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Davin

COVID-19, Personal Values, and Performance Continuums

Many people would sooner die than think—in fact, they do so.

Bertrand Russell

That quote has come grimly to mind these days. It is printed on the back of a book that I try to review annually: How to Think Straight by Anthony Flew.

So, let’s think about our behaviors and our values at this time.

Values

While this COVID-19 disease spreads to every state in the nation, and those states all declare emergencies, and governors declare stay-home orders while citizens play along or object in word and deed, and governments and groups at all levels throw money and resources at historical proportions at this issue, I see three values in tension.

A. Life, specifically attempting to slow the spread of COVID-19, which poses a threat to life. As I write this on Easter Sunday, the USA has well over 20,000 deaths because of COVID-19, and we’re nowhere near the end.

B. Economic vitality, specifically the broad market impacts and the local impact to businesses who are now deemed not essential to health and life. I’ve heard from business leaders who say their businesses are dead, not just on pause. Unemployment figures are all at an all-time high.

C. Liberty/Personal freedoms, specifically in reaction to what may be an overreach of executive authority by our elected officials in shutting down so much of normal society and a person’s ability to make their own choices for where to go, when, and with whom. In Michigan, for instance, we’re not allowed to travel to summer cabins to quarantine.

I don’t want this to sound academic! It’s personal.

At Covenant Eyes (my employer), we just received word this weekend that a young man close to the company died in the hospital from COVID-19. His wife was allowed to be by his side, and he leaves her and their two children. This is heartbreaking, and there are many, many stories like that.

On a fiesty angle, my wife got into it with one of her sisters in the past few days over chat. Wow, they really know how to fire each other up! To grossly simplify their debate, one was strong on one of the three values (liberty) and the other strong on another (life). Somehow it turned into a zero-sum game, where one side had to win and the other had to lose. It’s probably their Scottish Highlander heritage. (I trust in their deep sisterly love to win out eventually.)

When we disagree, it’s easy to presume that our counterpart is totally opposite. If you’re for life over liberty then you are also a Communist, give up all personal freedom forever kind of person. If you’re for personal freedoms over life, then you must also lick the produce at stores to spread your germs.

Come on, now. Really?

Hot emotions destroy thoughtfulness and empathy.

COVID-19 Performance Continuums

To prevent there-can-be-only-one sword fights on the mean streets of Michigan, let me borrow a page on performance continuums from information architect Dan Klyn of The Understanding Group and suggest all three of these values are desirable, and what we should really seek is to understand how we all position ourselves on relevant continuums.

MORE LIFE54321012345MORE LIBERTY
ROBUST ECONOMY54321012345MORE LIFE
Here are two examples of performance continuums for this COVID-19 season. On the MORE LIFE and MORE LIBERTY continuum, would you place your behavior at a 2 in favor of Liberty over Life? That isn’t to say you don’t treasure Life, but Liberty is more precious to you.

Where would you really mark yourself on these continuums?
Are your behaviors in line with your personal values?

Don’t we all want a 5 on more life, more liberty, and robust economy?

Okay. But especially in this COVID season, you might have to lean in one direction at the expense of another, but you can get a sense of how far to lean. Do you really want to fully give up liberty over life?

So, if you could place a single X on these continuums to show where you stand on each, where would you put it? You are for life and liberty, but are you more for liberty when it means you’re willing to give up some life? Vice versa? Try to not mark at 0.

Then, wouldn’t it be interesting to see how your counterparts mark themselves on continuums like these? You might debate and get clear on what you actually mean when you say “liberty.”

Perhaps it’ll lighten things up and you can clarify that probably none of us are all in, totally giving up on any one of these values.

I wish you all life, liberty, economic vitality, and yes, the pursuit of happiness.


Update April 12, 2020 3:35 p.m.

Dan sent me a message with this helpful advice.

Our method typically precludes verbatim re-use of the “aims” that appear at either end of the continuums.  Not unlike the questions on a Myers-Briggs test, we might re-state one of the aims using different words, to be able to develop an even more nuanced sensibility around that aim.
So by way of example, I’d go like this:

More Life <—–//—–> More Liberty

Robust Economy Now <—–//—–> Sustainable Economy Future

Solid Constitutional Rights  <—–//—–> Flexible Humane Systems

Dan Klyn, via email April 12, 2020 2:27 p.m.

