Educated Drivers Wanted

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Advertisements for the first automatic transmissions, 1939. Image: NTY/General Motors

Interesting article in the Times recently about the explosion of problems surrounding gear selectors in automobiles that have come to light since the tragic death of actor Anton Yelchin a month or so ago.

The most interesting takeaway for me was about the intersections of technology and psychonomics, the link between products and minds. A well-crafted bicycle handbrake is an example given in the article of something that one intuitively knows how to use.

For me, ever a car nut, I was reminded of driving my 1988 Volkswagen Scirocco, the cockpit of which was perfectly laid for me. I didn’t have to think; I just moved an arm or finger or foot. It was a brilliant automobile. And I think its brilliance ultimately lay in its simplicity of operation.

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Ergonomically and psychonmically perfect, at least from this driver’s viewpoint, was the last of the Volkswagen Sciroccos sold in America. I sold mine when it was 10 years old with a hair under 200,000 miles on the clock. Image: German Cars For Sale Blog.

Recently, I heard Jay Leno posit that operating an automobile has changed more in the last 20 years than it has since its invention. And I think he’s onto something.

We are cramming more and more technology into our cars while we’re hampering the driver experience. I am absolutely sure that cars manufactured today are safer than those built 20 or 25 or 50 years ago, but I’m not sure that we are operating them more safely.

In the last few years, automotive designers have been experimenting with new and different ways of electronically shifting gears — buttons, joysticks, paddles, dials — and placing these shifting mechanisms in areas of the car that may be counterintuitive; especially if you are seeking an old-fashioned (but tried and true) PRNDL shifter. However, are we actually doing the driving public a disservice when we produce vehicles that the average consumer can’t be sure they’ve put it in Park correctly?

I’m all for technology, but let’s be savvy about it.

Kitchens and Communicators: Same Knives

A food critic friend of mine posted this piece from the site Fine Dining Lovers and I thought it was excellent. I also thought that it’s not necessarily only germane to commercial kitchens. I think it’s also quite relevant to practitioners of both the culinary and the communication arts.

Here’s a short version with my take. Read the entire piece at the link above.

INADEQUATE MISE EN PLACE
There is no excuse for this. It does happen and the finger should be pointed at both the individual line cook and the chef. Well-designed prep sheets based on sound projections, a sense of urgency on the part of the line cook, and chef oversight throughout the prep window will all help to rectify this problem.
MRB: Yep. If you don’t have all of your planning done; if you don’t have all the tools you need, the likelihood of  project failure increases exponentially.
LACK OF TRAINING
MRB: Fairly self-evident, this. Always train your staff. And, if you can, always hire smarter than yourself. You’ll be glad you did.
EQUIPMENT MALFUNCTIONS
Cooks depend on their tools working well. Ovens must be calibrated, burners must work well, fryer temperatures must be true, pans must be seasoned …
MRB: I learned this wisdom a long time ago from a boss who always insisted that the communications staff have the latest equipment possible and put the office on a strict replacement schedule. We also all had machines that were the same so that we could all talk to one another whenever we needed to. This is smart stuff — and hard to get past the bean-counters in lean years — but it’s absolutely essential. I swear by it.
Chef-knivesPOOR DOOR MANAGEMENT
Even the best prep and mental preparedness will fail if the front of the house fails to manage and pace the door and door reservations for smooth service.
MRB: Your jobs are not “one-offs.” You have to be cognizant of what else you have on your plate when you assign deadlines and due dates. If you don’t factor in “the other,” you’re always going to be scrambling, always going to be behind and you’ll end up with a poor reputation — and that’s something much harder to fix than learning how to calendarize projects.
LACK OF MENTAL PREPAREDNESS
Cooks need to be in the right mental state to function at peak efficiency. Chefs need to help to manage this.
MRB: Yes, a thousand times, yes! Make sure your staff is operating as best as they can. You can help them by providing them with an invigorating, well-run workplace or simply a shoulder to cry on. Give staff a chance to stretch in their roles and turn mistakes into learning experiences, not opportunities to always rebuke and belittle. Helping them focus will increase creativity across the board.
AN INDEPENDENT APPROACH VS. A TEAM PREPARATION
It is never sufficient to be satisfied that you are ready for the rush if the rest of the team is not. Every cook’s readiness is every cook’s responsibility. Observation and communication will help teams survive and thrive.
MRB: Nothing to add here. Build a team that helps one another thrive.
OVERALL WEAK COMMUNICATION
Constant communication between cooks, between the chef and cooks, between the dining room manager and the chef, and effective dialogue between service staff and cooks will keep everyone on track and will help to minimise the surprises that bring a restaurant down.
MRB: Ditto the above. Always keep talking. Let managers know of potential impending crises and let management assist in easing pressure in certain areas in order to get things done. Sometimes it’s as simple as someone feeling that they can say to their supervisor, “I’m swamped. I have three projects due today and I can’t get them all done,” and having the supervisor answer, “That’s okay. I’ll give one to Mary. Thanks for letting me know.”
AN ILL-CONCEIVED MENU WITHOUT STATION BALANCE
The menu is the key control device in a kitchen. Planning a menu is certainly an art, but it is also a science.
MRB: And ultimately, this is the foundation upon which all of the above is built. If you promise to be all things to all people, you’re not going to make it. Tighten your offerings, limit your services to those that you know your staff are capable of and make sure you can deliver the goods on time and on budget.
It’s not rocket science, but it is good management — and no matter what your industry, good management is good management. 

