Dec 24, 2013

Why Kink?

the power of perversion

Fetishists, come out of the cave!
Like you, I'm fascinated by auto-erotic asphyxiationHallucinogenic frogs too; and base jumping. Who discovered these esoteric pursuits? Who first practised gavage? Who blazed the trail? Who charted the path to share their discovery with like-minded souls? How many people sacrificed themselves on the way? Who thought to make coffee from beans picked from civet feces? Most importantly: what other exciting destinations remain to be discovered?

That's the story behind the name of this blog, "How I got my kink". It was intended to be a series of fiction posts, telling the stories of how people had discovered their passion for aberrant behavior. Unfortunately, I still haven't found the time that empathetic contemplation of perverse behavior deserves. I was sidetracked on the road to aberration.

a treat for your mirror neurons
The blog has become a kind of a design / innovation blog, but there's still a connection with kink. For one thing, most good designers I know are deeply aberrant. How is obsessive attention to kerning or corner radius any less fetishistic when devoted to a web page than when devoted to, say, toes poking out of stilletos?

Innovation, done well, involves boldly poking where no (wo)man has poked before. It's straight-up aberrant behaviour. Innovators know the ridicule, and even shame. But persist! If our ancestors had shied away from aberrant behavior, there would be no golf!

Anyhow, that's the story of the blog's name. I hope, over time, to swing it back toward more popular forms of innovation, if the search filters allow it. In the meantime, I welcome your personal stories of redemptive perversion.

You are in a safe place.

Please share this post. If you comment, I'll reply. Thanks for reading!

My other blog is less careful.

Dec 17, 2013


App Lab at AVG Innovation is a Sprint Zero for greenfields projects. The video above is one of the deliverables of this sprint for the Patient Privacy Project.

This post describes the beginning of the process, the Inspiration.This post is part of a series describing the AVG Innovation App Lab checklist, using the Private Patient Records projects as a case study. The series starts here.

Privacy is one of the core topics of research at AVG Innovation, so when we were approached by PharmaPartners, Netherlands leading provider of patient record management systems, to collaborate on a project, we were interested. One of the top consumer privacy concerns is what might happen if employers or insurers had access to personal health information.

The table below provides an overview of the collaboration.

  • Global security software company 
  • “Be Yourself” brand
  • More then 150 million users in 170 countries
  • AVG Mobilation is #1 security app on Android

  • Netherlands' largest provider of information systems in the primary care hosting 9 million patients records. 
  • Current business is based on systems for Family Doctors and Pharmacists.
  • Pioneer in the area of personal health records. 
  • is the largest Personal Health Information System the Dutch market.
  • Build on mobile portfolio strength 
  • Develop new distribution channels
  • Bring privacy, protection, performance to new domains

  • Develop new consumer-facing business. 
  • Provide assurance of security and privacy to customers.
  • User Experience design
  • Security and Privacy solutions 

  • Data storage infrastructure 
  • Data access

starting criteria for an App Lab project

The criteria to take a project into an App Lab Sprint Zero are broad. This makes sense because:

  • viable ideas are often impossible to distinguish from non-viable ideas at first conception.
  • ideas coming out of Sprint Zero are rarely the same as the ideas going in.
  • the sprint is short, so unviable ideas consume minimal resources.

qualifications for a project champion

Projects should have potential to further the company's business goals, but the main criteria for a project to be taken into the AppLap process is a motivated champion. Qualities of a qualified project champion include:

  • personal belief in the opportunity
  • clear (starting) vision for the project
  • ability to promote the continuation of the project within the company.
  • at least 4 hours per week available to commit to the project over the six weeks of the sprint.

Within the sprint, the champion plays the role of Product Owner. For the Private Patient Records project, this was me. The project itself was led by Carolien Postma. Frank Laarakker led the team from PharmaPartners.

draft project scope

A few rounds of discussion with PharmaPartners led to the following:
In scope:
  • Domain: Self-care (including informal care)
  • Consumer segments:

    • People whose condition requires proper self-care; e.g., pregnant women, diabetics, heart patients, etc.
    • People who provide informal care; e.g., (first-time) parents.
  • Market: Netherlands. Value propositions can be validated in the Dutch market, but they are always created with a global audience in mind.
  • Business: B2C (consumer products/services)
  • Solution area: service
  • Go to market: 18 months to 3 years
Out of Scope:
  • Domain: Professional care, well-being (i.e., no immediate concern for health condition).
  • Market: BRIC markets
  • Business: B2B (products/services for health care professionals)

project brief

In a session with the project team and stakeholders from AVG and Pharmapartners, the brief was distilled to:
Create a solution to:
  • Connect consumers to Healthcare records.
  • Create the foundation for an ecosystem.

want more?

This description only scratches the surface of discussions, negotiations, and analysis that went into getting this project started. But the essential points are here.

I'd be pleased to respond to any questions or request for more detail in the comments below.

The next post will describe the second checkpoint of the Patient Privacy Project, User Research. The series starts here.

Thanks for reading!

Please share this post. If you comment, I'll reply. Thanks for reading!

If your interests extend to theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.

Dec 10, 2013

Sprint Zero Checklist

App Lab

checklist, not steps
A previous post (here) compared best practice in Engineering, Marketing, and Design with the process of finding your way in a strange landscape by comparing the territory to a map, and then map to territory, orienting one to the other until they both make sense.

The next post (here) pointed out that, although they are navigate the same territory, the maps used by Engineers, Marketing, and Design, are qualitatively different; and that, although these different views of the world lead to misunderstandings, they were fundamentally complementary. The different views are summarised in this table:

Design Marketing Engineering
Value Opportunities Solutions
Desirability Viability Feasibility
Why How What

This post lays out an approach intended to orient Engineers, Marketers, and Designers to each other. The approach -- mashup of tools from Agile Engineering, Lean Startup, and Design Thinking -- is intended for use at the beginning of greenfield projects, i.e., projects without constraints imposed by prior work.

In Agile terms, the approach might be called "Sprint Zero". At AVG Innovation, we call it "App Lab".

