Incentives and intent

If enough people use a system, they’ll find a way to exploit it.

Therein lies the challenge for a system designer. As a system scales, you’ll have to keep modifying your system to account for incentives instead of relying on good intent.

Incentives eat intent for breakfast.

Empathy from experience

One of the biggest side effects of attempting to build good technology products over the years is developing significantly more empathy for people attempting to build something useful.

I used to have more scathing/sarcastic remarks in the past. Today, I get many of those from frustrated users – and I understand. I’ve been there.

It all looks so simple from the outside. Why can’t people get what feels like basic things right?

But when you’re in the thick of it, you’re fighting all kinds of odd constraints and broken systems. And, perhaps, most of all, you’re navigating a sea of humans with different agendas and interests.

That isn’t to say every person building is making the right calls. There’s a lot of judgment involved and some people definitely do it a lot better than others.

But things always look easier from the outside. And it’s just so much easier to comment than build.

Would I do it tomorrow?

One of the best pieces of calendar advice I’ve read is – when you get invited for something, only say yes if you’d do it tomorrow.

I don’t remember it and apply it enough – so I definitely haven’t learned it yet. But it is wise, actionable, and powerful.

Here’s to asking “would I do it tomorrow?” more often.

Asking am I happy

“If you stop whatever you are doing and ask yourself, Am I happy? odds are, you won’t be as happy as you just were. The worst way to be happy is to ask yourself if you are happy.

The same goes for all kinds of desirable experiences.

The more you wonder if your relationship is the right one, the less likely you’ll find it is. When you’re at your best and everything is clicking, the moment you ask yourself, Am I in the zone? you are no longer in the zone, or at least not as much as you were. This is true in public speaking, athletic performance, the practice of medicine, and the bedroom.

Perhaps the most striking way to realize the experience-changing nature of judgement is via meditation. Any veteran meditator will have faced a situation that goes like this: you are settling deeply into a contemplative groove; your being begins to merge with your breath, or maybe even the universe; and then you wonder, Holy cow! Is this really happening? Am I really shedding my sense of self? Is this a transcendent moment? Yet the second you ask that question, it no longer is.

This note from Brad Stulberg’s newsletter both made me pause and chuckle.

It reminded me of an Eckhart Tolle refrain – “Don’t take your thoughts too seriously.”

You never know if a good day is a good day anyway. Best to keep our focus on plugging away on things that matter vs. overthinking it.

Workouts and discomfort

Is a workout a workout if we don’t experience discomfort?

Anyone who works out regularly knows to expect this. We need to get our heart rate up, stretch those muscles, and feel the discomfort for it to count as exercise.

So it works in our day to day lives too. It’s no different than a daily workout. The goal isn’t to have perfect days. Instead, it is to experience the discomfort and stretch.

And learn to enjoy the process.

The 30 feet rule

After my first set of reflections from my time at Disneyland, I’ve found myself going back to that experience as I think about experience design. And, as part of that process, I’ve been learning a few interesting lessons about the Disneyland approach to user experience design.

One such anecdote is about the 30 feet rule about trash cans. Walt Disney was obsessed about park cleanliness in the 1950s. So the team studied how long people walk with trash in their hands before they try to get rid of it. The answer to that, it turns out, is ~30 feet.

Ergo – the 30 feet rule – you won’t need to travel more than 30 feet at Disneyland without seeing a trash can. 

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While this is an impressive and even inspiring story on the attention to detail in crafting a great user experience, what’s telling is what Walt Disney didn’t do. He didn’t – 

  • Get frustrated about this behavior
  • Plaster signs all over Disneyland to not litter
  • Fine customers who littered 
  • Play a recording over a loudspeaker to remind people to not litter
  • Employ helpers to supervise customer behavior

I know some of these are outlandish – and I’m exaggerating to make a point. But it is telling that he simply observed user behavior and crafted an experience around it vs. attempting to change it. 

There’s a lesson in there somewhere for all of us.

Feedback – both sensitive and numb

The path to getting good at dealing with feedback is learning to be both sensitive and numb to it.

Sensitive enough to ensure we listen to the specific piece of feedback, experience some of the pain that inspires action, and figure out the next step.

Numb enough to be indifferent about the tone/spirit and not dwell on it any more than necessary.

3 questions to get unstuck with a group

There are times as a group when you feel stuck. 3 questions that help move things forward –

(1) Are we aligned on the problem? (Why)

(2) Are we aligned on our approach to the solution? (How)

(3) Are we aligned on the steps we’ll take to solve the problem and how we’ll measure success? (What)

This is, of course, common sense. But it is amazing how often this simple framework unlocks progress.

Quick fixes and systemic changes

The single biggest challenge when you’re attempting to drive change is to ignore the allure of the quick fix and instead go upstream to make the systemic change.

The quick fix is easy and feels good in the moment. Going for systemic change, on the other hand, sucks in the short term. Things inevitably take longer and we have to deal with being misunderstood while that happens.

However, easy come, easy go.

It’s the high leverage moves that survive the test of time.