So, I changed the original “Life” and “Liberty” to the “More…” versions. I like how the word “more” diminishes the binary nature that seems to get people upset. However, because of the centrality of the Life/Private Health/Public Health topic we’re facing, I’ve chosen an admittedly meat-headed approach in just reusing More Life. For all of our benefit, I’ve cited his additional ideas for aims above. Essays should be written in response to those. Thanks Dan.

Categories
User experience, web, technology

Frequency of Error is Important in User Interface

(I published this in 2020, but it had been sitting as a draft since 2015. I presume this error set from Microsoft may not be relevant, although the idea could be.)

Late last week, right after I stopped running with scissors, I picked up a Microsoft Surface 3 tablet running Windows 10.

Over the weekend I’ve endured many problems and many cutesy error messages that stopped being cute after the first time. Here is one message I’ve seen too many times now:

The server stumbled. We all have bad days.

That is only a neat error message if I saw it once in, say, 6 months. Since I saw that message many times over the course of 3 days, it backfired. I no longer buy the “We all have bad days,” business. I think that the Surface has a bad day, every day. As for the stumble, sure, the Surface stumbled like a drunk falling face-first into bed.

The Surface never regained its footing after a stumble, and the error messages never helped me figure out how to diagnose and recover from the error.

I’ve lost trust in the system because of an accumulation of the errors and the inappropriate error messaging.

It didn’t have to be that way.

Imagine if instead the application counted its errors, perhaps of each type, and adapted the tone and directness of the error message based on how often the error message appears. Instead of “The server stumbled. We all have bad days,” what if there was a progression, like this:

  1. The server stumbled. We all have bad days. (First instance.)
  2. The server tripped up again. Sorry about that! (2nd and 3rd instances.)
  3. The server is having a problem. So sorry! (4th and 5th instances.)
  4. Our server failed to handle your request. We’ve logged all the failures, and technicians will be looking into it. If you’d like to speak to someone, please contact Support at +1 (123) 456-7890. (Every instance after 5.)

The point being, sure, if the error is very rare, you might try playful language. But after the error becomes a frequent problem, the error message can both offer another path and it can take ownership of the problem.

Categories
Davin

How to update Ford SYNC with a Mac

I have a 2013 Ford Fusion. I like the car, but SYNC, the media system (think phones, etc.), is really bad.

I thought updating the software would help. Here’s how that went.

Throughout this whole experience, I had to keep reminding myself of two facts to properly lower my expectations.

  1. Ford is a car company, not a software company.
  2. SYNC is powered by Microsoft.

That said…

First, you need to create an account at Ford’s website for car owners, and in the process you add a vehicle to your account by entering the VIN. I made mistakes a few times because it appeared the page was loaded and I would try to use it, but in reality there was an AJAX process that was about to add my details to the pages. The site felt sluggish, so I basically just had to force myself to wait for the website after every move. (My Internet connection clocks in at around 50 to 60 Mbps, so it isn’t that.)

Once I had the account set up and my car added, it seemed obvious that there was an update for SYNC. It took me a moment to actually find it.

The instructions that came up were for more recent versions of SYNC, so I had to skip to a second set of instructions for older vehicles. The instructions helped me see that I was about to run the gauntlet.

For users of macOS, there are two important problems to overcome.

  1. You need to find a USB thumb drive and use Disk Utility to erase it and format as FAT with a scheme of Master Boot Record. (That isn’t hard.)
  2. When you download the installation file, everything goes sideways. If you try to put the files on the USB drive, go to your car and start the installation, your car will tell you File Not Found. You need to fix the files before you try to install them.

Fixing the SYNC install files

When you download the files, they will probably appear in your Downloads directory. Instead of being a file you need to decompress/unzip like Ford’s instructions indicate, it’ll just be a file folder with a name like GG1T-14D544-AB.

When you open that directory, you’ll see a bunch of odd files that look something like this.

Files for the SYNC software update. This won't work.
This is the default SYNC update file list as it appears on my Mac. The backslash characters in the filenames are a good clue.

To fix them, you need to add a new directory called SyncMyRide. Then you need to remove the “SyncMyRide\” from all of the filenames, and then move those files into the SyncMyRide folder.

It’ll end up looking like this.

File list that actually works in upgrading SYNC on Ford.
Here’s what the files should look like in order to work.

Move the files over to the thumbdrive. Don’t drag the containing directory, the GG1T-14D544-AB folder, just the fixed contents of it.

