So, I have no idea what I’m doing. This might be inter­est­ing to peo­ple. I hope it is. It might not. If it isn’t, you can just tune out for a lit­tle bit. It’s inter­est­ing to me. I’m talk­ing about the psy­cho­log­i­cal demands of tech­nol­o­gy. It’s actu­al­ly going to be a bit broad­er than what Steve said because I tend to be more inter­est­ed the broad­er you go, because I’m a lit­tle academic.

That’s me, in case you don’t know. It’s not par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing. But you will notice, though, if you pay atten­tion to me in any venue, is you’ll see a lot of this, and you’ll see a lot of this. And less fre­quent­ly but more expen­sive­ly, you’ll see a lot of this.

There are two things about me that are impor­tant here for the top­ic. One is that I am geeky, which means I tend to believe that facts win. The oth­er is that I’m an only child, which means I tend to lack empa­thy. This is true. I speak only for myself. Other only chil­dren might have great empa­thy: I ain’t one of them.

I recent­ly moved to San Francisco about a year ago to join a start­up, and for oth­er per­son­al rea­sons, and I read this book called Hooked, writ­ten by some guy at Stanford. It’s main­ly about how to use the mechan­ics of addic­tion for prof­it, and how to build the mechan­ics of addic­tion in prod­ucts. I have a par­tic­u­lar view of that. It’s starred out. That’s how I feel about it.

Somewhere buried in this book, as a ter­tiary sub-point of some oth­er point that was sub­lim­i­nal to some oth­er thing, he talks about Alcoholics Anonymous. Now, being an only child and lack­ing empa­thy, I have an inher­ent dif­fi­cul­ty in under­stand­ing sup­port groups. And hav­ing nev­er par­tic­i­pat­ed in one or being on the receiv­ing end of one makes it worse. So I accept the fact that they work. There’s evi­dence, proof, research, that they work. I have a hard time under­stand­ing why they work, or that they should work.

So the gen­tle­man in the book talks about the sup­port group pro­vid­ing empa­thy and expe­ri­ence. These peo­ple have been there, done that, some of them are doing it at the same time. So there’s proof that there’s a next step and that the next step is valid and it can be achieved. But then they also pro­vide pos­i­tive rein­force­ment to help you get to the next step, and sup­port. Both these things, lean­ing on the oth­er points about me lack­ing empa­thy, have been con­fus­ing to me my whole life.

But I read this lit­tle para­graph in this book about Alcoholics Anonymous, which remind­ed me of this book that I read a long time ago. And in this book this par­tic­u­lar researcher makes the point that the source of con­fi­dence, the…if you think of it as the bio­log­i­cal or the psy­chophys­i­cal source of con­fi­dence is from effi­ca­cy. You do things when you’re real­ly lit­tle and your suc­cess in doing things, thus you have a sense of effi­ca­cy, that sense of effi­ca­cy trans­lates into con­fi­dence, which is where the psy­chophys­i­cal basis of self-esteem comes from. 

So that made me think about what hap­pens when you try to do some­thing new. Generally, you suck. And when you suck, you feel like this:

Illustration of a sad-looking panda

You suck, your effi­ca­cy is chal­lenged, your con­fi­dence is chal­lenged, your esteem is chal­lenged. Which is hard. Brings me back to these guys:

A group of people seated in a circle

If it is the case that doing some­thing new is dif­fi­cult and chal­lenges you, chang­ing some­thing old to do some­thing new takes some­thing even greater.

Changing behav­ior actu­al­ly hurts, and com­mu­ni­ty sup­port fills the esteem gap that is cre­at­ed when you change behav­ior. So you’re tak­ing some­thing you know how to, where you have an effi­ca­cious expe­ri­ence of doing a thing and achiev­ing a result, and you have to throw it out and do some­thing else and start from— You’re not just start­ing from no expe­ri­ence, no effi­ca­cy, build­ing expe­ri­ence and effi­ca­cy and con­fi­dence and esteem. You’re start­ing from I have esteem, I’m going to cut that esteem out of my life. There will be a gap. And I will learn to do some­thing new, which hope­ful­ly I will find effi­ca­cy, con­fi­dence and esteem at, at some point time.

In the mid­dle, there’s pain, because you have cut out a chunk of your con­fi­dence. So they will sup­ply the con­fi­dence you can­not have until you can have it. And all of a sud­den, I was no longer skep­ti­cal about sup­port and help and talk­ing to peo­ple and groups and empa­thy and what needs to hap­pen for change.

