April 28, 2017

A dose of compassion

“You may have no outward cause whatever for sorrow, and yet if the mind be dejected, the brightest sunshine will not relieve your gloom.” – C. Spurgeon

People need hope for a variety of reasons. They could be suffering from some kind of illness, disease, abuse or injury that affects their physical being—even their life. They could be suffering from more internal factors such as depression, addiction, fear, or other assorted trouble.

These forms of harm can be physical, psychological, or spiritual, but they are often found in multiples. Harm is dynamic, and people are not always aware of all of the ways that they are suffering, beyond the most obvious. It is not always clear when someone—even someone close—might be lacking hope, as outward symptoms aren’t the only indicators of a hope deficiency.

In addition to those who are suffering, there are also those who are walking beside them. They want to help them in all the ways that they need help—through psychological, spiritual, or material support.

Hope is the belief that things will improve from their current state. It is "the door out of the blackness of depression and despair." - Richard Winter

Seeing this video today reminded me of how difficult life is for people going through all manner of trials, and it made me want to weep for them.

In our various efforts to reach people, we do humanity a great disservice if we are looking only to what we get out of it. We ought to desire putting ourselves in the shoes of those around us, understanding their points of view and the various baggage they bring to the experience we are designing.

How can we foster hope?

“Desponding people can find reason for fear where no fear is.” They “convert [their] suspicions into realities and torture.” - Spurgeon

“Like other issues of mental health, we don’t talk about depression. If we do, we either whisper as if the subject is scandalous or rebuke it as if it’s a sin. No wonder many of us don’t seek help; for when we do, those who try to help only add to the shame of it all.” - Zack Eswine

Compassion is a key component of design. It's best if we remember it is not all about us.

- Cam Beck


February 03, 2017

The UX of Employee Morale

Recently I was in a leadership meeting where we introspectively evaluated the morale of the company as a whole. Some people felt it was low, and others felt it was fine. What was clear, however, is that we didn't have a common definition of what morale was. Let's explore this a bit. What is morale, what are the factors that contribute to it, and how do you even approach improving it within your organization?

At its core, morale is about identity, which is heavily influenced by one's perception of his value and place in the world. There are four beliefs that contribute to high employee morale. Think of this as a four-legged stool. Take one of the legs out, and its integrity will be compromised, but someone can make due for awhile before finding alternative seating arrangements. Take two of them out, and either someone will be content to sit on the floor or take other measures that can compromise the integrity of the chairs other people are sitting on.

The four beliefs are:

  1. I know and believe in what we're doing as a company.
  2. I am contributing positively to the good we are attempting to accomplish.
  3. I am appreciated and respected.
  4. I am able to make things better.

In terms of measuring morale, it doesn't matter if what someone believes about these statements is true. What matters is the belief. A highly-valued employee, for instance, may believe they are actually not appreciated, if everyone they want to value them is too busy to acknowledge the employee's contributions. 

Even though morale isn't determined by truth, I've never found it helpful to be deceptive. So lying to an employee to make them believe something that isn't true is unsustainable. If you or they lack something, either help them see the truth or help to change the reality so that it is the truth.

  1. Have a heart of compassion and integrity.
  2. Have an ambition to be something great. 
  3. Know and be able to confidently articulate who you are and what you want to accomplish.
  4. Socialize and refine this articulation.
  5. Ensure buy-in by hiring the right people who rise to that standard or have the ability and will to make everyone better. This fosters camaraderie and fellowship among your employees, as well.
  6. Give people the tools, education, and resources they need to do their jobs; encourage ownership, not only for their jobs but the systems and processes that affect their ability to do their jobs.
  7. Ensure people know what's expected of them in their jobs and hoped for them in their careers.
  8. Ask the people around you what you can do for them to help them achieve their goals.
  9. Use failure primarily as a means to facilitate improvement. But be vigilant and self-aware. Sometimes you have to recognize that you have to let someone go.
  10. Show your appreciation. Make a point of it. People expect different things, but they are cognizant of fairness. If you explain the rules and follow through, people will learn to play by them.

As with interfaces, the key to ensure people know they're on the right path in each of the four beliefs is to provide visibility, utility, affordance, and feedback. Your employees need to have a vision for the big picture and know where they are in relation to that vision. They need to know what they can do and have the tools to do it. They need to understand that working overtime, if they must, is worthwhile to achieving the greater good, with people who they respect and who respect them back. And they need to know that either what they have done has had a positive impact, or the confidence that if it did not move things in a positive direction, they can learn from their mistakes and try again. - Cam Beck

November 06, 2015

Don't Let Your Prejudices Rule Your Perception of Your Customers


We all have blind spots.

