“Click Here,” MS Outlook, Seriously?

“Click here” is at best a hint for folks who are befuddled by text that is blue and underlined. It is needlessly redundant. When you are tempted to use it, revise your language, and we’ll all be better off. Microsoft has carelessly provided us this example.

How is it that such poor wording made it into such a major product, here in late 2015?

Basic web writing practices identified the “click here” language as a poor option well over a decade ago. What makes “click here” a bad choice?

One reason is that you end up with a lot of links on a page that all say the same thing (click here), and a common feature in assistive technology like screen readers for blind or visually impaired people is to pull all link text out of page context to give those users a quick way to scan all the links. If they all say “click here,” then a user will have no idea which link to choose.

A second reason is that the link text is highlighted, usually in blue and underlined, and so ought to be meaningful. “Click here” is not meaningful, but the subject or goal of the link sure is.

Here are pretty easy ways to change the language in Outlook.

Instead of “To re-enable to blocked features, click here,” try this:
Re-enable the blocked features.

Instead of “To always show content from this sender, click here,” try this:
Always show content from this sender.

 

Five-Time Inc. 5000 Honoree: Covenant Eyes

While I don’t often write about work on my blog, I’m happy to share the news that Covenant Eyes made the Inc. 5000 list again this year, now having made it 5 times since 2010.

Congratulations Covenant Eyes on pursuing your worthy mission with successful business practices!

And while not an official award, Glassdoor.com shows good reviews of Covenant Eyes as an employer.

Married

We shared a look just before we started skipping down the aisle after being married.
We shared a look just before we started skipping down the aisle after being married.

On New Year’s Eve 2014, I married Amy Grace McNeil, now Amy Granroth. The service was at the Davison Assembly of God church in Davison, Michigan, and we had great help from Amy’s family and friends. They prepared everything: the church decorations, the food, cake, corsages, flowers, music—everything.

It was great to have so much help, and we so much appreciated it.

It doesn’t seem like six months already! God has surely blessed us and continues to do so.

Law to require legislators to read bills before voting

When we the people elect members of Congress to represent us, shouldn’t we expect that our representatives read the text of a law before they decide how they should vote on it? Anything less is willful ignorance and a disservice to our country.

What if we had a federal law that required legislators to show that they comprehend bills before they vote?

This could be enforced with tests moderated by a 3rd party before voting begins. If the legislator fails the comprehension test, then they are required to abstain from the vote and this will show up in public records.

Here are some possible effects of a law such as this.

  • There will be fewer laws.
  • Congress people will spend more time on the legislation itself than on politicking.
  • Laws will become shorter and more understandable.

Oh wait, I just ran a Google search on “congress not reading law” and found information about “The Read the Bills Act (RTBA).”

I like it. I did actually read the whole text of the bill, and think it would do fine. I still like the idea of testing for comprehension, to avoid congress members from doing other work or sleeping through the reading of bills.

Shouldn’t legislators understand bills on which they vote? If that isn’t a core aspect of the job of an elected legislator, what is?

On Leading Organization-wide Change

In October 2014, I was asked to share how I have led organizational changes at Covenant Eyes. The following text is from an e-mail message I wrote in response to that question, covering design thinking, decision making, asking better questions, and influencing behavior in order to reach shared understanding.

Lao Tzu described the essence of an effective leader, which as I interpret it is one who is excellent at drawing the best out of other people and facilitating groups to work together toward a common objective, quickly empowering others to lead change and grow as leaders, managers, or producers in their own right.

Tao Te Ching, 17 (Lao Tzu)

The greatest type of ruler is one of whose existence
the people are hardly aware.

Next best is a leader who is loved and praised.
Next comes the one who is feared.
The worst is the one who is despised.

When a leader doesn’t trust the people,
they will become untrustworthy.

The best leader speaks little.
He never speaks carelessly.
He works without self interest
and leaves no trace.

When the work is accomplished,
the people say: “Amazing:
we did it all by ourselves.”

Of course there are numerous scriptural descriptions of leadership, such as Matthew 20:25–28 when the disciples were getting riled up about who would be a leader or favored and Jesus instructed, “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This is held in contrast to the Gentiles who lord authority over others instead of serving. And there is also the example of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples as an example for them to humble themselves in serving one another.