Figuring this out caused me too many trips between my computer and my car. I hope it helps you.

Last note, I did finish the process by reporting back to Ford that I did update SYNC. They really stress that, and I encourage you to do it. It’s probably the easiest part of the whole process, and involves you bringing the USB drive back to your computer and uploading an XML file that your car put on the drive back up to Ford. (That XML file was in the SyncMyRide folder.)

Good luck.

P.S., after doing the update, SYNC is still really bad.

Categories
Davin

“Sportsmen’s Club” is okay

A side project of mine is to keep up rangelistings.com, a website that provides a list and map of shooting ranges in each of the Unites States.

So I see all kinds of variations of names for shooting ranges, and this theme sticks out to me:

  • ABC Sportsmans Club
  • ABC Sportsman’s Club
  • ABC Sportsmans’ Club
  • ABC Sportsmens Club
  • ABC Sportsmen’s Club
  • ABC Sportsmens’ Club

Forgetting for the moment that women enjoy the outdoors, let me propose a best form of those variations.

Because a club of one sportsman isn’t much of a club, I propose it should always be plural: sportsmen.

Because the club is possessed by those sportsmen, it should be the possessive form: sportsmen’s.

So, in case anyone would like to fix the name of such a club, try something like ABC Sportsmen’s Club.

(If I am misunderstanding naming, please let me know.)

Categories
Davin

The lesser of two evils is still evil

This was the conclusion of my last post on this topic:

To cast a meaningful vote at this stage, it must be for one of the two main candidates, informed by discerning the principles by which each will govern. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to, as much as I dislike it.

Since then more information has surfaced that further outs the deep ethical and moral problems that both Clinton and Trump have, highlighting for me just how much this isn’t about a Democratic or Republican platform being represented in the White House.

Rather I’m more concerned about how the character of Clinton/Trump foreshadows how the candidate will carry out actions as chief executive and influence national policy. This follows my earlier rationale of “discerning the principles by which each will govern,” and what I’ve discerned is troubling.

I expect a higher standard for the office than either candidate will meet. In my opinion, neither should be established as President of the United States.

Now, as a matter of my own personal integrity, I have a dilemma. Election Day is just a couple weeks away, but I cannot in good conscience vote for either candidate.

Do I have no option for a meaningful vote?

As an aside, I’ve been an independent for my whole voting life, but have leaned more to the conservative side. As such, I’ve generally looked to the Republican Party for a presidential candidate. I have to say, both parties have failed us. The Democratic Party leadership clearly has shown itself to be profoundly corrupt (thank you Debbie Wasserman Schultz), and the Republican Party leadership has shown itself to be spineless, sacrificing its principles in the presence of a giant.

Real leaders possess character and make the hard decisions based on solid principles. Their moral codes reflect a deep care for the well-being of others, instead of a moral code that swirls around selfish ego, fear, greed, and attachment to their own agendas. Where, oh where, are those leaders?

Categories
Management

Covenant Eyes on Inc. 5000 for the 6th time since 2010

I’m happy to share the news that Covenant Eyes, Inc. made position 3674 on the 2016 Inc. 5000 list, showing an 85% growth in revenue over the past 3 years.

What’s even better is that this is our 6th time on the Inc. 5000 since 2010. A one-time listing might be a fluke, but 6 times in 7 years shows a strong pattern of business performance.

(By the way, our HQ is in Michigan, we have many remote employees, and we’re always hiring.)

Great job Covenant Eyes!

Categories
Davin

On voting in the 2016 U.S. presidential election

My fellow Americans, we’ve found ourselves with the rotten choice of Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump for President.

Political parties aside, many of us don’t think that either Clinton or Trump would make a good president.

Yet these are our options. So, how should we vote?

Well, John Quincy Adams wrote, Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.

I love the idealism, Mr Adams, but practically speaking, voting is a zero-sum game, where for one candidate to win, the other candidates must lose.

A vote for a losing candidate may not itself be lost, but it ends up being worthless. The worth isn’t in the vote itself, but in the relative volume of each set of votes for each candidate.

Today, if I take advice from Adams and vote for principle, I cannot vote for either Clinton or Trump. Yet, I must vote, if I am to always vote for principle. And yet, if a vote for a losing candidate is worthless, is there really any other option than to cast a vote for one those two candidates, one of whom is bound to win? Where did that fabled principle go?