Given enough iterations, a basic Agile process would no doubt cover the same ground; but the checklist is more efficient. It puts the first proper development cycle on solid ground.

solid ground

The App Lab approach was refined over the course of 9 greenfields projects to develop new products or service propositions (including Family Center and the Carefree Patient Record concept). It was developed to ensure multi-disciplinary teams start new projects with a clear and shared set of priorities. Basically, it's a checklist.

scanning the horizon

The App Lab checklist encourages a 360° view of the project, including User, Business, and Technical considerations. Working through the checklist leads team members from different disciplines to discuss what they already know about the problem, to develop a shared understanding, helping the rest of the project go faster. By the end of the checklist, the team has a set of working hypotheses on what it will take to make a product that is Desirable, Viable, and Feasible.

natural order

In principle, there is a natural order to the checklist, with items relating to Desirability first, then Viability, then Feasibility. Because Why we sell a product determines How we sell it, which determines What we sell. Customers drive Business drives Technology. So the natural order would be Design, then Marketing, then Engineering.

In practice however, it's not possible to address either Design, Marketing, or Engineering in isolation. An award-winning design that can't be built, an incredible technology patent no one needs, or a fast-selling product that loses money ...all failures. Successful Design, Marketing, and Engineering are inextricable from one another.

Innovation projects commonly start with a compelling inspiration from Design, Marketing, or Engineering; but usually 2 out of these 3 perspectives are only vaguely outlined. In these cases, you have to start with what you have, so we've found it's better to approach App Lab as a checklist rather than an ordered set of steps.

Use the App Lab checklist to surface what you already know, and to fill in any gaps. Be prepared to revisit items on the list as your understanding of the problem evolves.


How long does it take to go through the list? It's possible to go from inspiration to coherent, validated product/service proposition in 4 weeks, but we plan for six weeks because i) team members are working on other projects in parallel, and ii) the extra gestation time improves the quality of thinking. The process is time constrained, so deliverables must be tailored to fit time and resources available. This encourages a mindset of practicality over perfection.


The checklist validates that an idea has been considered from Design, Marketing, and Engineering angles, and confirms that the core proposition is coherent and acceptable to users. It validates that an idea is worthy of further investigation. The final deliverable is a pitch to budget holders for funds to proceed to the first iteration of development.


Below is an overview of the App Lab list. In the next posts, I'll walk through a case study, item-by-item, based on our experience with the Carefree Patient Record concept). The next post describes Inspiration.

Item Input Activities Output
Inspiration Champion (product owner) Draft statement of scope Project Brief
User Research Project Brief User visits,
Consumer review analysis
Experience Flow w/ pains & gains
Jobs-to-be-Done Pains & Gains Analysis (workshop) Jobs-to-be-done. (Social, Emotional, Functional
Competitive Landscape Jobs-to-be-done Desk Research Ranked feature list (Kano model)
Business Model Canvas Customer description
Competitor Landscape
    Desk Research (Workshop) Selected (provisional) Business Model Business Case
    Design SketchingBusiness Model Canvas
    Customer Description
    User Scenario sketching,
    Screen concept sketching
    Key User Stories Design
    Principles Screen Concept sketches
    System Concept Business Model Canvas
    User Stories Jobs-to-be-Done
    Design Principles
    System Design Review Minimum Viable Product , Use Cases System Concept Document
    Lo-Fi Prototype User Stories Design Principles Sketching (workshop) Lo-Fi Prototype (Wireframes)
    User Validation Prototype User Description Define Hypotheses, User Test Findings Presentation
    Pitch Business Requirements (Business Model Canvas & Business Case),
    User Requirements (Job-to-be-done & Design Principles),
    Technical Requirements (System Concept Document)
    Presentation creation Request for resources to continue development.

    Please share this post. If you comment, I'll reply. Thanks for reading!

    My other blog is full of esoteric rants.

    Dec 3, 2013

    Bat, Bloodhound, Pigeon

    roadkill on the path to innovation

    An earlier post (Map and Territory) pointed out the basic oneness of Agile Engineering, Lean Startup, and Design Thinking. Each compares territory to a map, and then map to territory, orienting one to the other until they both make sense. The Territory in this metaphor stands for concrete facts that either align with or obstruct a chosen path. The map stands for the models of reality we use to find our way.

    So if Agile Engineering, Lean Startup, and Design Thinking are all essentially the same, why are they three things?

    Let's complicate the Map and Territory story.

    Bat, Bloodhound, and Pigeon have sharpened their mapping skills over the years and are pretty happy with their different maps. Bat navigates by sonar, so his map is a kind of sonogram. Bat's map seems nonsense to Bloodhound, who gets around by smell; her map shows scent trails. Pigeon navigates by magnetoception -- he perceives direction, altitude and location through magnetic fields. So Pigeon's map is chart of magnetism. Pigeon doesn't see any use in sound or smell maps.

    But reality keeps intruding. Bat has frequent near-misses with suspended power lines. Bloodhound keeps running into rivers and snowbanks. And once or twice a year, electromagnetic disturbances caused by solar flares leave Pigeon completely lost.

    Sharing stories one evening at a forest meetup, Bat, Bloodhound and Pigeon come up with an idea: why not put their maps together? So they overlay Bat's map on Bloodhound's map on Pigeon's map. They set out on a venture together and works! With the combined-perspective map, the world seems a friendlier place.

    Bat is an Engineer, Bloodhound is a Marketeer, and Pigeon is a Designer.

    So if Agile Engineering, Lean Startup, and Design Thinking are all essentially the same, why are they three things? Because they represent three different perspectives on the same reality.

    Agile Engineering Lean Startup Design Thinking
    ...thinks innovation springs from... Technology Customer Development Insight into User Motivation
    thinks Agile Engineering (is)... best practice should do only what is asked by customers. hasty and naïve
    … thinks Lean Startup (is)… kills great ideas prematurely best practice superficial and short-term
    … thinks Design Thinking (is)… slow and naïve should be outsourced to customers best practice

    These (comment baiting) caricatures highlight the different discipline-centric perspectives of Agile Engineering, Lean Startup, and Design Thinking to what is fundamentally the same reality. I've come across them all in the wild.

