Flipping The Master Slave Relationship

The complex choreography between innovators and technology gives rise to many different types of dances. At times engineers invent what they would like to have, without inquiring into the needs of customers. As the story goes Henry Ford once said said “if I asked them what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”. Many technology driven enterprises over the years have adopted this stance on the product development dance floor and to great effect, both good and bad.

For example, it is doubtful that Steve Jobs ever asked the world if it wanted a retinal display, an iPhone or much else. On the other hand, Video Cassette Recorders  designers did not realize that almost no one would be willing to program the VCR system clock, which resulted for years, in a usually red flashing 12:00 in hundreds of millions of homes. When engineers design consumer electronics products, it is never the goal to make everyone who uses them feel stupid, yet this does happen too frequently.  The same could also be said for many of our online interactions. We have to gird our loins before beginning some routine tasks that we suspect are going to take an hour instead of a minute.  Some of the time things work really well. This should be the rule not the exception.

For all of us, it feels terrible when machines undermine our self esteem. In recent years we have been told that product development has become market driven. Based on the number of brain dead products we all have to deal with, one might assume there is a very large market for self esteem damaging equipment. As computer processors are now found in everything, from cars to thermostats, humans have learned to adapt to the demands of their gear. This is surprising in that digital systems inherently have a great ability to adapt to our needs. Somehow, it is now the end user doing the adapting to the technology instead of the other way around.

As a technical person myself, I find it crazy that in many situations, people have become slaves and somehow made machines masters. How many people experience incredible frustration when trying to use phones, computers and other consumer electronic devices? The time is overdue, to Flip the Master Slave Relationship between technology and people.

As SVII enters our tenth year of helping Innovation Advocates at all levels, from the largest entities in the world to solo emerging startup entrepreneurs, to “Turn Vision into Value”, it is time to resurface some of the more important themes we have been addressing from the very beginning.

This is a call to all innovators, to try harder to make sure, while we are in the process of inventing tomorrow’s systems, to prevent these products from making customers feel stupid. Yes this takes extra effort to put oneself in the place of others, and some of you may say “this is too hard, too time consuming and too costly” and “our competitors do not care because that is just the way things are”.

Let me present exhibit A for Apple. One of the reasons Apple has become the most valuable company in the world, is Apple and other successful companies try harder to make it much easier to use their products. This philosophical stance is what Apple’s imitators should be copying not only specs and designs.

Delivering this additional value can take longer, but isn’t it silly for us to have to adapt to the devices and systems we are creating?

MAY 15th 2013 (Recap): Persuasive Game Technology

This event took a look into the pros and cons of game design and how it could be applied not only to inspire others, but also how the same process could be used in other industries. While Games can inspire others this does not necessarily mean productivity.

On Wednesday May 15th, the SVII community got together to discuss the topic of “persuasive game technology”–specifically, what design techniques that were originally developed for making games can be cross applied to other products and areas to make them better

Margarita Quihuis and Chris Bennett of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab
Margarita Quihuis and Chris Bennett of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab

We had a panel discussion led by Margarita Quihuis of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab. She was joined by game designers Chris Bennett, also of the Persuasive Technology Lab, Andrew Mayer of Digital Entertainment Strategies, and Albert Chen, assistant professor of game design at Cogswell College–and by venture capitalist Stephanie Spong of Moksa Ventures. The event was held at the Palo Alto offices of Sheppard Mullin LLP.

Sheppard Mullin

They started with the question of what causes people to take any sort of action. Quihuis presented a behavior model created by BJ Fogg, which says that people take action when they experience the right combination of motivation, ability, and trigger.

When there is a reasonably high amount of motivation and ability, that is when someone is most likely to take a specific action, and the trigger is the thing that brings the action to mind. Of course, if the action is fairly easy, then there doesn’t have to be much motivation for them to still do it. Likewise, if they are highly motivated, then they will probably do it whether it’s easy or not (as long as it’s possible), but the combination of high motivation and high ability is most likely to get the most people to do something.

The food was generously provided by Sheppard Mullin
The food was generously provided by Sheppard Mullin

From a social movement point of view, this has implications on how you try to guide a movement. If you know that your audience is already highly motivated, then you should focus on helping them to have the ability to do something about it. If your audience already has the ability to do what you want them to do, then you should focus on helping them to be motivated. If you know that they are already motivated and have the ability to create change, then the area you should focus on is probably increasing the amount of triggers that will remind them to do what they already want to do (and can do).

