On Don’t Make Think

I recently finished reading Don’t Make Me Think – A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability – by Steve Krug.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found to be insightful:

But when I’m looking at a page that makes me think, all the thought balloons over my head have question marks in them. When you’re creating a site, your job is to get rid of the question marks.

We don’t read pages. We scan them…We’re usually in a hurry…We know we don’t need to read everything…We’re good at it.

We don’t make optimal choices. We satisfice…We’re usually in a hurry…There’s not much of a penalty for guessing wrong…Weighing options may not improve our chances…Guessing is more fun.

there are five important things you can do to make sure they see—and understand—as much of your site as possible: Create a clear visual hierarchy on each page…Take advantage of conventions…Break pages up into clearly defined areas…Make it obvious what’s clickable…Minimize noise.

If the page is well designed, when your vision clears you should be able to answer these questions without hesitation: What site is this? (Site ID)…What page am I on? (Page name)…What are the major sections of this site? (Sections)…What are my options at this level? (Local navigation)…Where am I in the scheme of things? (“You are here” indicators)…How can I search?

The point is, it’s not productive to ask questions like “Do most people like pulldown menus?” The right kind of question to ask is “Does this pulldown, with these items and this wording in this context on this page create a good experience for most people who are likely to use this site?” And there’s really only one way to answer that kind of question: testing. You have to use the collective skill, experience, creativity, and common sense of the team to build some version of the thing (even a crude version), then watch ordinary people carefully as they try to figure out what it is and how to use it. There’s no substitute for it.

Things that diminish goodwill…Hiding information that I want…Punishing me for not doing things your way…Asking me for information you don’t really need…Shucking and jiving me…Putting sizzle in my way…Your site looks amateurish.

Things that increase goodwill…Know the main things that people want to do on your site and make them obvious and easy…Tell me what I want to know…Save me steps wherever you can…Put effort into it…now what questions I’m likely to have, and answer them…provide me with creature comforts like printer-friendly pages…Make it easy to recover from errors…When in doubt, apologize.

On a closing note:

But the things I’m talking- about here are generally very bad practices, and you shouldn’t be doing any of them unless (a) you really know what you’re doing. (b) you have a darned good reason, and (c) you actually are going to test it when you’re done to make sure you’ve managed to make it work; you’re not just going to intend to test it.

A highly recommended read in the areas of usability and user experience.


On The Power Of Habit

I chose to read The Power Of Habit by Charles Duhigg, given my inherent belief in the power of habits and also the strong review/ratings this book has received. Let me start by saying this book did not disappoint in delivering both in terms of content and delivery.

There are three parts to this work, as summarized by Charles, that cover the power of habits in three contexts from the most specific (individual) to the most general (society):

This book is divided into three parts. The first section focuses on how habits emerge within individual lives. It explores the neurology of habit formation, how to build new habits and change old ones, and the methods, for instance, that one ad man used to push toothbrushing from an obscure practice into a national obsession…The second part examines the habits of successful companies and organizationsThe third part looks at the habits of societies. It recounts how Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement succeeded, in part, by changing the ingrained social habits of Montgomery, Alabama—and why a similar focus helped a young pastor named Rick Warren build the nation’s largest church in Saddleback Valley, California. Finally, it explores thorny ethical questions, such as whether a murderer in Britain should go free if he can convincingly argue that his habits led him to kill. Each chapter revolves around a central argument: Habits can be changed, if we understand how they work.

Recent research in neurology and psychology has allowed us to advance our understanding of habits and their impact on our lives:

In the past decade, our understanding of the neurology and psychology of habits and the way patterns work within our lives, societies, and organizations has expanded in ways we couldn’t have imagined fifty years ago. We now know why habits emerge, how they change, and the science behind their mechanics. We know how to break them into parts and rebuild them to our specifications. We understand how to make people eat less, exercise more, work more efficiently, and live healthier lives. Transforming a habit isn’t necessarily easy or quick. It isn’t always simple. But it is possible. And now we understand how.

Habits are necessary shortcuts for our brains:

But that internalization—run straight, hang a left, eat the chocolate—relied upon the basal ganglia, the brain probes indicated. This tiny, ancient neurological structure seemed to take over as the rat ran faster and faster and its brain worked less and less. The basal ganglia was central to recalling patterns and acting on them. The basal ganglia, in other words, stored habits even while the rest of the brain went to sleep…Millions of people perform this intricate ballet every morning, unthinkingly, because as soon as we pull out the car keys, our basal ganglia kicks in, identifying the habit we’ve stored in our brains related to backing an automobile into the street. Once that habit starts unfolding, our gray matter is free to quiet itself or chase other thoughts, which is why we have enough mental capacity to realize that Jimmy forgot his lunchbox inside. Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often.

Habits are a process loop consisting of three steps a cues, a trigger and a reward:

This process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future. Over time, this loop—cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward—becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges…Researchers have learned that cues can be almost anything, from a visual trigger such as a candy bar or a television commercial to a certain place, a time of day, an emotion, a sequence of thoughts, or the company of particular people. Routines can be incredibly complex or fantastically simple (some habits, such as those related to emotions, are measured in milliseconds). Rewards can range from food or drugs that cause physical sensations, to emotional payoffs, such as the feelings of pride that accompany praise or self-congratulation.

