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Guerilla Marketing: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business

Book Review-Guerrilla Marketing: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business

I don’t have a huge marketing budget. In some sense I don’t really have a marketing budget at all. That means that when I do marketing I’ve got to do it guerrilla style. I can’t fight the British in organized straight lines, I’ve got to use guerrilla tactics to succeed. (This is a reference to the American revolutionary war.) Jay Conrad Levinson’s book Guerrilla Marketing: Easy and Inexpensive Strategies for Making Big Profits from Your Small Business aims to show small business owners how they can do marketing without a lot of money.

A good place to start is what is marketing. Levinson says that it is “is the art of getting people to change their minds – or to maintain their mindsets if they’re already inclined to do business with you.” That’s a pretty good definition – if you’re sure that the market it is even aware that you exist and they’re making an informed decision between competitors. (See my review of Sources of Power for more on decision making.) I believe that there’s another option – the option that I find myself working with so my definition is “Creating awareness of your position and value in the market.”

Levinson follows up with “More than half your marketing time should be devoted to your existing customers. A cornerstone of guerrilla marketing is customer follow-up.” The problem with this is that in some cases, there’s little to sell to existing customers. In my case, I’ve got two worlds, my consulting world and my SharePoint Shepherd /intellectual property (content) world. In the consulting world you can always sell customers more time, however, on the SharePoint Shepherd side the product offerings are narrow enough that there’s not much to sell an existing customer. It’s more about finding new customers when it comes to marketing for the SharePoint Shepherd side of the business.

From here Levinson starts to align better with my needs and says “reminds you that the main number that merits your attention is the size of your profits.” That’s sage advice. Particularly when evaluated against the noise of web site hits, click throughs, and impressions. For me the only number that matters for the SharePoint Shepherd is bottom line profit. I don’t give a lick about click-through numbers if they don’t lead to sales.

Levinson is keenly aware and relates the best weapons for the small business is ingenuity and agility. There are numerous stories of organizations of all sizes doing the unexpected – paving a new path – and being effective at it. These are things that most large organizations simply can’t do.

Perhaps the hardest part of the book for me to read was the section on commitment – not because it was hard to read but rather because commitment is built on patience – and that’s not something that I have an abundance of – honestly, I don’t believe it’s something that most folks have an abundance of. One ray of hope for me was the ability to leverage measurement to focus on more effective strategies of marketing. I’ve placed several bets down on the roulette table of marketing with several sponsorships over the last few months. I’m tracking each one to see how many leads it’s generating. Further, I’m even starting to tag my BIOs in my public articles. If you look carefully you’ll see that they’re tagged with a specific tag that lets me know when someone clicks through. This ability to monitor what’s happening is helping me to keep myself occupied a bit while I’m waiting on my different marketing activities to take hold.

Levinson also is helping me to remember that what is crystal clear to me may not be in the mind of my buyer. It makes sense to me that if you’re offering your employees self-service help that your helpdesk calls will drop – however, that’s a connection that not everyone will make so I’m trying to get better about making my marketing messages very specific and to clearly articulate the business value of licensing the Shepherd’s Guide.

All-in-all, Levinson’s perspective is right. It will help you to think about how you can do marketing even if you don’t like it. (For what it’s worth I don’t like it.) Pick up Guerrilla Marketing and see if you can make a game out of getting more out of your marketing than you put into it.

The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and Beyond

Book Review-The Elements of User Experience

Where does Information Architecture begin and end? It’s a question that I’ve been struggling with. There are so many impacts into user experience, visual design, navigation, etc. I tend to think of Information Architecture as the overall framework or structure. To me IA is the overarching thing under which many other disciplines fit. However, Jesse James Garrett sees the problem differently in The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and Beyond. The book walks through his model for how he believes user centered design should work. The heart of this is a diagram showing five planes (or levels):

The book effectively walks through each of these levels and explains the relationship to the prior level – and the other concepts on the same level. So we move from a high-level strategy of what we want to scoping a project then defining its structure and so on. The book makes the point – effectively – that you need to focus on the bottom levels before moving up on the higher levels. This is pretty consistent with other things which build like change management. However, the good news here is that by exposing the linkages between the levels Garrett helps to provide arguments why the previous levels are important.