Have PR and Marketing Become The Same?

Stumbled upon this article by Wendy Lindars today. Worth a read.

Lindars admits that she initially scoffed at the advice a PR professional gave to a friend: that to get ahead in PR today you have to know Google Analytics and SEO.

That’s marketing, she immediately thought, not PR.

Most of us would probably think the same. But, give it some thought. This guy is correct. Marketing has shifting significantly on its axis in the last 10-15 years. Why would you assume that PR is practiced the same way it was when a “fast Internet connection” was a dial-up modem and you mailed press releases?

User Experience Myth Or Truth: The Three-Click Or Tap Rule

User Experience Myth Or Truth: The Three-Click Or Tap Rule.

Just ran across this article again and thought it was worth a re-share. It’s a very good primer on why the three-click rule is mostly bunk.

What the article doesn’t go into is something that can’t be solved here either and that’s the amount of content that so many organizations insist on loading into their websites. It bogs down SEO, it slows down effective IA and it makes effective UX almost nonexistent.

Think about what pages of your website get the least attention. Yes, the LEAST attention. Now, ask why you have them. Is there a reason to keep an enormous section of your site up and running that no one has visited in the last six months?

There you go. Today’s ponderable.

Branding and Other Nonsense

As the Quakers say, “My friend speaks my mind.” In this case, my friend is Gerry McGovern. And he’s never wrong.

Here’s the full text of is latest New Thinking E-Newsletter. It’s absolutely worth a read and a ponder.

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Image: Andreas Praefcke/Wikimedia Commons

BRANDING IS BULL

The origin of the word branding comes from the branding of cattle. Let’s travel back in time 100 years and listen in to a branding conversation by two cattlemen.

“Very impressive brand, Tom. It has a wonderful aesthetic feel to it.”
“Do you think so, John? We did think very deeply about the colors to choose. And we did have an intense debate about whether to use Athelas or Freight Text Pro. We decided to go with Athelas. It has that certain je ne sais quoi.”

“Absolutely! Superb choice. It will bring the customer on an emotional journey. Listen, the reason for my visit, Tom, is that I’d like your advice. We’re thinking of doing a rebranding.”

“Why is that, John?”

“Well, you know, the last couple of years have not been so good for the brand. We’ve had a drought, got hit by some diseases. The meat quality on the cattle is not great. So, I thought that if we refreshed the brand we could capture back some of our old market share.”

“What a fantastic idea, John! I know just the branding agency for you. They understand bull better than anyone I know.