Marketing was among the first functions to leverage the power of the habit from a commercial perspective:

“I made for myself a million dollars on Pepsodent,” Hopkins wrote a few years after the product appeared on shelves. The key, he said, was that he had “learned the right human psychology.” That psychology was grounded in two basic rules: First, find a simple and obvious cue. Second, clearly define the rewards. If you get those elements right, Hopkins promised, it was like magic…And those same principles have been used to create thousands of other habits—often without people realizing how closely they are hewing to Hopkins’s formula.

Sport teams/coaching leverage habits as well:

“Champions don’t do extraordinary things,” Dungy would explain. “They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react. They follow the habits they’ve learned.”

How can we effectively change a habit? The golden rule of habit change:

His coaching (Dungy) strategy embodied an axiom, a Golden Rule of habit change that study after study has shown is among the most powerful tools for creating change. Dungy recognized that you can never truly extinguish bad habits. Rather, to change a habit, you must keep the old cue, and deliver the old reward, but insert a new routine. That’s the rule: If you use the same cue, and provide the same reward, you can shift the routine and change the habit. Almost any behavior can be transformed if the cue and reward stay the same

The other key ingredient to successfully changing a habit? Belief:

It wasn’t God that mattered, the researchers figured out. It was belief itself that made a difference. Once people learned how to believe in something, that skill started spilling over to other parts of their lives, until they started believing they could change. Belief was the ingredient that made a reworked habit loop into a permanent behavior.

What about for changing corporate habits? The key there is to tackle a keystone habit that sets a chain reaction of changes:

‘I knew I had to transform Alcoa,” O’Neill told me. “But you can’t order people to change – That’s not how the brain works. So I decided I was going to start by focusing on one thing. If I could start disrupting the habits around one thing, it would spread throughout the entire company.” O’Neill believed that some habits have the power to start a chain reaction, changing other habits as they move through an organization. Some habits, in other words, matter more than others in remaking businesses and lives. These are “keystone habits,” and they can influence how people work, eat, play, live, spend, and communicate. Keystone habits start a process that, over time, transforms everything…If you focus on changing or cultivating keystone habits, you can cause widespread shifts. However, identifying keystone habits is tricky. To find them, you have to know where to look. Detecting keystone habits means searching out certain characteristics. Keystone habits offer what is known within academic literature as “small wins.” They help other habits to flourish by creating new structures, and they establish cultures where change becomes contagious.

Corporate habits are necessary shortcuts, just as our individual ones are for our brains:

Or, put in language that people use outside of theoretical economics, it may seem like most organizations make rational choices based on deliberate decision making, but that’s not really how companies operate at all. Instead, firms are guided by long-held organizational habits, patterns that often emerge from thousands of employees’ independent decisions. And these habits have more profound impacts than anyone previously understood…These organizational habits—or “routines,” as Nelson and Winter called them—are enormously important, because without them, most companies would never get any work done. Routines provide the hundreds of unwritten rules that companies need to operate. They allow workers to experiment with new ideas without having to ask for permission at every step.

In some cases, a crisis is needed to remake or changes some of these organizational habits:

Good leaders seize crises to remake organizational habits…In fact, crises are such valuable opportunities that a wise leader often prolongs a sense of emergency on purpose.

On social movements, and the role of habits to make them self-propelling and help them achieve critical mass:

A movement starts because of the social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances. It grows because of the habits of a community, and the weak ties that hold neighborhoods and clans together. And it endures because a movement’s leaders give participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership. Usually only when all three parts of this process are fulfilled can a movement become self-propelling and reach a critical mass. There are other recipes for successful social change and hundreds of details that differ between eras and struggles. But understanding how social habits work helps explain why Montgomery and Rosa Parks became the catalyst for a civil rights crusade.

On a concluding note:

Habits are not as simple as they appear. As I’ve tried to demonstrate throughout this book, habits—even once they are rooted in our minds—aren’t destiny. We can choose our habits, once we know how. Everything we know about habits, from neurologists studying amnesiacs and organizational experts remaking companies, is that any of them can be changed, if you understand how they function. Hundreds of habits influence our days—they guide how we get dressed in the morning, talk to our kids, and fall asleep at night; they impact what we eat for lunch, how we do business, and whether we exercise or have a beer after work. Each of them has a different cue and offers a unique reward. Some are simple and others are complex, drawing upon emotional triggers and offering subtle neurochemical prizes. But every habit, no matter its complexity, is malleable. The most addicted alcoholics can become sober. The most dysfunctional companies can transform themselves. A high school dropout can become a successful manager. However, to modify a habit, you must decide to change it. You must consciously accept the hard work of identifying the cues and rewards that drive the habits’ routines, and find alternatives. You must know you have control and be self-conscious enough to use it—and every chapter in this book is devoted to illustrating a different aspect of why that control is real.

