Think B4 U Speak

Think B4 U Speak

This was a sign hung in a local high school.

And thought this was pretty good.

Think before you speak…

THINK = True + Helpful + Inspiring + Necessary + Kind

If it doesn’t meet those criteria…shush, or in plain language–keep a lid on it!

Remember, two ears and one mouth–so speak half as much as you listen. 😉

(Source Photo: Dannielle Blumenthal)

Go Simple!

Go Simple!

Two interesting recent articles discuss the importance of building in simplicity to product design to make things more useful to people.

Contrary to popular belief, simple is not easy. Mat Mohan in Wired Magazine (Feb. 2013) says that “simplicity is about subtraction,” and “subtraction is the hardest math in product design.”

Two of the best recent examples of simplicity through subtraction is what Apple was able to achieve with the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and iTunes, and what Google did through its “sparse search page.”

Unfortunately, too many companies think that “quality is associated with more,” instead of less, and so they pack on options, menus, and buttons until their darn devices are virtually useless.

Similarly, an article in the Wall Street Journal (29 March 2013) advocates that “simplicity is the solution,” and rails against the delays, frustration, and confusion caused by complexity.

How many gadgets can’t we use, how many instructions can’t we follow, and how many forms can’t we decipher–because of complexity?

The WSJ gives examples of 800,000 apps in the Apple store, 240+ choices on the menu for the Cheesecake Factory (I’d like to try each and every one), and 135 mascaras, 437 lotions, and 1,992 fragrances at the Sephora website.

With all this complexity, it’s no wonder then that so many people suffer from migraines and other ailments these days.

I remember my father telling me that you should never give consumers too many choices, because people just won’t know what to choose. Instead, if you simply give them a few good choices, then you’ll make the sale.

Unfortunately, too many technologists and engineers develop ridiculously complex products, and too many lawyers, legislators, and regulators insist on and prepare long and complex documents that people aren’t able to read and cannot readily understand.

For example, in 2010, the tax code was almost 72,000 pages long, the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) is about 2,700 pages, and the typical credit card contract now runs to 20,000 words.

Even the brightest among us, and those with a lot of time on their hands, would be challenged to keep up with this.

While rewriting and tax code is a welcome topic of discussion these days, it befuddles the mind why most of the time, we simply add on new laws, rules, regulations, amendments, and exclusions, rather than just fix it–plain and simple.

But that’s sort of the point, it’s easier for organizations to just throw more stuff out there and put the onus on the end-users to figure it out–so what is it then that we pay these people for?

The plain language movement has gotten traction in recent years to try and improve communications and make things simpler and easier to understand.

Using Apple as an example again (yes, when it comes to design–they are that good), it is amazing how their products do not even come with operating instructions–unlike the big confusing manuals in minuscule print and numerous languages that used to accompany most electronic products. And that’s the point with Apple–you don’t need instructions–the products are so simple and intuitive–just the way they are supposed to be, thank you Apple!

The journal offers three ways to make products simpler:

– Empathy–have a genuine feel for other people’s needs and expectations.

– Distill–reduce products to their essence, getting rid of the unneeded bells and whistles.

– Clarify–make things easier to understand and use.

These are really the foundations for User-Centric Enterprise Architecture, which seeks to create useful and usable planning products and governance services–the point is to provide a simple and clear roadmap for the organization, not a Rorschach test for guessing the plan, model, and picture du-jour.

Keeping it simple is hard work–because you just can’t throw crap out there and expect people to make sense of it–but rather you have to roll up your sleeves and provide something that actually makes sense, is easy to use, and makes people’s lives better and not a living product-design hell. 😉

(Source Photo: Dannielle Blumenthal)

Nuclear Weapons–A Scary Infographic

Infographic_on_nuclear_weapons

As you already know, I appreciate a good infographic.

Unfortunately, I think many of the ones coming out recently are too jumbled, long and complex and read more like a “Megilla” (no disrespect intended).

I was a little surprised to find a infographic on Nuclear Weapons online, but then again it’s not a “cookbook” and hopefully those are not being posted.

This one was interesting to me, not only because of the topic of weapons of mass destruction, but also because in 11 factoids, the graphics takes you through a pretty clear and simple overview of the subject matter.

No, its not getting into the physics and nuclear engineering depths of the whole thing, but at the same time, you have starting with the Manhattan Projects in the 30’s, some nice history on the following:

  • Invention
  • Cost
  • Types, both fission and fusion
  • Testing
  • Use
  • Inventories, although based on recent articles on the 3,000 miles of Chines tunnels in the Wall Street Journal (25 October 2011) and Washington Post (30 November 2011), the Chinese number may be way too low–the WSJ based on Chinese media reports has it as high as 3,500!
  • Even numbers “lost and not recovered”–11!–not comforting, who would’ve thought?

