Monthly Archives: April 2005

I’ve Become One of the Millions of Clueless Users!

The other day I was playing with the Yahoo! My Web Beta. I could not figure some of the functions out…at all. So I start pinging people up and down my Yahoo! Messenger list, people who still work at Yahoo!.
Nobody is there to help me, except for my buddy Alex. I ask him a few questions about it and even he doesn’t know how to do what I want it to do. He’s not on the search team so he’s not in the know.
As I conversate with Alex over IM, I realize this chilling fact:
As the head design guy at Yahoo!, I typically see a lot of their products at very early stages and build up knowledge of how they work as I see them get designed.
But hey, I’ve been outta that job for 9 months now. So between then and now, two products get launched in beta, My Web and Yahoo! 360.
Yahoo! 360 – another product which I can’t figure out. Trying to find messages, read them, use it as a broken email system, connecting with friends…all these blue underlined DHTML links were so familiar to me before and now they are…unfamiliar.
I think about all the users out there who use Yahoo! products. I think about how complex they’ve gotten over the years, chasing features over functionality – does the 51st feature in a site really make it that much better than the 50th?
And…we gave those users no help whatsoever. They were left to figure out these complex products on their own.
Now…like me. Especially when my buddies on IM won’t answer me. Is it because they know I’ve become clueless and don’t want to associate with me any more? Or maybe they are tired of hearing my incessant complaining…?
Somehow I know I’ve become a better designer for it. I am now unwed to any one company’s products. I use the best of breed for each thing I do on the Net. I compare and contrast freely without feeling any guilt about using my own company’s products. I take note of what works and what doesn’t and file it away for later.
It’s a complex world out there and Darwinian evolution is in full swing – the simplest products survive in the user jungle of the Net.

Comments On

By popular demand, and by me feeling better about it ;-), I have turned on comments for the latest 3 entries and for all posts from now on…

Art is More Interesting, Or One Reason Why I Hate LA, Or Why Reality is Better Than Fantasy

Last week, I met up with David and Zoe and had lunch with them at The Counter in Santa Monica.
Somehow we got on the topic of the Hollywood effect which is so prevalent in LA.
The Hollywood Effect
All around LA, you can’t escape the effect of Hollywood. It’s everywhere. For example, a lot of the people you see as waiters in restaurants are all aspiring actors. Movie premieres are common and well talked about. All have friends who work at one studio or another. Billboards advertise the latest shows and episodes, and feature beautiful people. Everyone knows somebody who knows somebody who knows some big time actor/actress or their kids.
You can’t escape it. You see it everywhere. You know people who are a part of it and it intrinsically defines the culture there. People then strive to be part of the culture and then the problems begin.
Beautiful People
Society glorifies the people they see in movies or TV. Women want to marry the movie star man, men desire the supermodel actresses. They build the ideal in their minds and then measure everyone else by it. Then, knowing this, everyone attempts to make themselves look and act like these idolized models of humanity.
So I say to David and Zoe that the “plastic” nature of women in LA sickens me. People use plastic surgery so that they can match up to the apparent ideal. I see boobs suddenly leaping to the sky and they leap joyfully everywhere in LA. And why do women (and men too) do this? Why can’t they be happy with who they are? Why do they focus on externalities and attract people who ALSO are attracted to externalities when in reality it is what is inside that makes the difference and keeps people together? This aberrant behavior is one of the biggest reasons why I hate LA.
Art Appreciation
Zoe recounts her experience at a recent meeting in a prominent TV studio. She tells of being excited at being on the set of some notable daytime soap operas and watched some of the auditions. She laughs as she remembers thinking that all those guys were so hot but then she talks about how they all looked so much the same and the generic nature of their hot-ness somehow made them less attractive.
I laugh and say that maybe she could just buy one of them, prop them up in her room like a piece of art, and then admire him everyday.
She then says, “No way. I think art is more interesting…”
A literary genius could not have said it better. Silently, I thank the skies above that someone else in the world believes as I do.
Crazily Chasing the Fantasy
I have experienced this too. At bars, we constantly try to go up and talk to the hottest woman in the place. We watch movies, read magazines, and talk about how we want someone that looks like the latest popular supermodel. We dream about the strip joint hot babe that we’re going to find and go out with.
But that’s why there are strip joints. So that men can have a bit of that fantasy. And when you leave, the fantasy stays and you go home.
Unfortunately, that’s not true. The mind continues to think about the fantasy. It rates all other women (or men) against it and makes you go after someone solely because of the way they look. It makes you focus on the externalities and totally forget about the internal stuff until it’s too late. That’s when you realize you aren’t compatible with this person and you can’t really stand being with them. You chase the fantasy, you cause others to try to match up to the fantasy, and then realize that there is no substance under the fantasy because it really just is fantasy.
It really is too bad that LA is not curable, or at least I don’t think so. There are big bucks in selling the fantasy and no one is going to take an argument that perhaps society could be better off without the fantasy, and that they should find ways of making movies without all the negative after effects.
But I for one am sticking with reality because in the end that is what matters. It’s not the fake boobs or the perfect face because the fantasy does fade into the commonplace for me when every fantasy looks the same. It’s the uniqueness of the individual, basically what’s real about each person, that I want to get to know.
Like Zoe, I too think art is definitely more interesting….