A must read book, and quoting Daniel H. Pink‘s advance praise of it – “Once you read this book, you’ll never look at yourself, your organization, or your world quite the same way.”

On Steve Jobs

I recently finished reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “I always thought of myself as a humanities person as a kid, but I liked electronics,” he said. “Then I read something that one of my heroes, Edwin Land of Polaroid, said about the importance of people who could stand at the intersection of humanities and sciences, and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.” It was as if he were suggesting themes for his biography (and in this instance, at least, the theme turned out to be valid). The creativity that can occur where both the humanities and the sciences combine in one strong personality was the topic that most interested me in my biographies of Franklin and Einstein, and I believe that it will be a key to creating innovative economies in the twenty-first century.”

2- “His wife also did not request restrictions or control, nor did she ask to see in advance what I would publish. In fact she strongly encouraged me to be honest about his failings as well as his strengths. She is one of the smartest and most grounded people I have ever met. “There are parts of his life and personality that are extremely messy. and that’s the truth,” she told me early on. “You shouldn’t whitewash it. He’s good at spin, but he also has a remarkable story, and I’d like to see that it’s all told truthfully” I leave it to the reader to assess whether I have succeeded in this mission. I’m sure there are players in this drama who will remember some of the events differently or think that I sometimes got trapped in Jobs’s distortion field.”

3- “Jobs said that his appreciation for Eichler homes instilled in him a passion for making nicely designed products for the mass market. I Jove it when you can bring really great design and simple capability to something that doesn’t cost much,” he said as he pointed out the clean elegance of the houses. “It was the original vision for Apple. That’s what we tried to do with the first Mac. That’s what we did with the iPod.””

4- “The Blue Box adventure established a template for a partnership that would soon be born. Wozniak would be the gentle wizard coming up with a neat invention that he would have been happy just to give away. and Jobs would figure out how to make it user-friendly, put it together in a package, market it, and make a few bucks.”

5- “Coming back to America was, for me, much more of a cultural shock than going to India. The people in the Indian countryside don’t use their intellect like we do, they use their intuition instead, and their intuition is far more developed than in the rest of the world. Intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.”

6- “Jobs is a complex person, he said, and being manipulative is just the darker facet of the traits that make him successful. Wozniak would never have been that way, but as he points out, he also could never have built Apple. “I would rather let it pass,” he said when I pressed the point. “It’s not something I want to judge Steve by.””

7- “Apple. It was a smart choice. The word instantly signaled friendliness and simplicity. It managed to be both slightly off-beat and as normal as a slice of pie. There was a whiff of counterculture, back-to-nature earthiness to it, yet nothing could be more American. And the two words together—Apple Computer—provided an amusing disjuncture. ”

8- “Jobs’s father had once taught him that a drive for perfection meant caring about the craftsmanship even of the parts unseen. Jobs applied that to the layout of the circuit board inside the Apple II. He rejected the initial design because the lines were not straight enough. This passion for perfection led him to indulge his instinct to control. Most hackers and hobbyists liked to customize, modify, and jack various things into their computers. To Jobs, this was a threat to a seamless end-to-end user experience.”

9- “Markkula would become a father figure to Jobs. Like Jobs’s adoptive father, he would indulge Jobs’s strong will, and like his biological father, he would end up abandoning him. “Markkula was as much a father-son relationship as Steve ever had,” said the venture capitalist Arthur Rock. He began to teach Jobs about marketing and sales. “Mike really took me under his wing,” Jobs recalled. “His values were much aligned with mine. He emphasized that you should never start a company with the goal of getting rich. Your goal should be making something you believe in and making a company that will last.””

10- “Was Jobs’s unfiltered behavior caused by a lack of emotional sensitivity? No. Almost the opposite. He was very emotionally attuned. able to read people and know their psychological strengths and vulnerabilities. He could stun an unsuspecting: victim with an emotional towel-snap, perfectly aimed. He intuitively knew when someone was faking it or truly knew something. This made him masterful at cajoling, stroking, persuading, flattering, and intimidating people.”

11- “But even though Jobs’s style could be demoralizing, it could also be oddly inspiring. It infused Apple employees with an abiding passion to create groundbreaking products and a belief that they could accomplish what seemed impossible.”

12- “The best products, he believed, were “whole widgets” that were designed end-to-end, with the software closely tailored to the hardware and vice versa. This is what would distinguish the Macintosh, which had an operating system that worked only on its own hardware, from the environment that Microsoft was creating, in which its operating system could be used on hardware made by many different companies.”

13- “Their differences in personality and character would lead them to opposite sides of what would become the fundamental divide in the digital age. Jobs was a perfectionist who craved control and indulged in the uncompromising temperament of an artist; he and Apple became the exemplars of a digital strategy that tightly integrated hardware. software, and content into a seamless package. Gates was a smart, calculating, and pragmatic analyst of business and technology; he was )pen to licensing Microsoft’s operating system and software to a variety of manufacturers.”