In general I struggle with user experience (UX) initiatives. Despite how much I know that a pretty interface is easier to use. (There’s research to support this.) I still struggle with the black and white definition of right and wrong that some visual designers try to use for things which aren’t quite so black and white and the insistence that an approach is right when there’s been no testing to support that perspective. So I was somewhat concerned about this book – however, I found that the book kept to the key goals of improving efficiency and allowing the users to get their job done and didn’t spend an inordinate amount of time about why changing from blue to purple would make people feel more powerful.

Because of the need to cover a breadth of topics the details can be a bit fuzzy at times. For instance, you’ll find much better coverage of wayfinding in Ambient Findability: What We Find Changes Who We Become and Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web but the coverage here gets you the basic concept so you can dig into more later.

All-in-all, this is a good place to start to learn about Information Architecture – because it’s a good overview of Information Architecture and the related disciplines. Give The Elements of User Experience a read if you have time.

The Paradox of Choice

Book Review-The Paradox of Choice

I’m still preparing for the Information Architecture DVD that is forthcoming and I stumbled across a reference to the book The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More by Barry Schwartz. Honestly, it felt like a reach when it came to preparing for Information Architecture. I didn’t know what to expect I’d learn, however, I was pleasntly surprised at the collection of research and conclusions that seemed to be both counter to general culture and equally aligned with previous reading.

Before I get too far I want to acknowledge that there are tones of Stumbling on Happiness in this book. In much of what The Paradox of Choice is talking about is our overall happiness with choice – and control.

I also wanted to relate a story for which the relevance will become apparent in a moment. Back in 1991, I was very early on in my career. I was going to probably my second conference ever. It was in Boston across the river charles from MIT. It was day three and I was not interested in what was being presented so I wandered for a short walk around the city. I hadn’t ever been to Boston so I figured I could look around, get some exercise, some fresh air, and return to the confernece. I started my walk and it wasn’t too long before I stumbled across a young woman with a clipboard. She asked if I would be willing to take a survey. As my mind was focused on MIT across the water, I thought sure. I’ll help out some college student, no problem. Once I agreed she walked me back about a half a block to the Church of Scientology building where they gave me a survey/test. This was at a relative high point in the amount of technical editing I was doing and I had a live-in girlfriend whom I was supporting while she was attending college. During the test I was actually noticing the bias in the questions. I would answer truthfully but I knew that the answers would send the wrong message. They were things like “Do you often criticize, or correct others?” being a technical editor that was part of my work. So I completed the survey in what they said was record time. They scanned in the results and led me to a little room to talk about the results.

One of the first questions was “Do you have any regrets?” The funny thing was, I didn’t and for the most part I don’t today. The thinking which I laid out for the interviewer was that I like who I am. If I like who I am and every experience positive and negative, every choice right or wrong, has made me the way I am. Regret means I would change something but I wouldn’t risk becoming someone I didn’t like to be. You could tell instantly that this put the interviewer off his game. To me at that time it seemed like the only conclusion to be reached but I’ve realized as I’ve grown older that this response is positively uncharacteristic of most people.

What’s the relevance of the story? Well much of the book speaks of our regrets – the opportunity costs of the decisions we make and the psychological impacts of those decisions. There are numerous factors that seem to be at play but how much we regret seems to be an indicator of how happy we’ll be – or not. Less regret = happier people, at least in the over simplified version of the story.

The key premise is built around maximizers and satisficers. Maximizers have to have the “best.” Satisficers have to have “good enough.” We’re all maximizers at times and satisficiers at times. We’ll lament for weeks over the purchase of a car but walk in and buy a computer in the matter of an hour – or vice versa. The key difference is that people who tend to be maximizers more often seem to be less happy – to the point of depression. Schwartz suggests that the opportunity costs – the costs for the decisions not taken – accumulate in our mind and become a burden that must be carried. Please don’t misunderstand. Satisficiers are not without standards it’s just that once those standards are met they make their choice and move on. They don’t have to have the “best” only what meets their standards.