Heroes, Villains, and Princesses

So I couldn’t resist. I bought Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith before the movie came out. Normally, I hate doing this. The last time I did this I loved the book and hated the movie which was a poor adapation of the novel. This is what typically happens. The book is usually well-written, but the movie falls short. I can only hope that the Episode III movie is just as good as the book.
The book got me thinking about the fairy tale aspect of the story. It describes the Clone Wars, in which Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi have become heroes to the Republic. They are idolized in every aspect and their exploits are legendary and larger than life. When there is a war to be won, they send Anakin and Obi-Wan and literally they save the day every time. Victory is assured no matter where they are.
And then there is Queen Amidala, the epitome of the leader and adored by all. She is respected by the Senate and works to the good of all.
Underlying everything is the evil Sith Lord named Darth Sidious and his minion Count Dooku. They are the villains of Episode III and they are treacherous, dark, destructive, and the antithesis of everything good.
The story touched a part of me that I’ve been thinking about for a while now.
When we were kids, we imagined ourselves being heroes and villains and fair princesses (like my daughter) and we played their roles with vivid imagination and energy. We would build castles, ply our swords, fling magic spells, attempt to kill the princess but then she would be rescued. The princess would be eternally grateful and the hero would marry her, the most beautiful and desirable woman in the kingdom.
Romanticism and imagination. What a powerful combination. Somehow I had lost that over the last decade.
I’ve gotten caught up on evaluation. And reaching goals. And making sure something was buildable. Or within the standards set by others. And if it didn’t fit, I tossed it. It became an auto-defense mechanism. A reflex. A habit.
I’ve also gotten worn down by life. By the meeting the expectations and demands of others. Of all these externalities. And trying to always please someone else. Letting externalities suck away all my energy and enthusiasm. When all that really mattered was what I thought and what goals I set for myself….
All these habits and behaviors close down your ability to dream. To look at the world with fresh eyes and not toss ideas – the ability to be creative. To be romantic. To touch the child-like part of ourselves again and tap the energy and enthusiasm of youth because that’s where creativity comes from – the rampant imagination that we see in our children but as adults somehow we’ve lost that.
I actually credit James Hong over at Hot or with making me realize what had happened to me.
It was at a Starbucks in San Francisco. We were talking about microbusinesses and how small sites built and managed by 1-2 people could make tons of cash with little effort. He talked about how they hired some Berkeley students as interns to go and just build stuff. No evaluation. No justification of headcount. Just find some cool idea, run with it, build it, launch it, and see what happens. It was the ulimate in creativity in product design. And the internet allows us to do this cheaply and easily. He also remarked that he hired these students because they have new and fresh ideas and that he liked the way they helped him and his partner think more creatively. He also talked a lot about how the fact that you just need to launch stuff and see what happens. Often the unexpected happens when there are tons of users’ creativity to draw upon. Sometimes they use your site for reasons you’ll never imagine.
At that moment, I just kicked myself. Over the last decade I had closed off so many parts of myself and it was a bad thing. I vowed to reopen those sides of me as soon as possible and just have fun with what I’m working on now –
But I also realized that it wasn’t just for startups and businesses that I wanted to do this opening up for. I wanted to tap this energy for ALL parts of my life, from relationships, to friendships, to hanging out with my child, to my training – EVERYTHING. Romanticism, imagination, creativity – they can all be applied just about anywhere.
What an incredible revelation!

