Learning to Use New Tools

by Joseph Carrabis on October 1st, 2009

NextStage: Predictive Intelligence, Persuasion Engineering, Interactive Analytics and Behavioral MetricsResearchers engaged in acts of discovery sometimes have to confront the truly strange and make sense of it. – Henry Gee

<CAVEAT EMPTOR>
This post is near 8,000 words long (I've been working on it for about five months).
</CAVEAT EMPTOR>

I've been following some of the internet chatter re NextStage's Evolution Technology (ET). I'm indebted to the likes of Jacques Warren, Christopher Berry, Michael Notte, all those folks twittering their hearts out and others that I've not encountered yet who've added their voice to the conversation about how ET works and such.

To that end, I'd like my first official The Analytics Ecology post to be about how humans learn to use new tools. It doesn't matter who makes the tools or what the tools do. What I offer is true for tools in general and tools in specific. I doubt everyone will be comfortable with what I write here, especially when I extend the discussion to learning how to use NextStage tools. I hope that readers recognize I write from my understanding and I'm perfectly happy to have that understanding change when new information is presented. I'll also be making use of Buckminster Fuller's “In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.” either literally or figuratively as I go along.

Tool Use Philosophy

Humans first learn to use specific tools to perform certain functions then they learn to use tool forms to perform those functions. This is why a crescent wrench sometimes gets used as a hammer. Hammers are usually the first tools humans learn to use because it meets one of the first needs we encountered on the evolutionary trail; it put strength over distance into our hands (anybody remember my “The history of technology is the study of placing the most power in the most hands economically” SNCR speech? This is where “technology economically in lots of hands” begins).

We could crack hard shells or each other's heads with a hammer. Very useful, indeed. The reason hammers magnify our strength over distance has to do with things like mass, torque, force and kinetic energy. Understanding how hammers worked came several million years after we started using them. Fortunately, understanding how tools worked wasn't important to our ability to get something done. Modern examples are cellphones. Few people understand how cellphones work (take some time to study up on it. It's fascinating) and not knowing how they work doesn't stop people from making calls.

While the concepts of mass, torque, force and kinetic energy took a long time to develop, understanding the hammer form — that a hammer was really just a weight at the end of a longish handle — took moments (truly, once used, it took moments to figure the “weight at the end of a longish handle” part).

That's what a hammer is, that's its form; a weight at the end of a longish handle.

crescent-wrench.jpgA crescent wrench also has that basic “weight at the end of a longish handle” form. Hammering is not a crescent wrench's best use but that “weight at the end of a longish handle” form is shared by hammers and crescent wrenches, so when you don't have a hammer you can just as easily crescent wrench that nail into place. It'll work just fine.

Form and Function

<GENDER BIASING NOTIFICATION>
What follows has some fascinating implications about gender because people who use kitchen knives as screwdrivers, etc., are adept at recognizing form from function. This often occurs along gender lines.
</GENDER BIASING NOTIFICATION>

What we're discussing here are the twin concepts of form and function as in “Does form follow function or does function follow form?”

Function following form is why crescent wrenches sometimes serve as hammers but hammers will never serve as crescent wrenches — they don't have the necessary form. However, the reason all hammers have the same basic shape is because form does follow function.

An excellent example of form following function is cutting tools. Everything from a knapped piece of flint to Luc Skywalker's light saber have the same form because there's only so many ways a cut can be made with a tool.

Humans are very good at function following form activities because our brains are constantly making comparisons between things. Function following form is why most people can see a Chevy, a Ford or a Maybach and know it's a car.

Form following function isn't something modern humans are particularly good at. Form following function is why few people can be cleaning nettles from their dog's fur and come up with VelcroTM. The funny thing is that our brains can be equally adept in either effort and were for much of our early life.

The reason most people are good at one and not the other as we grow older is because modern educational systems societalize rather than educate; their job is to create good citizens and good citizens follow their leaders. Educational systems don't get kudos for teaching students independent thought, they get kudos for keeping kids off the streets and out of jails. Aboriginal societies love form following function thinking because they are (usually) constantly improvising solutions in their environment.

<ANECDOTE>
I once taught high school math when I was in my early twenties. I was hired to teach the remedial math classes. My mandate was “If you can get them to add and subtract two numbers together without screwing up, that'll be fine.”

These kids were society's rejects. They'd pretty much been told they were all stupid, not qualified for any kind of happy life, would probably drop out of school before they'd graduate, and to smile when in police lineups.

After a week of crawling through the textbook I decided they couldn't be as hopeless as I and they were led to believe.

So I stopped using the preferred textbook and gave them radically different assignments, things like giving them the first part of a sentence and they had to come up with twenty different endings, language problems, logic problems, things like that.

At first there was no interest, then there was some, then there was a lot.

The real breakthrough came when one kid nervously handed in his twenty different endings homework and was walking slowly out of the room at the end of the day. I started reading what he'd written and darn near wet myself laughing. He came back hurriedly. “You think those're funny?”

“Oh, god, Kevin. I can't catch my breath I'm laughing so hard.”

And word spread (as we now say) virally. Kevin got Mr. C to laugh, the race was on. Kids not in my classes starting coming up to me to ask if they could solve some problems.

#1) I was giving them some self-worth
#2) I was teaching them to recognize how to solve problems, not just addition and subtraction but when to use either and how to know which would serve them better when.

At this point, in these remedial classes, I started introducing logical calculus problems.

And the students did wonderfully on them. Students who would be lucky if they could add and subtract.

