Community, Mozilla

Why Do People Join and Stay Part Of a Community (and How to Support Them)

[This post is inspired by notes from a talk by Douglas Atkin (currently at AirBnB) about his work with cults, brands and community.]

We all go through life feeling like we are different. When you find people that are different the same way you are, that’s when you decide to join.

As humans, we each have a unique self narrative: “we tell ourselves a story about who we are, what others are like, how the world works, and therefore how one does (or does not) belong in order to maximize self.” We join a community to become more of ourselves – to exist in a place where we feel we don’t have to self-edit as much to fit in.

A community must have a clear ideology – a set of beliefs about what it stands for – a vision of the world as it should be rather than how it is, that aligns with what we believe. Communities form around certain ways of thinking first, not around products. At Mozilla, this is often called “the web we want” or ‘the web as it should be.’

When joining a community people ask two questions: 1) Are they like me? and 2) Will they like me? The answer to these two fundamental human questions determine whether a person will become and stay part of a community. In designing a community it is important to support potential members in answering these questions – be clear about what you stand for and make people feel welcome. The welcoming portion requires extra work in the beginning to ensure that a new member forms relationships with people in the community. These relationships keep people part of a community. For example, I don’t go to a book club purely for the book, I go for my friends Jake and Michelle. Initially, the idea of a book club attracted me but as I became friends with Jake and Michelle, that friendship continually motivated me to show up. This is important because as the daily challenges of life show up, social bonds become our places of belonging where we can recharge.

Source: Douglas Atkin, The Glue Projecy

Source: Douglas Atkin, The Glue Project

These social ties must be mixed with doing significant stuff together. In designing how community members participate, a very helpful tool is the community commitment curve. This curve describes how a new member can invest in low barrier, easy tasks that build commitment momentum so the member can perform more challenging tasks and take on more responsibility. For example, you would not ask a new member to spend 12 hours setting up a development environment just to make their first contribution. This ask is too much for a new person because they are still trying to figure out ‘are the like me?’ and ‘will they like me?’ In addition, their sense of contribution momentum has not been built – 12 hours is a lot when your previous task is 0 but 12 is not so much when your previous was 10.

The community commitment curve is a powerful tool for community builders because it forces you to design the small steps new members can take to get involved and shows structure to how members take on more complex tasks/roles – it takes some of the mystery out! As new members invest small amounts of time, their commitment grows, which encourages them to invest larger amounts of time, continually growing both time and commitment, creating a fulfilling experience for the community and the member. I made a template for you to hack your own community commitment curve.

Social ties combined with a well designed commitment curve, for a clearly defined purpose, is powerful combination in supporting a community.

[Post featured on Mozilla's Community blog.]

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Travel, Uncategorized

Non-verbal Hyperdrive

Today during a video conference meeting at work I found myself getting really strong non-verbal cues from all of the people in the meeting. There were small nuances to people’s body language that allowed me to often understand how they received what was being said, read more into what they were saying and get a hint at what they were going to say before they said it. It was as if my non-verbal radar were on hyperdrive… but then I realized, it was.

Having lived the past 6 months in Europe, I was exposed to many different types of languages I was not familiar with. This made me better at trying to understand what was happening based on situational cues like body language, tone, gestures, etc. I got pretty good at guessing what people were talking about and a few times surprised others into thinking I knew more of the verbal language than I did. I never realized the impact of this until today when I experienced an entirely different meeting by what was not said than what was said. It really helped me know where everyone was at and as someone who cares a lot about how people do and feel about their work, I was very thankful for this unintended benefit of living abroad.

I never would have imagined that living in a different culture where I did not understand the language would make me better at reading non-verbal communication. But, when I think about it, it completely makes sense. I’d recommend the experience to anyone and it reminds me how important non-verbal communication is.