In the graphic, it would be interesting to see a breakdown by land-, bomber-, and submarine-based, (some nice graphics available for that) but perhaps a number 12 item on the infographic would’ve been getting too much in the weeds.Also, a similar graphic for chemical and biological weapons while interesting, would be scary indeed.

(Source Graphic: here)

Dilbert Shows The Way to User-Centric Government

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Scott Adams the talent behind Dilbert comics and numerous books wrote a fascinating column in the Wall Street Journal (5-6 Oct. 2011) called “What if Government Were More Like an iPod.”

Adams has some great ideas and here’s a few:

1) Leverage Group Intelligence–“group intelligence is more important than individual genius…thanks to the Internet we can summon the collective intelligence of millions.” While certainly in government, we are using social media and crowd sourcing to leverage group intelligence by making information available to the public (e.g. Data.gov), engaging the public in innovating new applications (e.g. Apps for Democracy), getting feedback and comments on regulations (e.g. Regulations.gov), soliciting policy ideas and petitions from citizens (e.g. We The People) and more, this is only a start. We can continue to advance engagement with people on everyday issues to come up with solutions for our biggest and toughest challenges. One example for doing this is utilizing more tools like Quora to put out questions to subject matter experts, from every spectrum of our great nation, to come up with the best solutions, rather than just rely on the few, the loud, or the connected.
2) Voting With Understanding–“Voting [the way we currently do] is such a crude tool that half of the time, you can’t tell if you’re voting against your own interests. Change can take years…and elected officials routinely ignore their own campaign promises.” Adams proposes a website to see the “best arguments for and against every issue, with links to support or refute every factual claim. And imagine the professional arbiters would score each argument.” I can empathize with what Adams is saying. Think of the healthcare act in 2010 that was over 2,500 pages or the 72,000 page tax code–there is a reason people are overwhelmed, confused, and calling for plain language in government communications such as the Plain Language Act. There is obviously more to be done here using user-centric communications and citizen engagement, so that the average citizen with bills to pay and a family to care for, can still participate, contribute, and vote with understanding unmarred by gobbledygook, “the weight test”, and politicking.
3) Campaigning More Virtually–Make it “easy for voters to see video clips, interviews, debates, and useful comparisons of the candidates positions. In the modern era, it does’t make sense for a candidate to trek all over the country on a bus.” Too much of the political process is the shaking hands and kissing babies–the showmanship of who looks better and talks more sleekly versus focusing on the policy issues. While it is important to present favorably, lead and influence and bring people together, it is also critical to get the policy issues out there clearly and without flip-flopping (which should be reserved for burgers only). The media plays a role in keeping the political candidates on their toes and honest, but the process itself should vet the issues in written commitments by candidates and not reversible sound bites on TV.
4) Quicken The Innovation Cycle–“I’m fairly certain Ben Franklin wouldn’t be impressed by our pace of innovation. He invented the post office and showed us electricity and it still took us nearly 200 years to come up with email. We’re not good at connecting the dots.” This is an interesting point, but it sort of misses the mark. There are lots of good–even great–ideas out there, but from my perspective on organizations, execution is usually the stumbling block. In fact, according to Wikipedia, the Patent Office has a backlog of over 700,000 patent applications as of October 2010, so new ideas are plentiful, but how we work those ideas and make them come to fruition is a project management and human capital challenge. While email seems like just a dot or few dots away from the post office and electricity, there is obviously a lot of groundwork that needs to be laid to send an email from DC to Jerusalem in split seconds.
In short, Adams summarizes his convictions for government change in advocating a form of User-Centric Government (my term)Adams actually proposes a 4th branch of government (I think he really mean a new agency) to manage “user-interface” or what I understand him to mean as citizen engagement. Adams describes this new agency as “smallish and economical, operating independently, with a mission to build and maintain friendly user-interface for citizens to manage their government.” Adams would advance the achievement of his ideas and hopes for leveraging group intelligence, voting with understanding, campaigning virtually, and quickening innovation. I believe Adams idea builds on the concept of a Federal agency for innovation that has been proposed previously over the years by The Industry Advisory Council and others to be modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA).
While there are arguments for and against creating another government agency for driving user-centric government, creating more and better user engagement through understanding and participation is fundamental and aligns with our core principles of democracy and as a global competitive advantage.
While Government is not Apple, learning from some of the best and brightest like Steve Jobs on how to reach people intuitively and deeply is a great way to go!
(Source Photo: here)

>3G, 4G, XG…Huh?