Affecting People in a Positive Way

Around the middle of last year I left my job. I announced it, emailed everyone, visited some people who were extra special to me in remote offices, gave them my contact info, pointed them to this blog, and off I went.
When I did all that, I was truly touched by some of the responses I got. Many of them were people congratulating me but some of them told me stories of how I affected their lives in a positive way.
For example, one woman told me she was forever thankful for my advice and my mentoring, and that no one else would spend the time with her to do this mentoring but yet I did and now she was applying all those things that we talked about and it was making her new job much easier. And this was a person who didn’t report to me; I was just friends with her and helped her outside of my group.
The comments didn’t just stop. They kept coming.
Earlier this year, I had dinner with a guy who worked for me. He told me that he missed my management of him, and that when I was there, things were more interesting for him, and that he enjoyed the intellectual discussions we had and the fun projects we worked on. He enjoyed the freedom that I gave him to do the work and how he approached it, as long as it functioned within certain boundaries I was fine with it.
And just this last week alone, I got a randomly a whole bunch of positive comments regarding my blog entries, and how people were enjoying reading my blog. It made them think about their own lives, and how my entries reflected issues in their own experiences. I think they also enjoyed staying connected with me, although in a somewhat textual fashion versus through live conversation (sometimes it’s just too hard to see someone in person).
In life or at work, I’ve always tried to bring out the best in people. I’ve tried to look at who they were and what they needed, and then I would proceed to tweak either subtly or loudly. Sometimes, it could be me saying to them something that would get them thinking down a new direction. Other times, it would be motivating them to increase the quality of their work to excellence and finding ways to break through their malaise. Or, it could be just a simple dinner conversation about a topic and then later on I find out they actually have used it in their daily lives and sometimes they actually thank me for suggesting it.
This is something that really has meant a lot to me. Engaging in people and leaving them with some part of me, or being influenced by me, and then see them come out better than yesterday. I get great satisfaction when others around me benefit from what I have done or given them.
It’s something that has always attracted me about design, that we could build a product or website and then, knowing how many units we’d make or how many visitors would come to the website, that each one of these people would gain the benefit of that product. Product design was a way for me to reach millions of people with the least effort. And I would always take great pleasure in knowing that each one of these people using the product on daily basis would have their lives improved by some measurable amount.
So thanks for your kind words and reflecting back to me your positive experiences, resulting from something that I have shared with you. I hope that you continue to find value in what I do, and please do keep in touch and tell me what you think.
As I go through life sharing my experiences and watching for the positive effects, I’ve also noticed one thing which I’d like to congratulate you, my readers, acquaintances, and friends for.
I’ve found that there are people who are so closed off to advice from external sources. No matter what you tell them whether in a directive or conversational way, the experiences seem to never stick. They never remember what you say and thus, they never even get to apply it.
However, then I noticed there were people I met who were completely the opposite. They file away everything you say and sometimes you’re not even aware that they do it. But then, you may be watching them some day and you’ll see a little bit of what you shared with them in what they are doing. Or they may actually come back to you and thank you for that little tidbit you dropped them during lunch.
To me, you who fall into this group should feel proud. You never throw away any thought because it may be useful. And you remember and thank the source. Feel good knowing that you are part of a special group of people, whether by genetics or by design, will always apply useful information no matter what the source of however you’ve been giving it, and you are gracious enough to thank the source.
At JFK I flipped through Marcus Buckingham’s new book, “The One Thing You Need to Know” and miraculously upon flipping it open to some random page, I flipped to the page which contained “the one thing” and it happened to be that successful managers (out of many hundreds polled) would always try to figure out what motivated the individual, what would make them successful, and work on that aspect of the employee, versus focusing on other things like how to align this person with the goals of the company, which has proven to not work nearly as well.
Nice to know that some experts are saying that what I do (and love doing and get deep satisfaction for) is actually something that might be the right thing to do…