The freedom to chose is also explorer in the book including the fact that most of us want a freedom to choose – that is until we’re actually in the situation. We want to choose as long as we don’t have to live with the consequences of those decisions – and particularly with the wonder about what might have happened if we had chosen the other path. In a world where we have more choice than any other time in history we’re also less happy. Choices can be a good thing – and they’re necessary – but only when they’re constrained in a certain bounds. Consider a post-it note. It has to be sticky enough to stick to the page (enough choices to feel like there are choices) but not so sticky that when removed it will rip off the page (so many choices that you feel burdened).

Choice is necessary so that we can feel some measure of control. If we don’t feel like we have control we may develop a learned helplessness. In the language of the book The Time Paradox this would be a fatalistic view of the world – one that’s learned by events. If we believe that we’re helpless we’ll stop taking responsibility for ourselves – and more importantly for making our condition better. The feeling of helplessness can not exist together with happiness.

I want to end by recounting the 10 steps at the end of the book intended to help you get more happiness out of your life. The parenthetical statements are mine:

  1. Choose when to Choose
  2. Be a Chooser, Not a Picker
  3. Satisfice More and Maximize Less
  4. Think About the Opportunity Costs of Opportunity Costs (realize you can’t have it all)
  5. Make Your Decisions Nonreversable (to limit regret)
  6. Practice an “Attitude of Grattitude”
  7. Anticipate Adaptation (a thing will provide less value as you get more of it)
  8. Control Expectations (the less you expect the better the experience will be)
  9. Curtail Social Comparison (spend time with other people, don’t spend your time wanting to be other people)
  10. Learn to Love Constraints (embrace the ability to not have to choose from everything all the time)

The Paradox of Choice is a great book – particularly if you want to figure out how to be happier in life. It’s also useful in understanding how to lay out choices for others as in the case of an information architecture.

Ambient Findability

Book Review-Ambient Findability

There have been times when I saw down with a topic and I just couldn’t get the words and the ideas to align. There were other times when the idea was so powerful that the words seemed insufficient. This is the case with Ambient Findability. Peter Morville is speaking of the changes in thinking that are happening all around us and how we acquire information. There’s research to support the fundamental premise that we acquire much of what we know based on passive and indirect access to information. In other words, we’re not looking and we don’t know what we’d be looking for even if we were. Marcia Brown believes that 80% of the information we learn is gathered this way.

Certainly, this information superhighway we call the Internet has changed things. For instance, I read this book on a Kindle, an iPhone, and my computer – in different parts. As I transitioned from one device to another Amazon.com brought me up to my last read page and I continued as if I hadn’t left. When I was done with the reading I went to http://kindle.amazon.com and copied the highlights into OneNote. Now, I can access my notes from anywhere – search them – and generally access them in ways I couldn’t in the past. I used to do my highlights, dog earing, and marking and then ask an assistant to transcribe them into an electronic form so I could access them – that is when the assistant had time. This has changed just a small part of the way that I do my research – and in a way that makes it easier for me to find information that I’ve culled out of larger works.

OneNote and my Lenovo x200 tablet changed things too. I’m reading with the Kindle software and I transition to hand write my notes which are recognized (some of the time) and converted into searchable text.

My son, who is 9, will never really understand the idea of scheduling his time around when a TV program is being broadcast. He’s lived his entire memorable life with a DVR. At one point it was a ReplayTV, another time Tivo, and now we’re using AT&T U-Verse service with a DVR included as a part of the package. There’s no longer the concept of Thursday night TV.

Working from the perspective of findability and trying to figure out how users in this new and changing sea of information will access information in the future is a challenge to be sure. That’s why I cut Peter Morville some extra slack for his book seeming to wander with less of a focused solution and more of the cow’s path to the end. I’ll admit the book reads more like a blog post than a book. In that I’m saying that it’s more about his thoughts and less about an organized journey to a specific location.

