Archive for January, 2010

Update: re-signing

January 30th, 2010

(This is a follow-up to this post.)
First answer from the public bus company arrived today, popping up more questions.

Quote: “Some of the buses do already have some of the suggested markings, but we did not observe them to show the desired success.” My question: How did you communicate the purpose of the markings? How did you measure their effectiveness? And: How did you define “success”?

Now for the most symptomatic part, this is just another example. Quote: “We’re sorry, but we cannot but resign in the face of this problem, which explains the occasional frustration of our driving personnel. Unfortunately, some passengers do show ignorant behavior by not reacting to the request to stand away from the doorway. We are convinced that an additional sign will have no effect on this. We may remind you about the Fare-ness Campaign [note: It wasn’t the term they used, but something of similar… wit.], which also took up the door blocking issue.”

You could look at it from the funny side if the topic wasn’t so annoying. First off, one good piece of advice: Never ever blame the customer. Not everyone will eat that frog, and it’s quite possible that the situation may tip. Number two: Frustrated staff is a no-no. Especially the kind that vents their emotions over a PA. Third, never assume anything. Assuming that one more sign won’t help is just as wrong as assuming that only because I happened to have moved to this city, I know of everything that’s been going on there last year. Hint: I don’t. And even if I knew, maybe I don’t care. It might not have affected me back then. (After doing some online search, I found out they posted this campaign one year ago, but I still have to figure if there were any posters or flyers — anyway, first impression: This could have been done way better.)

So now I’m wrapping up the last paragraph as a bunch of questions to ask for details. Update will follow shortly.

Still audible

January 29th, 2010

Finally, I get to write a post about music. Not exactly music though, more audio production, but that’s musical enough.

In the last few years almost every classic analog console or channel strip has become available as at least one software plugin, most of them from renowned software manufacturers. And because everyone believes they are good enough, Digidesign proudly set up a listening contest to check if you can distinguish between an original mix on a SSL4000 and Waves’ plugin which models the very same.

Here I am, sitting in my office with 10+ busy colleagues, my Beyer DT770 headphones connected to the regular output of my Dell notebook. Just to make clear that this is not a high end listening environment.

And still I am able to distinguish between both mixes! Not 100%, but 2 out of 3. Also worth mentioning, I didn’t do any mixing in the last months. So how could I figure? The problem that audio software still has is delivering a proper stereo image. A software mix just doesn’t sound as balanced as an analog mix. On a digital mix the center seems to drop about 1 or 2 dB, and also the depth seems to shrink a little, making the sound slightly cramped.

Still good to know that there’s room for improvement for the software guys, and some relief for the analog gear manufacturers that their products are not as easy to be replaced. Not yet.

Just a little Nudge

January 28th, 2010

In their book, Thaler and Sunstein describe the major effects minor changes can cause. My daily example is the public bus. It’s always overcrowded with coeds going from or to the university. The bus doors use a light barrier as a security measure, so the doors won’t close as long as there’s something in the way.

And every day an angry bus driver is telling the people via crackly PA to step back because the doors won’t close. Everyone is annoyed. Yet the problem is easy to fix: Why not have some red-yellow stripe pattern on the floor area that needs to be untouched? People are already conditioned not to step on red-yellow, so it’d be worth giving it a shot. To make it even more effective, they could also put stickers on the door windows that explain what this new thing is for.

A no-brainer in theory, and I’ve sent them a mail and keep you updated about what’s happening.

Get more options

January 27th, 2010

Derek has some great advice when you feel stuck with your choice.

Semi-Help is Semi-Hassle

January 27th, 2010

One major advantage of today’s IT infrastructure is the possibility of automation. Information just needs to be entered in one place, and can be used in multiple places just because it is delivered by an automated system. Which allows users to focus on more valuable tasks than entering data into a (paper) form, which means more profit for the business (because the pay is still the same, eh?).

