” Arc

Note: a short, two post arc, presented here in all its glory and for your enjoyment -C&E

The Curse of Knowledge, Part 1

I wrote a while back about working with Multitasking, anyone? a company that had a statistician — not! This company hired NextStage to help their workers become more productive and we’ve had someone assigned there for several months now, primarily data gathering and modeling. The modeling method we’re using is called process modeling, something very well recognized in cultural and social anthropology and apparently not recognized at all in HR or B2E systems.

People who’ve seen a National Geographics, Nature, Nova or similar show (or who remember when Disney Studios did nature documentaries. I loved those and probably still would) highlighting a tribal culture have seen process modeling without recognizing it. Anyone who’s had “on the job” training has taken part in it. People with children or who work with children practice it without knowing what it’s called. Anyone who’s taken part in an Apprentice-Journeyman-Craftsman-Master career track has done it and probably not known it.

The mother who cooks while her daughter or son is first watching then helping then experimentally cooking preparing the main meal while mother looks on is learning via process modeling. The tribal elder who makes a flint tool while the youngster first watches then helps then tries a few knaps then proudly makes a high-quality spear tip is learning via process modeling.

Process modeling is what occurs when we demonstrate success without any requirement that the other be successful, only that they attempt success when they’re comfortable doing so. It is one of the most powerful and primitive teaching methods known and not often practiced formally as such anymore. It also works best with sensory skills rather than cognitive based skills.

So, anyway, we first had one person demonstrating success via process modeling for several months now and recently added a second one. Their individual success rates are both close to 90% and this is phenomenal considering most and not all others in the company are lucky to reach 10-15%. It’s taken a while and in the past two months other workers and management (the ones who don’t know the NextStagers are in their midst) have come to ask how the NextStagers are being so successful.

A five minute “training” increased one fellow’s productivity 150% in four hours. He was gleeful with success.

click on image to download a larger one

How successful was this success en large? Over a five month period ten workers selected at random showed the following increases in productivity. Those right most columns are labeled P1 and P2. They are the process modelers. The other columns, A through J, are the ten workers. Process modeling takes time and that’s what gives it much of its power. In this case, five months and at the end of those five months all had richly improved and four of the ten were working at the modelers’ levels. Those four — once the NextStagers are through and move on — will become the modelers for the next “generation” of employees. This is how learning is passed on generationally in all cultures. Without such learnings cultures and civilizations die.

I bring this up and demonstrate this increase in productivity because it goes back to the statistician who isn’t what I’d consider a statistician at all.

The Curse of Knowledge, Part 2

The truth is, process modeling is always successful when certain base line conditions are met. But how to explain this to a statistician, especially explaining to the statistician that the numbers he was looking at weren’t where he should have been looking.

A real challenge in any educational environment, especially ones in which a given methodology has acquired protected status, is convincing stakeholders that the protected methodology is invalid. This problem is compounded by surrounding that educational environment with a business paradigm. It’s kind of the enigma wrapped in an illusion. Put a bow of misunderstanding your metrics on top and you have The Curse of Knowledge; someone knows just enough to convince others to look in the incorrect place for something that doesn’t exist there, then uses whatever they find to claim understanding.

The Curse of Knowledge. It’s not just for breakfast anymore!

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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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