I am very happy to be speaking at WordCamp Connecticut 2014 on the UX of Real-Time Site Personalization.
I hope to see all you there!
Frank Underwood is the definitive villain that we love to hate. Ethics and morals don't really apply to Underwood. He's a bit like a 300 ton locomotive; once he starts down a path, nothing is going to get in his way, and nothings going to stop him.
House of Cards debuted on Netflix last week to 15% of Netflix's 31 million subscribers. That's a lot of viewers and a lot of people eager to see this malefactor make his next move. However entertaining, the writers have constructed a relentless, educated and very calculating character; of which we can actually learn something from.
What follows are 5 lessons in leadership that I learned from Underwood.
1. Dedication and perseverance is almost always rewarded
Underwood rewards his loyal followers with more opportunity to follow Underwood. There is little reason for them to be loyal to him, other than the risk of being left hanging in the wind.
There is still something to learn here. Underwood still has an amazing ability to recruit and build a following. A strong leader can build fellowship through poignant and strong messaging. Regardless of how Underwood uses his people, there is no doubt that when he moves people follow.
2. Patience works until it doesn't
Underwood is a careful planner. He throws a pebble into a pond and watches as the ripples reach their targets with exacting precision. However, there is the occasionally unpredictable ounce of chaos that falls into the pond. Underwood would rather wait it out than dive in and expose any element of his plan, but there are times where he must wrap his hands around a problem and fix it expeditiously.
The nature of a great leader is found in their ability to think before they act. Brash decisions are usually fed from impatience, and the need to move faster than competitors, threats, or the chase of defeat. Methodical beings stow their ideas, and launch them in profound and powerful ways.
Whether you're building software, running a team, or in Underwoods case a government, you need to plan ahead. This plan must compensate for all the players. If things don't go as planned, do not panic, get your hands around the situation and fix it.
“Indecision is the thief of opportunity” – Jim Rohn
3. Define the goal, then never ever take your eye off it
Underwood is a champion in the ring, and his biggest heavyweight competitors are disruptions. He lines up barters, bribes, and even dirt on everyone he knows he'll come in contact with. Like Muhammad Ali, he wins the battle before it's even begun by knowing his enemy and putting at their feet, their own personal demons.
A great product manager will define the finish line on paper. This finish line is the solution, the product that they are building, and this manager will also be aware of the distractions that will get in the way.
A distraction can be feature creep, people, sales teams, and much more. A smart product manger will not only know what's coming, but they'll have a plan to get through these distractions.
Never be surprised! Surprises should be kept to Birthdays, which oddly enough, Underwood refuses to celebrate. If you're surprised at work you didn't plan accordingly. Know your market, your product, your team, and who's going to expect what when.
4. Words are only counted on paper
Journalists line up at Underwoods door at an opportunity to break his resolve. Some as we know, have gone to jail to bring out the truth. They are relentless, and their weapon is the written word.
Words are just that, words. No matter what you put down in paper, or on screen, you have to build an actionable reliance to backup those words. As they say "Actions speak louder than words".
In House of Cards the journalists make a lot of reference to the length of their articles. You could do the same with your product plan, wireframes or prototypes. Documenting code, user stories and market plans are a great way to plan.
However if you're not moving forward, working on your project, and actually building none of it matters. It doesn't matter how great your idea is, it will never build itself.
"Always be shipping" – unknown
5. Learn from smart people, know your history and then forge your own
Underwood is a student of history. As we all know if we don't learn from our history we are doomed to repeat it. Since Underwood doesn't see anyone (currently alive) as his equal, he relishes in the legend of leaders past.
A good leader should always surround themselves with mentors and people they can learn from. Their position on the hierarchal org chart doesn't matter. I refuse to work at companies where I'm the smartest person on the team. I have literally left jobs because of it.
An open mind and a free spirit will keep your mind moving. You'll always be innovating, growing and you'll have great people to help you get where you're going.
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” – Winston Churchill
And since Frank Underwood is the down right dirty scoundrel, here are 3 things that would should never learn from Frank.
1. Don't use people
2. The ends don't always justify the means
3. ****SPOILER ALERT**** Don't throw Kate Mara in front of a moving train! It’s seriously not cool.
I hope I didn't spoil too much of Season 2 for you. Feel free to share anything you have learned from Underwood or other fictional characters.
For the last 7 years my home office has been an advertisement for Ikea. Comprised of Expedit shelves and a desk plus a few Star Wars Posters. Today, I’d say it is far more professional, and I honestly couldn’t love it more.
