Mental Model Traps

Mental Model Traps result from an erroneous representation of how something works.

Language, Culture, and Communication

Where we come from — our background culture: our country of origin and language, our heritage and religion (or lack there of), our family, our education, our friends, and where we live — has an enormous impact on our ability to communicate. What’s more, when people from different cultural backgrounds try to interact with each other, these differences can cause catastrophic failures. Direct versus Indirect Communication Styles Consider the following set of remarks about doing homework: Do your homework! Can you start doing your homework? Would you mind starting your homework now? Let’s clean the table so you can start your homework. Do you need help with homework? It’s getting late, do you have a lot of homework? Didn’t you say you have a lot of homework? Johnny’s mom said that he has a lot of homework today… Do you have everything ready for school tomorrow? Look how late it is — it’s almost time for bed. You have school tomorrow. Each of the statements above represents a progressively less direct command to do homework. In my family, I usually pick number 2 to communicate my desires for finished homework to my sons (although number 1 is perfectly acceptable, to…

Build It and They Will Come…NOT!

NEXT logo

There’s a common misconception — a folksy wisdom, a p-prim, if you will — that in our many years of product design led many entrepreneurs astray: Build it and they will come! Oh, if only it was so… While this is a wonderfully optimistic world-view, it just doesn’t work out that way in real world. So rather than just say it isn’t so, I will give a few examples where I was personally involved either in the design of the product or the workings of the company. Please keep in mind that all of these examples were EXTREMELY well-funded, had a lot of design resources, and ALL believed that they were changing the world for the better. NEXT We all remember NEXT, right? If not, let me jug your memory… After leaving (or being forced out of Apple), Steve Jobs started NEXT — a computer hardware company to rival Apple. Even with Jobs’ charisma, talent, deep financial resources, access to the best minds in the business… he couldn’t make this work. Some say that NEXT is now part of Mac DNA, but it still stands that as a company is was a failure… Steve built it, and no one ever…

Musings on Failure in School

The Math Obstacle In the past few years, reports came out showing strong correlation between failing Algebra and graduation rates — if a kid fails math, he/she won’t be getting their high school diplomas. Here are a few articles describing the studies: “Is Removing Algebra a Key to Reform?” by Daniel Duerden, August 13, 2012 “A Comprehensive Study of the Predictors of High School Outcomes: Why Some Students Graduate on Time While Others Drop Out”. “A Correlation Study of Accuplacer Math and Algebra Scores and Math Remediation on the Retention and Success of Students in the Clinical Laboratory Technology Program at Milwaukee Area Technical College” by James Manto, August 2006. “Is high school tough enough: Full report” by The Center for Public Education. There are many more… Some suggested that based on evidence, we might just want to drop the math curriculum from high school graduation requirement — if there’s a strong correlation, perhaps by removing math, we might remove the problem and more kids graduate. Obviously, I don’t think that this a great solution. But I do come across the math problem a lot as part of the educational evaluations I do in my small practice. What I see…

The Language Comprehension Continuum

Below is an example of communication error — Penn and Teller use strong emotional language and delivery to hide the true meaning of the message. In context — a pretty young woman anxiously and passionately asking individuals at a faire to protect the environment — signing the petition makes sense. People sign many petitions. And the more people sign (or the more signatures they see on the petition), the more likely others sign as well. A woman, seemingly in distress over an environmental problem, inspires an emotional reaction — people want to help. We have a built-in social value system that encourages this kind of behavior. And finally there’s a strong p-prim that all chemicals are bad — so just hearing a chemical compound in a petition gets a response from the crowd. The result? On the language comprehension continuum, these faire goers didn’t do so well…

Designing an Optimum Nudge

Tornado Exhibit at the Exploratorium

I’m sitting by a window looking out at a rainy Paris street, thinking of cultural differences between Paris and San Francisco, taking advantage of bad weather to do some writing. Over two decades ago, I did some ethnographic research a Exploratorium, looking at how different visitors interacted with the museum’s hands-on exhibits. I was looking for ways to improve the visitors’ experience, raise understanding of the phenomena they were observing. What I saw was different ways in which visitors experienced failure: p-prims that got in a way; folksy wisdom that caused confusion; lack of affordances that led to bottlenecks; permission giving that set up strange expectations; etc. The results of this study turned into a Master Thesis for UC Berkeley. Now, I would like to explore some of the ideas that surfaced during my Exploratorium research and apply them to design of nudging — carefully crafted affordances and perceptual cues that manipulated users into acting a certain way while maintaining the illusion of freedom of action. Let me start with a bit of history — a quick summary of some of the results of Exploratorium study. Permission Giving Two decades ago, “hands-on” exhibits were still novel in the museum world.…

Cultural Barriers to Success

Tim Buton Exhibition at La Cinémathèque in Paris

Man-made Disasters in a Wake of Tsunami This month, The Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission issued its final report on the disaster: It was man-made! Here’s a quote from the report: What must be admitted — very painfully — is that this was a disaster “Made in Japan.” Its fundamental causes are to be found in the ingrained conventions of Japanese culture: our reflexive obedience; our reluctance to question authority; our devotion to ‘sticking with the program”; our groupism; and our insularity. Had other Japanese been in the shoes of those who bear responsibility for this accident, the result may well have been the same. The last sentence is particular insightful — the blame was not rested on the shoulders of a particular individual, as tempting as that might be, or even on the shoulders of some manager. The fault was places on the cultural context in which the incident played out. Museums in Paris We just got back from seeing a Tim Burton exhibit at the La Cinémathèque, in Paris. The content of the exhibit, as one could imagine, is quite wonderful. But there were many, many human failures in making the visit an enjoyable experience. And yes,…

Foie Gras on Child’s Menu and Other Cultural Differences

2012-06-28 School Menu in France

We are staying in a tiny village of Cenac, in a beautiful Dordogne Valley in France — the valley of foie gras (duck liver). The other day, when we went out for dinner in a local restaurant, we saw a great little item on the Child’s Menu: foie gras! Imagine a duck liver pate on a child’s menu anywhere in US? Here, it’s a common item — if not duck liver, than some other pate is often on the menu for kids. Check out the photo we took of the elementary school menu, posted on the door of the school: Notice the rabbit, duck, olives, salad and vegetables, and, of course, the pate on the menu! I think the families and children in this small village would be shocked by the menu offerings at our schools in San Francisco! This is a cultural difference! Cultural differences affect how we think about problem solving — how we approach the problem and how we go about looking for solutions. Consider a few images below. They are from India and show a cultural difference in imaginative solutions to every day problems: The motorcycle bus and the home-made flotation device show creativity within a…