But in most cases, these system do not work perfectly. Which again jeopardizes not only the efficiency of one single process, but the usefulness of the system itself. Systems that need to be handled like “Uh..well…y’know, basically it works, but before you print the three copies of the form, you have to check here and there, and did I mention…?” are only semi-helpful. Checking and manually correcting data is a hassle, especially if it’s not your main task, but something you need to do to finish the job.

The problem here is that most computerized forms are designed in a way that causes the least trouble to the software they’re supposed to work with. Instead, they transfer the trouble to the one in front of the screen. Causing errors. Making the ones who set up the e-marvel think everyone else is stupid. It’s neither the people nor the software, but the usability of the interface of data capture, which needs to be tailored to the purpose and, more important, to the people who are to use it.

Power, who to?

January 26th, 2010

New people moving in at the neighbors’ house, which has about 10 flats. As far as I know, there are no pets allowed, which didn’t stop some people from smuggling in one or another. Now come the new neighbors, politely asking for permission to have two cats in their flat, because the cooperative owning the house told them they were ok with it as long as the residents are.

To me this is pretty cool, because this is one of the rare cases when the people who will be affected by a decision are also the ones to decide. You don’t get that very often. But what happened was that they told the new neighbors that they did not feel like they were the ones to decide, but the house owners — the very same people they blame for making stupid decisions without ever asking and so forth.

It’s the same old story: With power comes responsibility. When you’re in charge, you’re in charge 100 per cent. This is the part most people fear, because they’re still clinging to the notion that a decision made is to last forever. But it only lasts until someone raises a hand to say “I disagree”, and their idea catches on. Also worth noting: If the power that has been given to you is taken away, you haven’t lost anything. (Tell your Congress Member.)

And then, what happens?

January 24th, 2010

A friend of mine put it in fantasticly straightforward words:
“Do what the most successful person in your business does.
Then you become successful.
And have a Porsche.
And you do models.”
Nothing to add here.

But this is not enough to endure at the top, because it’s not enough to just remain as good as you are. The next in line is already about to do the same (more success–bigger Porsche–hotter models), and most likely more motivated to accomplish it.

How to double your Profit

January 22nd, 2010

Step 1: Ask “What would I do different if my budget was only half as much?”

Step 2: Do it.

(Yep, I do know that profit is a geometric progression, but anyway.)

No Spiel

January 21st, 2010

A new series of billboard ads has been placed throughout the city, on buses, pillars, anywhere, same old story. Here’s the first point: How much sense does it make to print advertise for a radio station? Besides, they don’t even mention a frequency, so even if there were unsuspecting, yet easily to be influenced car drivers…

But even worse is that the transition from catching attention to arousing interest fails poorly because of a language mashup that’s just plain stupid. What’s more, you have to read the full ad to understand it. Makes you wonder that anyone believes someone passing by would stop and read. The purpose of a billboard is to say “Wanted” or “Buy this!”, and if you want it to tell a story, use one compelling image — there’s no room and no time to give a long spiel about it.

Neuromarketing

January 20th, 2010

Every now and then someone pops up to take false credit for things have been known for years. This is possible because the people who invent or use something often forget to label it, and ideas that do not have a label are not that viral, so they spread more slowly. Of course, sometimes those who put it into practice act like they knew about some secret alchemy that must be kept confidential — until someone has the crazy idea to publicize and monetize it. Spoiler.

So now managers now officially know that ad-wise, they should adress the customers’ feelings, because that’s where decisions are made — this is the part the previous paragraph refers to (no news, sorry). The news is that this technique now bears the name “Neuromarketing”.

Yet my point is a different one, but not entirely. Because aside from all the bravado of the newly coined term, its father still suffers from misunderstanding what business is about. Quote:  “We want to get to our customers’ money […].” Reminds me of “Make as many people as you can believe -now on an emotional level- that they have a problem that fits your solution.”

The 1950s must have really been a great time, there is hardly any other good reason that people still are mentally stuck in there.