This is good, right?

My experience says that the only real way to change an organization in any sustainable way is captured in this concept, but there is more to it than these proverbs.

So, here’s an overview of how I’ve tried to make these changes at Covenant Eyes.

  • Design Thinking
  • Awareness of Healthy Decision Making
  • Consulting: Developing Others by Asking Better Questions
  • Actions Speak Louder Than Words; Behaviors Change Perspectives

I’ll provide a fly-over of what these mean to me one at a time.

Design Thinking

Many others have already characterized what this means, among them Tim Brown of IDEO, and in my view, Massimo Vignelli especially in the first part of The Vignelli Canon, although I don’t think he ever called it design thinking. You’ll also see examples of this in the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

I think it all hinges on one concept, said by Fr John Culkin in his thoughtful partnerships with philosopher Marshall McLuhan, “First we shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.”

Most people are naively shaped by their own tools, including designers themselves. Tools are simply part of our environment, and most often they are provided for us already intact. As consumers, we don’t typically make our own tools, whether it is a house, fork, computer, software program, et cetera. Yet, this massive collection of objects that we use in our lives fundamentally influences, even directs, our behaviors and our thoughts.

As a designer I see this daily, and I believe that it is the worthy purpose of a designer to take care in the shaping of tools, knowing that the shape of those tools will in turn shape people. This is a crucial sense of responsibility that comes with real cause and effect, and it is further heightened when one has a sense of how many people use said tool and how long it may be in existence.

Should we not take care of our work upon realizing that it can effect the world for good or ill? Of course!

Design is sometimes misconstrued as the attention on the creation of an object, but that is too narrow. It is on the humans, their relationship with an object, the object, and how that reflects back into the lives of the humans. In being used, a thing influences the user’s actions and attention. So we do not only design a thing, we design a potential for actions, thoughts, and feelings between people and things. And often between people and things and people. And to what end, and for whom? (This is a better understanding of the field of interaction design.)

Vignelli refers to design process as first about the semantics or meaning of the design task, then the syntactics used in the construction of a solution, and then in the pragmatics that describe the real communication and/or delivery of value.

The AIGA (America Institute of Graphic Arts) published a booklet called Why Design that contains a grid of 12 boxes laid out in 3 rows that describes an overall design process. I can give you a printed copy of this grid. The first row arranges the work needed in Defining the Problem, the second row describes Innovating, and the third row describes Delivering Value. I propose that Vignelli’s semantics, syntactics, and pragmatics resemble the rows of the Why Design grid. These and other frameworks of design thinking all describe a general process used by designers in coming up with effective solutions to all sorts of problems.

Design is a problem solving discipline, and has many cross-overs with healthy decision making, including the concept of divergence and convergence.

Awareness of Healthy Decision Making

I think of decisions and decision making in three zones, personal, small group, and corporate. We are not rational beings! Yet decision making often benefits from a disciplined approach that challenges many of our natural cognitive biases. Some decisions are inconsequential and so don’t really require all this extra effort, but some are of consequence and deserve respect.

Michael Roberto has a series of 24 lectures called The Art of Critical Decision Making, and it is an excellent study. I require my staff to go through it together, and they are often surprised at how many principles of decision making directly correlate to patterns of work they find in design thinking.

Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions is a book that describes a series of cognitive traps that we are all in danger of falling in to. These are listed as the following and the book expounds on each. I think you’d find it an interesting read.

  1. Exposure Anxiety: The Fear of Being Seen as Weak
  2. Causefusion: Confusing the Causes of Complex Events
  3. Flatview: Seeing the World in One Dimension
  4. Cure-allism: Believing That One Size Really Fits All
  5. Infomania: The Obsessive Relationship to Information (Info-hoarding and Info-voiding)
  6. Mirror Imaging: Thinking the Other Side Thinks Like Us
  7. Static Cling: Refusal to Accept a Changing World

If one does not understand the threats to good decision making and does not have a toolbox of good decision making methods useful at personal, group, and corporate levels, then one is ill-equipped to lead and coach others through times that require healthy decisions.