In November, while preparing for my son's first birthday party, a good samaritan helped me spot mine. And I never even got a chance to meet him (or her). 

The rain was coming down with vigor. The forecast promised enough of the wet gift from the heavens that it forced us to relocate the party for our youngling to the inside. First birthday parties are more for the parents than they are for the infants, anyway. The infants are mostly oblivious about what is going on. Assuming they aren't tired and are otherwise good-natured, though they appreciate the extra attention, the presents are a short-term distraction.

Because of the relocation left us without the use of picnic tables and a grill, we needed to get a few extra pleasantries from the ubiquitous Walmart.

Now, I have never had a problem shopping at Walmart. They sell stuff that I need, so when I need stuff, I know where to go. I never bought into the "Walmart is evil" crowd, though I've used this space to discuss Walmart before (both critical and defensive). 

Even so, I am not immune from being subtly influenced by the collective denigration of the "Walmart shoppers" that is in vogue within our culture today, especially but not limited to advertising. You know what I'm talking about, right? It's plastered at the end of news articles like a carnival barker, "Come on in and see the FREAK show of Walmart shoppers!" It doesn't even matter what follows or even whether I click on the link — they are the backwards, knuckle-dragging Republican neanderthal wing-nuts, and I am different from them. NASCAR Blindness may as well be Walmart blindness.

Alan Wolk, who coined the phrase "NASCAR Blindness," put it this way:

"This disease is the strongly held belief that if no one in your little bubble of upscale, artsy Bobo friends is into something, then clearly no one else is, either."

So when I dropped my wallet in the store after picking up some of those needed supplies, with my son just turning one, Christmas and my daughter's birthday right around the corner, and with my wife expecting early in 2016, my heart dropped. I cannot afford to be wasting time or losing money by being too mind-numbingly stupid to not keep track of my belongings.

My first hope was that I dropped it at the gas station instead of Walmart, so I checked there. No luck. So as a last resort I drove back to Walmart and headed to the customer service desk. Things were looking bleak. 

But when my turn arose, the person at the desk was just informed of a lost item. Instead of being hopeful, though, I assumed that someone would have taken my cards and/or my cash, and that the rest of my afternoon would be spent recovering from this disaster.

It was not to be. Not only was my wallet returned, but every single spec of dust that I left it with was returned with it, and I had to face the prejudice of my heart that led me to so quickly dismiss all Walmart shoppers (of which I am one) because I gave influence to the subtle and flagrant attitudes of the world against people who shop there.

I was wrong, and though they did not know it just a few minutes ago, I owe Walmart shoppers (and/or employees) an apology.

Thank you for having integrity. I know it won't always be so and isn't 100% of the time, but you did not earn my scorn, and I had no business giving it to you.

Are you pre-judging your audience? - Cam Beck

July 31, 2015

A Tale of Two Cecil(e)s


"One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is just a statistic."
- attributed to Joseph Stalin 

Two PR nightmares have been filling my Facebook newsfeed over the past month. One concerning Cecil, a Lion, who was killed in a hunting expedition in Zimbabwe by an American dentist, and the other concerning Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, whose organization was exposed for negotiating  prices for the human parts it sells from the over 300,000 abortions it performs per year.

The dentist at the center of the lion controversy, one Walter Palmer, expressed ignorance that what he was doing may have been illegal, as he claims he was merely following the advice of his guides. The guides face charges in Zimbabwe and are out on bail, while Palmer hired a PR firm to handle the fallout. 

At the time of this writing, three undercover videos have been released concerning the practices of Planned Parenthood (with 9 allegedly left to go if they are not suppressed by the courts). The latest shows people involved in this illegal practice discussing how they can get the lawyers to make it appear legal.

Having followed many in the PR industry who ordinarily do not hesitate to jump at the opportunity to use PR crises as a "learning opportunity," I was saddened and disgusted that I've seen more outrage from the marketing professionals on behalf of Cecil the Lion, a massive, striking and admittedly impressive predator of the wild than of those innocents who did nothing to deserve being torn limb from limb—and have their parts sold at higher prices so that the medical director at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, Dr. Mary Gatter, can get a Lamborghini.