As I’ve reflected on our current situation with Clinton and Trump, it has finally struck home that the more important election is the primary, not the general election. Sure, more people vote in the general election, and it does on the surface seem to influence who will become president, but, given our two-party system, the primary is where we really get to make major selections in who will go forward. After that, so much of it becomes a matter of party politics, regardless of the actual candidates.

Americans, we must become more interested and rigorous in our primary elections, much more than we are in the general election! We need to establish the principles we want our elected officials to protect and promote, and hold our candidates to those principles, instead of getting wrapped up in the personalities of the candidates. Principles first, candidates second. This is an election, not a popularity contest.

I think we lost great options for presidential candidates in the primary season, and I have to ask myself if the best America had to offer for presidents really was represented by those in the running leading up to the primaries. I cannot believe that, I have more hope than that.

Americans, the best among us may be shaking our heads at the circus of politics: the backbiting, betrayals, mud-slinging, slander, grand-standing, name-calling, and cost of it all. Are our best getting into the ring? Obviously not, if you look at the leading candidates. This country must have better options than those two. We need leaders of true character to step into the ring, and we need to support them in their fight for the future of this nation.

We tend to pay attention to the last leg of the election race, but the real winnowing happens early on. There is a very early divergence, a convergence culminating in the primaries with fewer of us paying attention, and then we do it again with an extremely thinned out set of candidates for the general election. That’s a risky process, if you ask me.

I’d rather the Democratic and Republican primaries didn’t happen, honestly, so that we could keep our options open through the process, with more and more information for a broader set of candidates.

What we have isn’t the best system for an election, because we don’t get enough exposure early enough to the spread of candidates compared to the principles we care about, but it is what we have to work with.

The fact is, this is what we have to deal with. In the primary, we had a broad swath of candidates, grouped by party. We had more opportunity to vote for principle. But now we essentially have two candidates to choose from, regardless of how well either of them reflects a principle. That is our present option. We don’t have an infinite set of candidates, we have two candidates who have a chance.

Just two. This is the present outcome, the truth of our political system.

How well is our system working?

To cast a meaningful vote at this stage, it must be for one of the two main candidates, informed by discerning the principles by which each will govern. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to, as much as I dislike it.

Tell me, am I wrong?

Categories
User experience, web, technology

Vacationing near Munising, MI today

Categories
Management User experience, web, technology

Organizational Physics OmniGraffle Stencil

I’ve lately been working on redesigning the organizational structure of Covenant Eyes, and amidst all of the research, analysis, and modeling, I was referred to Lex Sisney’s work in Organizational Physics.

There are plenty of interesting concepts that he raises, and I’m inclined to get his book and read it.

In the meantime, I’m reasoning by modeling, and thought to mimic an approach he’s shown in articles like this one: Organizational Design: The Difference Between Organizational Structure and an Org Chart.

I threw together a stencil to use in OmniGraffle.

Screen shot of OmniGraffle stencil for Organizational Design
Here’s what the OmniGraffle stencil looks like. Major functional area and related KPIs, and sub-functional areas.

Anyone is welcome to it: Organizational Design.gstencil

Categories
Management User experience, web, technology

Does design precede strategy?

Is UX more strategic than other business disciplines? I was surprised by this fair critique, and wanted to share it.

My reaction is exacerbated by your [Davin’s] view of strategy and UX as largely coupled. Any quality business work should be strategic. Many financial services firms don’t have anything resembling a UX/design arm, but they’re not necessarily less strategic for it. Is UX a really important resource for strategy here at CE? Sure. But so is tech, finance, etc. Have our UX practitioners developed more strategy-oriented disciplines than employees in other departments? Probably in many cases. I think that simply means we need to deepen our corporate thinking about strategy; not necessarily make UX the guardians of strategy.
Anonymous colleague

There is so much packed in there! For the sake of clarity, I’ll list what I read as the rationale.

  1. Any quality business work should be strategic, not solely UX.
  2. Our UX practitioners have probably developed more strategy-oriented disciplines than employees in other departments.
  3. Instead of relying on UX for strategy, we should train employees in all departments that do quality business work on strategy-oriented disciplines.

I heartily agree with point 2, even with the word “probably.” After all, not all of our UX practitioners have had the same development or have the same sets of talents. It’s a complex group. But I do know that many of them have deepened their expertise in areas that are notably related to strategy.

How does design fit with Playing to Win’s strategy questions?