However, along the way, the book plays connect the dots with stops to point out how we’ve found our way as humans, how other animals find their ways, and the components of these processes that we may need to learn to be able to move forward. There’s plenty of useful thoughts about how our environments shape us – after we’ve shaped them. I’m personally identifying with this as I’m sitting in my office a few dozen feet from my home on a Thanksgiving morning. I’ve got some separation of thought between family and work – and the ability to transition between the two at will. I’ve shaped my environment to allow me to be quite comfortable “working.” As a result when my family needs their space or is sleeping (as they are now), I’m free to come to “work” and play.

The shifts that are changing are subtle and all around us. Simple things like the wrist watch are becoming extinct as people don their cellphones which can tell them the time. I still wear a watch but I don’t expect my son will wear a watch when he’s older.

Perhaps the thing to leave with – as it pertains to the book – is one of my favorite bits. In the aboriginal language Dyirbal there’s a category called Balan that includes women, fire, and dangerous things. This reminds me that the way that we structure our information architecture, the way that we frame the problem will probably have far reaching effects into the future. In this case, I think that women are like a fire burning bright – and that’s dangerous.

If you’re willing to walk the cows path to understand the information world you walk in, check out Ambient Findability.

Information Architecture for the World Wide Web

Book Review-Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites

Sometimes the obvious isn’t obvious. The “Polar Bear” book is a classic work for Information Architecture. Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: Designing Large-Scale Web Sites by Peter Morville and Louis Rosenfeld was written in 2006 but is often cited at the book to read for Information Architecture. Be sure it’s a good book and — to counter an argument raised for another review I did – it’s still mostly relevant today. Sure some sections are long in the tooth in terms of the examples used or the perspective on search, however, you have to look at the book for what is does cover well – which is quite a bit.

One of the things that this book does well is it anchors understanding in relationship to other topics. There’s a ton of questions about information architecture. What is user experience design? Where does visual design fit in? How does it compare to knowledge management? While I won’t say that the book has definitive answers to these questions, it does well to acknowledge the fact that other topics do exist and are related. There are some striking moments of precision such as the assertion that knowledge management is about getting information out of the heads of the people who have it and how information architecture is about managing that information (and knowledge) in its electronic form.

The fundamentals of IA are well covered including the use of search as a tool to manage the findability problem. Navigation gets its fair coverage too including contextual navigation and the idea that these sorts of links are more about contributors making connections and less about IA itself.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the book for me was the extensive coverage of thesauri and the connection of preferred terms, variant terms (alternate), broader terms (bt), narrower terms (nt), and related terms (rt). This is unique coverage to this book – in my experience thus far. I’ve not seen other IA classes, books, presentations, etc., talk about thesauri thus far.

The book also contains guidance on a step-by-step approach for creating an IA – although it’s admittedly iterative so it’s less step-by-step and more concept by concept. If you’ve never done an IA – or you’re looking to be able to track with a outside IA it will help you understand the fundamental processes.

One of the other resounding things about the book was the fact that it’s very practical. It will explain what is believed to be the state of the art – and what to do when that doesn’t work for you. For instance, when there’s no budget, you’ve become involved late, etc. In its practicality it avoids the potential to be preachy.

The book frequently talks about how users make decisions, IA make decisions when it does, it’s aligned with the research and reading in Sources of Power.

The book ends with some help for selling IA to the organization – which is necessary since many organizations don’t think about information architecture until it’s too late. You’ll get some basic help in how to approach the process of selling IA to the organization.

If you’re looking for a good start at what IA is and why it’s important, Information Architecture for the World Wide Web is a good start.

Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web

Book Review-Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web

There’s one statement that is definite truth, there’s no mystery in how Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web approaches IA. It’s all about the web – and why shouldn’t be. If we’re accessing information today we’re likely doing it via the web. Whether it’s an internet web site that sells Shepherd’s crooks or a corporate intranet, we’re spending more and more of our time consuming information in a browser.

The book is a good, straight forward guide to developing an information architecture. From reminding us that you have to do good thinking first and then write it down, the book gently reminds us that Information Architecture isn’t about one thing – it’s about blending multiple things together to get them to come out right. I’ve seen situations where people just start writing down stuff – skipping the good thinking – and places where the thinking was great but they neglected to write it down. You need both for success.