I have a hard time getting worked up about Cecil the Lion. I am a conservationist and believe the just laws to protect wildlife should be followed. But the wild is a rough place. By definition it is uncivilized. Animals are killed all the time. Cecil the Lion probably killed quite a few in his day, as well, and I don't see anybody up in arms about Jimmy the Gazelle or Zachary the Zebra that he probably ate. It appears someone may have broken those conservation laws, and that should be addressed—especially to find out if this is a systematic problem (like sex trafficking) or an isolated incident. But I'm not getting worked up over a lion. Sorry.

On the other hand, everything that has been released so far—and the effort to suppress the evidence on behalf of Planned Parenthood—suggests that this is a systematic problem that starts at the very top, known by everyone with intent and effect to cover it up and demonize those who exposed them.

But to my marketing friends—and the mainstream media running interference, Cecil the Lion deserves ink. And the people who exposed Planned Parenthood—for selling body parts illegally or advising underage girls how to conceal statutory rape and obtain abortions without the consent of their parents— are extremists that should be shunned and rebuked.

Why? God only knows, but I suspect it's because they identify with Democrats, who support keeping the practice legal. After all, we are motivated to be consistent in our actions. Maybe they've had abortions themselves or know people who have, and they believe that their friendships and love cannot countenance being outraged by Planned Parenthood. Maybe they really don't believe there is anything wrong with Planned Parenthood's behavior.

If a profession could have a soul, I wonder when we sold ours. - Cam Beck

February 26, 2015

Net Neutrality and the Death of Self-Government

Back in 2006, I wrote an article about Net Neutrality that has become more relevant given the recent decision to reclassify the Internet as a public utility, which allows it to be regulated as a Title II entity.

If you're just joining us, that sounds like a bunch of gobblygook, and for good reason. It is.

The people who have been calling for Net Neutrality rules, such as Barack Obama, John Oliver, The Oatmeal, as well as most of my colleagues, welcome this news as a signal that ISPs will no longer be allowed to give preferential treatment to certain types of Internet traffic, regardless of what people may be willing to pay for of their own free will. 

One of my colleagues, an Obama supporter whom I nevertheless am very fond of, expressed absolute incredulity that I cautioned patience over his dissatisfaction with his choices of Internet Service Providers (ISP) and the service they offer. It will get better with time, I said, just as it got better from the old CompuServe and America Online days of needing to dial long-distance numbers through a modem to get a connection that allowed you to hook up to a chat room to tell spam jokes (true story). 

On the other side, fellow Texans Ted Cruz and Mark Cuban (whom I've criticized from time to time) find themselves, more or less, on the same side regarding Net Neutrality. 

The intent of Net Neutrality sounds good on the surface. Who wants fast Internet all the time? And for less, too! I do, I do! 

However, we have to separate the INTENT from not only the CONSEQUENCES, but also the MEANS, for ignoring the means or treating them as inconsequential has indirect consequences that affect all of us.

The means they are using for SWEEPING changes to the role the federal government plays in Internet access bypasses people’s own personal choices (first) and their direct representatives (second) in favor of a bureaucratic decision (on a 3-2 vote) that is absent any meaningful oversight. Regardless of what we think of the intent, the process matters. Accepting the maxim that an unelected bureaucracy can and should make such sweeping (rather than, say, incremental) changes on a vote from the board of directors effectively divorces the American people from self-government. We are no longer in control.

Second, the direct consequences of these new regulatory powers are detrimental to the free exchange of goods and labor between private parties — meaning the ISP and the people who are willing to pay for access, on their terms, and substitutes the terms of an unelected regulatory body that apparently has the power to change its mind on a whim. 

Third, having the ability to throttle certain channels taken away from them, ISPs must either slow down the “fast-track” channels to compensate, or invest in infrastructure to expand the bandwidth so speeds can keep up with the increased demand. The natural consequence for this is slower speeds and higher prices, which the ISPs will dutifully either lobby to be paid for by the taxpayer (higher debt or taxes), or pass on to the consumer in the form of higher fees.

What’s worse, it’s going to take a few years for this to get through the courts (more costs!), so by the time we start seeing higher prices and/or poorer service, we’re going to forget how we got here, and we’ll be powerless to do anything about it, because the FCC doesn’t answer to us.

This was passed amidst the singing accolades from people who should, but do not, know better, and those whose knowledge of the issue is limited to the dismissive rantings of a comic or the biting parody of a cartoonist. We should not mistake that for informed consent of the American people.

- Cam Beck