    At ground, the different approaches are properly complementary. They address the What, How, and Why of successful innovation.

    Agile Engineering Lean Startup Design Thinking
    What How Why
    Solutions Opportunity Value
    Feasibility Viability Desirability

    I call for a new mashed-up approach, combining the tools of Agile Engineering, Lean Startup, and Design Thinking. Who will join me?

    Next week, I'll try to make a more concrete proposal.

    Thanks to Nicolien Adema, Jeroen Frumau, Lorna Goulden,  Laurens Massee, Han Toebast, and Jay Vidyarthi for constructive contribution to this post.

    Thanks to Michael Held, whose project on 2nd order observation maps inspired the overlaid perspective metaphor.

    All exaggerations and misunderstandings are entirely my own.

    Please share this post. If you comment, I'll reply. Thanks for reading!

     My other blog is full of personal rants.

    Nov 26, 2013

    Map and Territory

    engineering enlightenment

     Figure 1: crop circles
    Lean Startup, Agile Engineering, and Design Thinking are One.
    These approaches, from the fields of Business, Engineering, and Design, seek to find optimal solutions through repeated cycles of hypothesis and experiment. They are all essentially the same thing, and that thing is the Hermeneutic Circle. Understand the Hermeneutic Circle and you will understand why Lean, Agile, and Design Thinking are a good idea.

    The Hermeneutic Circle

    Imagine yourself standing in an unfamiliar landscape, with a map in your hand. You look at the map to orient yourself in the territory, you look at the territory to orient the map. As you set off in a direction, you compare map to territory and territory to map as you proceed, orienting one to the other, to understand the reality of your situation. This back-and-forth movement between map and territory is a Hermeneutic Circle.

    Figure 2: the map is usually a work in progress
     (Michael Landy: 24th Kaldor Public Art Project)
    Now, imagine your map is a jigsaw puzzle. This is a better analogy to the hermeneutic circle as experienced in Business, Engineering, or Design. Usually, you can't see all the pieces, or know you have them all.

    Hermeneutics is the formal study of how we make sense of reality. Hermeneutic Circle is the process of moving between abstract models and concrete evidence in order to grasp the real meaning of a situation.

    The idea of a Hermeneutic Circle was proposed by the philosopher Spinoza in 1670 to describe how we come to understand religious texts: holy scripture is interpreted in the light of the lived world, which is then re-interpreted in the light of the scripture, which is then re-interpreted in the now enlightened view of the world ...and so on.
    There is an analogy, Spinoza claims, between our understanding of nature and our understanding of the Scriptures. In both cases, our understanding of the parts hinges on our understanding of a larger whole, which, again, can only be understood on the basis of the parts. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
    No map: aimless. No territory: pointless.
    Maps are abstract, sacrificing detail to reveal relationships. Territory is concrete, it's where choices happen. Maps give us direction; Territory gives us traction. We follow maps; we respond to territory.

    We make sense of the world by continually re-orienting the one to the other, in a Hermeneutic Circle. It doesn't matter whether you start with the Abstract or the Concrete -- the important thing is the iterative movement between them. Neither map nor territory make much sense without the other.

    Figure 3: Hermeneutic Circle (adapted from Gadamer via Helme 2004
    and  Gasson.)

    Figure 3 shows the sense-making function of the Hermeneutic Circle. The map (theorising) phase of the cycle gives context and direction to the territory (practising) phase. Without a map, you're lost; without territory, you're pointless. Table 1 shows some examples.

    Table 1: Concrete and Abstract Pairs
    Belief Reason
    Tactics Strategy
    Objects Relationships
    Reality Model
    Doing Thinking
    Real Ideal
    Practical Theoretical
    Instantiated Function Algorithm
    Application API
    Execution Vision

    Software Spiral

    In 1986, Barry Boehm published the first version of his influential paper: A spiral model of software development and enhancement, laying the foundation for Agile software development methods. The paper was a response to waterfall-style software engineering methodologies that assumed a sufficient understanding of requirements at the beginning of development. Boehm proposed a spiral-style model of software development (shown in Figure 4) that allowed for the reality that many critical requirements are only discovered during software development.
    Figure 4: Boehm Spiral model of software development processes

    The Boehm Spiral begins with maps, in the form of concepts and requirements, and moves to territory, in the form of prototypes. Experience with actual prototypes then feeds the iteration of planning. The cycle of planning and testing repeats until final release. This iterative movement between abstract plans and concrete implementations is a Hermeneutic Circle.

    Agile Activity

    Boehm's seminal paper was a precursor to Agile software development. The Agile manifesto of software development reads:
    "We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it. Through this work we have come to value:

    Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
    Working software over comprehensive documentation
    Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
    Responding to change over following a plan

    That is, while there is value in the items on the right, we value the items on the left more"
    It's clear, if you put the Agile values in a table, that the Agile manifesto, like the Hermeneutic Circle, is about concrete and abstract perspectives.

    Table 2: Agile Values
    Territory Map
    Individuals and Interactions Processes and Tools
    Working Software Comprehensive Documentation
    Customer Collaboration Contract Negotiation
    Responding to Change Following a Plan

    Although Agile puts more value on concrete Territory, abstract Maps are still essential to the process. An Agile iteration (shown in Figure 5) moves between Map (Planning) to Territory (Implementation). The Agile process is an instance of the Hermeneutic Circle.

    Figure 5: Agile Software Development Process

    Six Sigma Cycles

    Six Sigma quality assurance methodologies, along with Lean manufacturing are the fore-runners to Lean Startup approaches. Deming's Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle (shown in Figure 6) is central to Six Sigma.

    The Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle is essentially a business-oriented application of the scientific method, which can be expressed as Hypothesis=> Experiment=> Analyse=> Revise. The last stage of the scientific method, Revise refers to updating the hypothesis, which kicks off another iteration of the process. The Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, and the scientific method itself, move between abstract speculation (Map) and concrete verification (Territory). They are instances of the Hermeneutic Circle.