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There is a huge need for speed on our networks—as we demand the latest and greatest download streaming of books, movies, games, and more.

The network generation (or mobile telephony) standards have evolved to soon to be 4th generation (or 4G).

While 3G standards require network speeds for voice and data of at least 200 kbit/s, the 4G-performance hurdle jumps (500x) to 100 mbit/s.

The chart from Wikipedia shows the various standards and how they have evolved over time.

What are interesting to me are two things:

1) Network carriers that are competing for your business are already boasting 4G deliveries even though they do not meet the standards set out by The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an agency of the U.N. According to Computerworld (22 November 2010), the 100 mbit/s standard is “about 10 times the performance that any carrier…can offer today.” Moreover, technologies such as LTE-Advanced and WiMax 2 that are expected to be 4G complaint aren’t “expected to go live commercially until 2014 or 2015.”

2) While the carriers are touting their various breakthrough standards, most people really have no clue what they are talking about. According to the Wall Street Journal (4 November 2010) on a survey by Yankee Group that “of more than 1,200 consumers found 57% had either never heard of 3G or didn’t understand the term. [And] With 4G, the ranks of the confused jump to 68%.”

Some lessons learned:

In the first case, we need to keep in mind the principle of caveat emptor (or let the buyer beware) when it comes to what the Wall Street Journal is calling the “increased rhetoric underscoring the high-stakes games played by the carriers as they jockey for position.”

In the second, vendors and technologists should understand that they are losing the consumer when they talk “techno-geek.” Instead, all need to use plain language when communicating, and simplify the technical jargon.

The comic in Computerworld (22 November 2010) summarized it well with pictures of all the various GGGG… technologies and the people next it to it saying, “At this point the labels are ahead of the technology.” Of course, I would add that the labels are also ahead of most people’s ability to understand the geek-speak. And we need to fix the communications of both.

>Needed: User-centric Enterprise Architecture Now!

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>Crazy System Messages and Enterprise Architecture

> http://sundrania.com/uploads/photos/332.jpg

Ever wonder about the crazy system messages you get when something isn’t working right. Like the one above (a spoof, of course); what the heck is an “illegal operation” when it comes to a computer program?

So no wonder people complain about why IT folks can’t talk in plain, simple language.

This is a perfect example of why User-centric EA (focusing on “useful and usable” business and technology architectures) is so important to our enterprises and stakeholders!

>Gobbledygook and Enterprise Architecture

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The premise of User-centric Enterprise Architecture is to transform traditional EA, which is often user-blind, and which develops “artifacts” that are difficult for the end user to understand and apply, and to instead produce truly useful and usable information products and governance services.

User-centric EA is about taking the gobbledygook out of architecture and making it clear and simple for the end user to understand.

The User-centric EA approach has a lot in common and is consistent with the drive to make federal communications, in general, more straightforward and understandable.

Government Executive magazine, July 2008 reports that “Congress is on a crusade to clean up the language in federal documents.”

The Plain language in Government Communications Act covers benefit and tax forms, letters, publications, notices and instructions sent to the public. Under best practices mandated by the bill, federal document drafters would have to tailor communications to targeted readers, employ personal pronouns, offer examples, and use the active voice.

Spread government wide, such fixes would save agencies, citizens, and businesses billions of dollars in time and effort, backers say. The prospect of simplified interaction with the government has won the proposed legislation backing from influential organizations such as AARP and the National Small Business Association.”

The goal of the “plain language” legislation is to kill off the “clause-ridden federal guidance that former vice President Al Gore used to deride as ‘gobbledygook’ [in exchange for]…lean prose and declarative sentences.”

Oh, music to my ears and eyes!

Unfortunately, there are still quite a few naysayers out there when it comes to making things easy.

So, “by design the plain language legislation is modest. The bill exempts internal communications. And to avoid opposition from agency lawyers, it does not cover federal regulations.”

Why would anyone want to make things more difficult or NOT User-centric?

Frankly and with all due respect, the explanations I read—about plain language causing existing policy to become muddled or about having a one-size-fits-all policy not working—sounded like more gobbledygook.

Some people argue that by “oversimplifying” documents, you are leaving out important information or missing shades of meaning. However, it’s the job of professionals to communicate effectively regardless of the complexity. Put simply, how can taxpayers comply with laws and regulations if they don’t understand them?

Plain language and user-centric is the way to go in serving our citizens and our organizations.

P.S. Hats off to Annetta Cheek, chairwoman of the Center for Plain Language.