I was flying out to SharePoint Connections in Las Vegas while writing this and I was quietly watching how people made it through the airport. There were folks following the flow, and folks who were trying to process each decision. It resonated with the wayfinding topics in the book and how it’s essential to help folks know where they are at all times. This is signs in an airport and typically breadcrumbs in a web site. If you’re starting to study IA I recommend you keep your eyes open for people getting lost in the places you go everyday – libraries, airports, churches, etc., it’s really intriguing from the perspective of ensuring that you show context all the time.

There were some interesting – if not contradictory – statements about the placement of navigation. How people expect things to be – and how much they’re willing to adapt. Note that I don’t see contradictory statements as a problem – it just means there’s a space between the two statements. There’s also a very useful conversation about: global, local, utility, and associative navigation that’s a good break down of the topic. Mostly it applies to Ecommerce and public web sites but it can be applied to Intranets as well. The key question, “The user succeeded, now what?” is often missed in our desire to breakdown tests and use cases into descrete units.

The book supposes that users come to your site to: find something, do something ,or kill time. (I can’t help but think – how can one kill time without injuring eternity.) Generally speaking, I think this is true. The trick is far to few Intranet projects of which I’ve been apart can articulate what the user wants to find – or what they want to do. It’s a place where I don’t believe there’s much clarity across the board.

The final thing about the book that I felt was helpful was the way that it covered social technologies. I generally read “Social is great, use it for everything.” Or “Social is a fad, ignore it.” Speaking as someone who’s been trying to understand this space for a while, I can say that the balanced view where there are conversations of moving tags into keywords and the problems of social including the one that most folks want to ignore – cold start. Cold start is when the system has nothing in it so users don’t know what to do – there is no normal yet. So it’s hard to get started. It’s also been called inertia (getting the first person to act) and critical mass (getting the system up and running to the point where it sustains itself.)

If you’re ready for a book that will sneak in a useful view of the Information Architecture landscape while discussing the particulars of how IA works, you may want to pickup Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web.

Pervasive Information Architecture: Designing Cross-Channel User Experiences

Book Review-Pervasive Information Architecture: Designing Cross-Channel User Experiences

I view Information Architecture (IA) as the organization of information around you. I picked up Pervasive Information Architecture: Designing Cross-Channel User Experiences because I wanted to see how others thought about the problem of keeping messages consistent. In what I’m trying to do I was less concerned about eCommerce / brick-and-mortar mixtures of experiences – which the book spends a great deal of time on – rather I was more interested in how our experience on our desktop, on our phone, and on our bookshelf impacted the way we should think about information architecture.

There were lots of little snippets, shifts in perspective, that I loved in the book. Simply considering whether IA is about what’s on the pages or the connections between the pages is an interesting bit. It ties in visual design and what I consider to be true IA. I tend to think of navigation flowing from IA – however, I recognize that the reverse is also true. The ability to leverage different navigational techniques informs and shapes the IA. It was good to see this played out well.

There were also bits where reality was revealed. For instance, I’ve often said that Architect comes from the Greek and a literal translation leads to “Chief Builder” – which is true. However, Architects don’t build buildings. They don’t swing a hammer. They give instructions to others who build the buildings.

The book also works on the topic of whether IA is an art or a science – or as I would contend both. As I mentioned in Apprentice, Journeyman, Master, knowledge can be intellectual (cognative) or tacit. There’s a similar situation with IA. Understanding the rules is relatively simple. Understanding what the important bits are takes experience. (See Sources of Power – How People Make Decisions)

There are some core IA things which are useful as well. Particularly things like how we break things apart. For instance, the applicability of Hick’s Law (which says that people can pick things out of longer lists quicker than two picks of lists that are half the size.) The trick is that this relies on our ability to see and understand the order of a large list. We use the order to rule out entire categories of the list at one time. This explains why understanding the magic number seven is still important. (Hint: We chunk concepts together in our mind to save working space.)

