Demand (Your) Attention

    I was at a meetup once where the presenter mentioned posting something to his facebook and being upset that his grandmother had not yet seen it a day or two later. This actually quite surprised me. Was he expecting that there was a waiting audience for anything he said. Recently the corporate chat app Slack is seemingly all over the news, stories about how it is changing communications and the endless benefits for all. What do these have in common? They are both about ‘demand attention’, the expectation and belief that someone wants or needs to listen on your schedule and not theirs.

    What does ‘demand attention’ really mean? It means that you need an actively watching audience to see your messages before they are lost in time. This is different than the more usual communications understood in letters, email, voicemail and even sms. All of those forms allow the audience to fit their attention when they want. Their use over the even earlier demands of in person or voice conversations shows the need of controlling personal attention.

    Television too is struggling with demand attention. Increased availability of whenever, wherever unscheduled content has been lowering audience numbers for years. To counter this they are taking the same path I believe Slack and other tools are on, making everything about being real-time to force audience attention. In other words, if you don’t see it now there is little point in seeing it later. In Television they use the term ‘eventize’ which means creating broadcasts that are multi-touch and must be experienced as a group to be worthwhile.

    It is interesting that we are all vying for each others attention and searching for ways to get louder and offer a more public show (open offices anyone?) while simultaneously searching for ways to limit the effects on ourselves. Does being bombarded with requests heighten our own fears of being invisible and unheard over the noise. Has the Youtube slogan ‘Broadcast Yourself’ finally taken on all the meanings of broadcast including a silent complacent audience waiting patiently on the couch.

    In the new corporate communications tools like Slack I feel a similar expectation. Any long time user of IRC (a similar style of chat) will tell you that in any moderately busy channel presence is nearly mandatory lest you be left in the dust. As you might expect having multiple intermixed threads of conversation flow by constantly is like trying to work in a coffee shop where you can perfectly (and must) hear all the conversations. This quickly becomes draining but also inefficient. Most jobs require full attention and being forced to split it because of the demands of the speaker seems to miss the point of electronic tools.

    What do you think? When I post this should I have an expectation that you are all waiting to jump on new content (I don’t) or should I set it free and see if the idea carries itself? When you want, let me know on twitter @jeffhorton

On Writing Blog Posts

    Whether it be for personal growth, brand development or corporate communications there has never been more demand for written content. Every day tens of thousands of blog posts are made to engage and drive traffic. Planning for the audience and the types of material they want to see is an important step. Posts can be about specific ideas you want to communicate, “how to” style or teaching oriented.

    No matter who is writing it is very important to understand who it is for. Is this for friends, mom, professionals or customers? Each can respond differently to style, depth and length of posts. A sales post should have a very different feel than a technical review and both are different from personal opinion pieces. Topics should be oriented towards specific issues or ideas your audience is familiar with and cares about.

    Content can relate to aspirational or other feelings about products. Posts can be about “how to” use products and tell stories of others using them for group reinforcement purposes. Sales posts are often about showing concerns and explaining how a product answers the issues. Technical content is often graph and data heavy and used to show domain expertise.

    All the posts need a goal. Is this information that can be used to make a decision, frame a problem or a call to action that converts. Informational posts help reinforce the expertise of the writer or brand and should be shareable. This lets readers use the posts to reinforce their own personal brand. Action posts must have an outcome that results in a reader doing something. Knowing if you want trying, buying or sharing as the goal makes the post more focused.

    Creating content is a great thing to do for any person or brand. Keeping in mind the audience, content type and outcomes will help make content that will resonate with readers. Posts that connect ensure return traffic, higher recognition and greater growth of your audience.

A P.S. tip. Read the post aloud. No matter how good your writing an out loud voice will always find the mistakes.


On Deliberate Practice

Watching my children grow and studying performance have provided great lessons in a very important life skill. Deliberate Practice. Feedback loops like this are the best way to improve skills and outcomes and I encourage you to use them if you don’t already.

    Everyone has heard that practice is the best way to get better at a skill. All practice is not the same. Random and deliberate practice can have radically different outcomes. Random practice is often just doing what feels right and hoping it gets better. Deliberate practice is concerned with three ideas. Improving a specific skill, measurement and feedback.

    When selecting what to practice it is often random depending on the day and mood. A bit of x, a bit of y. Deliberate practice is about picking a specific skill and working until you get it right or noticeably move the bar. Doing a few three point shots, a few laps or the same movement over and over again may feel like progress but without measurement and feedback the odds of improvement are much much lower.

    Measurement is about recording and monitoring the outcome of your attempts. This means noting a specific action and its result. What happens when a pose or movement is tried? Testing to get data to look for changes when using different techniques or tools. You can record on paper, video yourself or if you have a coach or friend they can do it for you.

