I was told this definition needs ‘usually around warm light like a candle’ added to it

hygge dinner 1There is no direct English translation for the Danish word ‘hygge.’ Google will often translate it to cozy but this commonly heard phrase means so much more. The best I can explain it is to imagine that feeling of being close to other people that comes with sitting in your living room around the fireplace playing board games with your family while it’s dark and snowing outside. Hygge is for any relationship whether romantic, family or friends. It’s a focus on connecting, in an in-depth way, with the people in your life and having fun.

Though just a word, hygge to me sheds light on the focus Danish culture has on family and friends – on being closely connected to people. For an American coming to Denmark, I was warned that Danish people don’t talk to random people they don’t know in the way I’m used to and it can be hard to initially become friends. While somewhat true, and I learned to appreciate this a lot (see Lesson #2), there is this whole other side to the depth of relationships people have with each other that I was not prepared for. hygge dinner 2Someone once told me that once you become friends with a Dane, you are friends for life. I wasn’t really sure what that meant until I lived there and saw the depth of friendship most people have with each other. It truly spoke to who I am and what I value. It’s obvious in many big ways and many subtle ways, like the amount of eye contact and level of presence people have with each other. In my classes, I felt like my professor was actually present and interested in what I was saying. In my friendships, I felt like my friends were actually interesting in knowing me – not just being friends. A Danish roommate explained to me that when American’s say “what’s up” a Danish person stops and expects a genuine conversation so it always takes him a minute to remember that’s just saying “hi.” This says a lot about the culture to me.

Hygge shows up in the fact that most Danes eat at home, rather than go to a restaurant. (It shows up in making homemade Danish rye bread – yum!) It shows up in the fact that most Danes I met are close with their family and see them often. It shows up in countless ways and it’s a word Danish people take pride in.

Sometimes when I think of hygge, I think of the closing scene in Moneyball (a personal favorite) where the Dad has chosen to keep his current job rather than accept several times the salary working in a different town because he wants to be with his daughter as she grows up. Obviously the word does not describe that exact situation but I think hygge does speak to that feeling of choosing people (or experiences) over material things.

I stand by my belief that there is no real way to describe hygee. The best way to understand it is to experience it. For that, I must thank Nanna, whom more than anyone else, showed me what hygee means. Likewise, I’d like to thank Camilla, Peter and so many others for also helping me understand hygge. There was a bit of ‘you are too nice’ floating around in my mind at times because I was in disbelief.

I’d like to close with the thought that part of hygge, for me, is about accepting other people. It’s about inviting people in and trying to understand them. It’s about letting people try to understand you. It’s about not talking so you can listen. It’s about active listening and questioning so the person knows they are understood and you care.  It’s about seeing people for who they are, meeting them there and enjoying that time with them. And that is powerful!

Community, Mozilla

Community Lessons from LEGO (and other thoughts on community)

Communities form when you find a group of people that you feel you can be yourself around. In this environment, you don’t have to self-edit as much to fit in. You get the feeling that these people share a similar view of the world in some way. Communities form when the answer to, “are they like me?” is “yes.”

It’s not very surprising then that communities can form around brands as brands often represent a certain view of the world. Smart companies notice this and they engage these people in a win-win partnership to give their community value and to create value for the organization. That is no easy task. Here is a bit about how LEGO does it…

LEGO cares deeply about their community. They know that these people drive their brand, provide the best form of marketing and can help fuel new product development. And the community members get a powerful sense of fulfillment in meeting similar people and getting to be more of a creator than a consumer – they get to make LEGO their own. When working with community LEGO follows these principles (a non-exhaustive list):

  1.  Every engagement must be win-win
    • This matters because only in win-win partnerships do both sides have a good experience and can community continue to grow. It means that there is some saying no. But the saying no is so that more yes can happen later.
  2. LEGO does not interfere with community
    • This is powerful because it lets people all over the world organize their groups in a way that best makes sense for them. LEGO does not have to waste resources and can be more culturally sensitive by letting others manage their groups in the ways that best suits them.
  3. Members are respected and expected to respect each other
    • Every community should have a code of conduct to ensure that people respect each other. This is common practice so that members don’t get abused.
  4. Empower people to do what they want to do
    • You can’t force community to do something there is no passion behind doing – it’s just not how it works. The fact that LEGO is explicit about that is a big deal and it makes community respect them for it. That’s powerful.

LEGO has high quality standards and the way their community team works is no exception. They have a communication structure that empowers people to help and learn from each other so that not every person needs to communicate with LEGO directly. There are designated ‘ambassadors’ that communicate directly with LEGO – they help distill and clarify communication, taking a sort of leadership role in the community. This helps LEGO better focus resources and helps build a stronger sense of community among members (win-win).

There is a massive community surrounding LEGO, over 300K. To reference, we currently have about 8K at Mozilla. While our communities do different things, we are all fundamentally driven to be part of that group that makes us feel like we can be more of ourselves. It gives people a sense of belonging and fulfillment – something we all want in life. That is why community management matters. Without it, these large groups of people can’t exist and that sense of belonging can be easily lost.

[Post featured on Mozilla's Community blog.]

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.]

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.

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.

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.

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