Consulting: Developing Others by Asking Better Questions

When I was a freshman in college, I had the good fortune of going through a 400-level special topics course focused on the work of consulting. It has been very influential for me ever since.

One of the key elements of consultancy that I learned was the deliberate control of agency, that is the sense of self-differentiation and authority. A lack of agency leads to a sense of being helpless or dependent on another, but as a consultant I was learning that my job was to develop a sense of agency in my clients so that they would retain a sense of ownership and power over their own work, and while I was at it I would demonstrate for them better ways of thinking, creating information, and sharing it with others (think classical rhetoric) so that they too would learn it.

I did this largely through using non-verbal reinforcement of my client’s agency and open-ended questions intended to get them thinking in more ways and deeper ways that led them to produce better work.

Key here was that I was unable to tell them what to work on communicating. Rather I was only able to walk with them through a method or framework of idea development and ways of thinking about authorship, audiences, and rhetorical patterns.

This approach melds nicely with design thinking, because one of the first admissions is that we may not really understand the problem yet, but that we do have frameworks to uncover it and discover its nuances.

So, sources for thinking about asking better questions?

  • QBQ! The Question Behind the Question by John Miller
  • Interviewing Users by Steve Portigal
  • Mental Models by Indi Young
  • Sections of Observing the User Experience by Kuniavsky, et al.

We should have a number of these books in the CE library in the Commons.

There is a basic concept here that says that a question is more powerful than an answer, because an answer tends to shut down thoughtfulness and understanding whereas a question stimulates it.

Asking better questions is an element in the power of a generative dialectic, and the practice also feeds better design thinking and decision making. Reciprocally, those frameworks inform the sorts of questions we should ask.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

The trick in this statement is in reestablishing who the actor is. My actions are one thing, but when I can get a whole group of people to engage in a shared action, we can begin to shape their perspectives.

First we shape our tools, thereafter our tools shape us.

A leader can shape the activities of people, and in many cases the real desired effect is not the immediate result of the activity, but in the shaping of the people who do it. Without changes in activity and thinking, no incidence of effort is able to be transformed into a sustainable pattern of effort.

This is how new actions lead to new thinking, which together change the culture. Timothy Loo, a corporate UX consultant, shared the soundbite at the UX Strat 2013 conference, “culture eats strategy for lunch,” and he’s right. So the work of a designer is to change culture by changing people’s behaviors and then thinking.

As Loo said, “Culture tells us how to behave when we can’t turn to formal directives, agreements or sets of rules for guidance.” So, culture fills in the grey area that we usually operate within.

We must facilitate group activities repeatedly and employ frameworks of understanding and developing value so that the people who are doing the work have a sense of ownership, agency, and growth. Then they will sustain the change because that way of thinking has become part of their new identities. “Amazing: We did it all by ourselves!”

This is why we do usability studies as groups, why we do design reviews as groups, why we do Agile ceremonies as groups, and so on.

If we want to change the culture of an organization, we should identify what activities we do together and facilitate new activities that can be added to or can replace existing activities so that we will further shape our perspectives, values, and culture in specific, desirable ways.

The 5 most important texts for a business leader

These are the books, or in one case an essay, that I think every leader in a business should study. This is not an academic list paying homage to some MBA syllabus. Rather, if you want a business that has a healthy culture, that is profitable, that is sustainable, and that delivers real value, the concepts in these books are worth wresting with until you make them your own.

The perspectives within these texts overlap in powerful ways.

I purposely did not put them in priority order because I do really think a leader should read and use them all. They cover different areas and complement one another.

In The E-Myth Revisited, Gerber explains the difference between working in your business and on your business, how to grow your business in a way that promotes the details you deem important, why franchises work, and what to apply from that model to your own business. While it is written to a small business owner, the concepts readily apply to a business unit manager in a larger company.

The Advantage is Lencioni’s latest book, and is a detailed playbook for both a healthy leadership team and for carrying out clear strategy leadership across a company. Plus it ends with a sensible framework for making your sets of meetings much more effective.

What is Strategy by Porter is a classic essay on strategy, filled with case studies and definitions that clarify the field of strategy, a field thick with ambiguous buzz words. This essay is a lynchpin for understanding Lencioni more deeply and if you understand what Porter says, the next book on business models will become more clear as well.