One of my student's father was a plumber and he shared that he often helped his dad during the summers. He wanted to be a plumber, too, and wasn't sure if he could make it into trade school because he was such a poor student.

So I drew a house on the blackboard, told him where the sinks were, where the bathrooms were and asked him to plumb the house for me, explaining each joint along the way.

And he did. More to the point, he demonstrated a working knowledge of hydrodynamics that most grad engineering students didn't have.

Then I asked him to fill in the pressure values and necessary pipe dimensions along the paths he was laying out.

Then I showed him the equations that created the values he was coming up with intuitively. Then I drew another house with other plumbing requirements and asked him to use the equations to figure out how to plumb the house.

He was hesitant at first and I asked the class to help him.

And they did, and he did, and they plumbed the house.

Using college sophomore engineering calculus. Highschool sophomores and freshman who were told they'd never amount to anything because they were…remedial.

By the way, I was fired from that teaching position because I was neither using the preferred text nor following the designated curriculum.

There was definitely something remedial going on at that high school and it wasn't with the students, me thinks.
</ANECDOTE>

Being good at form following function requires people to understand the core what that is being done and this is where understanding things like mass, torque, force and kinetic energy becomes necessary. Form following function requires people to strip away everything that isn't the one thing that is necessary and determine how to do that one thing better, faster, cheaper, smarter.

For example, one would never (at least I wouldn't) use a pneumatic hammer as a traditional hammer. I mean you could and you'd have to hold it in just the right way because that hammer “weight at the end of a longish handle” thing isn't too obvious this time out.

Likewise, I don't know of too many people who would use a nail gun as a traditional hammer.

(I helped a friend put in a deck using a nail gun. I tell you, I ain't going back to using a traditional hammer for such things. I wouldn't use a nail gun to hang a picture and that involves knowing which tool to use when.)

But are you aware that the same core principle and the same core, simple, immutable goal is what's being achieved by the nail gun, the pneumatic hammer and a traditional hammer?

The core goal is to drive the nail.

A traditional hammer does that by swinging that weight through an arc. That weight, the swinging and the arc are what's doing the work. Physics calls them mass and torque and the hammer uses them to apply force via kinetic energy to the nail.

The core principle that achieves the core “driving the nail” goal is applying lots of force in the form of kinetic energy.

A pneumatic hammer does this with air pressure building up in a cylinder. The air pressure increases until some threshold is reached, at which point a weight is shot through the cylinder with great force (kinetic energy again) and the power of the increasing air pressure in the cylinder is used to drive the nail via explosive decompression. That's the first loud bang you hear when pneumatic hammers work. The first bang is the explosive decompression, the second bang is whatever the weight is hitting.

Nail guns use explosive charges to drive the weight that drives the nail. Same principle of expanding pressure in a closed cylinder driving a weight.

And the nail gun, the pneumatic hammer and the traditional hammer all use that same simple, core principle — applying lots of force in the form of kinetic energy — to get the job done — driving the nail.

But it takes someone understanding the core principle — the transfer of kinetic energy

  • from the hammer swung through an arc,
  • the explosive power of air pressure or
  • a discharge,

to a target — that allows for different kinds of hammers to be created that make driving nails easier, better, faster, cheaper, smarter.

Remember Marketing as a Science?

This brings us back to Why hasn't Marketing caught on as a “Science”?

One of science's goals is to create form from function, to create tools that describe actions, to apply mathematics to what's happening so that the rest of us can understand function from form. Chances are (and research with primates indicates) that very few of our ancestors “discovered” hammers but once the tribe saw one individual hammering away everybody was doing it. The same thing is true for knapped flint, crescent wrenches and light sabers.

I believe the same will be true for marketing as a science. Right now most people (at least the ones I interact with) don't know how to apply the required (important point, that, required) sciences to marketing. My belief is that most people in marketing haven't yet been able to grasp the core goals and core concepts necessary to turn marketing into a science.

And I'm willing to be proven incorrect in that.

Problem Solving Philosophy

I suggested at an SF eM conference that people would be using the types of tools NextStage produces in the near future, that such tools would become de rigeur. I also said quite clearly that it didn't really matter if people used NextStage tools or not, it was simply the case that such tools as NextStage produces would be required sooner rather than later.

I hope people remember my saying that. I was sitting on the edge of the stage at my last presentation of the conference when I did.

I also realize that using such tools is going to require people to perform paradigm shifts and that the earliest adopters (not counting the clients NextStage has had since 2001) are going to be those who can see nettles and think “Velcro!”, ie, form from function thinkers.

<ANECDOTE>
My training in form from function (abstract/symbolic) thinking and turning those musings into working tools began with Bill Dykstra when I was about seven years old. If you asked Bill what he did he would tell you he was a handyman and he was. I guess. Kind of. What he did was create tools for the company where he and my dad worked.

And my god, the tools he could make.

I remember Bill, my dad, the company mechanic and I were in the big maintenance garage on a Saturday morning. I picked up a brush used to scrape rust from trailer brakes, held it upside down and said, “Look, dad. A ray gun.” The mechanic said, “I think you've been watching too many Buck Rogers shows”, my dad laughed but Bill…Bill looked at the way I was holding the brush and asked, “You're right. What kind of ray gun is it?”

Bill asked my dad if he could borrow me every once in a while and, when we worked together, he would show me machines and ask me what they did. As I got older the questions turned into “What could they do?” and that led to “This is what we need done. How would you do it?”