    Figure 6: Six Sigma PDCA

    Lean Loop

    The Lean Startup provides a scientific approach to creating and managing startups and get a desired product to customers' hands faster. The Lean Startup method teaches you how to drive a startup - how to steer, when to turn, and when to persevere - and grow a business with maximum acceleration. It is a principled approach to new product development. (
    Figure 7: Lean Startup Loop (Eric Ries)
    Lean Startup Methodology (Figure 7) is an iterative movement between business hypotheses and market experiments. When evidence from customers does not fit the business model, the startup must pivot, i.e., redefine the model. This loop is another example of iterative movement between abstract and concrete. The Lean Startup loop is an instance of the Hermeneutic Circle.

    Design Dialogue

    Design Thinking refers to a protocol for discovering new solutions through wider and deeper exploration of problem spaces. Design Thinking approaches are: human-centered, experimental, prototype-centric, and iterative. (Fast Company.)

    Figure 8 shows a model of a representative Design Thinking cycle. The movement between abstract definition and concrete prototype is a movement between map and territory. The Design Thinking protocol is a Hermeneutic Circle.

    Figure 8 Design Thinking (adapted from Stanford D-School)

    Donald Schön, author of The Reflective Practitioner, describes the activity of Design as a reflective conversation with materials, a concise phrase containing all the elements of a Hermeneutic Circle.

    Infinite Loop

    Figure 9: Yin and Yang
    The mantra of Lean Startup Methodology is minimise total time through the loop. Best practice in Agile and Design Thinking is also speedy iterations. What if the movement from map to territory -- from abstract to concrete -- was compressed to the absolute minimum duration, so that Thinking and Doing took place simultaneously? We might call this version of the Hermeneutic Circle Mindful Practice or simply mindfulness. A recent issue of The Economist contained an article on how Silicon Valley tech giants (among others) are turning to mindfulness:
    Google offers an internal course called “search inside yourself” that has proved so popular that the company has created entry-level versions such as “neural self-hacking” and “managing your energy”. The search giant has also built a labyrinth for walking meditation. EBay has meditation rooms equipped with pillows and flowers. Twitter and Facebook are doing all they can to stay ahead in the mindfulness race. Evan Williams, one of Twitter’s founders, has introduced regular meditation sessions in his new venture, the Obvious Corporation, a start-up incubator and investment vehicle. (The Mindfulness Business. The Economist Nov 16th 2013)
    Mindfulness, according to Buddhist and Taoist traditions, is a path to enlightenment. By constant application of considered action and reflection, the practitioner herself is transformed. Whichever path you choose -- Engineering, Business, Design, or Holy Scripture -- keep your goal in mind, and your feet on the ground.

    The next post discusses the different kinds of maps used by Engineering, Marketing, and Design.

    Thanks to Ivan Chardin, Adler Jorge, Shaul LeviAna McGinleyPaul Neervoort, Carolien Postma and Sajid Saiyed for inspiring discussions and critical comments on earlier versions of this post (although they don't necessarily agree with all of this).

    Agile Design, Lean Engineering, Startup Thinking, Lean Thinking, Startup Design, Lean Design, Startup Engineering, Design Engineering, Agile Thinking.

    Please share this post. If you comment, I'll reply. Thanks for reading!

    My other blog is full of personal rants.

    Nov 19, 2013

    35 Point Design for Engagement Checklist

    Rules of Engagement

    This is a list of 35 guidelines, listed in the order of the customer journey, from the Design for Customer Engagement series of posts. You might also like the related post on customer relationships.

    terms of engagement

    Right Now (read more)

    1. Optimize the entire customer experience for speed; not just the user interface, but everything from a first awareness of your proposition to fulfillment. (What is a proposition? See this post.)

    Right Here (read more)

    1. Design for mobile first, but not mobile only.
    2. Make design elements large.
    3. Place important elements where people are already looking (e.g., top of page, top of lists).

    Easy to Understand (read more)

    1. Solve a problem the user already knows they have.
    2. Focus every element of the design on making that single, clear proposition available.
    3. Achieve simplicity through minimalism. Take something out.

    Easy To Relate To (read more)

    1. Use visual design and written copy to reflect an emotional state, aligning with that of your audience.

    Easy to picture (read more)

    1. Show, don't tell, the value of your proposition.
    2. Use imagery and concrete descriptions in written copy.
    3. Frame your communication as a vivid story.

    Accessible (read more)

    1. Design for the context in which your audience will experience your proposition, considering physical, cognitive, and any other limitations that might make your proposition less available to your audience (For example: time pressure, background noise, poor eyesight, low resolution screens…).
    2. Design for accessibility.

    Reciprocation (read more)

    1. Give before asking anything from your audience (e.g. a free gift, information, or service).
    2. Personalize your gift or service for the recipient.

    Consistency (read more)

    1. Ask your customer for a small, easily agreeable, action before a proceeding to a larger request.
    2. Encourage and facilitate your customer to express voluntary, active, and public commitment to your proposition (e.g., social endorsements, reviews, tweets).

    Social Proof (read more)

    1. Give evidence that your proposition is popular.
    2. Show that your customer's peers trust the proposition.

    Liking (read more)

    1. Connect your proposition to something or someone your customer already likes.
    2. Reflect characteristics of your customer, such as physical traits, gender, age, race, religion, nationality, interests, etc.

    Authority (read more)

    1. Show the basis of your authority, including expertise and recognized accomplishments.
    2. Show stamps of approval or certifications from recognized impartial authorities.

    Scarcity (read more)

    1. Frame your proposition to highlight what your audience stands to lose if they don't accept your offer.
    2. Emphasize the unique elements of your proposition. 
    3. Use limits on availability to create exclusivity, for example, stock or time limits, private access, distinctive styling, or new-to-market functionality.

    Value Relevance (read more)

    1. Project a set of well-defined and differentiated values; imprecise or generic values serve no purpose.
    2. Don't be afraid of a polarizing proposition. Nobody values insipid.

    Impression Relevance (read more)

    1. Highlight the power of your proposition to impress friends and frighten rivals.
    2. Use strong visual design to create and communicate status appeal.