    Feedback is about the analysis of the measurements. Near real time is best as it will increase the speed of correction and focus your time on the best techniques. A coach is the most common form of real-time feedback but it can be done alone and be very valuable. Look for patterns in your measurements to see which techniques works better. Find 10 of one way and 10 of another. Which is the better performer. Incorporate this learning and continue.

    Setting targets is very useful in deliberate practice. Knowing what skills work for you some of the time, all of the time or never help identify where the practice energy needs to go. Many often practice their best skill but in deliberate practice the plan is to set targets for weak skills in order to improve them. Once weaker skills are improved it becomes easier to push the best skills again and continue the improvement cycle.

    Deliberate practice by being selective, using measurements, feedback and targets is the best way to increase your rate of improvement. Laddering up weaker skills intro stronger skills will improve overall performance and execution. Deliberate practice can feel much more like work than random practice although the rapid outcome is often worth the slight trade off.

Personas for customer connection

    I have been involved in many product development cycles over the years. Retail, business and consumer products all have very different purposes. The need to get into the customer mindset matters for all and is one of the most important steps.

    Building products that truly connect with customers is very difficult. Many products feel like they are designed for the masses without any consideration of use and purpose. Others seem based on a singular narrow world view. One way to manage and overcome these missed connections is through the formal creation of customer segments and personas. This research, documentation and a lot of empathy help see inside the customers mind and with getting a much clearer understanding of wants and needs.

    Customers can be segmented in several ways. Age ranges, job titles, sex and income are all common groupings. No specific grouping is right in all circumstances. Knowing who your buyer, user or approver is can also help create the initial segments. Age is most often useful for childrens products or when a specific life event is used such as graduation, historical event or law based trigger. Job title is useful when a product is focused on daily work processes. Income segments matter when relative price is a driver, selling high priced products to individuals or various sized corporate accounts. Segments can be a course breakdown. That leads to the development of the more focused persona.

    The goals of each persona is the most critical part. Knowing why a specific person is using the product, their constraints and what the expected outcome is will lead to the best connection. It is said that people buy for the job they need to get done. It isn’t about the hammer, it is about the nail. Understanding how the product fits into a customers day and the feeling they get from using it can be the best way to find opportunities for connection and growth. Developing personas will also help expose the differences between boss, buyer and user. This knowledge will also help craft the communications efforts.

    Complete full personas lead directly into designing specialized communications to attract, convert and keep each kind of customer. Knowing how each persona measures success makes it much easier to write and present answers that fit directly to their concerns. When creating marketing materials, pricing segments and product messaging remember that customers prefer to select the group that most closely represents themselves. Having multiple customized versions can lead to higher sales and usage even when the product is otherwise identical.

    Creating segments and personas happens in any product and sales environment. It can be informal and based on assumptions or even better in a formal process using real customer discussions. Aim for living documents with segments, work to be done goals and communications styles. These should be public and referred to by everyone when trying to make product development choices. This ongoing connection will help make products that customers are more likely to fall in love with. When a potential customer finds a product that seems addressed to exact needs and wants it is a sure way to at least get a second look.

Reading list 2014

Seems I didn't make a single reading list post in 2014. Here is all the ones I can find in no particular order.

Baking soda : over 500 fabulous, fun and frugal uses you've probably never thought of
The new acrylics : complete guide to the new generation of acrylic paints
Help! for writers : 210 solutions to the problems every writer faces
Why Orwell matters
The Winemaker's answer book : solutions to every problem, answers to every question
The most successful small business in the world : the ten principles
Bookkeeping the easy way
Bookkeeping for Canadians for dummies
Homeschooling FAQs : 101 questions every homeschooling parent should ask
How to teach physics to your dog
Zoobiquity : what animals can teach us about being human
Business stripped bare : adventures of a global entrepreneur
There's always something to do : the Peter Cundill investment approach
Basic butchering of livestock & game
This explains everything : deep, beautiful, and elegant theories of how the world works
Electronics for dummies
Electronics demystified
Made by Dad : 67 blueprints for making cool stuff
Origami : a complete step-by-step guide to making animals, flowers, planes, boats, and more
Landscape painting : essential concepts and techniques for plein air and studio practice
Walking on water : reading, writing, and revolution
The one world schoolhouse : education reimagined
Home cheese making : recipes for 75 homemade cheeses
Down and out in Paris and London.
Inside the mind of the turtles
A slap in the face : why insults hurt-- and why they shouldn't
The gifted adult : a revolutionary guide for liberating everyday genius
The smartest kids in the world : and how they got that way
The effective teacher's guide : 50 ways to engage students and promote interactive learning
Electronics for dummies
Igniting the Third Factor
The Magnetic North
The Sound Book
Full Rip 9.0
Rock Breaks Scissors
Bird Dream
How to Fail at Almost Everything and still win big
Feeling Good
Choose Yourself
Packing for Mars
The Willpower Instinct
90 Percent of Everything


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