Which areas of UX are related to strategy? Well, it depends on how you define strategy. For one definition, let’s try the set of 5 questions from Martin and Lafley’s Playing to Win. I’ve listed each question with a sub-point of my opinion about who should be directly involved.

  1. What is our winning aspiration?
    1. The board and executive team need to establish this.
  2. Where will we play?
    1. UX informs executives who decide. UX has insight for this from qual+quant research distilled into personas and related demo/psychographic models.
  3. How will we win?
    1. UX informs executives who decide. UX has insight for this from a product/service innovation perspective, validated by insights from design research and knowledge of other related or competing products and services.
  4. What capabilities must we have in place to win?
    1. Executives need to establish this, including deciding what is outsourced and what is done in-house.
  5. What management systems are required to support our choices?
    1. Executives and managers need to establish this.

Don’t forget that the work of each question informs the reasoning for the adjacent questions.

By definition, strategy is most like design than other disciplines

Now for another definition, this one focused on, well, definitions.

UX is a discipline of design. What is the definition of design? Here is a generic definition: purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object.

And a definition of strategy: a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.

The similarity between these is obvious upon inspection. If they aren’t the same, they are least remarkably similar, with a possible interpretation that design precedes strategy (…policy designed to achieve…).

Now, how does the definition of finance line up: the management of large amounts of money, especially by governments or large companies.

That doesn’t really fit. How about the definition of technology: the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry.

Nope. Also not like strategy.

I’m not playing semantic games here. I’m just looking for the most obvious definitions. So in an effort to find a definition that really has a better chance at being like strategy, here is a definition of business management: Management is commonly defined as the alignment and coordination of multiple activities in an organization. Business owners use management skills to accomplish the goals and objectives of their company.

That too isn’t like the general definition of strategy. However, it is more like the 5th question of Playing to Win. So, business management is a component of strategy, especially for the execution of strategy.

Why would designers end up doing strategy?

Definitions aside, why would UX practitioners, of all types of employee, do strategy work in the first place? Because design activities often lead towards strategy.

Or, as I’ve witnessed, designers in the midst of a specific project often back themselves into strategy by asking questions that their discipline leads them to ask, questions like “Why would we do it that way? How else could we approach this?” and “What does the business need, and what do the users need?” and “What are we really trying to make happen, and for whom?”

One might say that these questions aren’t from the design discipline, but I would point out that these are questions bent on pulling out a deeper understanding of the situation. This deeper understanding is demanded when modernist designer Massimo Vignelli preaches his semantics: “The very first thing that I do whenever I start a new assignment in any form of design, graphic, product, exhibition or interior is to search for the meaning of it.” This sentiment was also expressed by architect and designer Elial Saarinen in his principle of designing a thing in its next larger context.

Indeed, this need to understand the larger context, the purpose, and the meaning is embedded in the discipline of design, and this is why designers end up negotiating strategy, which often is that larger context.

It may surprise you how frequently it is the designers—not managers, executives, or owners—who have first asked the deep questions of strategy. And these designers may not feel safe asking these questions, but they must ask if they will do their jobs well.

I expect designers to wrangle with real strategy in their daily work, because it is in the nature of design, birthed by the practical, empathy-building gut-checks of real design research with real people and the creative, prototyping and modeling activities and thought patterns of design work. I don’t expect this kind of raw strategy development from other workers, and I have only rarely experienced it from them, with the exception of some executives.

And I’ll be so bold as to claim this: this tendency to inevitably end up asking strategy questions seems absent in other kinds of work. If you disagree, then make the case and let me know. (The critique that started all of this said that other disciplines should do this, not that they do.)

Should everyone do design? Do strategy?

Rolling all the way back to the initial claims, I disagree with the 1st point that quality business work must be strategic. I’d rather see these other disciplines do excellent, dare I say quality, business work in their discipline.

I do not believe that doing quality accounting work means developing clear strategies. And I don’t believe that of technology or of customer service either. That doesn’t make them any less valuable or less necessary. They really are, and they have unique value to offer. They are essential in the machinery of the business.

But so far as design work is like sound planning for a major aim, then design work is strategy work. And the training of designers lends itself to it already.

My conclusion is more that I think executives and key managers probably do need training in design thinking—and possibly even some design tactics—so that they will benefit like designers have in their ability to do better development of overall business strategy. But executives and managers should already be studying the discipline of strategy anyway.