    Outcome Relevance (read more)

    1. Connect your proposition to your customer's goals.
    2. Focus every aspect of the design on the outcome rather than the designed product.

    Intensity (read more)

    1. Create at least one intense moment of surprise, delight, intrigue or amusement for your user.
    2. Address your customer personally.
    3. Add performance metrics and displays to foster a sense of accountability.
    Again, please check out the related post on Customer Relationships.

    Please share this post. Please leave a comment, I'll reply. Thanks for reading!

    If your interests extend to theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.

    Nov 12, 2013

    The Limits of Decency

    Ongoing Fulfillment

    On the quest for your prince, you have to kiss a lot of frogs. It had been a many-frogged quest, but this one tasted royal. Ted had been dubious about getting involved with someone from Byelorussia; but step-by-step as he and Randi became involved he'd become convinced that the relationship was going to last. It wasn't a traditional arrangement but now Ted and Randi were making plans to formalize their commitment under the new state laws.
    This is the sixth and last in a series of posts for product managers seeking relationships. They start here.

    Business is about Relationships.

    Relationships have changed since your dad made his bones. People are experimenting with new forms of relationship, including some involving multiple parties. Traditional long-term-committed relationships are giving way to newer, service-based arrangements, including pay-as-you-gofreemium, and subscription. Free markets fill every hole.

    Traditionally, a substantial initial investment is required to formalize a relationship. The investment may take the form of a dowry, a wedding feast, a diamond, cash, or some other form. A service-based relationship typically requires less initial commitment; the relationship is structured to sustain itself transaction-by-transaction. On the whole, this is a healthier approach to relationships, but a purely transaction-based relationship risks becoming impersonal. The best providers add a level of personalization, which can be as simple as remembering your customer's name.

    Formal contractual relationships, such as marriage, create lock-in – an assurance that your partner plans to stay around. This gives the level of confidence needed to invest further in a relationship. In modern relationships, a shared mortgage often serves this same purpose. Children can also create lock-in, but many consider such practice unethical.

    Lock-in can be established by letting your partner leave their clothes at your apartment. Google also provides storage for its partner’s personal effects including email, photos, blog posts, etc. Google organizes and filters these stored belongings – the digital equivalent of doing their laundry and ironing. Countless mothers of university students will testify to the power of the laundry-based lock-in.

    A further advantage of storing your partner's personal effects is they provide insight into your partners’ tastes. This gives you a chance to delight your partner with an unexpected scarf that goes well with their new jacket, or to recommend a shop that has exactly what they like based on their purchase history. This is the sort of experience your rivals with less intimate knowledge of your partner cannot hope to match.

    Many service providers check their partners’ pockets to see where they've been, and where they might plan to go next. You may, for example, deduce from ticket stubs, business cards and other crumbs of evidence in your partners’ pockets, that your partner has been visiting jazz sites. You could offer to make a reservation at a nearby club.

    In more progressive relationships, intimate knowledge of multiple partners may allow you to combine all your interests. For example, the owner of the nearby jazz club might want to buy you lunch for slipping his menu into your other partner's mail. Google, Apple, and Amazon are leaders in this multi-sided business model approach.

    Checking pockets follows naturally from doing laundry, but many partners find checking pockets creepy. Healthy relationships require openness, so use discretion; but don’t cross the line between discretion and deceit. The best approach is to focus on providing benefit to your partner. The greater the benefit, the less your partner is likely to object.

    progressive relationships

    Traditionally, partners enter into a relationship taking responsibility for the financial maintenance of the relationship indefinitely, "for better or for worse". Newer, commitment-light forms of relationship come with new financial arrangements. The most common forms include freemiumpay-as-you-gosubscription, and multilateral, as well as hybrid models.

    In a freemium-style relationship, the basic proposition is free, but extras cost. Examples include Pandora (pay for ad-free music service), Skype (pay for calls outside the network), and exotic dancers (pay for lap dances). The principle is the premium relationships subsidise the free.

    Pay-as-you-go relationships require less commitment than traditional arrangements, but the cost per exchange is typically higher. Examples include iTunes, prepaid phone plans, and on-line dating site SWIRL. These relationships are attractive to partners for whom the advantage of low initial financial outlay outweighs the higher total expense over time.

    In a subscription-based relationship, one partner agrees to be available for the gratification of the other in exchange for a guarantee of return. The arrangement is renewed periodically, and usually automatically. Examples include Spotify, subscription phone plans, and many famous mistresses. Subscription relationships provide some of the stability and convenience of traditional arrangements, only with less commitment.

    Multilateral relationships are the most complex and interesting type of relationship. Examples include SoundCloud (users generate content, and some users pay for premium access to other users), Google Search (ads subsidise free users), and Big Sister Brothel) (customers use services for free, subsidised by paying internet-viewers). The dynamic of this type of relationship is like an ecosystem: one partner sustains another who sustains another in turn, in a symbiotic loop. A well-designed multilateral arrangement motivates all partners to contribute to its sustained success – and grows stronger as it scales up.

    Apple-y ever after

    The traditional, long-term, committed relationship is not dead. It's just harder. You may know someone in a successful marriage. Apple’s relationship with its customers is probably the best business example of a traditional arrangement. In return for a substantial up-front commitment, Apple will look after all your needs (within the limits of what Apple thinks is decent). Like happily married pipe-smoking patriarchs from a 1950’s TV sitcom, there's something smug and self-contented about Apple lovers. Or are they just hipsters?

    homo malum
    (latin: "apple man")
    Ideally, all relationships will proceed to the state of ongoing fulfillment. Regardless of the type of arrangement you make with your partners, all relationships finally depend on the continuing ability to provide mutual gratification, which in practice is specific to each individual relationship and cannot be generalized. This is your business.


    It's all about passion.

    In this era of Big Data, Search Engine Optimization, and real-time targeting, business people can lose sight of the basic truths of commerce. My purpose in this series of posts has been to show how, at its core, business is about relationships, and marketing is the oldest profession.