Which brings us back to the whole tech­nol­o­gy thing. We have a lot of things that we are throw­ing at peo­ple, a lot of pop­u­lar ideas, a lot of stuff. Cloud devops, etc., etc., etc. Cambrianly explod­ing, one might say, at an ever-faster pace. We are pro­duc­ing, evan­ge­liz­ing, talk­ing about, push­ing, try­ing to get peo­ple to adopt, and shov­ing down our own throats, new pat­terns, archi­tec­tures, cul­tures, metaphors, inter­faces. We demand of our­selves and of every­body else that they change, that they expe­ri­ence fail­ure, that they lose con­fi­dence, that they lose esteem, and that they hurt a lit­tle bit, to get to the place we want them to be.

If you’re going to do that. If you’re going to cre­ate the gap and demand that every­body cre­ate the gap, you should give them some help. 

Part of it is just UX, and when I say just UX,” that’s an enor­mous thing. It’s not just design. It is not just user-cen­tered design. It is psychologically-centered design. There is a cer­tain way peo­ple work, or a cer­tain way a large por­tion of peo­ple work. And when you build a thing that demands them to suf­fer, you should make some attempt to alle­vi­ate that suf­fer­ing so they can get to the goal.

Design for effi­ca­cy. When peo­ple talk about cre­at­ing lit­tle wings in prod­ucts and cre­at­ing lit­tle step-wise ways for peo­ple to get from Point A to Point B, the rea­son you need to do that is because you need to cre­ate the expe­ri­ence of effi­ca­cy at every step of the way. And you need to build on ideas that last. (Well, you don’t need to. I think you should. I try to.) 

Interfaces change, metaphors change, imple­men­ta­tions change. But the goal is still gen­er­al­ly the same, and the start­ing point is still gen­er­al­ly the same, and the end point is still gen­er­al­ly the same with almost every prod­uct. Unless you’re doing some­thing that’s actu­al­ly net new, and in my view there are very very very very few things that are actu­al­ly net new. Most of them are effi­cien­cies. They’re bet­ter ways of achiev­ing the same result. If that’s the case, then that new ways of achiev­ing the result does­n’t neces­si­tate throw­ing out an entire frame­work, an entire idea, an entire pat­tern. It just says throw out the parts of it that could be done bet­ter. Then you can pro­vide a men­tal bridge for peo­ple to get form where they start­ed to where you’d like them to end up.

Instead of cre­at­ing dis­con­ti­nu­ities in expe­ri­ence, you should be fill­ing dis­con­ti­nu­ities in expe­ri­ence. Instead of say­ing Abandon this, adopt this,” say, Abandon this and do this next thing.” And then do this oth­er next thing, and this oth­er next thing, and do this oth­er next thing, all of which are lit­tle steps on the way to a broad­er end. 

And cre­ate com­mu­ni­ty. I have expe­ri­ence with open-source. I also have a lot of expe­ri­ence with not ever touch­ing open-source. I’ve been on both sides of that line. On both sides of that line, what I’ve found is if you’re will­ing to pro­vide who­ev­er you’re serv­ing or who­ev­er you’re build­ing for a way for them to help them­selves and each oth­er that’s built into what you’re doing. Built into the prod­uct, built into the ser­vice, built into the method. Then you don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly have to be the best at design­ing and UX and fill­ing all the gaps, because they’re going to do it them­selves. They can’t do it by them­selves. They can only do it together.

Remove fric­tion. All fric­tion. Friction is gen­er­al­ly unnec­es­sary. A lit­tle fric­tion is inevitable. A lot of fric­tion is nev­er nec­es­sary. Again, unless you’re doing some­thing that’s real­ly real­ly real­ly real­ly net new, which is rare.

And break bar­ri­ers. Every time you cre­ate a gap or dis­con­ti­nu­ity or require some­thing to make a leap, you’re erect­ing a bar­ri­er, which again I believe is gen­er­al­ly unnec­es­sary. Because every­thing we build. All these ideas, all these pat­terns, archi­tec­tures, ways of doing things, we’re all try­ing to get to the same end result, that looks some­thing like this in some­one’s head.

A woman, backlit by the sun, with arms raised in success

That’s it. Thanks.

Further Reference

Aneel’s home page.

Slides for this pre­sen­ta­tion at Slideshare.