He would often ask me “What is really happening here?” It was an invitation to wait, to think, to symbolize what was really needed versus what was being asked for. Bill had a phenomenal skill, the ability to see problems and eliminate everything to reveal the core problem in its purest form, to abstract that pure form from all the noise that blinded others to the solutions inherent in them. Once abstracted, he could mentally synthesize the elements (do we need a hammer or a wrench, a stone or a light saber?) needed to solve the pure problem. Once synthesized, he could create solutions in reality.

And they worked.

<@jdaysyism>
The form versus function concept also deals with Maslowian and Eliadeian tools, that is 1st and 2nd order tool use respectively.

Tools that are designed to do one thing well — a hammer — are Maslowian. They are first order tools. Interestingly enough, all Simple Tools are second order tools because they can do any number of things well and are usually recognizable parts of first order tools. I remember reading about a new simple tool in (I think it was) Popular Science when I was a kid. I can remember the design and especially remember wondering as a kid how it qualified as a simple tool. Too many moving parts, I thought.

I'm told that analytic types find my writing frustrating because I don't quickly get to the point, the “A=B”ness of it isn't obvious to them. One of the things demonstrated by this is an “If I can't touch it, it isn't real” metaphysic (a {C,B/e,M} kind of thing). More to the point, this metaphysic demonstrates a desire to use a tool rather than a desire to understand the problem sufficiently to determine if the immediate tool is the best for the task or if another form can be used that will solve the core problem easier, better, faster, cheaper, smarter. No offense to any analysts and what results from the former type of thinking is 1st order (Maslowian) tool use.

Anyway…

A difference between first and second order tool users is demonstrated by Ronald Cohen's “If you look at something closely that is thought to be well understood, you often find something new and exciting.” (demonstrating 2nd order thinking) and Carrabis' (my) Corollary, “If you look at something you've never encountered before, you often attempt to understand it with irrelevant ideas and fool yourself into thinking you understand it.” (demonstrating 1st order, Maslowian, if all you have is a hammer then everything must be a nail thinking and why I started this post with the Henry Gee quote)

(more about the differences between Maslowian and Eliadeian concepts will show up further in this post, so keep a'reading…)
</@jdaysyism>

Bill taught me to move from real-world problems to abstract to symbolic to synthesis and back to real-world solutions. He taught me that tools weren't solutions in themselves, they were ways to create solutions. Like Huntington, Bill had the ability to occupy and exploit the space between researchers and end-users. And like Huntington, Bill's ideas carried more influence than most people of his time could imagine.

The natural abstraction from tool use to tool creation involves those skills Bill Dykstra taught me, the ability to transcend from “what is it doing?” to “what needs to be done?” to move fluidly along the form-function axis.
</ANECDOTE>

Let's start applying this cultural paradigm shift, this tool use philosophy, to solve some problems hypothetically. Perhaps coming up with some hypothetical solutions will help us discover what kinds of tools we need to make those abstractions into reality.

Problem: Visitors aren't converting

<And deep thanks to Stephane Hamel for his contribution here>
Let's start with some traditional solution paths. Based on our training, we'd investigate the following:

Web Analyst

1) Conversion goal?
2) Price Point?
3) Incentives?
4) Perceived Value?
5) Risks?
6) Workflow/Process? (for interferences)
7) campaign?
8 ) traffic qualifications?

Marketer

1) What are the visitor characteristics?
2) What's the campaign?
3) Is the traffic qualified?

In either case, a Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control (“SixSigma”) methodology would be used to determine solutions.

The traditional approach at this point wants to determine things like price point, incentives and so on. Fair enough. Do you answer from the business' or user's perspective?

Business perspective: Look at the market, the competition, do focus groups, costs & profitability to determine the price at which we should sell.

User perspective: Price is own perception of gained value & added benefit vs risk & cost (tangible or not). This pricepoint is specific to everyone…

Synthesis: If there was a way to determine the pricepoint based on user willingness to pay a specific amount, we could optimize profitability and satisfy users at the same time… as long as they don't share the price they paid for (a bit like airplane tickets where each site is priced virtually based on so many factors!)

The challenge lies in the ease for everyone to share the info about the price they paid for something. In the early 1900s every price was the result of a 1 on 1 discussion. The goal of the web is to return to that 1-1 discussion.

Possible solution:If the user perceived value is truly high, the price point might not be such a huge factor.

To sum up, there was initially “one-on-one” negotiation skills (last century), then large-scale pricing based on guts and “business management” best practices, now analytics is playing a bigger role.

Could the next step be going back to one-on-one based on behaviour and predictive analytics?

Good question, that.
</And deep thanks to Stephane Hamel for his contribution here>

The above is a wonderful demonstration of problem solving within an existing paradigm. Remember “An end-user tool should be extremely easy (ie, psychonomically intuitive or “requires no training” based on a given cultural paradigm) to use” from our End User Tool Laws?

Also, the solution path outlined above pretty much follows what most people can recognize as a logical process. The math involved is (in my opinion) elementary. There's nothing in the above that really requires more than a standard bachelor's/baccalaureate degree to understand and work through.

Further, the solution path above should be or would be intuitively obvious to most people regardless of what their bachelor's/baccalaureate degree was in. The roots of the process actually go back to the Renaissance, to when judicial astrology was turning into observational astronomy. If you know the history of statistics — and I believe traditional WA uses statistical methods a good deal — you know that the e in the basic

y0 – y1 = b0b1x1 + e

(the basic two sample t-test equation) comes from the error of margin originally so much an element of question in observational astronomy.