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Lessons Learned, Psychology, Travel, Uncategorized, Zen

There is no such thing as bad weather, only wrong gear

I’ve recently returned from living 6 months in Denmark. While there I was exposed to a phrase:

“Der er ikke noget der hedder dårligt vejr kun forkert påklædning.

which translates to something like

“There is no such thing as bad weather, only wrong gear”

While there are mixed opinions on whether this is ‘True’ it does shed some light on a piece of Danish culture and a sort of Zen-like way of life. To me this phrase essentially says: it’s not what happens, is how you respond that matters. A lot of psychology looks at this, especially positive psychology – our response is the lens through which we see the world. Zen teaches us to observe that lens, pay attention, get to know it and in doing so it begins to change. I recently watched a TED talk by Shawn Achor where he discusses how we can generate happiness by building habits that change the lens through which we see the world.

This may not surprise some. But what surprised me was that in Denmark this lens through which you view the world stuff was not something you just happened to read in a psychology/zen book, it’s an actual cultural phrase that your parents say to you as you grow up. That comes in contrast to the Californian ‘whatever/go with the flow’ sort of attitude which builds a response of apathy. (I’m making big generalizations but I’m from California and I see this a lot.) The Danish phrase builds an attitude that is proactive and does not see environmental factors as permanent or hindering. In a lot of small ways, I experienced this in the Danish people I met and, coming from California, it was a breath of fresh air because my parents taught me much more in what I’m now calling the Danish way than the Californian way – I thank them for that.

There is also something very pedagogical about this phrase. (Denmark focuses a lot on pedagogy which I describe as a focus on raising the whole person rather than simply teaching how to add numbers together.) This phrase teaches youngsters an interactivity with the world and that their choices matter in determining they way they proceed through their life. It also teaches that you can be well equipped to handle what is on your path in life and that if something seems wrong a simple change of ‘gear’ is all that is needed – it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you.

I now keep this phrase in my mind to remind myself, in a much more tangible way than what my parents taught me and in a less mysterious way than Zen, that I have a choice in how I respond to things –my lens through which I see the world– and I am capable of having the right ‘gear’ to make the appropriate response to the situation. I’m sure you can see how teaching an entire culture this makes a positive impact on how people interact with the world and each other.

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Branding, Business & Design, Interaction Design, Service Design

Desire Paths, Service Design and Branding when traveling from Denmark to Norway

I recently traveled from Denmark to Norway. Here are three great examples of desire paths, service design and branding that I saw while doing the traveling part of the trip.

  1. dsbDSB is the biggest Danish railway provider. They have a very easy to use phone app that let’s you purchase tickets, use your phone as your ticket, plan travel routes, mark a favorite station and more. Great service stuff. But the real gem of this app is the branding it provides through the interactions. For example, the loading icon is a little train zooming around a circular train track. This seems trivial to most but the summation of these trivial things create the user experience that gives the user an impression of the brand. Whether consciously or not, the brand seems a bit more friendly and playful. Additionally, this loading icon takes something annoying –like a loading icon– and makes it fun. I found myself picking random routes just to watch the train zoom around.
  2. The Oslo airport has a train called Flytoget which takes you from the airport to the inner part of the city. What’s the most annoying part about airport trains? A plain load of people get off and need to buy a ticket. The solution? Let’s use your credit card as the ticket. No line; just swipe your credit card as you walk through the gate. It’s so easy that I just had to stare at the system in awe for a minute (which I had extra of by not standing in line). But in that awe, I forgot to take a photo. I wish everything were that easy.
  3. bergen bathroom water bottle refillThe tap water in Norway is drinkable high quality water and bottled water is expensive. This leads many people to refill their water bottles in the bathroom faucet. But bathroom faucets weren’t designed for this. Here we have an example of a desire path. So what does the Bergen Airport do? They make it easier for you to refill your bottle in the bathroom by adding a special water bottle faucet next to the sink. So nice!

All three of these are great service/experience/interaction design examples that contribute to building a positive brand through user experience. Undoubtedly, the information that inspired these designs were found through desire paths and user experience research.

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Business, Design, My Big Things, Story Telling

Having the Idea And Communicating the Idea Are Not Two Different Things

We get nested in our ideas. We develop self confirming biases that validate our ideas. We become attached to the idea itself, in its perfect form in our mind. The idea needs to interact with the world to become a reality. Yet, we don’t focus on that interaction – it’s taken for granted. That interaction takes some practice, it’s the communication.