14- “I’ll always stay connected with Apple. I hope that throughout my life I’ll sort of have the thread of my life and the thread of Apple weave in and out of each other, like a tapestry. There may be a few years when I’m not there, but I’U always come back. If you want to live your life in a creative way, as an artist, you have to not look back too much. You have to be willing to take whatever you’ve done and whoever you were and throw them away. The more the outside world tries to reinforce an image of you, the harder it is to continue to be an artist, which is why a lot of times. artists have to say. “Bye. I have to go now. I’m going crazy and I’m getting out of here.” And they go and hibernate somewhere. Maybe later they re-emerge a little differently.”

15- “Jobs sometimes avoided the truth. Helmut Sonnenfeldt once said of Henry Kissinger, “He lies not because it’s in his interest. he lies because it’s in his nature.” It was in Jobs’s nature to mislead or be secretive when he felt it was warranted. But he also indulged in being brutally honest at times, telling the truths that most of us sugarcoat or suppress. Both the dissembling and the truth-telling were simply different aspects of his Nietzschean attitude that ordinary rules didn’t apply to him.”

16- “For all of his willfulness and insatiable desire to control things. Jobs was indecisive and reticent when he felt unsure about something. He craved perfection, and he was not always good at figuring out how to settle for something less. He did not like to wrestle with complexity or make accommodations. This was true in products, design, and furnishings for the house. It was also true when it came to personal for the house. It was also true when it came to personal commitments. If he knew for sure a course of action was right. he was unstoppable. But if he had doubts, he sometimes withdrew, preferring not to think about things that did not perfectly suit him.”

17- “Ever since he left the apple commune, Jobs had defined himself and by extension Apple, as a child of the counterculture. In ads such as “Think Different” and “1984,” he positioned the Apple brand so that it reaffirmed his own rebel streak, even after he became a billionaire, and it allowed other baby boomers and their kids to do the same. “From when I first met him as a young guy, he’s had the greatest of the impact he wants his brand to have on people,” said Clow. Very few other companies or corporate leaders—perhaps none— could have gotten away with the brilliant audacity of associating their brand with Gandhi, Einstein, Picasso, and the Dalai Lama. Jobs was able to encourage people to define themselves as anti-corporate, creative. innovative rebels simply by the computer they used. “Steve created the only lifestyle brand in the tech industry,” Larry Ellison said. “There are cars people are proud to have—Porsche, Ferrari, Prius—because what I drive says something about me. People feel the same way about an Apple product.”

18- “One of his motivating passions was to build a lasting company. At age twelve, when he got a summer job at Hewlett-Packard, he learned that a properly run company could spawn innovation far more than any single creative individual. “I discovered that the best innovation is sometimes the company, the way you organize a company,” he recalled. “The whole notion of how you build a company is fascinating. When I got the chance to come back to Apple, I realized that I would be useless without the company, and that’s why I decided to stay and rebuild it.”

19- “Why do we assume that simple is good? Because with physical products. we have to feel we can dominate them. As you bring order to complexity, you find a way to make the product defer to you. Simplicity isn’t just a -visual style. It’s not just minimalism or the absence of clutter. X involves digging through the depth of the complexity. To be truly simple, you have to go really deep. For example, to have no screws on something, you can end up having a product that is so convoluted and so complex. The better way is to go deeper with the simplicity, to understand everything about it and how it’s manufactured. You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential.”

20- “Despite his autocratic nature—he never worshiped at the altar of consensus—Jobs worked hard to foster a culture of collaboration at Apple. Many companies pride themselves on having few meetings. Jobs had many.”

21- “”From the earliest days at Apple, I realized that we thrived when we created intellectual property. If people copied or stole our software, we’d be out of business. If it weren’t protected, there’d be no incentive for us to make new software or product designs. If protection of intellectual property begins to disappear, creative companies will disappear or never get Started. But there’s a simpler reason: It’s wrong to steal. It hurts other people. And it hurts your own character.” He knew, however, that the best way to stop piracy—in fact the only way—was to offer an alternative that was more attractive than the brain-dead services that music companies were concocting.”

22- “But Sony couldn’t. It had pioneered portable music with the Walkman, it had a great record company, and it had a long history of making beautiful consumer devices. It had all of the assets to compete with Jobs’s Strategy of integration of hardware, software, devices, and content sales. Why did it fail? Partly because it was a company, like AOL Time Warner that was organized into divisions (that word itself was ominous) with their own bottom lines; the goal of achieving synergy in such companies by prodding the divisions to work together was usually elusive. Jobs did not organize Apple into semi-autonomous divisions; he closely controlled all of his teams and pushed them to work as one cohesive and flexible company, with one profit-and-loss bottom fine. “We don’t have ‘divisions’ with their own P&L,” said Tim Cook. “We run one P&L for the company.””

23- “Despite being- a denizen of the digital world, or maybe because he knew all too well its isolating potential, Jobs was a strong believer in face-to-face meetings. “There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat,” he said. “That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.” So he had the Pixar building- designed to promote encounters and unplanned collaborations. “If a building doesn’t encourage that, you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity,” he said. “So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.””