Moving further down the path of organization and chunking the book talks about the use of prototypes – that is a representation of the category/words we’re seeing so that we can conceptualize it. Some items are better prototypes – and thus easier for us to associate to a category than others. For instance, if you’re looking for a rug there’s little question that the furniture category is what you want. If you’re looking for a rug the association is much weaker. Further there’s some interesting conversation about which attribute “wins” when two attributes of an object are in conflict.

Consider a pink truck. Is the truck generally gender male or gender female? As it turns out, pinkness overrides truck-ness. (My son once wanted a pink rubberband revolver much to my dismay. However, it turns out his mother despises pink so much that I’m rationalizing he was just trying to annoy her.)

I’ve also adopted a new name for topics that don’t fit neatly into an IA. The name is platypus. In science the platypus is an interesting mix of things reptillian, avian, and mammalian. So I’ve decided to start calling the things that don’t want to organize themselves into neat categoies as platypus – if for no other reason than you can’t help smiling when you say it. (Try to think of someone saying platypus without smiling at least a little.)

I also got to think about how a vocabulary (and thus IA) are differnet based on the knowledge of the consumers. For instance, the general public may think of planes, where as I think about how they’re propelled… single, twin, multiple engine… normally asperated, fuel injected, turbo charged, or turbine. I think of tricycle gear, tail wheel (tail dragger)… The more you know about something the more detail your vocabulary.

Oh, then there’s the scary. Marcia Bates aparently believes that 80% of our knowledge is absorbed by us just being around. Only 1% of what we know is found when we’re actively looking for it. That explains why experience with an IA has value. Of course it doesn’t bode well for trying to do a new IA.

Pervasive Information Architecture is a good journey for how IA exists – or should exist – in a world where users won’t experience your IA in a single dimension. Pick it up if you’re looking to figure out how to integrate other channels into your IA.

Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions

Book Review-Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions

It may seem odd but my quest for resources for my upcoming Information Architecture DVD led me to a book on decsions. Hows’ that? Well, Information Architecture is a funny thing. You’ll never know enough about the problem. You’ll always have to make compromises that are at best uneasy. So I wondered how do people make decisions? How could I provide council on which compromises to make, and which to stay away from. My quest lead me to Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions by Gary Klein. I was a bit worried when I started the book and he was talking about Firefighters. That wasn’t exactly the kind of decision I was most interested in. Sure it’s interesting to know how firefighters make decisions, but what does that do with creating aninformation architecture?

As it turns out, a lot, and nothing. It’s a lot because the book talks about an idea called Recognition Primed Decision (RPD). The short of which is this is where a firefighter would recognize an aspect of the situation that was similar to another experience they had – or a story they heard. From that they would instantly know the right answer. When pressed about how the firefighters made decisions they would respond that they didn’t evaluate options, they just did what seemed like the only option.

I bolded aspect above because it’s key that the firefighters knew which bits of the situation were important – and which ones weren’t through their experience. The experience built up an intuition of what was important and what wasn’t important. It helped them know how to look at their world. So in short, experience does matter. I mentioned in my review of Outliers that purposeful practice is important. Or rather I brought up that Malcolm Gladwell asserts that the outliers have had a chance to get a very large amount of practice. That practice creates a sense of expertise that can not be easily or susinctly communicated.

This experience not only enables intuition but it also enables mental simulations. We all use mental simulations to test how the world around us will react to an action or a statement, but the mental models of masters are better. They are more complex. They see more interactions – and they are more accurate. This is one of those things that I’ve noticed in my work. Some people just seem to be able to identify problems when there’s no supporting evidence – they seem to have a sense for what’s wrong. For instance, I wrote a blog post “Public Service Announcement: Many Technical Problems are Caused by Bad Power” – because I saw lots of quirky things happening as power supplies got a little out of spec.

The book is an interesting read if you’re trying to figure out how experts make better decisions than novices – often under extreme conditions. It’s definitely helped me refine how I look at the decision making process – and how I’m going to go about my next decision.

Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life

Book Review-Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life

I’ve been a fan of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s work since first seeing his work. I feel like I spend much of my days in “flow” and the description of it helps me to explain to others something that has been difficult to explain. His book Finding flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life is accessible to anyone and talks about the research about how people enjoy – or don’t enjoy their lives and how that is related to the time they spend in the state called “flow.”