    These posts are an extended version of a presentation I made for Philips Design. Thanks to my ex-colleagues there, experts in bottom lines, digital penetration, and male grooming.

    Sincere thanks to my friends who commented on the draft version: A'na, Charlotte, Frank, June.

    Please share this post. If you comment, I'll reply. Thanks for reading!

    If your interests extend to theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.

    Nov 5, 2013

    Length Don't Matter


    Marshall wouldn't have been surprised if a spark had jumped the air between them. This was the moment of truth. But they just sat there, on the sofa, chatting about her day teaching kindergarten class. Neither of them made a move. Then, to their mutual surprise, Lily reached back and turned off the light. After a moment's hesitation, Marshall leaned in …and head-butted Lily in the nose. When the light went on again, blood and clothes scattered the lounge room. Marshall dabbed Lily's face clean with a warm sponge, they put the pillows back on the sofa, and they were back where they started, ready to do it again.
    This is the fifth in a series of posts for product managers seeking relationships. They start here.

    Marketing is the business of passionate relationships

    If all goes well, the moment will come when you are called to deliver on your promises –when you must perform. When that time comes, your goal should be to establish your performance indelibly in your partner's mind. Your performance must be memorable. Recent advances in science tell us how to do this.

    Length doesn't matter. The duration of an experience makes very little difference to memory. Research into the phenomenon of duration neglect shows your partner's memory of the experience is determined by only two factors: i) the quality and intensity of the climax, and ii) the concluding moments.

    play's the thing!
    Whether it’s a 3-act theatre performance or unexpected intercourse with a colleague over the ice machine at a team-building event, the human brain assembles all experiences into stories. Experiences are most memorable when they are already structured as stories.

    The timeless essence of memorable stories is visible in the narrative structure of Classical Drama. According to Aristotle, the function of Dramatic performance is catharsis, or release. In Classical narrative structure, the first part of the play builds to a release at the peak. The intensity of this climax can be enhanced by extending the fore-part of the play; but the duration of the foreplay is not important in itself, only the intensity of the climax.

    The post-climactic phase of falling action, or resolution, tidies up any loose ends to provide a reassuring sense of closure. Modern dramatists prefer to keep the resolution phase as brief as possible, just long enough to put the tissues away. The emotional tone of this concluding phase will color the audience's future memory of the performance. This is why movies so often end with an up-beat song, and news articles with a pithy witticism.

    Classical wisdom and modern science agree: the structure of your performance is critical. A strong climax and a reassuring resolution will leave your partners begging for an encore.

    next post: the limits of decency

    Thanks for reading! If you comment, I'll reply. Please share this post.

    If your interests extend to theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.

    Oct 29, 2013

    Safe Sects


    Chloe looked like the perfect match. Mid-30s, curvy, almond-eyed, fit (good shoulders), her ideal job a combination of circus performer and archaeologist. A writer, she wanted a man “who could make her laugh, slow dance, and read her between the lines." Marshall shifted his laptop. Was it too good to be true? He'd been disappointed in the past. Why was the photo so closely cropped? The last woman he'd met online had been using her younger, obviously adopted, sister's photo. ... And then there was the Wiccan. He’d ended up spending more time getting advice from his friend Ted than talking with his new date.
    This is the fourth in a series of posts for product managers seeking relationships.  They start here.

    Marketing is seduction.

    We all know someone who brought a promising new relationship into their life, only to spend more time talking to telephone support people than enjoying the benefits. Perhaps you were the one they called. It's a painful experience. Disappointment is so much worse when you are already in love; so most prospective partners hold back at first. People want to think things over before making a commitment.

    It's common today for people to research online, so it's important your proposition is able to stand up to scrutiny. Common factors influencing belief in your proposition include: familyconnectionsword-of-mouth, and dates.


    People often look to brand or family as a mark of quality. The DNA of a proposition gives a generally reliable indication of quality, reliability, lifespan, and graceful aging. Family is also related to connectedness. It helps to be a Kennedy.


    Those from less prestigious families may be consoled to know that many of the advantages of brand can still be gained through connections. Connectedness is within reach of all hopeful partners-to-be, and can be obtained by joining a connectivity platform. These come in many forms, including dating sites, social networks, organized religions, and product ecosystems. Whatever the form, connectivity platforms make hooking up easier.

    Some connectivity platforms are easier to join than others. Judaism, for example, is difficult, requiring several years and much study to join. In contrast, joining the American National Rifle Association (NRA), is a straightforward matter of a few forms and a small fee, easily done on-line. For prospective partners, your participation in a connectivity platform is a mark of your underlying character.

    Some connectivity platforms are more open than others. Closed platforms provide a more consistent experience, taking away basic, day-to-day concerns, allowing you to enjoy higher-level value. For example, The Church of Bible Understanding, asks members to break off communication with their families and external friends, in order to achieve peace. Similarly, Apple restricts your ability to connect with products belonging to the Android ecosystem. Think carefully before choosing to join a closed platform. The tradeoff for easier hook-up is often a smaller pool of prospective partners, and some loss of autonomy.

    Many people find they covet services unavailable within their home ecosystem; and many enterprising business people make their livings helping people "hook up on the side," despite the fact that doing so often violates ecosystem agreements.


    The recommendation of someone you trust can convince a prospective customer to take the next step. For example, a blind date arranged by a friend can ignite a relationship that would otherwise not have started. A good reader review on Amazon can lead you to read a book you would otherwise not have opened.

    The stamp of approval from a recognized authority can also close the deal. Just as many people will only buy toothpaste certified by a professional dental organization, many prefer books that have won a literary prize. An endorsement by Oprah can turn a book into a bestseller. Many will only enter a serious relationship after their mother approves the prospective partner.

    It's good if you can get on TV. Appearing in any public media stands as social endorsement in the eyes of prospective partners.


    Try-before-you-buy is a traditional part of the partner on-boarding process – a time-proven way to build belief. It's an opportunity for prospective customers to take you home and see how you work. Try-before-you-buy lets your partners get familiar with what you have to offer, in a variety of situations, at their own pace.