But the question here is “What happens when one has to use new tools that aren't based on their current cultural paradigm?” (this is the “cultural shift” part from the End User Tool Laws)

For example, nail guns and pneumatic hammers can only be used by people who've flushed toilets.

Flushed toilets? Yes, because flush toilets (usually) require plumbing, plumbing requires a knowledge of hydrodynamics (by that name or as “water pressure”), hydrodynamics requires a knowledge of PV=nRT (by that equation or as “when you put your thumb over the end of the hose the water squirts out faster”) and that, that PV=nRT thing, is what makes both nail guns and pneumatic hammers work as they do. The “P” in PV=nRT is “Pressure”, the “V” is “Volume” and what it basically means is that Pressure and Volume are in constant proportion to each other, and if remedial math high school students can understand this, so should you.

So when the nail gun fires or the pneumatic hammer hams, the sudden increase of Pressure in the small, cylinder (Volume) must cause an explosive release of force.

Bring a nail gun or pneumatic hammer to someone who's never experienced any kind of (relatively) modern technology and you have to be prepared to do lots of training to make sure they can use these new tools without hurting themselves or others.

So what about people who feel they need to understand before they can use the NextStage tool set? (and I think that's a fair request, by the way).

Do you want to know enough to make a cellphone call or do you want to know enough to make a cell phone?

I created the original version of the flash below back in Jun '02 for an academic presentation. The number of sciences involved in NS' ET hasn't grown since then. And I'll ask you to forgive the next question; How many of these sciences and fields of study are part of your present cultural paradigm, something you have enough knowledge of to be able to hold a conversation in?

There are currently elements from 120 sub-disciplines in Evolution Technology. We used 120 sub-disciplines because we borrowed a lesson from modern astronomy; use many lenses (radio, gamma, optic, infrared, ultraviolet, xray, …) to look at something because by so doing you'll have a better understanding of what's really out there. And for much the same reasons that the much more advanced Mayan calendar was never adopted by the Spanish and hence greater Europe, the cultural differences that created ET and WA will need effort and energy to bridge.

And I believe it would be both foolish and naive of me to think any one who wants to use the NextStage tool set to make a call wants to spend twenty or more years studying these various fields.

Therefore it's imperative that all new tools be extremely simple to use and provide immediately useful information to whomever wants to use them, and then that the useful information they provide lead the users (so inclined) to think of how to use the tool differently (ie, moving users from function from form to form from function.

Philosophy Change #1

NextStage tools don't really concern themselves with clickthroughs, bouncerates, such and so on. NextStage tools are much more concerned with why visitors clickthrough or not, why visitors bounce or not.

For example, this chart (our Purchase-ExchangeStop Report) utilizes concepts from social- and cognitive-psychology and personal mythologies studies to make determinations of which of eight factors — Imagination, Usage, Workability, Experience, Using, Need, Pleasure, Pain — are most important when someone is on a site and making a purchase decision. The red dot indicates how important each factor is (the higher the more important), the yellow indicates how well the site is answering the visitor's concern and the blue indicates how much of the visitor's own neural processes are involved in making the decision.

What we learn from this chart is that Experience, Using and Need are what's most on the visitor's mind when they're making their decision.

  • Experience – have they used this product/service or something similar before?
  • Using – are they using this product/service or something similar right now?
  • Need – do they recognize a problem this product/service addresses?

What's interesting is that while those elements are most in their mind, they don't weigh heavily in the actual decision process. The strongest decision factors are Imagination, Usage and Workability.

  • Imagination – can they imagine themselves using this product/service?
  • Usage – can they understand how this product/service is used to solve a known problem?
  • Workability – can they figure out how to make this product/service work in their current situation?

Why does this difference between visitors' internal states exist? Because (looking at the yellow bars on the chart) the site is emphasizing the latter elements even though the visitors are internally emphasizing the former elements.

So the end result from this chart is that if the site is redesigned to emphasize Experience, Using and Need — where the visitors are already putting the bulk of their neural effort — we'd make more sales.

Now there is a tool a NextStageologist would see and intuitively understand based on their cultural paradigm.

But not everybody is a NextStageologist nor do they want to be nor should they be.

So for the rest of the world we created The NextStage Gauge. Is your site in the red? Then you're in trouble. Yellow? Then you're okay and could use some work. Green? Don't do anything. Under the chart the NextStage Gauge lists one to three suggestions for improving your site. Simple as that. No need to know the sciences NextStage is based on, no need to get under the hood. Just drive the nail, make the call and flush the toilet.

<ASIDE>

The NextStage Gauge has been around and publicly available for a while. I mentioned it in For Angie and Matt, and The Noisy Data Finale on 29 Jan '07 and probably earlier.

</ASIDE>

Reading through people's comments about NextStage's tools, I see form confusion. People seem to be asking “Which end is the weight and which end is the handle?” or “How do I make a cut with this?” These questions arise because most people are good at function following form; they see a chart, recognize a visual representation of values and say “A hammer! I know how to use hammers. I've seen lots of hammers and I know how to crack skulls and nuts.” The fact that most people are better at function following form than form following function is why we take things like our Purchase-ExchangeStop report and turn it into The NextStage Gauge.

I mention all this because I believe that understanding NextStage's tools beyond a simple “dial a number, make a call” use require users to put aside their current concepts of tools. Currently what I'm witnessing is the Maslowian “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” and people who've read NextStage's Principles might remember that tools can be Maslowian or Eliadeian.