24- “Jobs insisted that Apple focus on just two or three priorities at a time. “There is no one better at turning off the noise that is going on around him,” Cook said. “That allows him to focus on a few things and say no to many things. Few people are really good at that.” In order to institutionalize the lessons that he and his team were learning. Jobs started an in-house center called Apple University. He hired Joel Podolny, who was dean of the Yale School of Management, to compile a series of case studies analyzing important decisions the company had made, including the switch to the Intel microprocessor and the decision to open the Apple Stores. Top executives spent time teaching the cases to new employees, so that the Apple style of decision making would be embedded in the culture.”

25- “”Steve has a particular way that he wants to run Apple, and it’s the same as it was twenty years ago, which is that Apple is a brilliant innovator of closed systems.” Schmidt later told me. “They don’t want people to be on their platform without permission. The benefits of a closed platform is control. But Google has a specific belief that open is the better approach, because it leads to more options and competition and consumer choice.””

26- “The nasty edge to his personality was not necessary. It hindered him more than it helped him. But it did, at times, serve a purpose. Polite and velvety leaders, who take care to avoid bruising others, are generally not as effective at forcing change. Dozens of the colleagues whom Jobs most abused ended their litany of horror stories by saying that he got them to do things they never dreamed possible. And he created a corporation crammed with A players.”

27- “The saga of Steve Jobs is the Silicon Valley creation myth writ large: launching a start-up in his parents’ garage and building it into the world’s most valuable company. He didn’t invent many things outright. but he was a master at putting together ideas, art, and technology in ways that invented the feature. He designed the Mac after appreciating the power of graphical interfaces in a way that Xerox was unable to do. and he created the iPod after grasping the joy of having a thousand in your pocket in a way that Sony, which had all the assets and heritage, never could accomplish. Some leaders push innovations by being good at the big picture. Others do so by mastering details. Jobs did both, relentlessly. As a result he launched a series of products over three decades that transformed whole industries…”

28- “Was he smart? No, not exceptionally. Instead, he was a genius. His imaginative leaps were instinctive, unexpected, and at times magical. He was, indeed, an example of what the mathematician Mark Kac called a magician genius, someone whose insights come out of the blue and require intuition more than mere mental processing power. Like a pathfinder, he could absorb information, sniff the winds, and sense what lay ahead. Steve Jobs thus became the greatest business executive of our era, the one most certain to be remembered a century from now. History will place him in the pantheon right next to Edison and Ford. More than anyone else of his time, he made products that were completely innovative, combining the power of poetry and processors. With a ferocity that could make working with him as unsettling as it was inspiring, he also built the world’s most creative company. And he was able to infuse into its DNA the design sensibilities, perfectionism, and imagination that make it likely to be, even decades from now. the company that thrives best at the intersection of artistry and technology.”


Omar Halabieh

Steve Jobs

On Presentation Zen

I just finished reading Presentation Zen – Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery – by Garr Reynolds.

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “If we desire to communicate with more clarity, integrity, beauty, and intelligence, then we must move beyond what is considered to be  “normal” to something different and far more effective. The principles I am most mindful of through every step of the presentation process are restraint, simplicity, and naturalness: Restraint in preparation. Simplicity in design. Naturalness in delivery. All of which, in the end, lead to greater clarity for us and for our audience.”

2- “Not all presentation situations are appropriate for using multimedia. For example, if you have a small audience and data-intensive materials to discuss, a handout of the materials with a give-and-take discussion is usually more appropriate. There are many situations when a whiteboard or flipcharts or a paper with detailed figures make for better support. Each case is different. The discussions in this book, however, center among those presentations when multimedia is a good fit with your unique situation.”

3- “Design. Story. Symphony. Empathy. Play. Meaning. Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind gives us the context of the new world we’re living in and why “high touch” talents—and that includes exceptional presentation skills—are so important today. Professionals today around the globe need to understand how and why the so-called right-brain aptitudes of design, story, symphony, empathy, play. and meaning are more important than ever. The best presentations of our generation will be created by professionals—engineers as well as CEOs and “creatives”—who have strong “whole mind” aptitudes and talents. These are not the only aptitudes needed by the modern presenter, but mastering these talents along with other important abilities such as strong analytical skills will take you far as a communicator in the “conceptual age.””

4- “You can wreck a communication process with lousy logic or unsupported facts, but you can’t complete it without emotion. Logic is not enough. Communication is the transfer of emotion.”

5- “Once you realize that the preparation of a presentation is an act requiring creativity, not merely the assembling of facts and data in a linear fashion, you’ll see that preparing a presentation is a “whole-minded” activity that requires as much right-brain thinking as it does left-brain thinking. In fact, while your research and background work may have required much logical analysis, calculation, and careful evidence gathering or so-called left-brain thinking, the transformation of your content into presentation form will require that you exercise much more of your so-called right brain.”

6- “Life is about living with limitations and constraints of one type or another but constraints are not necessarily bad, in fact they are helpful, even inspiring as they challenge us to think differently and more creatively about a particular problem. While problems such as a sudden request to give a 20-minute sales pitch or a 45-minute overview of our research findings have built-in limitations—such as time, tools, and budget—we can increase our effectiveness by stepping back, thinking long and hard, and determining ways we can set our own parameters and constraints as we set out to prepare and design our next presentation with greater clarity, focus, balance, and purpose.”