    Don't be dreamy-eyed. Unscrupulous customers may take advantage of your generosity without limit, with no intention of actual engagement. Set clear limits regarding what's on offer and for how long. Successful relationships are two-way streets. At the first sign that a customer isn't serious about moving into an engaged relationship, fire them. They're wasting your time.

    next post: length don't matter

    Please share this post. If you comment, I'll reply. Thanks for reading!

    If your interests extend to theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.

    Oct 22, 2013



    The first thing Robin noticed was his cologne. Across the room, she could see the fit young man holding a bottle of champagne, hair waxed erect on his head. He looked like a racecar driver on the winner’s podium, only younger, musclier, and from Bollywood. Robin was definitely attracted. She had heard of the band on his well-fitting T-shirt, "MILF". Maybe they could go to a concert. But what would her friends say about the tattoo on his neck ... and the 20-year age difference? No, it would be more trouble than it was worth. ...was that a tongue stud? Robin took another sip of her single malt whiskey and tuned back in to the conversation she was having with the dapper marketing professional who, if she thought about it, looked a bit like George Clooney, only in red pants and pointy brown shoes.
    This is the third in a series of posts for product managers seeking relationships. They start here.

    Do you have the customers you deserve?

    Once you've got the attention of a prospective partner, will you be able to maintain their interest? Or will their gaze roll off you like tears down MAC waterproof foundation? To sustain the attention of a prospective partner, you must convey a compelling promise of things to come. The content of your promise will depend on the quirks of the prospective partners you seek engagement with.

    Prospective partners are often concerned with compatibility: does your proposition fit well with the other parts of their established ecosystem? Will hook-up be trouble-free? Will information transfer be uncomplicated? Will mother approve? These can be deal breakers. Your promise should reassure as well as entice.

    Qualities inappropriate for longer-term relationships are, inconveniently, often the most attractive. So explicit promises can be counterproductive. Although an explicit proposition may catch your prospective partner's eye, they will usually turn away after an instant because, in the long run, "cheap and cheerful" propositions too often turn out to be "stupid and noisy."

    Subtlety is required. Implicit promises hint at more complex satisfactions in store, if your prospective partner is willing to invest. An implicit promise is more likely to lead to engagement.

    Explicit is mind-numbing

    Implicit is intriguing
    Implicit propositions engage the imagination and arouse interest. Although implicitly suggestive propositions may not turn as many heads as overt ones, they are more effective in engaging eligible customers (the type you want to have a long term relationship with), and carrying them through to the next level of commitment.

    next post: safe sects

    Please share this post. If you comment, I'll reply. Thanks for reading!

    If your interests extend to theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.

    Oct 15, 2013

    Turnover and Churn


    Naomi came to the party dressed as slut; but it wasn't working. Plus, she was cold. Most of the other guests wouldn’t even hold eye contact with her. Only the drunks came to talk to her, and so far, none of them had been able to hold a conversation. Even the women were avoiding her. The guy who brought her was deep in conversation with Snow White. This wasn’t working out.
    This is the second in a series of posts for product managers seeking relationships. Go to the first.

    Your customers are your partners.

    First rule of Attraction: be in the right place at the right time. All things being equal, you will be more compellingly attractive to a prospective partner when you are standing within grasp in front of them than, say, away doing charity work in Mali. As the song says, "you gotta love the one you're with".

    Where you should be, exactly, depends on who you are trying to attract. The first step towards long-term rewarding relationships involves careful thinking about the type of partner you are looking for.

    Do you have a specific type of partner in mind? …Or will you solicit anyone and everyone? The latter may seem like your only choice if what you have to offer is cheap and not much different from what others have to offer. (In some parts of Australia, this latter approach is known as "the town bike.") But an unfocussed approach is usually counter-productive over time. You will work hard, with little to hold on to after each exchange. Expect high rates of turnover and churn. The big numbers may impress your competitors and colleagues, but you won't be any better off. No one is going to get engaged.

    Many entrepreneurs thrive happily in high-churn markets; however, relationships you develop with your partners in such an environment will be superficial and fleeting, leaving you vulnerable to new entrants. Don't expect loyalty from your partners when the next attractive new kid shows up on the block.

    If you do find yourself unhappily moving constantly between high traffic venues in search of new partners, then don't despair. You can change your situation. Take a step back from the daily beat and think about your partners. Do some of them have specialized needs that are not well served by your competitors? Partners with particular desires will value your specialized attention more highly, and you will have fewer competitors. Perhaps you could focus on them. These partners will be looking for someone like you.

    In marketing speak: better segmentation leads to better penetration.

    next post: promiscuity

    Please share this post. If you comment, I'll reply. Thanks for reading!

    If your interests extend to theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.

    Oct 8, 2013

    How I Met Your Customer

    Market like a Pro

    Barney was not getting lucky. He had mastered the principles of The Game, targeting high volumes of prospective partners with carefully crafted campaigns, across multiple venues, including dating sites and "pop-ups" in popular local drinking establishments. The approach yielded a low yet consistent percentage of partners, but with more than enough conversions to keep him at it full time. In fact, he was performing at slightly above capacity – but quality was beginning to suffer. Despite his success, he was unsatisfied. Barney felt he deserved more.
    This is the first in a series of posts for product managers seeking relationships.

    An engineer friend was interested in music. He studied waveforms, frequencies, harmonics and notation. Sorry to say, his music sucked. Because Music is not analytical, it is about human emotion. Marketeers make the same mistake when they get lost in Search Engine Optimization, big data, segmentation, and analytics. Why? Because, like Music, Marketing is about emotions. More specifically, Marketing is about human relationships.

    What's the best way to establish a lasting relationship? Look at how people are hooking up around you. The cultural practices surrounding courtship and marriage have evolved over generations. They contain the accumulated wisdom of the ages on how to build long-lasting, rewarding human relationships. This series of posts will look at marketing through the lens of a modern marketeer seeking to hook up.

    Consider human relationships as partnerships. Lasting partnerships are built on a mutual and sustainable exchange of value. In life partnerships such as marriage, the currency of exchange includes empathy, understanding, comfort, social status, money, physical comfort. In Business, your customer is your partner, and the currency of exchange is the same, only with more emphasis on money.