I’m tired of seeing people unsuccessfully present their ideas during a meeting/lecture/presentation. When that happens, the presenter is working on the assumption that having the idea is all there is to the idea. NO. You don’t have an idea unless you can communicate it.

Please take the idea out of your brain and play with it like play-doh. Practice explaining it to yourself and to others. Communicating the idea makes the idea better and makes you better at communicating the idea.

Do not ‘present’ an idea in a meeting for the first time. If I’m supposed to be convinced by the idea, that doesn’t serve you and it doesn’t serve me. Rather the ‘presentation’ should be a continuation of many discussions that have happened so far.

I propose: Part of and idea is being able to communicate the idea; they are not separate things. In fact, communicating the idea is more important than the idea itself because if no one gets it, it doesn’t go anywhere. So here is a new mental model..

idea communication diagram

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Business, Service Design

One Small Way Government Communication Would Be Different From a Service Design Perspective

We all know those, often long and confusing, letters we get in the mail from a government agency. Now put yourself in the shoes of someone in a foreign country who lacks proficiency in the county’s main language because they are new. Those letters just got a whole lot worse. Navigating a government system in a language you are not good at is no easy task.

Let’s look at the situation: a government (I would assume) has people that speak/write the most popular languages in the world, your new country of residence knows your original country of residence, knowing your original country of residence allows assumptions as to what language you are fluent in and the system that prints these letters (I would assume) is computerized.

When printing letters (or sending emails, etc.), the computer systems can do a simple check of the original country of residence and send communication in the reciever’s native language. For legal reasons there may need to be a link to the initial document in the initial language but now the reader actually knows what the document is about and can act on it.

This one simple change is from a service oriented mindset. Governments often act in a product oriented mindset where they build a system and stop, there is little attention paid to the people interacting with the system (ex. US online healthcare system fiasco). The service mindset focuses on the people interacting with the system – we would see many more things like receiving communication in your native language. In the private sector, this service orientation would give major competitive advantage and could be built into the brand/marketing.

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Branding, Business

Integrated Marketing Communication

[Based, in part, on Marketing Communications by Patrick De Pelsmacker]

Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) is a popular term in marketing today. It generally describes having synergy and consistency across all communication channels, both internal and external. But to really understand this idea I want to explore the context and the barriers to IMC.

IMC came into existence due to influence from expanding globalization, technology and consumer power. The world we live in has many communications channels, through different forms of both digital and analog technology. All of these channels themselves communicate (the medium is the message). With mass access to information, globalization, and new forms of communication, consumers have more power and choice shifting companies to build products with a market orientation – a focus on customer need, as opposed to making things company is good at. In an effort for differentiation in this new marketplace, organizations have placed more emphasis on branding and governance. The result of all this is a seemingly infinite number of possibilities for variation in communication and added costs in having such variation. IMC came into existence to solve these needs – to have a consistent message across all channels and be cost effective at doing so.

Barriers to implementing IMC still exist in organizations; it is not something to be taken for granted. These barriers include: general organizational conservatism (sticking with way things have been done), functional separation, lack of market orientation, poor internal communication. In general, the barriers to IMC focus on a fear of change and poor communication structures – issues that are barriers for many things including innovation.

IMC seeks to bridge the gap between the vision of top management, organizational culture and brand image/experience. This requires a focus on (my favorite) touchpoints. A term often used in service design, touchpoints focus on the actual moments at which an organization connects with people. In contrast with a channel which is a means of communication, touchpoints are an interaction and one channel can have many touchpoints. The key is having consistency and synergy in your touchpoints. For example, the tochpoint of an ad on my smartphone game branding the organization as innovative would need to be consistent with touchpoingt of an email I receive about the organization releasing a new innovative product. There would be trouble here if the organization sent an internal email to the staff about being slow to change and relying on older methods as this email would create a touchpoint that has gap with the brand image/experience.

As you may have noticed with “image/experience,” IMC is about more than just what the organization communicates, it’s the experiences (which involves communication) it creates for people. I think of the Wolff Olins blog post about how what you do is more important than what you say. The goal of IMC is synergy and consistency across the brand experience.

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