Business Model Generation explains a vocabulary and template for reasoning about, building, and refining your business model. It makes sense, it seems complete, and when you apply it to your own business you will likely find strong alignments in certain actions of your business as well as gaps or areas in which you are wasting resources. If you’re going to master your business, you need to model it. This book makes it about as easy as it can get, and once I read this book I was quickly able to see how the ideas from Gerber, Lencioni, and Porter fit in.

Finally, it is practically cliché, but our people are our biggest assets aren’t they? In First, Break All the Rules, Buckingham & Coffman provide a clear framework and set of tools for being an exceptional people manager. Most organizations haven’t yet figured out the basic concepts laid out in this book, but they are important and fundamental. If you read one book on managing people, this ought to be the one.

Now, of course there are plenty of other worthy texts out there, and many should be studied in certain situations, but these are core texts.

If you’ve read these books, I’d love it if you would comment with your thoughts, and if you disagree, by all means post that too with your own recommendations!

Being competitive

shooters on the firing line
Bullseye pistol shooters on the firing line at the 2014 National Pistol Championships, Camp Perry, Ohio.

The key to being competitive is to compete.

Last weekend I shot in the National Pistol Matches, specifically the President’s 100 and the National Trophy Individual match. Wow, was I ever not competitive!

My final scores were very nearly middle of the pack, out of the approximately 475 competitors. While I would have liked to have been in the top 50 in both matches, I didn’t earn it. To deepen the point, I also shot worse than I did in 2013.

That is one of the great things about competitive shooting: you reap what you sow.

I had practiced only a little in preparation, perhaps 400 shots in practice during the month and a half before the matches. More importantly, I think, is that I hadn’t competed at all during the preceding 12 months.

Competing in matches is the best preparation for competing in matches.

While this is obvious, I had talked myself out of competition for a year, one match at a time, choosing instead family time and work. Neither is a bad thing, of course, but if I want to be competitive, then I must compete.

My goal for 2015 National Matches: Make the President’s 100 and shoot in the top 50 for the NTI. How? Compete regularly until then as part of training.

In pursuit of paper

I pay attention to paper that I use for printing. Trivial? Maybe, yet I do care.

I care about the paper weight, brightness, dimensions, finish, and sometimes even what the paper fibers feel like. There seems to be a variety of fibers in paper, and, my, isn’t that interesting?

Yet, although I care about these factors, I haven’t found an online purveyor of paper who appears to also care. Sigh!

This has bothered me now for years, but, dear readers, I fear that if I were to share these troubles, you would not know what I’m talking about, or, more likely, simply wouldn’t care.

Apparently, my online search for paper this evening has finally nudged me just outside that zone of tacit disappointment.

So here’s the quixotic-windmill-tilt I’ve given up on this evening.

My goal: buy a ream of white A4 sized paper, reasonably bright, just a little heavier than normal, like 24lb (90 g/m²).

Simple, right?

A Google search led me to trusty Amazon.com where I found a ream of 20lb A4 paper by Hammermill/International Paper. So, so close.

I didn’t see an obvious way of finding 24 lb A4 paper, so I went directly the Hammermill website. Surely, the paper company would present me with a lovely catalog of papers and I would find precisely what I sought, while perhaps also discovering papers that I’d also like. It would be an excellent distraction!

Alas, it wasn’t so.

Really, what I wanted was a faceted classification of papers, so I could quickly filter down the catalog of papers.

Here are some facets that come to mind.

Color: White, Beige, (and so on)

Size: International sizes like A0 to A10, US sizes like Letter (8.5X11), Legal, Tabloid, etc. And so on.

Weight: 20lb, 24lb, 32lb, and so on. These should include weights in g/m².

Brightness: 90, 92, 94, 96, 98, 100, and so on. (I don’t know the range or increments.)

Finish: Matte, Glossy, etc.

Percent recycled: up to 100%

And maybe, uses: photo prints, standard copier or inkjet printer paper, etc.

I’m curious, does anyone know of an online paper vendor who actually has something like this in place?

Until then, I shall persevere with my ream of Staples brand multipurpose paper, 96 bright, 24 lb, letter-sized, 50% recycled.