    Propositional Logic

    Marketing is about selling yourself.
    Relationships can be understood in terms of the 4P’s: People Propositioning Prospective Partners. The concept of proposition is central to this formulation, and the least familiar to most marketeers. Consider what proposition means at the various stages of a relationship:

    1. Attraction

    In the very early stages of a relationship, even before that first twinkle in the eye, proposition equals attraction. Your chances of any relationship depend on your being noticed, which depends on your attractiveness. more here.

    2. Promise

    Once you have caught the eye of your potential customer, your proposition amounts to the promise of benefits to come. more here.

    3. Belief

    To tempt your customer, your proposition must hold up to scrutiny – it must be believable. To get to the next stage, you must convince your prospective customer of your authentic good faith and ability to deliver. more here.

    4. Performance

    When your prospective customer decides to go with you, your proposition becomes a matter of performance. Simply delivering what you promised is not enough. If you want to see your customer again, you must also surprise and delight. more here.

    5. Fulfillment

    If all goes well, you and your partner will progress to the final, enduring, phase of your relationship: ongoing fulfillment. more here.

    Future posts will examine in explicit detail what happens when love and commerce intertwine.

    next post: turnover and churn

    Thanks for reading! Please share this post.
    Comments invited.

    If your interests extend to theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.

    Oct 1, 2013

    One Direction


    A distracting image (DigitalCirce)
    Kim watches The Verge videos for the tech news. Tony watches them for the hairstyles. Understanding the direction of involvement can give insight into why your proposition is succeeding or failing.

    Direction: the focus or target of involvement.

    For example, a user’s involvement in an RSS newsreader, such as Flipboard, or Feedly, may be directed toward:
    If customers say they love your app, but no one uses it, you may have misdirected your design efforts. An engaging user interface should not distract from the core value of the proposition. Nor will a beautiful design will not compensate for an irrelevant proposition; an approach known in the trade as lipstick on a pig. Your job as a designer is to help your customer get the most value out of the proposition. Sometimes, to get the most value out of your pig, you need to be a butcher, not a makeup artist*.
    Flipboard's beautiful user experience
    The concept of direction of involvement is useful to help understand the user experience, and therefore where to focus your design efforts. Often, as was the case for the designers of Google Chrome, the best
    design decision is not be the object of involvement:
    "We want the browser to feel like a natural extension of your will. It should feel fluid and delightful. It's about getting you to the information you need, not about driving a piece of software." (Chromium Project Core Principles)
    A beautiful user experience may be engaging in itself; but the beauty should line up with the core proposition, not distract from it. For example, beautiful user experience is the core appeal of Flipboard, but content is still at the center of the experience. Any design solution that takes the direction of attention away from the content of the RSS feeds would undermine the proposition, rather than enhance it.

    Bottom line

    • Design and proposition are a unity. They must not go in different directions.
    • The concept of direction of involvement gives insight into user experience, and is useful to set design priorities.
    • Understand the direction of your user’s involvement, and use your design to keep it focussed on your core proposition.
    This is the final post in a series on Design for Customer Engagement. I'm planning a new series on the amazing similarities between Marketeers and the Sex Workers. Stay tuned!

    Did I miss the point? Take the conversation in a new direction: Leave a comment below. Please engage.

    If your interests extend to theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.

    * No pigs were inappropriately attended to in the making of this article.

    Sep 24, 2013

    Crafting Memories


    The persistence of tattoos
    Persistence: the length of time in the state of engagement, usually expressed as enduring or situational.

    The subjective state of engagement has three main properties (Andrews, Durvasula et al. 1990; Lawson and Loudon 1996; Wirth 2006): intensity, persistence, and duration. This post discusses persistence.

    Persistence of customer engagement is related to relevance (based on Interests, Values, Impressions or Outcomes, as discussed in other posts). For example, a wine connoisseur's interest in wine is enduring -- he will find the notes of graphite, black currant liqueur, incense, and camphor in a bottle of 2006 Chateau Malescot St. Exupery lastingly engaging. A habitual beer drinker's interest in wine is likely to be situational -- she will stop thinking about the taste after the first few mouthfuls.

    Value- or interest-relevant propositions are more likely to be enduringly engaging. Impression- or outcome-relevant propositions are more likely to be situationally engaging.

    Novelty often fades fast.
    A proposition may be intentionally designed to be either enduringly or situationally engaging. Hospital way-finding systems (signage), for example, are designed for situational engagement; they do the job and are then forgotten. A luxury watch, in contrast, is designed to connect with enduring aspirations and values. It does more than tell time.

    Persistence of engagement is related to memorability.
    Research into the phenomenon of duration neglect shows memory of an experience is determined by only two factors:

    • the quality of the highest moment of intensity (discussed in the previous post) during the experience, and 
    • the concluding moments of the experience. 

    So, to craft a happy memory of an experience, designers should create a moment of high positive intensity, and a pleasant conclusion. This applies even when designing a first use experience (aka, "out-of-the-box," "first use," "unpacking," or "onboarding").
    way-finding systems are situationally engaging

    In practice, this means that less engaging (often lengthy) parts of the experience, such as filling in a form or indexing files, should be situated early or mid-experience, and offset with a moment of humor, personal encouragement, or quantified achievement (see the previous post for the mechanics of intensity). The conclusion of your customer's experience should be differentiated from the rest of the experience -- so to be untainted by any preceding unpleasantness -- and emotionally positive in tone. This is why movies usually end with an upbeat song: your memory of the movie is more positive when you walk out of the cinema singing.

    Bottom line

    • For enduring customer engagement, make sure your proposition is personally relevant to your customer (via Interests, Values, Impressions or Outcomes).
    • To engineer a strong memory of your proposition, design to create a moment of high positive intensity, and an emotionally positive conclusion.

    Did I get it in the box? Before you forget, leave a comment below. Please engage.

    This post is part of a series on Design for Customer Engagement.

    If your interests extend to theory and philosophy, please check out my other blog.