People interested in getting under the hood will need a different philosophical perspective to understand the information these reports are providing.

Now, for those who want to know hydrodynamics, why cell phones are call cellphones and not little, tiny phones and understand kinetic theory…

For the most part humans think before they act. This “thinking” can be conscious or non-conscious. Most often it's a mix of both. Information comes in, the non-conscious does lots of work, makes a decision about what actions to perform then alerts the conscious mind of its decision. Sometimes the conscious and non-conscious minds disagree. Usually the conscious mind rationalizes things until it agrees with the non-conscious and whatever the non-conscious told the conscious to do is what the human ends up doing.

Sometimes the conscious can discuss things with the non-conscious and the non-conscious will cede. Most people don't have the training to do this on a regular basis.

Sometimes the conscious will bully the non-conscious into shutting up. Do this often enough and the human begins to demonstrate psychotic behaviors.

So let's go with “the non-conscious usually tells the conscious what to do”, and also throw in that the non-conscious sends its instructions to the conscious long before (in neurosynaptic time) the conscious mind instructs the human to act. Technically, these non-conscious instructions are known as preparation sets. Everybody has them, everybody does them. People with lots of training (think Zen Masters and the like) know how to shut down their conscious minds/unify the conscious and non-conscious elements/stand on the bridge between the two worlds and not everybody has the time or patience to go through that kind of training.

Pity.

Anyway, in a sense NextStage tools eavesdrop on that conversation people don't realize they're having with themselves. Nextstage tools focus on why people do things, not what they did, because knowing why empowers one to predict with great accuracy what people will do in the future.

So while I'm going to agree (more or less) with the solution path described earlier, I'm just going to note that it walks neither that marketing nor science bridge.

Why is that bridge important? Because it's at the heart (or mind, whatever) of both 1-1 marketing and cultural paradigm shifts. One-to-one marketing is relationship marketing and I'm probably using the term differently than others because I'm persnickety (and why marketing isn't considered one of the social sciences I'll never know). My training is that the first relationship you must market is between yourself and the person you're with.

The great thing is, a relationship exists whether you recognize it or not. The Christian New Testament has a passage “Whenever two or more are gathered together…” and whatever else is implied, what is recognized by social anthropologists is that both a social contract and relationship exists in that passage. How small can these relationships be? Have you ever talked to yourself, out loud or otherwise? Have you ever had a discussion with someone who wasn't there, perhaps telling off a co-worker while you're alone in your car driving home?

Then you know the magic number of persons required for a relationship to exist is two. Even when the relationship is with yourself, the magic number is two. There's you and — you guessed it — your non-conscious self.

By the way, those conversations where you tell off your co-worker after the fact? Those are minor examples of those psychotic episodes I mentioned earlier. It's when your non-conscious and conscious minds are working at reconciling each other. This is probably why, when I'm upset or bothered, I don't hold it in or keep it back. This is also probably why I so rarely get bothered or upset.

(Susan may tell you otherwise, of course)

And this first recognizable relationship, the one between you and yourself before you can have one with anybody else, including all those website visitors, target market or whatever, must be recognized and understood before cultural paradigm shifts can occur. Unless you're willing to sit down and ask yourself, “Why am I doing things this way again?” and “Is there a better way to do this than is immediately obvious to me?” — two very difficult questions for most Maslowian thinkers — then the game is pretty much lost before it begins.

<PLUG>

These concepts are covered in agonizing detail in Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History

</PLUG>

More to the point of my posts, unless you're willing to go through them and see where they take you, you're probably not a good candidate for deeper explorations of the NextStage tools other than the level to which you've explored cellphone technology. You can still be a client and still use them (much as you know how to use cellphones, hammers and flush toilets) and we're happy to have you as such, but using them to create other tools? Sorry, ain't gonna happen. And why should it? That's not what you do for a living. That's NextStage Evolution's job. We put in the towers so you can make the calls.

Achieving Your Goals versus Understanding the Principle

So the first philosophical change (and bringing this back to the web example above) is an important one to recognize — the visitor achieved some goal perfectly, cleanly and neatly. They explored, they entered into a relationship with you via the website, they had a conversation (either with themselves or someone physically close to them while they were navigating or with you as they drove home in the car). They performed some combination of conscious and non-conscious activities that caused the observed end result. Whatever their goal was when they arrived on the site, they achieved some goal when they left the site. Lots of times the goal achieved when they leave the site is a goal you — designer, owner, analyst — gave them.

Really, honestly and for true. No kidding, that.

And I'll bet dollars to donuts they achieved that exit goal exactly as you instructed them to via your design so on and et cetera.

That includes all those non-conversions, abandoned carts, whatever you want to call them.

Really, honestly and for true. No kidding, that, either.

Exactly as you instructed them to

Analyze the messaging of both a site as a whole and as individual pages (NextStage prefers the terms “presentations” and “experiences” because we concern ourselves with the user's experience of the information presented) and you can quickly learn if your home/landing page is getting the correct message across.

This one piece of information — that your site/page might be transmitting a less than optimal message — is one of those philosophical, cultural paradigm shift, change things.

<ASIDE>
Let me provide you with a more concrete example of this (and we already know from the above that Flash ain't my thing, right?).

Below are two flashes, one was created internally to provide a designer with a template to work from, the other was what the designer turned it into. We provided instructions to the designer with the template and the instructions were traditionally simple; See this? Copy it into your version of Flash. (we routinely provide rudimentary flashes for designers to professionalize. You can see one example that turned into a Signature system in Canada and Asia at BrainScienceConsulting).