7- “One of the most important things you can do in the initial stage of preparing for your presentation is to get away from your computer. A fundamental mistake people make is spending almost the entire time thinking about their talk and preparing their content while sitting in front of a computer screen. Before you design vour presentation, you need to see the big picture and Identify your core messages-or the single core message. This can be difficult unless you create a stillness of  mind for yourself, something which is hard to do while puttering around in slideware.”

8- “Questions We Should Be Asking…• How much time do I have? • What’s the venue like? • ^hat time of the day? • Who is the audience? • What’s their background? What do they expect of me (us) Why was I asked to speak? What do I want them to do? What visual medium is most appropriate for this particular situation and audience? What is the fundamental purpose of my talk? What’s the story here? • And this is the most fundamental question of all. Stripped down to its essential core: What is my absolutely central point? Or put it this way: If the audience could remember only one thing (and you’ll be lucky if they do), what do you want it to be?”

9- “Two Questions: What’s Your Point? Why Does It Matter?”

10- “If you remember that there are three components to your presentation—the slides, your notes, and the handout—then you will not feel the need to place so much information (text, data, etc.) in your slides. Instead, you can place that information in your notes (for the purpose of rehearsing or as a backup “just in case”) or in the handout.”

11- “Here’s a quick summary of the six principles from Made to Stick that you should keep in mind when crystallizing your ideas and crafting your messages for speeches, presentations, or any other form of communication.

1) Simplicity. If everything is important, then nothing is important. If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. You must be ruthless in your efforts to simplify—not dumb down—your message to its absolute core…

2) Unexpectedness. You can get people’s interest by violating their expectations. Surprise people. Surprise will get their interest. But to sustain their interest, you have to stimulate their curiosity. The best way to do that is to pose questions or open holes in people’s knowledge and then fill those holes…

3) Concreteness. Use natural speech and give real examples with real tilings, not abstractions. Speak of concrete images, not of vague notions. Proverbs are good, say the Heath brothers, at reducing abstract concepts to concrete, simple, but powerful (and memorable) language…

4) Credibility. If you are famous in your field, you may have built-in credibility (but even that does not go as far as it used to). Most of us, however, do not have that kind of credibility, so we reach for numbers and cold hard data to support our claims as market leaders and so on…

5) Emotions. People are emotional beings. It is not enough to take people a laundry list of talking points and information on your slides—you must make them feel something…

6) Stories. We tell stories ail day long. It’s how humans have always communicated. We tell stories with our words and even with our art and music. We express ourselves through the stories we share. We teach, we learn, and we grow through stories…”

12- “What made this CEO’s presentation so compelling and memorable was that it was, above all, authentic. His stories were from his heart and from his gut. not from a memorized script. We do not tell a story from memory alone; we do not need to memorize a story that has meaning to us. If it is real, then it is in us. Based on our I research, knowledge, and experience, we can’ tell it from our gut. Internalize your story, but do I not memorize it line by line. You can’t fake it. I you do not, no amount of hyped-up, superficial enthusiasm or conviction will ever make your time with an audience meaningful. If you do not believe it, do not know it to be true, how can you J connect and convince others with your words in story form? Your words will be just hollow words.”

13- “Below is the four-step approach I usually take…Step 1 Brainstorming. Step back, go analog, get away from the computer, tap into the right brain and brainstorm ideas. do not edit ideas much here: the aim is to just let it flow. I explore. It may be messy. That’s OK. What I’m tying to do—whether I am working alone or leading a group—is to see the issue from all sides. But to do that, you have to take a step back and see the big picture…Step 2 Grouping & identifying the core. In this step, I look to identify the one key idea that is central (and memorable) from the point of view of the audience. What is the “it” that I want them to get? I use “chunking” to group similar ideas while looking for a unifying theme. The presentation may be organized into three parts, so first I look for the central theme that will be the thread running through the presentation. There is no rule that says your presentation should have three sections or three “acts” from the world of drama. However, three is a good number to aim for because it is a manageable constraint and generally provides a memorable structure…Step 3 Storyboarding off the computer. 1 take the ideas sketched out on paper in Step 2 and lay them out with Post-it notes. The advantage of this method (compared to the Slide Sorter view in PowerPoint or the Light Table view in Keynote) is that i can easily add content by writing on an additional Post-it and sticking  it under the appropriate section without ever losing sight of the structure and flow…Step 4 storyboarding in Slide Sorter/Light Table view. If you have a clear sense of your structure, you can skip Step 3 and start building the flow of your presentation directly in slideware.”

14- “When I use the word simple (or simplicity), 1 am referring to the term as being essentially synonymous with clarity, directness, subtlety, essentialness and minimalism. Designers, such as interaction designers, for example, are constantly looking for the simplest solution to complex problems. The simple solutions are not necessarily easiest for them, but the results may end up being the “easiest” to use for the end user. The best visuals are often ones designed with an eye toward simplicity. Yet, this says nothing about the specifics of a visual presentation. That will depend on the content and context.”