I bet the thing you see first is the desk, right? It was built in November, 1964
Astonish is one of the most unique companies I have ever worked for. Everyone of their business needs was different from what I was used to. This was part of the reason I came on, I wanted the challenge. The other was the fact that I got to work with new and old friends. Many of the people who worked at Astonish 2 years ago (when I came on) were from a previous company we all worked for called BZ Results (which was acquired in 2007).
Rishi Bhatia recruited me to Astonish in March of 2012 to do three things. The first was to build a web framework on the industries most popular CMS, WordPress. This framework had to support hundreds of clients, scale, allow us to deploy websites quickly, and cater to the specific needs of the insurance space. I finished, tested, iterated on and deployed this new framework in the fall of 2012.
The second task was to lead a team of designers and developers who could run this system, build themes for the framework, interact with clients and work with intense deadlines and moving targets. When I left Astonish I couldn’t be more proud of every member of that team. Of the 9 members of my team, I recruited 6 of them. We created an amazing culture and put out some awesome work. Read more about my Creative Leadership process here.
The third item I was recruited for was to migrate the existing 450 clients from a proprietary .NET CMS which I had no control over or access to. We had to programmatically move these clients from one CMS to another, for those of you who work on WordPress or CMS’ you can imagine the extensiveness of this challenge. We completed our migration this winter, and most if not all clients saw dramatic improvement in traffic, site load speed, and optimization.
During the past 3 years I not only accomplished what I came on to do, but I also had the opportunity to invent, innovate and build so much more. In early 2013 I filed a patent application for an invention that changes the way a client interacts with a website, while catering to their needs in real-time. I also got to work with some amazing engineers who helped me bring my ideas to life.
Why I left
As with most things in life, all good things must come to an end. I really enjoyed my time at Astonish. As a leader, developer and marketing technologist, I accomplished all my goals. Now I was left wanting more, a bigger challenge, and a new road to travel on.
Well, I’m looking around and seeing what’s out there. I have a short list of companies that I know a lot about, and would really like to work with. I have reached out to most of those companies. However, if you’re in need of a talented leader, developer, product manager, and UX engineer please get in touch.
What’s the Perfect Role For You?
Since I’ve made the news of my departure public, I’ve been asked this question a lot. In my local circles I’m the “WordPress-Guy”. Around the country I speak on topics related to WordPress, UX and business strategy. I can offer a lot but if I was lucky enough to define my own role it’d the Director of Client Performance and User Experience.
What’s a Director of Client Performance and User Experience?
In an effort to correctly define this role I have written up a requirements document and shared it below. I have pieced a few skill requirements from different open positions I’ve seen in the market. However, this is a role that I am very passionate about and have been thinking about for quite sometime. If I were start a new company tomorrow, this position would be one of the first I’d hire for.
Description of Position
Director of Client Performance and User Experience will be a confident business analyst who works as an advocate for the client. Their goals will be to analyze client performance, and identify ways in which things can improve. All performance enhancements will be made through improving the overall user experience of the website or app. It will be vital that this person can understand and improve the entire system, not just a single aspect of a website or app. As the Internet continues to grow and change, so does the need for someone to keep up with it. Clients will appreciate working hand in hand with an expert Marketing Technologist who can anticipate change and shift a product to grow and scale.
- Web agency experience
- Business analyst experience
- Experience developing requirements, use cases and user stories
- Very strong skills in information architecture and UX best practices
- Development experience is a plus
- Experience illustrating information architecture and user interface mechanisms to facilitate client understanding
- Knowledge of life cycle processes, to include planning, analysis, design, development, testing, etc.
- Phenomenal communication skills, with strong ability to facilitate or converse on behalf of engineers and clients
- Advocate for the client
- Innovative thinking and problem solving a must
- Experience managing Agile or Waterfall process’ a plus
- Organize client meetings with an emphasis on productivity and goal setting
- Deliver monthly reports on client performance
- Create a clear line of communication between all fellow teams, 3rd parties and clients
- Measure, track, and perform user testing on products
- Analyze data, metrics, and user experience testing to identify problems or areas for improvement
- Iterate and improve on product to eliminate problems
- Create storyboards, diagrams, wireframes, user stories and more to properly communicate the problem and the solution to fellow teams, 3rd parties and clients
- Work closely with everyone to create new products, and support existing ones
In the end
I’m extremely excited about what lies next. I am truly uncomfortable being comfortable. The second my job gets easy, I get bored. I love the challenge, and always making things better. I’m an innovator and creative thinker, and I look forward to the first step on this unknown path.