First:

Second (and this one has sound in it so you may want to adjust your volume now):

I will be among the first to state that the designer's version has higher production values (they used better tools, they knew how to use Flash, …). However, the production values are secondary to whether or not people respond in a desired fashion. The 100 or so people I showed both flashes to (and not telling them who created either) always preferred the template, not the designer's finished product.

Why? Because the template affected them in a recognizable way and they demonstrated that it was affecting them.

How did they demonstrate that the template was affecting them and the professional designer's wasn't? By repeatedly playing the template, not the professionally designed one, and the language they used to describe template versus the professional version (such as “I don't know, I just liked it more”, “Something about it works and the other doesn't”, “It moved me”, …).

Quite a revelation, that. A/B testing with not a lot of effort. Show them two flashes side by side and just watch what happens (a lot like what our tracking tool does). The one they repeatedly play is the one that's causing the conscious and non-conscious responses that are being signaled by the repeated play and verbal behaviors.

This is a demonstration of design based on design and design based on the sciences behind NextStage. As one of our first clients told his designer, “I personally think this web site looks like sh?t, and believe it or not, I don't care about that, nor do I care about any design theory. What I do care about is that everybody who visits this site thinks it looks like sh?t, too. The information I have tells me that it needs to have less of … and more of …. Either you make that happen, or I'll find someone who can. This isn't a showcase for your alleged talent, it's a business tool.”

It truly doesn't matter how professionally designed your site is, if it's not meeting the conscious and non-conscious needs of your audience, give it up and walk away. You're spending money for nothing.

Again, I'm not questioning the difference in production values, I question whether or not the higher production values without science behind them necessarily get the job done.
</ASIDE>

Going to the Core

Earlier we defined Problem: Visitors aren't converting and now perhaps we can offer that visitors are doing exactly what they're being instructed to do, therefore the problem state is actually a success state; if someone is being instructed not to convert and they don't convert then the instruction is successful, correct?

It may not be what you want — for that matter, it may not be what the visitors want — and its still successful.

This indicates we need a new understanding of “success”.

<Deep thanks to Susan for the aides provided herein>
A horse may respond to a aide inappropriately (you may signal a canter, it goes into a trot) and you don't shoot the horse. It successfully responded to your aide, simply not as you wanted it to.

Anybody familiar with equestrian training knows the first thing you do is make sure you're giving the horse the correct aide. You are? And the horse is still responding inappropriately?

You provide the aide more obviously, a little more oomph with your legs and back, for example. Did the horse respond appropriately this time?

Still no. Are you sure the horse knows the proper response to the aide? This is the crucial question and in equestrian training, it's actually called “questions and answers”. You're asking the horse a question and it's giving you an answer. Most horses, if they don't know the right answer, will start giving you every answer they know and hope they get the right one.

Now you have to stop everything you're doing because the horse is starting to go nuts providing answers. You — if you're a good equestrian — need to calm the horse down and teach it the right answer to that aide.

At this point good equestrians may also check for physical reasons causing the horse to answer inappropriately. Everything okay physically? And the horse still not responding appropriately?

Then it's time to train the horse how to respond to the aide. Or remind the horse if it does know the correct response and is just refusing to give it (remind me to tell you about my ride on The WidowMaker sometime). Much like a dog who knows how to “sit” and doesn't, you need to put your hand on its rump, clearly and firmly say “Sit” while pushing down and the dog learns or relearns the command.

With horses and visitors to websites, you give the aide in such a way that they must respond appropriately.

And did you notice how seamlessly I integrated websites and visitors into this discussion? What you learn from working with horses can be applied to marketing material 1-1 and loses nothing in the translation.

<@jdaysyism>
Understanding the principles of equestrian training and applying them to marketing is also an example of why I emphasize understanding the theory in order to create applications and is a hallmark of 2nd order, Eliadeian thinking. The ability to take knowledge, training, experience, etc., from one area and apply it to a completely different area is an example of 2nd order tool use.
</@jdaysyism>

Here's the rest of the equestrian training, the part most inexperienced riders don't like: nine times out of ten, when the horse answers inappropriately, it's the rider's fault. The rider isn't asking the question correctly.

The same is true with website visitors who don't convert. It's the website's fault, not the visitors. Visitors are responding correctly, the site's simply not giving them the correct aide.

And as with horses, so with website visitors; you can't fight a 1600# animal. You're going to lose. You can't fight the 97.6% of your website visitors who don't convert. You're going to lose.

And always end on a positive note. With horses as with visitors; the last thing you do when you're training a horse is end with something it knows how to do, thus providing a “success” based reward (at the end of the training), a success even if nothing else was successful. On a website, if you're going to pop anything up when they're closing down their browser or otherwise ending their session, let it be “Thanks for coming to our site. We hope to see you again soon”. No questionnaires, no forms, nothing else. You've let them know their time is valuable to you and placed a marker in their memory that will probably bring them back.
</Deep thanks to Susan for the aides provided herein>

Knowing what tool to use when, Knowing what core problem you're solving

I wouldn't use a nail gun to hang a picture on a wall and I won't use a traditional hammer to put in a deck. Similarly, NextStage tools are not good at traditional WA functions although we make use of traditional WA results in some of our calculations.

<ASIDE>
The fact that different traditional WA tools come up with different values for the same function has pretty much led us to create our own WA tools (we don't offer them to others) so that we'd always know how the values we're using in our calculations are coming about and can have high confidence in the accuracy therein (Note: not that the values are accurate, only that the values are accurate within the paradigm that generates them. This is true of all tools even though it is mentioned rarely by tool users and manufacturers).