From there, they went on to address some basics of game design psychology. Different activities give our brains chemicals (neurotransmitters) that the brains like for different reasons, but the nice thing about game design (and by extension, the design of anything) is that those activities (or emulations of them) can be built into games to give the brain the chemicals that it wants. This is the reason that games can be so enjoyable–and addictive.

Margarita Quihuis, Chris Bennett, and Albert Chen (Cogswell College)
Margarita Quihuis, Chris Bennett, and Albert Chen (Cogswell College)

As an important side-note, it should be said here (though it goes without saying) that the power acquired through the knowledge of game design should be wielded carefully. As Albert Chen said, “It’s like the old Spiderman quote: ‘With great power…comes great responsibility.’” Game play taps into many basic human needs (story-telling, adventure, challenge, meaning, continuity, etc), so game designers over time learned a lot about human behavior through how people interacted with their games. This knowledge (power) can be used for good, for greed, or for evil (to be perfectly honest).

The main neurotransmitters that we’re talking about here are norepinephrine, epinephrine (a.k.a. adrenaline), oxytocin, and serotonin. Norepinephrine is released through the acquisition of knowledge, solving of puzzles, etc; epinephrine through competition and adventure; oxytocin through social connection; and serotonin through finding order, right and wrong, and purpose. Throughout history, these chemicals have been released and sought for through human endeavors and social interactions. With the invention of immersive games, they could all be acquired in the same place, which is rather a dangerous situation. (See above warning.)

But you don’t have to stop with acknowledging the dangers of game design. This great power also has the potential for motivating people to do good for themselves and others. Not only that, but it the power to motivate large groups of people this way. Those are the grandiose ideals of design which are easy to articulate but probably a lot harder to actually implement. However, there are also smaller good things which can be accomplished through game design.

Stephanie Spong of Moksa Ventures
Stephanie Spong of Moksa Ventures

One important aspect of game design which can be fairly easily incorporated into the design of other products is the idea of core loops. In game design, a core loop is something that the player does over and over again in the game (a small self-contained sequence that can be learned quickly but provides continual satisfaction for the player). In designing other products or systems, such a structure can be used to help motivate people to come back over and over, like they do for games that they love.

Two companies that exemplify the effective use of this design pattern are Starbucks and Facebook. Starbucks is designed to make you want to come everyday, make it a habit. This way, they get a permanent customer and the everyday customer feels like his day is missing something if he doesn’t visit Starbucks that day. Likewise, Facebook is designed to be a multiple times a day habit. The loop is that you go to the website, look at the new things on the news feed and perhaps read some connected things that leads you to. Then you come back again 20 to 30 minutes later.

The Facebook loop provides one with all four of the brain chemicals mentioned earlier. When you read the news feed, you learn new things (norepinephrine), you feel connected to your friends (oxytocin), you may play a game or engage in debate (epinephrine), and your sense of order is satisfied by the regular rhythm of coming back. This is not to say that hyper-frequent Facebook visiting is healthy; but because of our brains habits, it at least feels healthy and good at the time.

The Starbucks loop has similar brain rewards–plus, of course, caffeine, which is another chemical it likes (though the human body can’t produce it like it does the neurotransmitters).

Andrew Mayer of Digital Entertainment Strategies
Andrew Mayer of Digital Entertainment Strategies

One of the idea posed by the panel was that game design allows companies to be “post-scientific” about their data collection, because they can collect data about what in their games people like more (and therefore play more) without needing to know why it works (thus the “post-scientific”). But this was also disputed, because it was pointed out that such a mind-set leaves a company vulnerable when a certain technique stops working. If the company didn’t know why it worked in the first place, then they will have no idea how to modify it if the need arises.

When using game design techniques to modify behaviors, whether it is of an individual or a group, Quihuis stressed that it is important for whatever goal you are pursuing to be “crunchy,” which is a word that is used to mean “tightly defined and able to be measured.” In other words, the goal has to be fairly concrete. For example, if there is a company that would like to help it’s employees stay in better shape, it needs a goal that can be measured, like, “we would like 90% of our employees to take a 20 minute walk every day.” When a goal is framed in concrete and measurable terms, then it can be tracked and you know how effective your strategies are in taking you toward that goal.

And now, for a not so subtle parting salvo
And now, for a not so subtle parting salvo

3/2/2011: The Innovation Sweet Spot

Paul Masson set the context for the evening by presenting his research on maximizing innovation effectiveness. Drawing upon Aristotle, Darwin, and modern neuroscience, Masson made the case that there are inherent human tendencies of personal fulfillment, group engagement, cooperation and competition that are always in tension with one another.
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