Random, Reflections

The subversiveness of ‘safe’

I was tidying up my Evernote today when I came across a note I made after watching this TED Talk by Aimee Mullins:

I re-watched the video, and she makes so many poignant and powerful points, but the one that stuck with me, the one that I Evernoted, was this one thing she said,

“I decided to find people who said yes.”

Most of us find ourselves trapped in the language and perspective in which we were first socialized. The well-intentioned adults in our earliest years say “no” in a bid to define safe boundaries for us as we explored our exciting environment – physical, linguistic, emotional, and social.

“No, don’t do that!”

“No, don’t say that!”

“No!”

“No!”

Little wonder that for many of us, the first word we learn is “no.”

And for many of us, “no” has been so internalized that we never outgrew it. We live always within boundaries that others have set for us, and if those are missing, we draw them in for ourselves, using the safe familiarity of our existing boundaries as a template.

Those boundaries kept us safe when we were vulnerable toddlers just beginning to explore the possibilities of life.

Safe from harm. Safe from the unknown and its incalculable and unimaginable risks and dangers.

These boundaries are a response to our basest and most primal sense of survival.

Safe from exhilaration.

Safe from the different.

Safe from our fullest potential.

In our pursuit of boundaries that keep us safe, we neglect to explore our own internal boundaries, to explore the full potential of what we could be.

We live in fear of injury, of death. My wise late grandma used to observe that some people have an over-developed sense of self-preservation – she called it “scared of dying.”

Some people are so precious with their own lives that they forget to live. And we enforce this Everlasting No on everyone around us. We’re not content to limit only ourselves but are compelled to limit others.

From an evolutionary perspective, that sense of those boundaries is our sense of self-preservation, a gift of Nature to ensure the survival of an organism. Yet, these very boundaries that were intended to preserve our lives are also the same things that keep us from living. Being alive and living are surely not the same thing.

A life that’s motivated by what’s safe is mere existence.

A life that’s motivated by exploration and what’s possible is surely more fulfilling.

 

Random, Reflections, Relationships, Social Media

Lest We Drywall the Cat into the Wrong Side of the Wall

Social media seems inherently the ultimate pulpit for the self-important. While a site like TweetingTooHard.com invites us to out the self-important, most of the tweets are so mundane, they're forgiveable. Twitter critics like to deprecate navel-gazing tweets about breakfast foods and sundry itches, and while such esoterica of the flotsam of life might not be of "real value" to society and the economy, they too are forgiveable. They're forgiveable because they are, ultimately, harmless.

What I find more disturbing are the tweets I see from self-inflating types who brag about busy-ness. Some of these folks' to-do list per tweet would be longer if more than 140 characters were possible. Even within the 140 character limit, some of these lists test the limits of credulity.

There is a long Christian tradition concerning the notion of busyness into which this post isn't intended to delve.

What I'm wondering about is whether there's a cost to real personal relationships? By real, I mean those deep emotional relationships with friends and family, rather than business relationships. Is there a risk that social media offers an insidious avenue of busyness to connect and broadcast online, to be so busy that there's little time left in a day for family and friends who are not immersed in the online world.

The always-on world of online socializing enables a wholly different level of busyness. At least in the old-school, offline paradigm, there was still some level of social pressure to spend time at home. In our new world order, even when we're not at work, the means to stay tethered are readily available. Some of these electronic tethers are ever so alluring, and the affinity of the social media types for technology makes it easy to rationalize away the increasing encroachment on personal lives.

It brings to mind the modern morality tale of Martha Stewart in which we all reveled. She who built a profitable and mighty myth of ideal family life at the cost of her marriage and family. We enjoyed the delicious irony.

My husband and I have but two or three hours every evening in which we're both awake and in the same physical space. Rather than actually share experiences together during these precious few hours each day, we often find ourselves on message boards, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, websites, etc., only peripherally aware of each other. Luckily, we're aware of our tendency to wander away, and like the person who nods off while driving but wakes with a start, we do also snap out of our reverie and consciously shut down the laptops and smart phones.

Are we at risk of being so tuned in to our online lives that we live our offline lives in a fog, so connected online as to become disconnected offline? How connected is too connected? I'm prepared to concede that there are super-achieving men and women who manage to balance it all. For the rest of us mere mortals, it may take a constant watching and self-awareness to walk this tightrope between two worlds, lest we unconsciously drywall the cat into the wrong side of the wall.

Or is this notion of an offline and an online world merely a false dichotomy constructed by the under-achieving?