And here we come to an interesting cultural datum; NextStage could not gain recognition until traditional WA and similar tools had run their course and entered decline. The reason is simple enough and well established in the philosophy of science; Challenging orthodoxy is difficult because most practitioners are educated and work within current paradigms and have little career incentive to examine unconventional ideas. The decline of WA and similar tools is forcing practitioners to examine unconventional tools, hence the flourish of interest in what we've been doing since 2001.

That decline is something I've been mentioning to people for years. Sorry, folks. Worldwide research I've recently done querying internationally recognized WA consultants regarding “the unfulfilled promise of web analytics” strongly indicates this decline is the case. The results of that research will show up in a future Analytics Ecology post.
</ASIDE>

So we're back to Problem: Visitors aren't converting. Stephane Hamel does an excellent job of detailing a traditional tool solution to the problem and I have high confidence that Stephane's method will produce useful results.

Let me take you through a very brief (I promise) alternative derivation of why visitors aren't converting:

A certain largish company had a mini-site that consisted of four pages; 1) Landing, 2) Funneling, 3) Completion Event (closure, transaction, the visitor gives you something you want) and 4) Thankyou. Traffic on 1) Landing and 2) Funneling was good and fairly even and died after page 3) Completion Event (note that the client didn't see anything odd about this).

What's happening?

ch-ch-ch-changes%201-small.jpg My first thought was to determine if the same visitor was sitting at the computer through the entire browsing session. Drops off such as shown here often occur because different if not conflicting {C,B/e,M}s are interacting with the same information. One of the reports we developed early on was a measure of how many different visitors were using the same computer. It originated early in the days of NextStage, back when it was quite common for there to be a single workstation that was used by several different people. A client wanted to know how many different people were browsing their site because such information was a good indication of how much revenue would result from contacting the group browsing.

ch-ch-ch-changes%202-small.jpgThat report showed that the number of real humans using the computer during these browsing sessions was 1:1 human:computer on 1) Landing and 2) Funneling pages of the sessions, was almost double on 3) Completion Event (what NextStage calls the “FailurePage” in some of our other reports because that's the page that is actually failing to complete the transaction.) and went pretty much back to 1:1 on the Thankyou page. Looking at the {C,B/e,M}s that showed up on the 3) Completion Event page and weren't present before and after I noted that the majority of them demonstrated female neurologies while the 1) Landing, 2) Funneling and 4) Thankyou pages were dominated by male neurologies.

So far and knowing nothing about the content of the pages, it's obvious that males ask someone else to look at the website on the 3) Completion Event page and these others demonstrate negative biasing female neurologies.

ch-ch-ch-changes%203-small.jpgThe suggestions were to add some positive biasing female design factors to the 2) Funneling through 4) Thankyou pages. Completions increased. And do remember, the client was happy with things as they were (8%). Getting them to just under 22% only involved a few design changes so the cost was minimal.

Numbers and numbers and numbers

Look carefully and you'll see that the number of “visitors” goes down on the 2)Funneling through 4) Thankyou pages once ET's suggestions are taken into account. This decrease is due to the influence of the positive-biasing female design factors driving away the predominately male neurologies. Note, however, that actual completions increase on the Thankyou page as the other, predominantly female {C,B/e,M}s brought into the browsing session are positively reinforced (ie, “Sure, dear-partner-o'-mine, let's get that”). By the way, biologic gender isn't a factor here, neurologic gender (are they thinking male or female thoughts?) is.

Knowing what tool to use when, Knowing what core problem you're solving (Part 2)

I offer that adding another tool to the traditional toolbox, something like either The NextStage Gauge or the Purchase-ExchangeStop Report, would provide something directly more actionable. This is touching on a neuro- and psycho-linguistic principle; If what you're doing isn't working, try something else. IE, if your traditional methods have maxed out their ROI potential, perhaps some new tools (ours or others) are in order.

Or you can be like a horse and try everything else in the hopes of getting something right.

But then you'd better hope your client is a good equestrian, which means they'll check to make sure there's nothing physically wrong with you — your saddle pinching your withers (just sounds painful, doesn't it?), your bit and everything else is fitted properly — before they say “…or I'll find someone who can. This isn't a showcase for your alleged talent, it's a business tool.”

Suggested Readings

Putting technology in its place

The possibility of impossible cultures

Setting standards

A tool, not a tyrant

Why I Am Not a Property Dualist

The economics of impatience


From Analytics, NextStage Tools, NextStageology, Tool Use, {C,B/e,M}s

11 Comments
  1. Jen permalink

    I was thinking this comment was far too long, but at only 1/10th the size of the article itself, I'd say that's not so bad!
    Not to worry. You've provided me with some good discussion points and I thank you.

    Hi Joseph,
    Howdy

    The fact that you have brought your analytics in-house leads me to believe that you could actually empathize with the desire to understand the inner workings of NextStage Analytics to some degree.
    Well…your suggestion isn't why we brought our web analytics in house. One of our earliest clients (2001 or so) said that having to use our tools and her existing WA tools was confusing. Having everything on one dashboard was much better for her. I asked her what information her other tools were providing, she told me, and about half a day later we had our own WA tools based on what she said she needed. Back in 2001 the WA analytics world was quite different and I decided that we could develop the necessary tools far faster than wade through all the products out there.
    Today when I write or say “I don't understand WA” I'm stating that I don't understand how it is used by companies and individuals. How the actual numbers are generated is something I'm comfortably aware of.