“It’s amazing, Tom, isn’t it. Take the same old scrawny tough-as-nails meat, put some nice packaging and branding on it, and it just flies out of the store.”
“Those branding guys are magicians, John. They truly understand human emotion and are so brilliant at manipulating it. With the right brand you can sell any sort of bull.”

“And to think, Tom, when I was a kid we had such a limited understanding of what branding was. We thought it was just a unique mark we made on the cattle so that we would know who owned what. When I was a young, foolish teenager, I was under the mistaken impression that what mattered was the meat itself.”

At this stage John laughed. Tom laughed too. They both found the idea that the meat was more important than the brand absolutely hilarious.

“Some idiots say, Tom,” John said in between gushes of laughter, “that the meat is the brand!” Tom looked at him for a moment and then literally rolled around the floor laughing.

Where do people get these crazy ideas from? Don’t they know that coming up with meaningless, interchangeable taglines like: “Live life at a faster pace” is much more important than the quality of the product or service? Haven’t they learned from the magicians of marketing and branding that it’s all about coming up with a compelling story? That the right font and the right color are the quickest way to a customer’s credit card?

Branding is bull, and that’s a fact. Branding in practice is the manipulation of human emotion, the targeting of human weaknesses, the wrapping of the product in an image that has got nothing to do with the product itself. The gushing, smiling faces of actors pretending to be customers. Branding is the mark of the establishment. The opposite of authenticity.

Yes, we humans are fools and we have long fallen for branding and the whole school of psychological manipulation that goes behind it. But there is a reaction underway. Many of us are getting tired of being fools and being fooled. We go to the Web now, to search, to research, to check the facts, to read up on what people like us who have bought the product have experienced.

Gerry McGovern

I encourage you to follow McGovern. On Twitter, he’s @gerrymcgovern.

Subscribe to his newsletter at: http://www.gerrymcgovern.com/new-thinking

New Emerson Logo Met with Derision

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Image: InsideHigherEd.com

A new logo for Emerson College (at right) is receiving widespread criticism from students and alumni.

It never ceases to amaze me how often very intelligent people fall down this particular rabbit hole.

Look, no one will ever choose your institution based on your logo. Or your very expensive advertising-agency-quality tagline. Not. Going. To. Happen.

What may happen, however, is someone will decide NOT to attend your college or university based solely on the fact that they don’t want to look stupid with your dumb logo plastered across their chest.

Think I’m just being cheeky? Test me.

I dare ya.

Is Your Customer King?

Probably not. There’s a lot of folderol in management circles about making sure that you put the customer first, that the customer is always right, that the customer relationship is the most critical relationship of all.

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Image: Tomasz Steifer, Gdansk

Then, of course, big business (let’s not lay all the blame at their feet; small business can suck at this, too) comes along and undermines anything the “boots on the ground” are actually doing on the ground.

From the latest New Thinking by Gerry McGovern:

In many organizations, the current customer is so disrespected that support is outsourced. You outsource the things that matter least to you. You outsource to save money. You outsource because you don’t care. You outsource because you don’t think something is a core competence.

It doesn’t get any truer than that, babies. It’s all about grabbing the most that you can and the devil take the hindmost.

Why do you hate dealing with Comcast/Time Warner/Verizon/fill-in-the-blank-with-other-hated-company-of-your-choice? Because their customer service stinks.

Two weeks ago, my local electricity provider (recently purchased by a mega-conglomerate) sent me a letter telling me to URGENTLY get in touch as someone needed to come over RIGHT AWAY to change my electric meter.

I called. I got the now-ubiquitous automated operator. I tried several different options (“Press 2 for Residential Customers”) and finally I just started yelling “Represenative!” and it finally connected me. To someone who didn’t know what in the hell was going on. Who lived states away from me. *sigh* Well, at least he didn’t live in a foreign country.

I’m still waiting on the promised technician to come out to fix something that THEY wanted fixed. I don’t care if they replace the dumb meter or not. I just called because I thought it would be helpful. I won’t make that mistake again.

“You outsource because you don’t think something is a core competence.” Gerry’s been right a lot, but he’s never been more right than right here.