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. It is characterized by a high degree of focus or limited field of attention, loss of self-consciousness – merging action and awareness, and timelessness (loss of time). Flow is intrensically rewarding and sometimes results in a loss of awareness of bodily needs – so forgetting to eat or go to the bathroom. Situations that encourage flow have a clear set of goals, provide immediate feedback, and provide a balance between the challenge of the task and the skills of the person.

One of the topics that the book covers – albeit lightly is the concept of hedonistic (living for the moment) vs value-based (eudaimonic) happiness. The short of this is that hedonistic happiness is fleeting and requires greater and greater effort to receive the same reward. It operates just like an additction. Value-based happiness is more persistent occuring overtime and being able to resist the storms of everyday life. (I’m not finished with another book that covers this in much greater detail. It is Who am I?: The 16 Basic Desires That Motivate Our Actions and Define Our Personalities by .Steven Reiss. If you’re intersted in this distinction I recommend the book.)

In 2007 I wrote a book review of Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling on Happiness where I made a point to talk about how I experienced a travel delay and how I just went with it. Mihaly Csikszentmihaly goes to great lengths to help the reader understand how you can create situations where you’re more likely to have flow and how your attitude about something can radically change how you feel about it.

There were somethings I found profound in the text:

  • The Greeks believed the best purpose for “leisure” time was to study. I tend to do that – so it was interesting.
  • Extroverts are in a very general sense happier than introverts. However, creative people – particularly those who can balance both introverted and extroverted times are happier still.
  • Being alone – working on my own comes just as naturally to me as being with people. The point is made that being able to be alone is a skill that’s acquired.
  • I sometimes talk about doing only what I want – but I don’t mean that any more literally than Linus Pauling did when he said it. I mean that I try to create more of the things I like into my world – DVD production is a good example.

So if you’re trying to figure out how to be more productive, to be able to concentrate more, or how to better enjoy your life, check out Finding Flow.

How to Measure Anything

Book Review-How to Measure Anything: Finding the Intangibles in Business

Douglas Hubbard certainly knows how to throw down a dare. His book, How to Measure Anything: Finding the Intangibles in Business certainly is a superlative title. The promise is that you’ll be able to measure absolutely anything with the techniques laid out in the book. I have to say that he’s possibly right. Certainly there should be a certain amount of skepticism in any absolute, however, once you understand what measurement is and what is isn’t this makes a lot more sense.

The book starts with some practical examples of measurements that were both simple and very useful. There’s the computation of the circumference of the earth nearly 200 years before the birth of Christ. Then there’s the child who figured out that it wasn’t necessary to measure *how* effective spiritual healers were, it was only necessary to measure *if* they were effective at all. A simple study was able to provide a ton of useful information – much to the display of some now out of work healers.

However, this isn’t where the book stops. It moves on to talk about techniques of monte carlo simulations, fermi estimates, and techniques that can be used to approximate answers in a range. That’s a key point – measurements don’t have to be precise. They need only be accurate. Most folks falsely believe that measurements must be precise – there must be no error in them. However, what Hubbard illuminates is that every measurement has some level of error built into it. We’re far from the hiesenberg uncertainty princple (which says you can’t monitor sub-atomic particles without effecting them.)

Hubbard also talks about estimating and how we have biases that are hard to break in the way that we estimate. As a consultant for my entire career I can tell you that estimating is perhaps the hardest part of the job. Every situation and project is different in some ways and as a result every estimate is a challenge of understanding the impact of the various factors. Hubbard talks about calibrating estimates so that the estimator knows how to estimate better. If you’re a consultant who has to estimate work this part of the book is worth the price of admission.

One of the things I liked most about the book was that Hubbard didn’t get stuck into the statisics and just start talking about numbers and probabilities. While he would tell you that with a random sampling of just 5 items you have a 93.75% change that the mean value for the larger population is in between the largest and smallest sample values. That’s pretty cool. It means that you can check with a really small set of people to get some useful information about the everyone population – presuming your sample is random.

If you have some time to learn more about measurement, you want to check out How to Measure Anything.