    On the other hand, your demonstrated understanding of human behavior and Rene’s very articulate blog comments, posts, and tweets lead me to believe you guys know all this already.
    I rarely claim to know anything. Keeps me honest. Plus with all the research I do it's fairly easy for me to be confident that I truly know nothing.

    Yet I can’t resist speculating on some of the main barriers that I think analytics people face with NextStage Analytics. Maybe it will help with discussion? If nothing else it gets it out of my brain ;)

    1.) From my standpoint, there is a significant leap of faith required *not* in the sciences behind analyzing the data (like Christopher appeared focused on by mentioning SPSS) but in accepting that adequate indicator data can be gathered from a web interaction in the first place. I strongly feel that the analogies I have heard so far on this are completely in-apt. When it comes down to it, the mystery of the cell phone has more to do with transmitting your voice across the globe, without wires. You’re right, it doesn’t matter “how”. But the voice transmission concept had predecessors. Telephone, radio. Before that, telegraph. These were doubted too, and proof was demanded. Telegraphs were verified by post for way longer than seemed practical (in my opinion, 20/20 hindsight and all). Even tag-based analytics has a forefather in logs-based analytics, and there used to be auditing firms tasked with proving the numbers. NextStage has no such data acquisition predecessors I am aware of, although I can recognize the case studies as proofs.
    Ah…well…My apologies. Your thoughts about predecessors is something I cover in <PLUG>Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History</PLUG>. The concept of recognizing and individual based on nothing more than their interaction with a machine goes back to the days of the telegraph (glad you mentioned it). It actually has a relatively long and somewhat rich history, and was so well recognized that details of this “recognizing someone based on their interaction with a machine interface” showed up in pulp fiction of the day. I've also demonstrated that how ET gathers information can be likened to specialized polygraph systems (something else that has a history).
    And I appreciate the question, it's a good and reasonable one.

    2.) I love the horse analogy, and I totally get it, and it jives with my prevailing attitude about the user data available on the web. I can get how I am so disconnected from a web visitor that we two-way communication can only happen a very specific (limited) shared language or aides. It seems to me that (despite all our best attempts) our websites are generally still just broadcasting. (Like adding in female bias – still broadcasting, just tweaking the message) Right now, we are broadcasting and receiving only clues back. The NextStage Analytics promise feels like you are going to be able to fill in all the blanks. Which feels “too good to be true.”
    Sometime we can discuss how and when the division of the sciences (“hard” and “soft”) occurred. The sciences involved in ET have been around for a longish time, they simply haven't been mainstream and in the forefront since about 1875 or so. One advantage NextStage is currently having is that we're now in the “Decade of the Brain” (according to several scientific journals) so these sciences are coming to the fore.

    I bet that barrier really makes you want to pull your hair out the most! But most adults I know have been trained extensively to be distrustful of things that give that feeling.
    A relatively modern paradigm, that (about 400 years old or so, although the roots go back about 2,000).

    No one is going to give you a free laptop if you click on that ad; the cousin of some king of Nigeria is not going to make you rich.

    3.) People want to believe they are a closed book. When you say, “in a sense NextStage tools eavesdrop on that conversation people don’t realize they’re having with themselves.” Whoa! Creepy! Exciting!
    My deepest apologies that <PLUG>Reading Virtual Minds Volume I: Science and History</PLUG> is backordered because it does respond to much of what you write. Until I manage to get a copy into your hands, take a read of Chris Berry's NeuroCognitivePsychoLingualAnthropology blog post as it does a better job than I at explaining what I'm explaining…

    Of course, my personal hangup is simply a matter of context. I don’t think most of your fans have this problem because they have sites, or brands, or whatevers. For me it’s all theoretical instead of applied. I can dream up all sorts of pictures I want to hang, or decks I want to make, or improvements to my imaginary website. So, in the end I am excited to believe. I am totally Fox Mulder on this one! I am fine with “NextStage technology just works” and waiting to see!

    That’s that. A few little things:

    1.) I think it's mighty peculiar that those people could not articulate in detail why they prefer Flash #1 over #2 (again, I *believe* you, but I can easily list a bunch of things I don't like about Flash #2. If not for scientific curiosity/dedication I wouldn't have even watched the whole thing.)
    Thank you. Your response is most gratifying.

    2.) Gushing compliment: the math teaching story gave me goosebumps. Seriously. For far too many reasons that I don't want to bore anyone with. Inspirational whether you intended it or not.
    Thank you. I didn't intend it as such, only as an example of how changing how people think can change what they can do.

    3.) “I’m told that analytic types find my writing frustrating because I don’t quickly get to the point, the ‘A=B’ness of it isn’t obvious to them.” As a convert, I can say for me this goes back to context. Prior to not-sure-exactly-when I didn't have adequate context to really absorb/own/digest/parse much of what you posted about. And without context, I had no patience for the scenic route (even though I am generally a scenic route person myself – Twitter has taught me a lot about the direct route). I've followed BizMediaScience for forever, but I've only been an avid reader for a short while. Something just clicked. I will have to ponder what it was.
    Wait a second! You were the one reading BizMediaScience??? (seriously, thanks)

  2. Jen, many thanks for a stimulating and thought-provoking post. Please note that I responded directly in your post, my responses being in italics. I found it much easier to respond that way. If it causes confusion, let me know and I'll publish my responses in a separate comment.
    Thanks again,
    Joseph

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