Tag Archives: Behaviour change

The programme is not the problem

House fire momboleun

Programmes and initiatives are prone to fail. The best way to succeed is through rigorous thinking and relentless attention. This is hard. Getting an organisation do so is the mark of a modern leader.

Management fads. IT systems. Training.

What do these have in common?

Organisations deploy these things when they need to do something better or they need to do something new. Often, these are dressed up as ‘programmes’ or ‘initiatives’.

And they usually fail.

Why?

Two reasons.

First, initiatives lead organisations to stop thinking.

“We don’t have to worry about our problem,” goes the organisational line, “because my new management fad / IT system / training programme is going to fix it for us.”

Wrong. No matter which of these things we do, the problem will still be there.

If we are lucky, our initiative will have given us a tool or an approach or a data set that may make solving the problem easier. that’s all.

Second, they divert attention.

Management fads / IT systems / training programmes tend to be big and visible. Once committed, an organisation’s focus usually shifts from ‘solving the problem’ to ‘delivering the programme’.

This is normal – and almost always a mistake.

The programme is not the problem. These are not the same thing.

When the programme is over, what do you have? Some new management buzzwords or some new IT kit or some nice training materials and a new vocabulary, that’s all. Delivered on time and under budget (if you’re lucky).

The problem? Typically, it’ll still be there.

So what’s the solution?

Only one: an iron will and a relentless focus on solving the problem, not just completing the programme.

THIS IS HARD.

Because it means making our organisations think. Think with rigour. Think deeply. Sometimes for quite a while. This is painful and difficult to do.

And, once we have done this thinking, we need to do the the tough bit. We have to concentrate and pay attention to do the thing we have decided to do. For a long time. Until we solve the problem or we learn that we need to do something else.

This is even harder to do and much more difficult. Hence the need for an ‘iron will’.

Successful, modern leaders are, I believe, those who can get their organisation to do these things relentlessly. They may do other things, sure, but their success stands or falls by their ability to have their organisations think hard and pay attention to the things that matter.

If we don’t think hard, paying attention to a problem is like looking at a house burning down, without working out that the right thing to do is call the fire brigade.

On the other hand, thinking without paying attention to the solution is like knowing we need to call the fire brigade, but allowing ourselves to get distracted before picking up the phone.

Either way, our house burns down.

Yes, of course, we may well need some management tools or some IT or some training.

But let’s not confuse these things with the solution to our problem.

(Image: House Fire in Dillon Beach by Momboleum, https://www.flickr.com/photos/momboleum/3091269507/in/set-72157610892145416, used under creative commons license)

(A version of this article was posted in my LinkedIn feed:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/programme-problem-mike-bird?trk=object-title)

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The qualia of customer experience

Red rose in snow picWe cannot truly understand what our customers experience. But we can understand how they behave. If we want to make things better for them, we will be better off observing what customers actually do, not trying to work out what we think they are experiencing. 

I can’t get into Joe’s head

My friend Joe cannot see the colours red or green – he is colour blind. My colour vision is normal. Science explains this by saying that some of the cone receptors at the back of Joe’s retina are different from mine.

But when I try to understand what Joe sees when he looks at, say, a grassy meadow, I am unable to do so.  His experience of the greenness of the grass is different from mine.   I cannot put myself into his head.

Qualia are what we experience

Philosopher Clarence Lewis in 1927 coined the term qualia to describe the distinct subjective experiences we each have when, for example, we smell a rose, see the white of snow or taste a lemon.

Qualia (singular: quale) are the essence of experience.  They are also pretty much inexplicable by science.  Science – cognitive psychology, neuroscience, physiology – has pretty much nothing to say about what Joe experiences when he sees a blue sky and how that compares with what I experience when I see that same sky.

If you don’t believe me, imagine trying to explain the greenness of a meadow to someone who is blind from birth.

Scientific methods

This is, in part, why understanding the customer experience is tough.  Each customer’s experience is different. If we ask them about their experience – to describe the qualia of buying – we can only get a limited understanding of what they experience.

How does science address the problem of qualia?  It ignores them. Instead of seeking to understand what we experience, scientists instead focus on what they can observe. In particular, they focus on behaviour.  Rather than investigating what  people experience, scientists explore instead what people do when they experience X or see Y.

This is a good principle to adopt when working on customer experience.  Trying to understand the experience of customers is likely to be less valuable – and less effective for guiding our actions – than observing what they actually do.

The perfect, but useless, manuals

This is shown by the PC manuals fiasco. A few years ago a major PC manufacturer took great pains to consult with customers so that  the manuals for new users to set up their PCs were as well-written, user-friendly and accessible as possible. For several years, users rated the manuals as the best in the business – they even won awards.

But it wasn’t until the company undertook some studies into what new PC users actually did that the truth emerged.

More than 95% of users never opened the manual at all.

They turned on their PC and assumed that the start-up process on-screen would take them through set-up. And if it didn’t, they got very unhappy indeed.

The company had made the mistake of asking customers what they thought, instead of  observing what they actually did.

The colours of marketing

Leo Widrich of Buffer.com has written a great article for Fast Company on the science of colours in marketing. In it, he explains how colours can influence customer behaviour.  He also describes an experiment by Hubspot to understand if customers prefer to press a red or a green button on-screen (read the article to find out which button won :-)).

The folks at Hubspot just needed to know which colour encouraged more customers to press the button. They did not need to know why.

As Leo Widrich says in his article: “…data always beats opinion, no matter what.”

And if we are to make things better for customers, it is probably best for us to adopt the same attitude. Let’s worry less about understanding the customer experience and worry more about observing the things customers show us they prefer.

(If you want to find out more about qualia and why they pose a problem for science, the best source is Daniel Dennett, a terrific writer on philosophy and cognitive science.  His 1991 book, Consciousness Explained is a good first port of call; a more technical discussion can be found in his article, Quining Qualia, (in A. Marcel and E. Bisiach, eds, Consciousness in Modern Science, Oxford University Press 1988)).

(Image credit: Paulis under Creative Commons Attribution license)