15- “General Design Principles:

1) The Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) is a principle borrowed from more technical fields such as radio communications and electronic communication in general, but the principle itself is applicable to design and communication problems in virtually any field. For our purposes, the SNR is the ratio of relevant to irrelevant elements or information in a slide or other display. The goal is to have the highest signal-to-noise ratio possible in your slides…

2) The picture superiority effect says that pictures are remembered better than words, especially when people are casually exposed to the information and the exposure is for a very limited time…

3) Empty space (also called negative space or white space) is a concept that is supremely simple, yet the most difficult for people to apply. Whether people are designing a document or a slide, the urge to fill empty areas with more elements is just too great. One of the biggest mistakes that typical business people make with presentation slides (and documents as well) is going out of their way to seemingly use every centimeter of space on a page, filling it up nth text, boxes, clip art, charts, footers, and the ubiquitous company logo. Empty space implies elegance and clarity. This is true with graphic design. but you can see the importance of space (both visual and physical) in the context of, say, interior design as well. High-end brand shops are always designed to create as much open space as possible. Empty space can convey a feeling of high quality, sophistication, and importance…

4) Contrast simply means difference. And for whatever reason—perhaps our brains think they are still back in the savannah scanning for wild predators—we are all wired to notice differences. We are not conscious of it, but we are scanning and looking for similarities and differences all the time. Contrast is what we notice, and it’s what gives a design its energy. So you should make elements that are not the same clearly different, not just slightly different…

5) The principle of repetition simply means the reusing of the same or similar elements throughout your design. Repetition of certain design elements in a slide or among a deck of slides will bring a clear sense of unity, consistency, and cohesiveness. Where contrast is about showing differences, repetition is about subtly using elements to make sure the design is viewed as being part of a larger whole.

6) The whole point of the alignment principle is that nothing in your slide design should look as if it were placed there randomly. Every element is connected visually via an invisible line. Where repetition is more concerned with elements cross a deck of slides, alignment is about obtaining unity among elements of a single slide.

7) The principle of proximity is about moving things closer or farther apart to achieve a more organized look. The principle says that related items should be grouped together so that they will be viewed as a group, rather than as several unrelated elements. Audiences will assume that items that are not near each other in a design are not closely related. Audiences will naturally tend to group similar items that are near to each other into a single unit.”

16) “Technical training is important, but technical training is something acquired and will always have the feel of artificiality unless one has the proper state of mind. “Unless the mind which avails itself of the technical skill somehow attunes itself to a state of the utmost fluidity or mobility,” says Suzuki, “anything acquired or superimposed lacks spontaneity of natural growth.” In this sense, I think instructors and books can help us become better at presenting well, but ultimately, like many other performance arts, it must grow within us.”

17) “These precepts offer good advice for delivering effective presentations: (1) Carefully observe oneself and one’s situation, carefully observe others, and carefully observe one’s environment. (2) Seize the initiative in whatever you undertake. (3) Consider fully, act decisively. (4) Know when to stop. (5) Keep to the middle. These are wise words indeed, but these are not “effective presentation principles” at all, they are Jigoro Kano’s Five Principles of Judo as outlined by John Stevens in Budo Secrets (Shambhala; New Ed edition).”

18) “Professional entertainers know that you want to end on a high note and leave the audience yearning for just a bit more from you. We want to leave our audiences satisfied (motivated, inspired, more knowledgeable, etc.), but not feeling that they could have done with just a little less. We can apply this spirit to the length and amount of material we put into a presentation as well. Give them high quality—the highest you can—but do not give them so much quantity that you leave them with their heads spinning and guts aching.”

19) “The first step down the road to becoming a great presenter is simply seeing—really seeing- that that which passes for normal and ordinary and good enough is off-kilter with how we learn, understand, remember, and engage. No matter what your starting point is today, you can become much better. In fact, you can become extraordinary. I know this is true because I have seen it many times before. I have worked with professionals—young and old—who believed that they were not particularly creative, charismatic, or dynamic, and yet with a little help they were able to transform themselves into extremely creative, highly articulate, engaging presenters once they realized that that person—that remarkable presenter—was in them already. Once they opened their eyes and made the commitment to learn and leave the past behind, it was just a matter of time before great progress was visible. Interestingly, as their confidence grew and they became more effective presenters, their newly found confidence and perspective had a remarkable impact on other aspects of their personal and professional lives.”


Omar Halabieh

Presentation Zen

On A Whole New Mind

I recently read A Whole New Mind – Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future – by Daniel H. Pink.

As best summarized by the author: “This book describes a seismic—though as yet undetected—shift now under way in much of the advanced world. We are moving from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computerlike capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big-picture capabilities of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age.”