Random, Usability, UX

Moo.com | a great experience

moo_cards
I just ordered my personal calling cards from moo.com, and I loved every minute of the user experience.
The site has a clean interface that's easy to navigate, the designing process was fun, the ordering process was easy, and (here's the geek in me) best of all, the confirmation email was cute beyond words. Here's an excerpt of the email I received from Little Moo, the Print Robot:

Hello
I'm Little MOO – the bit of software that will be managing your order
with us. It will shortly be sent to Big MOO, our print machine who will
print it for you in the next few days. I'll let you know when it's done
and on its way to you.
Flickr users, listen up: Please do not remove the photos from your
account, or change their privacy settings, until your order has been
printed, or some pictures may come out blank.
<snip>
Remember, I'm just a bit of software. So, if you have any questions
regarding your order please first read our Frequently Asked Questions
at:
http://www.moo.com/help/
and if you're still not sure, contact customer services (who are real
people) at:
https://secure.moo.com/service/
Thanks,
Little MOO, Print Robot

Such a great human touch to an automated message.  I just love that! It's what I tell clients to do all the time, but somehow, very few are willing to add that human touch.
PS A word about my personal cards. I created a series of four cards, each card representing one of my four core values. I hope their recipients like them. 🙂

Print, Random, Trends

Google’s Fast Flip – a statement on the future of print?

Google has recently introduced a new experimental product in Google Labs called Fast Flip. It's a news reading service that allows users to scan pages from the sites of Google's print partners. The idea is to replicate the experience of physically flipping through magazine or newspaper.

Fast Flip's mission is  interesting to me in our so-called Web 2.0 world where the hyperlink reigns primary and the static experience of print is re-imagined as a secondary form of information consumption. Could it be, perhaps, that wehuman beings are still attached to the tactile pleasure of holding a printed artifact?

My personal opinion has always been that the printed artifact will never go away. It will simply become a secondary way to read.
We'll see where Fast Flip ends up; after all, not everything in Google Labs gains traction to make it onto the primary features list on Google.com. If I were a betting (wo)man, I'd wager that Fast Flip won't make it. It's just another version of all the rest of the quickie publishing tools out there that convert print pdf's into flippable digital pages. That it's Google providing the additional service of aggregating the information is a mere nicety that doesn't fundamentally alter the fact that it's an existing technology that creates a silly digital version of a printed piece. Magazines and newspapers that are no more than digital copies of their printed pieces deliver poor online experiences that take advantage of little that the digital medium has to offer. I'm not sure what value Fast Flip has as a news aggregator that RSS feeds do not provide and in a more relevant way.
Google's ostensible motive for Fast Flip is to find a middle ground with print publishers who complain that Google makes money off their content without compensating them. I wonder if somewhere in Googleland, someone is taking a stance on the future of print.

Project Management, Random, Requirements Gathering, Web Development

Are methodologies scalable?

Requirements gathering is one of those steps in any project that can't be missed. Whether it's conducted vigorously and methodically, haphazardly and unconscious, it's done.

It doesn't matter whether you're ordering a hamburger at Harvey's or a web site build: the person taking your order needs to gather your requirements.
When you go to Harvey's, you don't just say you want a hamburger; the person taking your order will want to know if you want a classic or whatever, the person making your burger will want to know what kind of toppings you want. You could be remiss and say "just give me the toppings most people get"; not a problem, unless you really detest ketchup, which is what most people get on their burger.

Recently, I was discussing with a colleague the issue of requirements gathering methologies. In our experience, SMB's and micro-businesses, in particular, tend to work within very short temporal cycles. They can also have pretty short fuses and regard methodical questioning and any information probing to be, at best, extemporizing tactics and, at worst, unresponsiveness. How often have you been challenged with, "Why do you need to know so much? Why are you asking all these questions? I just want a ballpark, an estimate. I'm just a small business and don't have the time to be talking about this. I just need to get it done."

So we came to the tentative conclusion that enterprise-level business methologies don't necessarily scale down to the micro-business and even SMB (small to medium businesses) level. Is this really true? Do we need to develop a completely different style of requirements gathering for different classes of clients?

Business Management, Random, Scope Definition, Web Development

Where angels fear to tread

My agency recently lost out on a bid for a web development project. Nothing unusual in that – happens to everyone. What really burns is the fact that we lost because the key message of our pitch was for the client to slow down…slow down long enough for both sides to have a proper discovery meeting. We lost because we refused to do spec work: it's bad enough when static creative is done on spec, but it's so much worse when asked to produce entire web site designs on spec.
Before I pontificate any further, I shall go and lick my wounds in private….