One of the more aggravating issues with filling out a form is submitting correct data types. Zip codes need to be 5 digits. A phone number field needs 9 digits but it can be 10 (if you add the country code), plus some people add spaces, periods or hyphens in the numbers. Email addresses have to have at least 1 @ and 1 . and the list goes on.
“You know you’ve built something great when the ripple effects of what you created are greater than the sum of all of it’s parts”
Josh Vickers and I teamed up to give an awesome webinar to help everyone understand a bit more about WordPress and what’s to come in the future.
For the September episode of our CopyPress webinar series we’re focusing on all things WordPress. We’re really excited to announce our two September guest speakers, who know everything there is to know about the WordPress platform, how to effectively utilize WordPress and it’s myriad of plugins to create the best user experience and to easily manage content marketing efforts.
Webinar Details: Wednesday, September 25th, 2013 at 3:00-4:00pm EDT (12:00-1:00pm PDT)
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”
I have a very close friend, who needs a new challenge. She’s an amazing graphic and web designer. She has years of experience and a lot of motivation. In an effort to respect her anonymity I am currently referring to her as the Amazing Mystery Designer of Awesomeness.
If you’re looking for a talented, motivated, hard working, knowledgeable, experienced designer who can do both graphic and web please let me know asap. My email is me @ jes.se.com and you can tweet me at @professor.
I don’t know why but I feel overly compelled to share a photo of my pup. She’s hyper as all hell, gets into shit all the time and causes us nothing but trouble, but we love her all the same.
Last year, I started building what I like to call “Dynamic Web Environments”, which are way more than just websites. My idea was to create a web environment that changes and molds itself, much like how responsive websites mold to a device, but this time to a users needs. The trick is to change the website before the user asks for it, or even before they know what they want.
An experienced marketer can isolate and leverage patterns through good user data. It’s often easy to predict marketing trends around user interactions. If I buy a pair of jeans on a website, it’s likely I need a pair of shoes to go with it. Web designers, developers and marketers have been “up-selling” for a while now. This is not enough; we need to push ourselves to the next level. With a good developer, some great data and a little imagination you can start delivering impactful, intuitive, personalized websites. Websites, that bring content to users rather than making them hunt and peck for it.
There’s two ways to read this book. The first is to use it as a step by step guide to help you better understand and therefore better design user interfaces. The second is a reference. Not just for designers though. I envision using this book to show a client a specific element that we are talking about. Detailed imagery and descriptions go a long way. Plus it validates everything you’re saying.
Consider having this book on the table the next time you’re trying to explain the difference between a phone and a tablet to a client.
You can find it on Amazon and bookstores. And, The Author Raj Lal will be presenting on “Evolution of the Digital User Interface” and signing copies of Digital Design Essentials at the Digital Web and Design Innovation Summit September 19-20, in San Francisco.
Designing and developing a beautiful website is a task, but making sure it works on multiple browsers is another. Delivering a usable product on devices that we often neglect is a task that this book teaches you.
In a time where we, as designers and developers, have access to a myriad of fancy new techniques, it’s far too simple to assume that all of our users have the modern technology to access the experience we intend to provide. Designing with Progressive Enhancement opens your eyes to a whole new way of looking at front end development.
Finely combining general practices and instructions along with proven code examples, the book is written exactly how I prefer my reading on development. Beginning with general structural markup to more advanced literal examples, it uses common development tasks such as forms, media, and other interactive pieces as examples. Meanwhile, guiding you through the thinking process behind it all.
Read and reviewed by Jeff Lupinksi
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
Being busy isn’t what matters. It’s how you work, not how much. Are you efficient? Do you follow the old adage of “working smarter not harder”?
There is no intrinsic value to working harder or for longer periods of time.
We all know that poor sap that has to be the first person in the office and the last one to leave, because he needs to get that promotion. “The Partners know who’s working the hardest”, he says. Well guess what, those partners probably have no idea who’s providing the most value to their firm or agency.
Scott Berkun refers to those guilty of working hard in order to look like they are working hard in his book Mindfire.
“People who are always busy are time-poor. They have a time shortage. They have time debt. They are either trying to do too much, or they aren’t doing what they’re doing very well.” – Scott Berkun
Don’t fall for this, instead focus on sparking insight, solving big problems, limit repeat mistakes, look for efficiencies, and build scalable strategies.
“You must break the chains of conventional thinking to formulate new ideas as a free thinker.”
Are you a Web Designer?