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- “A change of such magnitude is complex. But the argument at the heart of this book is simple. For nearly a century, Western society in general, and American society in particular, has been dominated by a form of thinking and an approach to life that is narrowly reductive and deeply analytical. Ours has been the age of the “knowledge worker,” the well-educated manipulator of information and deployer of expertise. But that is changing. Thanks to an array of forces – material abundance that is deepening our nonmaterial yearnings. globalization that is shipping white-collar work overseas, and powerful technologies that are eliminating certain kinds of work altogether—we are entering a new age. It is an age animated by a different form of thinking and a new approach to life—one that prizes aptitudes that I call “high concept” and “high touch.” High concept involves the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new. High touch involves the ability to empathize with others, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one’s self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian in pursuit of purpose and meaning.”

2- “With more than three decades of research on the brain’s hemispheres, it’s possible to distill the findings to four key differences. 1. The left hemisphere controls the right side of the body; the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body. 2. The left hemisphere is sequential; the right hemisphere is simultaneous. 3. The left hemisphere specializes in text; the right hemisphere specializes in context. 4. The left hemisphere analyzes the details; the right hemisphere synthesizes the big picture.”

3- “Three forces are tilting the scales in favor of R-Directed Thinking. Abundance has satisfied, and even oversatisfied, the material needs of millions—boosting the significance of beauty and emotion and accelerating individuals’ search for meaning. Asia is now performing large amounts of routine, white-collar, L-Directed work It significantly lower costs, thereby forcing knowledge workers in the advanced world to master abilities that can’t be shipped overseas. And automation has begun to affect this generation’s white-collar workers in much the same way it did last generation’s blue-collar workers, requiring L-Directed professionals to develop aptitudes that computers can’t do better, faster, or cheaper.”

4- “We moved from the Agriculture Age to the Industrial Age to the Information Age. The latest instance of this pattern is today’s transition from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age once again fed by affluence (the abundance that characterizes Western life), technological progress (the automation of several kinds of white-collar work), and globalization (certain types of knowledge work moving to Asia).”

5- “In the Conceptual Age, we will need to complement our L-Directed I reasoning by mastering six essential R-Directed aptitudes. Together these six high-concept, high-touch senses can help develop the whole new mind this new era demands. 1. Not just function but also DESIGN. 2. Not just argument but also STORY. 3. Not just focus but also SYMPHONY. 4. Not just logic but also EMPATHY. 5. Not just seriousness but also PLAY. 6. Not just accumulation but also MEANING.”

6- “Design is a high-concept aptitude that is difficult to outsource or automate—and that increasingly confers a competitive advantage in business. Good design, now more accessible and affordable than ever also offers us a chance to bring pleasure, meaning, and beauty to our lives. But most important, cultivating a design sensibility can make our small planet a better place for us all.”

7- “Stories are easier to remember—because in many ways, stories are how we remember. “Narrative imagining— story—is the fundamental instrument of thought,” writes cognitive scientist Mark Turner in his book The Literary Mind. “”

8- “Story exists where high concept and high touch intersect. Story is high concept because it sharpens our understanding of one thing by showing it in the context of something else…, Story is high touch because stories almost always pack an emotional punch.”

9- “”Storytelling doesn’t replace analytical thinking,” he says. “It supplements it by enabling us to imagine new perspectives and new worlds. . .. Abstract analysis is easier to understand when seen through the lens of a well-chosen story. ” Now Denning is spreading his message— and telling his story—to organizations worldwide. ”

10- “Like drawing, Symphony is largely about relationships. People who hope to thrive in the Conceptual Age must understand the connections between diverse, and seemingly separate, disciplines. They must know how to link apparently unconnected elements to create something new. And they must become adept at analogy—at seeing one thing in terms of another. There are ample opportunities, in other words, for three types of people: the boundary crosser, the inventor, and the metaphor maker. ”

11- “Empathy is the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s position and to intuit what that person is feeling. It is the ability to stanc in others’ shoes, to see with their eyes, and to feel with their hearts. It is something we do pretty much spontaneously, an act of instinct rather than the product of deliberation. But Empathy isn’t sympathy—that is, feeling bad/or someone else. It is feeling with someone else, sensing what it would be like to be that person. Empathy is a stunning act of imaginative derring-do, the ultimate virtual reality—climbing into another’s mind to experience the world from that person’s perspective. ”

12- “Empathy is neither a deviation from intelligence nor the single route to it. Sometimes we need detachment; many other times we need attunement. And the people who will thrive will be those who can toggle between the two. As we’ve seen again and again, the Conceptual Age requires androgynous minds.”

13- “”The opposite of play isn’t work. It’ depression. To play is to act out and be willful, exultant and committed as if one is assured of one’s prospects. -BRIAN SUTTON-SMITH ”

14- “”Laughter can play a major role in reducing stress in the workplace,’ he says. Kataria says that businesses believe that “serious people are more responsible. That’s not true. That’s yesterday’s news. Laughing people are more creative people. They are more productive people. People who laugh together can work together.” ”

15- “Our fundamental drive, the motivational engine that powers human existence, is the pursuit of meaning. Frankl’s approach—called “logotherapy,” for “logos” the Greek word for meaning—quickly became an influential movement in psychotherapy. ”


Omar Halabieh

A Whole New Mind